Saturday, April 30, 2016

Where Did April Go?

April is just about gone, and it went fast. I think it went into the water dish tonight with Wendy's favorite toy, Green Snakie. 

April was strange long before the Snake Soup. I kept finding myself wearing a down jacket with my sandals because the weather couldn't make up its mind and neither could I. And early May isn't looking much better.

Friday, April 29, 2016

A Discussion

Possum and Wendy had a talk the other day. I think the topic was political, although the cats recently discovered that they can't vote and had mixed reactions. Being practical, Toffee and Lion designated my husband and me as their proxies and moved on to focus on other interests, like flying and crawly bugs and the inadequate supply of them in this apartment. Harris pouted for a day before becoming philosophical. He figured that if a fabulous, important cat like him can't vote, it couldn't be worth doing. Wendy's opinion was inscrutable, as usual.

Possum had the strongest objection and protested for a few days, at all hours. But he simmered down when I told him that all Americans have to be 18 to vote. He pointed out that, at 6, he is more educated and better informed on political subjects than many American teenagers. I agreed but told him that it was the law, and he settled down to wait 12 years.

So I don't know what this discussion was about, but I could tell that Possum was annoyed while Wendy looked smug and self-righteous. She often looks like that when they are talking about the Tea Party but, as I've pointed out before, she thinks their whole agenda is to add a fourth meal (tea) to the national diet, and she is rarely interested for learning new information or testing her understanding through reading or study. I thought Possum had pretty much given up on enlightening her but he's an optimist and values education.

Their disagreement was not the thoughtful, respectful kind:

Paws were about to be raised when I asked them to behave like adults. "You don't want that!" replied Possum. Have you seen what that looks like lately?" He had a point. About  of this nation is crazy and most of the other half is cranky. It's hard to know what to say anymore, or how to say it without raising more hackles. But things still must be said.

In the end, Possum surrendered and gave me the "What can you do? It's hopeless...." look he often shoots me in regard to Wendy. Wendy continued to look smug. But I know he will try again.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Last week I spotted the full moon rising between Trinity Church and the Hancock Tower, and wished for a tiny camera with a serious lens that would fit in my pocket like my phone... or for a phone with a better camera. Then I realized how spoiled I already am, stopped wishing, and enjoyed the sight.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Liberty Prints at Uniqlo

I continue to be in a flowery mood. Maybe it was all those window boxes we saw in Beacon Hill. 

The Liberty London partnership with Uniqlo means that we can all wear Liberty florals at affordable prices. The women's Liberty collection includes tops, dresses, shorts, and accessories, as I will show you. There are also a few men's linen shirts in various blue prints ($29.90). After all, in some ways, the '60s should never have ended for men as well as women:

There are Liberty prints for little girls and babies, too. How cute is this dress ($14.90)? 

Women's cotton-modal tunics are already on sale for $14.90, such a deal compared to prices at Liberty London and J. Crew for classic prints. Uniqlo calls these "tank tops" but they are A-line and much longer than they seem. If you are handy with a sewing machine you could have your way with it and give it a more traditional fit. This print is lovely in both colors:

There are lots of more traditional tees for women in classic prints and creative variations — like this one, featuring an enlarged detail of the print above: 

Uniqlo always has a line of "Relaco" rayon shorts, but now they come in Liberty London florals. too. I bought a couple of these but haven't worn them yet. These seem like they'll be great with a cotton tank for sleeping or lounging around the house in hot weather. They are soft, a nice length, and have pockets. They are $14.90 and come in lots of pretty prints:

There are two dress styles with built-in bras for $39.90. the top price point. I like the shorter version, with a gathered waist and full skirt. (There is also a less-forgiving calf-length dress.) Here's the Betsy print:

It's gorgeous in person, but a bit too cheerful for me. I'd go with this one, in navy and white:

There are also sleeveless tops with built-in bras ($19.90), a great idea for summer... unless you are like  the woman we spotted over the weekend. She was wearing a pretty tank top with a wide, low-cut back, which fully revealed her dingy old nude bra when she turned around. We always debate about why women make these choices: does she not care, does she think it's sexy, or does she just never look in the mirror or think about the rear view? My husband thinks it must be deliberate; I have no idea.

They make the top in different colors of the Betsy print:

There were also wristlets and canvas tote bags, at similarly nice prices, which sold out instantly (but may reappear at any time, only to get snapped up again). There are house slippers, too. Whatever stock is left will go on sale in a few weeks, so if you're interested, bookmark what you like and watch it. (I picked up two Ines de la Fressange jackets, which were originally $89.90, marked down to $19.90 recently. I'd thought they were of surprisingly nice quality at their original price.) 

If only Uniqlo made Liberty radios and Liberty scarves and Liberty pillows and dishes and bird houses and....

Liberty Prints: In London and Elsewhere

I've always loved prints from Liberty London. I wore them, and similar florals often as a child in the '60s — as did my Barbie, Francie, Skipper, and Tutti dolls. My mother made dresses for me and used the scraps for doll clothes with teeny-tiny working buttons and zippers; I can't imagine how she did it. It has recently occurred to me that I peaked at being well-dressed around age 12; I'm working to get back there.

