Sunday, January 31, 2016

Recent Adorableness: The Baby

At 3-1/2, Harris remains more like a kitten than an adult. He's small for a cat, and never grew into his long legs, big feet, and oversized fangs, which are visible below his mouth, adding an odd touch of ferocity to his babyish, grouchy face. He still wakes us by nursing on our earlobes in the wee hours — a baby's habit if there ever was one.

Harris still demands play time almost daily. He climbs on my desk and stands between me and my laptop, blocking my view of the screen. He paws at the tin where I keep the laser pointer toy. Then he paws at everything else and knocks things on the floor. I complain and repeatedly put him on the floor or in my lap. He pouts and hunkers down, willing himself to turn into a cast iron doorstop so I can't lift him. But he knows persistence pays off; when I'm worn out, I'll surrender. He always gets his way.

Chasing the laser pointer or a pole toy, he hunts with gusto, tearing around recklessly, leaping up the walls  and skidding across the rug until he's panting. Afterward he'll sleep just as hard. He's the fiercest snuggler I've ever had; pressing himself hard against me and burrowing deep into the crook of my arm, occasionally tilting his nose up to me, his eyes closed in bliss.

Only Lion comes close to his intensity when playing or cuddling, and Lion is just 2, still a kid.

While an "eternal kitten" seems ideal in terms of cuteness and playfulness, the flip-side is that Harris needs constant vigilance. He still gets into things the other cats have learned to leave alone. If he finds a plastic bag, he'll  instantly try to eat it. Any small object left around will either end up on the floor or in his mouth. He's also drawn to string, fishing line, open windows, broken glass and other sharp items, hair elastics, and rubber bands. We've tried to eliminate all rubber bands from the apartment but the mailman uses them. We throw them out in the lobby before we bring up the mail... but I found one in Harris's month not so long ago. He fears nothing except vet visits; even the vacuum cleaner is just a nuisance to him, not the Death Machine it is to the others. 

Harris has no fear of walking out our front door; he is the only cat who wants to explore the hall. He trusts everyone he meets (except the vet) and takes a special interest in repairmen. He twines around their legs, putters in their toolboxes, and gets in their way. The polite ones talk to him and pet him; the others push him away awkwardly, sometimes with their boots. Harris doesn't mind that but I do, a lot. So he ends up in my arms, where's he content to survey and rule his world.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

It Must Still be Christmas Somewhere

Every year, my goal is to put away our numerous Christmas decorations in a timely, complete fashion. Every year I evaluate my performance as I try to remove every darn thing. And every year, I miss something. One year it was the fake mistletoe ball that was still hanging over the kitchen doorway well into January. 

This year's failure is even later and even more embarrassing:

Yes, I look at that calendar all the time. It's on the back of our door, for crying out loud, so I see it every time I leave the house. I consult it often as I sit at my desk, too. 

I noticed it yesterday and smacked my forehead in a clichéd traditional Italian gesture. And, yes, I left it there.... I have nowhere to put it now that [almost] everything else is packed away. I'll deal with it on Monday when I change the calendar.

My excuse is that its color blends too well with the calendar illustration. 

I meant to get rid of it when I took down the tree because it's a little too large for my taste and its gotten stained (Harris licking it?). But I changed my mind and took it out of the trash. A friend from Italy had sent us a box of handmade ornaments a few years ago, and I felt bad about tossing her handiwork. 

If you ever want to torture me, give me something horrible that you made yourself. I might hate it but I'll treasure the fact that you made it for me, and no amount of Marie Kondo Magic of Tidying reasoning brainwashing will ever make me feel okay about parting with it.

Friday, January 29, 2016

So That's Where They Went

After my physical yesterday, I went upstairs for some lab tests and passed this office on the way:

There were no clues. No one was in the waiting area, which I assume is stocked with Scientific American, The Economist, and The Atlantic. I didn't see any staff but I assume they were wearing pearls and/or smoking pipes while sporting drip-dry Haband pants (with comfort waistbands) or Talbot's separates.

I went home and did some research and it's supposed to be this:
Founded by MassMutual and design consultancy IDEO, Society of Grownups is a learning initiative that seeks to change, and open up, the conversation around money. We offer classes, chats, supper clubs, networking events, and one-on-one sessions with CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals. We empower Grownups through personalized conversations about individual situations and goals, and develop specific plans with actionable steps, so Grownups can pursue the lives they want.
But this company's offices are supposed to on Beacon Street and the office pictured above is on Washington Street. I assume I found a different Society of Grownups. This office is surrounded by medical offices, so I further assume that people gather there to discuss bunions, gallstones, hot flashes, prostates, and bursitis, perhaps while knitting or playing bridge.

It makes sense that the office is in Brookline; it is a terribly grown-up town. You can't park on its streets after 1 am; you need to be an adult with your own parking space or else go home to your parents. Check out the latest police report and see how alert, nervous, and sensitive the residents of Brookline are. They complain about noisy parties after 9 pm and report that their W-2 forms were stolen (only another adult would steal a W-2 form). Please note that turkeys are a common theme in the police reports.

Turkeys aside, I'm beginning to think we should move there. I'm learning to appreciate grownups, although I may never become one.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Thanks for the Roses, Trader Joe's

I found spray roses in my favorite color at Trader Joe's the other day for $7.99. Our bedroom is full of their scent as I fall asleep. I am so happy to have them.

Spring Soup — and Chicken-Egg-Lemon Soup, Too

Oh, so healthy and delicious:

I'm not sure who the chef was; probably Lion or Harris, since they are most active in the kitchen. But everyone likes these plastic toys. And no one is more ever-present in the kitchen than Possum but all he does there is demand food, eat food, and borrow food from the others.

Speaking of soup, I found a great recipe for one of my favorites, Chicken Avgolemono, or Greek chicken-egg-lemon soup. For more than 30 years, I enjoyed it at Steve's on Newbury Street. It was our friendly neighborhood Greek restaurant and we had countless lunches and dinners there until it closed two years ago. Since then, I've missed this soup.

I always though one needed secret knowledge or technical skill to make it because of the eggs, but it's not so. There's an easy trick to temper them so they turn creamy instead of curdling. The rest is just as easy, and it's done in 15 minutes.

The first time I made it, I just happened to have every ingredient on hand. Now I make sure I always do. It's thick and satisfying with a fresh, lemony tang. It's creamy but light since there's no cream, butter, or oil. (It's perfect if you have a cold, the flu or a digestive complaint: mild and easy to digest but not bland, and full of protein from chicken, broth, and eggs.)

I don't have a photo of my soup. It disappears too fast. I will try to snap one the next time I make it, which could be as soon as Saturday.

Naturally I tinkered with the original recipe (from the blog "Dinner: A Love Story") because I can't help myself:

Chicken Egg Lemon Soup


1 quart of chicken broth (I use Trader Joe's organic in a box; no need for homemade)
1/2 cup water
1 tsp Better than Bouillon, chicken flavor (optional but always nice for extra flavor)
1/2 cup uncooked orzo pasta
3 tbsp lemon juice
3 eggs
1 cup shredded chicken breast (I use a rotisserie bird or TJ's roasted chicken breast; give some to your cats)
salt, pepper and dill (fresh or dried)

In a medium saucepan bring the broth, water, and Better than Bouillon to a boil. Add the orzo and cook 7 to 9 minutes. Reduce the heat to simmer while you do the next steps.

Whisk the eggs and lemon juice in a medium bowl, blending well. Use a ladle to add about one cup of the hot broth to the egg mixture and whisk to blend. Pour the mixture into the saucepan and stir while it turns thicker and creamy, and the eggs are cooked. Add the shredded chicken and season to taste. You won't need much dill and you may not need as much salt as you expect.

Makes four servings. Unless you're as greedy as we are.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

It's Post-Xmas Check-Up Time

And so it was Christmas, and what have you done? It's been a month and day since December 25, so that means you should look around and make sure your undecorating and de-Christmasing in complete. Let's approach this Hogwarts-style and award ourselves random points for taking down the decorations, finishing up the holiday food, and finding homes for (or exchanging) the presents. We will deduct points if we are still writing our cards, playing carols and The Nutcracker, or wondering what to give our boss. 

Whatever your total, you deserve a reward, so why not help yourself to that candy cane that will otherwise rot in the kitchen until August?

As for me, I think I did pretty well this year — for me, that is. I am never a role model. Our tree came down the day after New Year's because it was, like Marley in A Christmas Carol, "Dead. Deader than a doornail." We usually let our tree malinger into a desiccated mess well into January because we love it so. (And I hate taking it down.) This year it felt more like an act of mercy.

I untrimmed the mantels in a reasonable timeframe, too, this year. I thought they still looked quite good when I did it, so I'm giving myself extra points for not waiting until they turned brown.

Unless I've missed something (and I always do) the only lingering decorations are intentional. We still have our two wreaths, which we always keep through the early winter to provide a little cheer and faint balsam scent. I figure they'll go out around Valentine's Day; by then, any remaining outdoor wreaths are looking passé, too, so It's Time.