Liberty-branded clothing is expensive, and, hard to find in the U.S., aside from J. Crew, eBay, and vintage clothing stores. Until recently, my wardrobe has only included a beautiful Liberty voile blouse from J. Crew, which comes out with a small Liberty collection every spring.  Their current Liberty selection for women is very limited: mostly swimwear plus one or two ruffly shirts, like this Wiltshire print for $118:

You can also get matching flats, pretty cute (and probably pretty painful) for $138:

If you love to be matchy-matchy with your accessories, you could add this Roberts radio for Liberty London (£225 — you read that right; it's about $328).

Or, for £9.99 (about $13), you could just carry this Liberty Coloring Book around. I haven't jumped on the coloring bandwagon yet but this one would finally persuade me to invest in a set of markers:
It's certainly cheaper than a scarf. Here's a silk twill beauty in their famous Hera print, with peacock feathers, a design they've carried since the 1890s. It's £195 ($284). Someday I'll splurge on one of Hera print scarves, and I won't let moths get near it, as happened with my Liberty challis shawl, a gift from a very dear and very profligate friend back in the '90s:

Around Boston, at Party Favors and Portobello Road, you can buy paper plates and napkins for your next tea party in the popular Betsy print. Prices are in the vicinity of $10 or less:

 With what you saved on party supplies, you could take a trip to London and splurge on this Liberty "Bird Box." It's £69.95, or around $102:

But that same $102 will go a lot farther on Liberty print clothing at Uniqlo, my new favorite place to shop. Stay tuned for another flowery post very soon.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Weekend Walk in Beacon Hill: Cedar Street Cat

Just as I finishing up with the flower boxes along West Cedar Street on Saturday, my husband spotted this distinguished fellow taking in the view from an upper-floor window seat:

He reminded us of our Snalbert. We don't have an orange cat anymore and we think that's too bad.

Weekend Walk in Beacon Hill: Cedar Street Window Boxes

I took my husband for a walk along West Cedar Street in Beacon Hill over the weekend. It runs parallel to Charles Street and is mainly residential rather than commercial, so it's a good alternative for fast-walking locals who want to avoid getting stuck behind meandering tourists or double strollers or distracted by enticing shop windows.

Along West Cedar, we found other distractions. It looks like several neighboring townhouses are having a friendly horticultural  competition. Photographing their outstanding parlor window displays felt like shooting fish in a barrel. I worked quickly because it was past dinnertime and we were starving, but I took a few close-ups to show the pretty mix of colors and textures in many of the boxes.

What's up with those lotus pods? Someone covered them in grass seed? Or toasted coconut?

And one more, on a side street:

 Stay tuned for something else we saw on West Cedar Street.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Spring Stroll

During the long weekend of the Boston Marathon, Back Bay and surrounding neighborhoods become packed with runners and their fans. We locals do our best to avoid Newbury Street, Boylston Street, restaurants, and everything else we rely on the rest of the year. We hunker down when we're not out cheering on the runners.

By the time Wednesday rolls around, neighborhood life is back to normal. I went for a walk to Beacon Hill yesterday. As I walked down the Commonwealth Avenue mall, I saw tree crews in cherry pickers removing the Christmas lights. 

One of the Marathon's benefits for residents is that our parks and public areas get spiffed up with paint, cleaning, and landscaping — usually just in time for the race. We get to enjoy that, too, after all the trash is picked up and the barricades go away on Tuesday. 

As you can see, the Public Garden is looking good, with the swan boats back in business on the freshly filled lagoon:

Leaves were budding and trees and flowers were blooming everywhere I looked.

This was not a good year for the magnolias, however, since a late snowstorm shriveled the early blooms on the sunny side of Commonwealth Avenue, which are usually the stars of the show.  The trees on the other side of the street are blooming now, but half-heartedly.

There were still plenty of tourists in town yesterday — there always are, even in the dead of winter — but they're back to reasonable levels. When I walk around, especially during the day, I often hear more conversations in foreign languages than in English. They remind me of how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful and historic area that others endure long, costly plane trips to appreciate it. (I do the same thing in Paris and Venice, after all.)

I think these are Bradford pears flowering along Pickney Street, making a white canopy up the hill:

It's always nice to see Rouvalis, on West Cedar Street, in high gear:

That's a tourist, by the way, pretending to walk into the shop as her friend takes her photo.

Just around the corner from the shop, I (and a lady with a city map) admired this townhouse covered in window boxes filled with lush hydrangeas. They must be loyal customers. A lot of early window box plantings were ruined by the snowstorm, too, but I think we're out of the woods now.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Fun with Fur

One of Harris's jobs is to deposit fur on the curtains. He is dedicated.

I vacuumed and de-furred the apartment on Sunday while my husband flew home from a conference. I did not do this for him; it was long overdue. I didn't expect him to notice; he's usually oblivious to much more dramatic changes in our tiny space. One of my favorite games is seeing how long it takes him to spot some significant alteration I made while he was working.