I've still got a bowl filled with glittery gold pinecones on the mantel... but we all know what a sucker I am for pinecones. Heck, I keep a bowlful in the bedroom all year long. My argument is that pinecones are more "winter" than "Christmas." Pinecones are never mentioned in the New Testament or in any carols I can think of. Let's consider them winter gear — like wool socks, cocoa, flannel sheets, and so on.

What else? Holiday greetings are still arriving in the mail, so you can't blame me if those are lying around on my desk. One came yesterday from a dear former colleague. She wrote, "Did I send you a card already? I'm so scattered these days that I can't remember, so here goes..." 

You can blame me for the rest of the mess on my desk but I'm not listening. If you don't like it, find me a better desk. That would be any desk with, like, a drawer. My desk is a marble bistro table. I wonder why. But I digress...

As far as candy and cookies, my husband and I did our valiant best to eat it all up but we have far to go. We received quite a lot, see — people have this idea that we like sweets — and then we bought more on sale at Sur la Table. Someone gave us six cannoli from Mike's. My brother gave us a huge box of chocolate-chip cookies that we just tackled tonight. We also still have a few things I'm wary of, including bags of homemade, flavored marshmallows that are green and tan.

On the other hand, I am rationing my Moritz chocolate "Ice Cubes," a gift by nefarious friends. Wrapped in pretty Christmas foil, they were a revelation — where had they been all my life??? They are hazelnut-flavored and unusually soft so they instantly melt in your mouth, which is how they got their name. I am addicted. I knew I had to limit myself to one every couple of days; otherwise I might eat them all in one sitting before I found a place to get more. More more more! (It's looking like Amazon.)

Finally, we still have two little wrapped presents waiting for their recipient to appear. Also beyond my control, although it just occurred to me that I could take them to the Post Office.

So there we are. And how did you do? There are still a few Christmas trees in Back Bay windows. Is that you? Remember, we're supposed to keep Christmas in our hearts all year long. Not in our apartments.

Recent Adorableness: Harris

Harris kept me company for a little while as I stretched out on the bed last night — quite an honor, since he is a busy cat with many obligations. When Harris has somewhere else to go, no one departs more emphatically than he, de-snuggling himself in nanoseconds and hurriedly shaking our germs from his Very Important back feet.

Last night he was kind enough to turn on his headlights when I snapped this photo. I don't usually use flash, and he beat me to it.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Nightmare Over

Some of us don't have a care in the world. 
And the rest of us are okay.

We sold the new place we bought in September. Finally.

I couldn't write about it until it was a done deal.

Those of you who've been reading here for a while know that my husband and I made a big mistake when we bought a condo up the street in September. (You can browse those angst-ridden posts here.) We'd been house-hunting for several years and finally bought a place that we'd seen and liked at the very beginning of our search... and had idealized over the years. Chinese investors had bought it as a rental property. When we heard they were interested in selling it, we made a series of offers on it without even being allowed to see it again, since it was rented. Then things sort of spiraled out of control and we offered more than we should have, and didn't take a hard look at the place or get serious estimates for the work it needed until it was too late. We were tired of house-hunting and convinced ourselves it was the right place for us.

But here's the thing: We didn't love it. It would have been a fine place to live if we'd loved it. We wouldn't have minded going into debt to fix all its problems — they wouldn't have seemed like such big problems if we'd loved the place. But can you ever love bedrooms that are only 8 feet wide? Can you love a  windowless, low-ceilinged bathroom that's only 5 feet by 7 feet and entirely covered in the cheapest gray tile — even the ceiling? Can you love a place where there's secondhand smoke?

After spending a surprising amount on a new paint job and very nice, contemporary staging (with many live plants that I carefully watered twice a week), we put the condo on the market in early October. There was an open house almost every weekend, but we didn't get a real offer until Christmas. It came from a buyer who had already made a couple of rather selfish proposals, so we were wary. In November, he had offered to rent the condo until July, at a price he specified (it amounted to less than half of our monthly carrying costs). He told our agent that he'd decide if he wanted to buy it in July. And if he did, he wanted us to subtract his rent from the selling price.

We didn't respond to that offer, as one doesn't react to a bad joke. He is newly single, so I wondered if he was used to making outrageous demands via his divorce lawyer and got confused into thinking that this is how one negotiates with the rest of the world. (Given his MBA and impressive professional background, I also thought he should have known better.) Our agent conveyed that we were not interested in losing a lot of money, other buyers, and our expensive staging while he test-drove our unit for seven months.

His next offer, presented formally, was so low that we didn't dignify it with a response, either.

His third offer was finally worth negotiating... and naturally it had to happen on Christmas Day. We thought hard and decided that taking a six-figure loss was worth being free of the place. Having always been the kind of frugal person who scrimps and saves and buys almost everything on sale, I wondered if such a massive loss would plunge me back into depression. But instead I started sleeping through the night. Since September, I'd been jolted awake nightly after a few hours of sleep, feeling anxious, horrified, and/or scared. I'd spend several wired and miserable hours trying to fall back asleep, often until it was time to get up. I was at the point where I dreaded going to bed so I'm so glad that's over.

When people say "It's only money," I now know what they mean. Often they don't know what they mean, but I get it now.

We signed the Purchase and Sale agreement on New Year's Eve. After that, the sale moved along very quickly, to our relief. But all along the way, we realized that something could go wrong. We kept our fingers crossed for three weeks through the home inspection, the appraisal, and the mortgage commitment. We didn't expect the fire department's inspector to cause a major problem the day before the closing but when we heard about it, we weren't all that taken aback. We'd grown philosophical about difficulties and bad surprises. His issue was not with the unit, however, but with the building itself, so the sale was permitted to continue; the P&S held strong. (But the remedy may be expensive for the whole building. Phew; there are nine units but ours was assigned a 25 percent share for common expenses, another reason we're delighted not to be living there.)

When I woke up this morning, it felt like a very long, bad dream was over. Now that those five extra keys are no longer bulking up my keyring, there are few signs that it ever happened. I'd found a big Mission-style bookcase that matches ours at an estate sale, and that's in storage. In preparation for moving, I'd emptied the drawers of our built-in bedroom cabinet and fitted those clothes into our Japanese chest. Now I can spread out again. We'd gotten rid of about 15 linear feet of books that we don't miss at all...  although somehow we don't have more than a few feet of empty shelf space! I guess there are fewer books on windowsills, tables, and the floor... but there are still books in those places, too.

I'm finally interested in reading something besides Barbara Pym novels, which are remarkably soothing and got me through a lot of those sleepless hours. This is great timing since I'm on the last one.

I know I'm a somewhat perverse, emotionally unpredictable person. I anticipated that, when we finally signed the P&S, I'd fall in love with the place and lose it a second time. That heartbreaking scenario would be my just desserts, I thought. I confess I did feel a tiny pang or two. But I realized that what I was regretting was the fact that I was losing an apartment on my favorite street in my beloved neighborhood. There isn't a single detail in the apartment itself that I'll miss. I sort of loathe the entire place. Even the roof deck I'd long wished for didn't delight me. It overlooks a frat house with 50 brothers; the frat's three Greek letters, carved in large wooden blocks, rest against the windows on two floors, so I was continually reminded. It wasn't great outdoor space in spite of how everyone who saw it raved. I'd always be worried about the cats getting loose on it and going over the side. Always. As the saying is: "I can't even."

I won't miss that place. That said, the neighbors, especially the building trustees, were wonderful. I will miss not having such lovely, compatible, good neighbors.

I don't miss the 10 pounds I lost in September without trying. (Don't try intense anxiety and depression as a weight-loss technique, though, trust me.)

The silver lining of this experience turned out to be some hard-won humility and self-knowledge. I'm not the same person I was in August; I think about everything a bit differently, although I can't quite put my finger on how. But I'm a wee bit smarter, somehow. I see and pick up on things I wasn't aware of before. I can reckon the many fine qualities of my husband more thoroughly than ever before. I'm also more understanding of the big mistakes other people make. I now know that no one is fully immune from such events. There but for fortune, kiddo....

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Happy Gotcha Day, Lion (a Little Late)

Lion's Gotcha Day was Monday, but we were in Manhattan for a couple of days so we couldn't celebrate properly. What an adorable kitten he was:

And what a sweet, strange little fellow he has grown up to be. This photo was taken a couple of months ago, before he lost his winter coat:

I'm not sure why Lion and Toffee decided to wear their summer coats now, when they were fluffed out with big ruffs and long, heavy coats in the summer and early fall. I suspect it has something to do with both of them losing a bet... probably with Harris.

He is by turns timid and demanding of affection. He will smack away at my arms and head at night, complaining with soft meows until I give him my full attention. We'll gaze into each other's eyes as he purrs, kneading away on my jeans or sweater, "making biscuits." But he vanishes soon after breakfast most mornings, sleeping away the day in hiding (unless he hears me getting out the cheese or decides he's in the mood to play).