For example, one of our bedroom walls was bare for several weeks. We'd moved the large, heavy seascape that had hung there to the living room, to replace the landscape that had hung above the fireplace for years. You may recall that Harris licked some gold leaf off its frame in December. It's still in the repair studio in Salem.

I didn't like the bare bedroom wall and decided to put a vintage French travel poster there one day, when my husband was at school. It had been sitting behind a chair in his office. It is big and heavy, but I got it onto the hooks it without breaking anything, and room looked better. But my real reward was that it took several days for my husband to notice that the transatlantic steamer Paris was now navigating a stormy sea above the dresser where he keeps his clothes and parks his keys and wallet. There is also a direct view of it from our bed. I finally asked if he noticed anything new in the bedroom. He said no.

That cheered me up. When he saw the look on my face he paid more attention and figured it out.

So, no, I don't clean for him; I clean for me and any poor soul who visits. I keep our place fairly neat and uncluttered, even if it's a bit dusty. I am very good about laundry. The kitchen and bathroom are usually respectably clean. We always have plenty of nice things to eat. Lately I keep fresh roses (non-toxic to cats) on the bedroom mantel, where we can enjoy them but the cats don't go, because I believe every house should have flowers. I think I'm not a total loser as a housekeeper. It's dusting and vacuuming that get me down. (I'm not even going to talk about washing our ancient windows and wood floors; let's keep pretending they are self-cleaning.)

I should vacuum more often. I do it weekly, more or less. Sometimes it's the Monday of one week and the Saturday of the next. Weekly is probably fine for someone who doesn't have a lot of cats. It's not fine around here.

But vacuuming is a pain. I begin with a treasure hunt: collecting the visible cat toys, especially plastic drinking straws. The cats have lots of those since they steal every one that we leave by the sink.

When I've pulled the toys from under the sofa and so on, I use the vacuum's "crevice tool" to suck up the ones that are hiding under bookcases, the fridge, dressers, and so on. All the toys go into a big open basket on the floor. When I'm done vacuuming I have to remember to take several toys out and scatter them around, or the cats will make new toys by knocking things off of our desks. They are industrious and creative about that, but they are too — I don't know — clueless, spoiled, or passive-aggressive to take toys out of their basket.

Vacuuming less than 800 square feet takes me much more than an hour. It feels like it takes the whole afternoon. In addition to the labor of dragging heavy furniture and persuading our ratty Persian rugs to part with their coating of fur, I also spend time pulling masses of fur off the carpet attachment and feeding it into the hose by hand so the brush gets clean enough to function as a brush again. I probably do that 15 to 20 times. I once asked my husband to vacuum; he finished quickly. I asked him how many times he'd cleaned the brush and he said never. There was enough fur clinging to the brush to cloth a medium-sized dog. I vacuumed again soon afterward.

The vacuum itself gets furry as I use it — fur clings to the hose, gets wrapped around the tiny axels of its wheels, and there's a roller on the brush that gets mired in fur, too. I use tweezers to free it. I consider it to be a pretty decent machine in spite of this. I don't think anyone makes a self-cleaning one.

The cats are mostly terrified of the vacuum's noise and prying ways, which is a further incentive not to clean very often. It is the only thing some of our cats fear besides visitors and trips to the vet. I think we all need to fear something in our lives or we become smug and awful — including cats. So I provide this useful service although I feel bad about it. If I vacuum in the late afternoon, Lion might miss dinner because he's too nervous to come out. Toffee and Wendy also hide. I wish I could hide; they have the right idea. Harris and Possum are braver and will lie on the bed watching as I vacuum the bedroom. But they take off when I get too close.

So no wonder I procrastinate. Procrastination has its rewards. When I've waited long enough, it's fun to see colors and patterns emerge on the surfaces of our rugs as the gray layer of fur comes off. I exaggerate, of course, but I also telling the truth.

The real revelation of Sunday's cleaning was the amount of fur I removed from the furniture and curtains with the lint brush. I use one of these. I have worn out several over the years, eroding them from constant use to a smoothness that no longer grabs hair. I de-fur seat cushions, pillows, and our bedcover almost every day, but it had been some time since I last did everything: the entire sofa, all of the upholstery, the bedskirt (on both sides), and the curtains. I pulled off staggering amounts of fur from the lace curtains and berated myself for being such a slob. It took so long that I got a blister on my thumb from the brush. I did not do the undersides of the furniture; my hand hurt.

As a teenager I was a costumed tour guide at a history museum in my hometown. Among other things, I showed visitors how to  process sheep's wool and spin the fibers into yarn. We also worked with alpaca and the silky white hair of someone's dog. I thought of this as I collected a pile of fur from my curtain and the back of my sofa. It had been a long time since I'd held handfuls of fiber that could be spun and crocheted into a disgusting gray cap... for someone I don't like. If only I could remember how to crochet, another vanished skill from my high school years.

My apartment is much cleaner than it was, although still not as clean as I'd like it to be. I'm going to dust today. I begin with ceilings, moldings, and light fixtures; I don't just flit around with a duster.  But I will stop if any blisters develop. Then I will lie around and read... after I de-fur the cushions again.