It's hard to believe we spent weeks and months feeling conflicted about keeping him two years ago. (After the first week or two, it was my husband who needed persuading. I continually remind him of his poor judgment as he coos over Lion these days.) 

Lion is essential to our happiness and life wouldn't be complete without him.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Visit to Smith College

The Alumnae Gymnasium, which houses the Sophia Smith Collection (archives).

We drove to Smith College in Northampton on Tuesday, where I visited the archives, requesting the boxes that held Dr. Jane Kelly Sabine's materials; she was in the class of 1888, the college's tenth graduating class. I was wide-eyed with excitement when the archivist appeared at our table with several big file boxes on a rolling cart, and then hand-carried a large volume on its own wooden stand, opened to the page recording Jane's transcript, detailing her four years of studies. I photographed everything, of course.

In the first box, we found several prints of Jane's graduation portrait. I was surprised to discover that it is the same photo she used for her engagement portrait twelve years later. There were also group class photos and many ornately typeset materials documenting the graduation ceremonies over several days: invitations, menus, lengthy newspaper accounts, speech transcripts, lyrics to class and school songs, and even a dance card with a pencil and cord.

In another box, I found files of various class reunions. Jane received an honorary degree at her 50th reunion, in 1938 and there are several photos of her then, when she was 75, with her white hair twisted up into the very same top-knot she wore in her college days. (She was 25 when she graduated).

But the best thing, the most wonderful surprise, appeared next. Inside three of the boxes were dozens of small, paperbound booklets of class letters — one for each year from 1888 to 1953 (Jane died in 1950). And in nearly every booklet I found a letter from Jane to her classmates. I photographed the cover of each booklet and her corresponding letter in chronological order. Since I had a meeting back in Boston in the late afternoon, I needed to work fast, with no time to read more than a snippet here and there. I never dreamed there would be so much material.

I read all of her letters later, after I processed my photos. To me, they are a goldmine of information about this remarkable woman, whose parlor is now my living room. While I can't reproduce anything here without the college's permission, I hope to share some of my discoveries with you soon.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Sublimated Chicken Breast

I've been buying rotisserie chicken breasts lately. We both like white meat so there's less waste than there is with a whole bird. We'll often get five or six servings from one. I also roast bone-in breasts myself when I can find a deal on good ones.

I left a cold rotisserie breast out the other night, to warm up a bit before I turned on the oven. I didn't know that chicken can sublimate — turn from a solid to a gas without an intermediary liquid state, but here is proof:

The cats were the first to notice the phenomenon; I found Possum up on the counter, where he described the disappearing chicken skin and breast meat with amazement. All the other cats were also there, listening to him wide-eyed. And licking their chops.


Most of the apartments in our building have been very cold lately, so the heating technician came yesterday. He found nothing wrong with our boiler and suggested we try bleeding our radiators in sequence, starting with the lowest floor and moving up to the top floor. So we did, and lo — they were full of air and our apartments are now more comfortable. We are closer to 70 degrees now, although the thermostat is still set much higher.

Our next step is to seal the cracks around the floor and windows, but first we have to find a material that Harris won't eat. Harris loves to eat plastic bags and tape, for example. (Following advice from a friend, I'm growing cat grass for him, in case he craves plastic because of some nutritional deficiency.) Harris and Possum both like to play with rope caulking, for example, pulling it off the windows and carrying it about like a prized snaky victim. So we will investigate alternatives.

I have taken off my hat and fingerless gloves and stopped wearing all of my clothes to bed. Our bedroom is still drafty and it takes time to warm up enough to fall asleep, even under flannel sheets, the toastiest down comforter we could find, a cat, and a heavy coverlet. My latest solution is Uniqlo's Heattech long underwear. While you can pay a small fortune for silk or other high-tech fabrics, this is the wallet-friendly synthetic option, with prices ranging from about $9.90 for a top to $24.90 for their heaviest leggings/long underwear. I'd gotten some for my husband for Christmas, which he liked, so I decided to try it last weekend, and shopped at the Faneuil Hall store. Since then I've been living in Heattech practically 24/7.

I got two pairs of basic leggings, thin enough to fit under skinny jeans while making them much warmer:

Mine are fur-camouflaging heather gray, of course, not black. They also make all sorts of knitted leggings and an "extra-warm" version I may try for sleeping and layering under long skirts.

I also got two turtlenecks, including a spiffy striped one on sale for $9.90. Uniqlo offers many styles of camisoles, tanks, and tees, but if warmth is the point, I'll always choose a turtleneck. The Heattech versions are sleek and opaque, and come in several colors. (They also make fleece turtlenecks but I thought they had a creepy texture; I'm picky about synthetics.)

After I chose my leggings and turtlenecks, I discovered their ultra light down jackets, on sale for $70. I never like puffy, bulky coats, but these are just the opposite.

These jackets (and vests) are water- and wind resistant as well as warm, but they have a surprisingly elegant look and seem to weigh less than a cell phone. They are merely thin nylon, air, and down. They pack easily into a very small sack you can stow in your bag:

They fit as easily as a sweater under a coat but are a much warmer inner layer. I picked the hoodless version, which has a high neck, and cozy, extra-long sleeves that almost cover my hands. I went up a size so I could layer a heavy sweater and/or a fleece jacket underneath it, but it still has a nice, fitted look. It fits under my Barbour waxed-cotton jackets and makes them suitable for winter. (For the record, they are made with down that comes from suppliers who have pledged to collect it humanely.)

The only hard part was choosing a color; there are nineteen. I finally gave up after narrowing it to four, including a couple I had to order online (free shipping). I will try them on at home at my leisure and return the rejects to the store. They weigh almost nothing so carrying three coats is a snap.

I hesitate to report that I'm looking forward to a nice, big, fat snowstorm now.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Recent Adorableness: Lion, Hot and Cold

It's cold! It's in the low 60s in our apartment even though the thermostat is set more than 10 degrees higher. It's a drafty old place and we need new windows and caulking. The problem is that some of the cats liked to remove the Mor-Tite rope caulking we used for years on our windows and joints. We'd find it lying around after it had been carried or dragged some distance, and we'd worry about whether any of it was eaten. So no more of that.

It's easier to be cold. And it may inspire us to find a safer solution, although that probably requires a trip to the hardware store, and we're already feeling too cold to contemplate going out.

Lion, above, has found a warm spot on the radiator cover, but he's also partially lying on a cold windowsill. He is being a true cat by having it all, being warm and cool at the same time. This is an example of a feline phenomenon I noticed when I was in college, which I called the Inful-Outful Dichotomy. I wrote about it back in 2009 when we first got Wendy and Possum.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Possum Pins

Possum was looking over my shoulder today as I was on Pinterest and spotted this:

I knew I was doomed.

It's a Sicilian painted wagon, my ancestors' version of the bicycle rickshaw.* And it goes almost without saying that Possum will be talking incessantly about how much he wants and deserves one of these for weeks and months to come. I might as well get used to it now. It is better than having him sulk in silence, which is much harder to bear.

Unfortunately Possy has nothing to hope for — not because I'd mind driving him around Boston in that rig, but because I didn't buy even one PowerBall ticket for the $900 million drawing tonight. If no one wins and the pot goes over $1 billion, I will reconsider for Possum's sake. And I will let him pick the numbers, of course.

* To follow Possum's obsession with bicycle rickshaws backwards on this blog, click here.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Wreath Checkup

I know Christmas is ancient history, but lots of people still have their trees up, outdoor decorations are everywhere, the post-Christmas sales are still going, and I'll bet you still have some holiday sweets hanging around. (If not, I happen to know that Maria's Bakery in the North End is still selling Christmas cookies... because I got more yesterday).

So why not consider a few wreaths, still in situ on local doors?

I only had a handful of Back Bay customers who ordered outdoor wreaths, so here are just three sets of doors. The wreaths were all in very good shape, I must say. Even the holly looked fresh and unshriveled, and the birds haven't been going after the berries. And I didn't have to primp any of these bows; they are being looked after by their owners:

A lot of my wreaths landed in places like Weston and even New Hampshire this year, but there's one somewhere on Beacon Hill I want to check out, and a trio in the South End I also want to see. If it's dry and not too cold tomorrow, I will take a very long walk.

The Smell

Sleeping the sleep of the innocent, even though he is never that.

My husband tried to open a dented can of cat food the other day, but it was warped enough that he tore the ring off the lid after it barely opened. Then he realized that the can looked swollen. He left it on the counter to show me. I usually exchange badly dented cans at the pet store that delivers our food. But I'd stayed inside that bitterly cold day, and the can stayed on the counter. It was trash night and I planned to throw it out, but before I did, Harris knocked it on the floor. 

It landed upside-down and leaked. I heard it and went to see what happened. I think/hope I shooed Harris and the others away before they had a chance to lick any of the brown goo. Because — oh, my god — the smell. 

My nose has been stuffy lately but the odor penetrated with a vengeance. I don't think even the worst cat food could smell that nasty after sitting out for a day. The can must have been rotten long before my husband opened it. It was one of the most terrible smells I've ever encountered — and we once had a good-sized wild animal die and decompose in the walls of our building over a couple of months. This aroma brought back memories of that; it, too, smelled like Death. It also reminded me of the time I watched in horror from the window as my husband, holding his nose, deposited a "flat rat" in our alley trash barrel on a hot summer day... and then forgot to put the bin out for pickup for a week or two. That bin reeked for many, many months. 

Proust had madeleines for nostalgia; I have my dead local wildlife. 

Holding my breath, I wiped up the spilled liquid and threw the can and paper towels in the plastic bag that lined our kitchen wastebasket. I immediately put that bag into a large garbage bag and put that out in the hall, a good distance from our door. Then I washed the kitchen floor with hot water and soap. The Smell remained. I washed and rinsed the floor twice more. As I was cleaning, I was also shooing curious cats out of the kitchen. I wiped down the counters and walls near where the can had been. But I could still smell it. I washed out the wastebasket where the can had briefly been and lined it with fresh plastic bags. I put the kitchen towels in the laundry, not that I'd used them for any of this. When I returned, I could still smell the Smell. I went over the floor with Nature's Miracle, since it works brilliantly on animal odors and has a pleasant scent. Finally, I sprayed air freshener in our rooms and the cabinet where we keep the wastebasket. That did the trick.

I went back to the Netflix program I'd been watching (North and South, a BBC Masterpiece miniseries about romance and blight in a 19th-century English mill town, very good) and tried to forget what had happened. I couldn't help worrying about Harris poisoning himself. So I asked him if he thought he had, but he never says a word to me. He went to sleep in a cute little ball. 

I picked up tiny whiffs of the Smell over the next few hours, which were either imaginary or lingering in my bronchial passages. 

Lesson: If something in our apartment is toxic or dangerous, Harris will eat it or play with it. This is very old news, but he keeps finding innovative ways to teach us.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Bring It On

We finally had some freezing temperatures this week. It feels like winter. Our house is 63 even though the thermostat is cranked to 75. I can't say I am enjoying it, although I like the fact that the
weather is appropriately seasonal. Winter should feel like winter. Wearing sandals on Christmas Eve was weird. But it is also weird to wear  a sweater, a hat, and two pairs of socks to bed, when we have central heat and a very warm down comforter, flannel sheets, and so on.

As we stood in line outside Regina's Pizzeria in the North End the other night, we watched as the host called for larger parties of four and six, which were waiting well behind us. We were so cold that we told the couples shivering in front and back of us that, if a table opened up for four or six, we should grab it. And they agreed. So when the host called for a foursome, we went in with the young couple in front of us and sat together. It was kind of strange, but it was also vastly preferable to freezing outside for even two more minutes. We asked for separate checks, politely shared a water pitcher, and passed the parmesan. (I spent most of the meal clinging to the hot steam radiator beside our table. I was close to hyperthermia despite my winter clothing.)

Our recent real-estate fiasco had one surprising benefit besides some new self-knowledge and humility. I lost 10 to 12 pounds from stress. On me, that's a lot — enough flab, apparently, that I feel the cold more sharply than I have in decades. Once I lose several pounds, it's suddenly very easy for me to keep losing more and more even when I eat whatever I please. I had forgotten this because it hadn't happened in about 20 years. I don't think being skinny is great; I know my ideal, healthy weight and it's where I like to be. In my family, we believe in always having a little fat on our bones for emergencies: the next Great Depression, a serious illness, a chocolate shortage. I also got tired of my jeans sagging and decided to try to gain weight, to prove I could. My timing — the holidays — was perfect. It took a staggering number of Christmas cookies and considerable amounts of chocolate, pasta, pastry, and cheese, but I found I could gain weight slowly but steadily if I kept really focused on chewing and swallowing all the things my liver doctor doesn't want me to have. I succeeded to the point where I want lose a pound or two again.

I do not plan to gain back all the weight, even if it makes me feel more comfortable in winter. Global warming, after all, is coming. Instead I'm going to buy my first high-tech long underwear from Uniqlo. That should instantly solve both problems — feeling too cold and frequently needing to yank up my jeans. I'm going tomorrow (before today, it was impossibly cold for hiking to Faneuil Hall).

Arctic temperatures aside, it's clear that Boston in winter is a dreary, unattractive bore without snow. We need small amounts of the pretty white stuff delivered regularly — just enough to hide all the black, disgusting snow that piles up on the streets.

We need this. As you can see, these people in the Public Garden are reduced to walking on the frozen Lagoon because there are no icy sidewalks to challenge and amuse.

Winter is dark and dull now that Christmas is over. It's time for a storm... as soon as I get back from Faneuil Hall.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Portraits of Cats that Aren't Harris

If we try to pet, play with, or have a conversation with one of the other cats, Harris will overhear and quickly try to get in the middle of it — because he believes he most deserves our attention. As he continually points out, he is the Most Important Cat.

So I'm a little surprised that I managed to get decent portraits of our other boys without any Harris photobombs. He will no doubt do something fiendishly adorable soon to earn himself a photo spread of his own.

In the meantime, here's Toffee looking uncharacteristically wise and dignified. Don't tell Harris, but we think Toffee is the handsomest tabby ever. His markings are magnificent and fierce, but he's kind of silly when one gets to know him. He flops around, legs sprawling with abandon when we pet him, and purrs so hard that he gives himself coughing fits. 

Lion and Possum were doing their best to look intellectually intimidating when I took their photo. I wouldn't attempt to debate either of them these days, although they had only been talking over the plot of the first episode of Downton Abbey's final season, which Lion had slept through. He's seen enough of the previous two seasons (he's only two years old) to get the idea that it's mainly about food, and wanted Possum to tell him all about Mrs. Patmore and Daisy, the only characters that interest him. (And had there been any poultry, cheese, asparagus, or broccoli)?

Possum tried to give him a more nuanced understanding; after all, he has been around as long as the show itself — six years. Sometimes I sense that Possum believes it's his show, designed for his entertainment. He can do such a superb impression of Sir Robert Crawley that it's annoying. But he never gets far with Lion, who tends to reduce every subject to black and white, for some reason. Whereas Possum's mind is far more sophisticated — there are always many shades of gray in his viewpoints, ideas, and musings. And even some tan....

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Tree Down

There's an embarrassing Christmas tree story that I'm not allowed to tell you. I'll just say that it involved a beautiful tree with branches that spread to the ground, a saw, yelling and recriminations, and another trip to Wilson Farm. And another tree. And that the tree guys at the farm are remarkably intuitive ("So, are you two still speaking to each other?"), kind, and understanding there, and there was handshaking all around and hugs.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Unfortunately, the new tree, a perfect, aromatic Frasier fir — tall and slender, not taking up too much floor space in our living room — never drank any water. As always, my husband had filled a big watering can with a solution of tree preservative, which he refers to as "Skele-Gro."  But the tree refused all of it. So by Christmas Eve, it was shriveling, its branches curling downward and inward in clawlike contortions, sending some ornaments crashing to the floor. By New Year's Eve, it was a depressing fire hazard. 

Here Lion is listening while Possum makes deprecating comments about the tree.

We took it down on New Year's Day. Normally, we'd have kept it up for another week or ten days but, for once, it felt great to get rid of it. There were about five glass-ornament casualties this year. Some were due to my clumsiness but others just flew off the tree, including one of my four glazed doughnut ornaments, a gift I'd initially hated but then came to adore. The broken one was vanilla:

I will be hunting for a replacement on eBay, along with a blue glass German bell, which chimed.

But we still have a few ornaments left:

Now that the tree is gone, Harris can't wake us up every night by smacking at the tree and knocking ornaments off of it, a sound disturbing enough to get me out my warm bed every time. He is searching for another hobby. So far, he hasn't tried to walk on the fireplace mantels, which remain covered with boughs and lights, glass paperweights, sugared fruit topiary trees, and glittered pinecones... I don't know what's taking him so long. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Holiday Time at the Charles Street Supply

Charles Street Supply, Beacon Hill's friendly and overfilled neighborhood hardware store, always has a creative holiday window. This year's design is a wintry display with three trees and so much silver glitz and spray paint that I am jealous of whoever made it. I think spray-painting with metallic paints is a blast and I only get to do it for Garden Club wreaths.

I wish my photos were better, but I keep forgetting to shoot the window when I'm over there during the day. It looks best at night anyway. But my iPhone has limitations. 

As you can see, there's an owl perched at the top of tree: 

Look closely at the photo below and you'll see that each owl has encountered a mousetrap. It looks painful... until you consider that owls love to eat mice... so maybe they are holding the traps in their beaks because they plan to use them for their intended purpose, saving themselves an evening's work. Look a bit lower and you'll see that the designer juxtaposed screwdrivers and silver balls, and then paintbrushes and pinecones:

Further down, there are hammers, roses and an unholy satisfying amount of glittered plastic:

I have yet to go on a wreath-primping walk although I have tweaked the few that are on my street. Maybe tomorrow I'll head to Beacon Hill and the South End and see how "my" outdoor wreaths are faring. And I'll try to take better photos.