Thursday, September 29, 2016

Happy Gotcha Day, Wendy

Miss Wendelina Pantherina arrived seven years ago today. Not long after that, I became Evil Mommy, a title I never expected to have bestowed upon me. (And, believe me, I didn't earn it.)

I'm not giving up. Friends tell me that their unaffectionate, skittish, feral cats sometimes warmed up after ten years or more of running and cringing. So I'm going to give Wendy many more years to come around. She's a calico, so she'll probably need a very long time.

Tonight she joined us at the dinner table, deigned to sniff my fingers for traces of roast chicken, and cringed when her nose came too close to my skin.

Meanwhile she has become very interested in my husband's left armpit. He is generally not Evil Daddy when he's sitting in that chair, so she will burrow her nose into his armpit when he's petting her. It's the only time she voluntarily touches either of us, so I guess it's a big deal, progress, a breakthrough of sorts. Oh, boy!

Sigh. Patience.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Annals of Real Estate: A Charlestown Condo Changes Hands Again

This month I spotted a Charlestown condo that back on the market, which I've admired for years — this is the third time the unit has been for sale in the years we've been looking. If we wanted to move to that neighborhood, we'd want something very much like it, with high ceilings, original detail, and marble mantels. This unit has a couple of deal-breaker layout problems with the bedrooms and baths, as we discovered at an open house back in 2009 . . .  or maybe it was 2013. 

But as I look at the main living spaces as they were styled in 2009: they strike me as close to perfect! There's a gracious living room with a separate, small dining area:

Photo: Hammond Residential, Charlestown.

And a kitchen filled with similar character and warmth:

 Photo: Hammond Residential, Charlestown.

I want to walk over to that tall cabinet in the corner and look at all the dishes and books. I've never liked islands, but it would be simple to replace this one with a long table. The fireplace works, so it would be ideal to have a small, comfortable chair or two nearby.

When the condo went back on the market four years later, it looked simpler but was essentially unchanged. The paint is the same and dining room chandelier and mantel mirror remained:

Photo: Hammond Residential, Charlestown.

In the kitchen, the island bar chairs and the tall cabinet in the corner are still there, while the lantern over the sink has disappeared. I also miss the oil painting and the bold runner; both added a lot to the room's color and charm. I'm also less interested in that corner cabinet.

Photo: Hammond Residential, Charlestown.

I wasn't that surprised to see the condo listed again this month, but it was harder to recognize it. It's been painted powder blue. It's a chilly space now, and the molding and wainscoting aren't as striking against the pale walls. 

Photo: Compass Massachusetts LLC.

I can't tell if it's been staged or if the current owners like boring furniture. Either way, the owners are guilty of the crime of putting the TV over the mantel. The ceiling fixture is also new. I never saw the point of sticking traditional chandeliers in glass or metal cages; I hope this fad will soon be over. Chandeliers seldom misbehave or try to escape, so it's pointless, except to make changing bulbs much more of a pain.

The chilly pastel theme continues in the kitchen:

Photo: Compass Massachusetts LLC.

The 2009 chairs and stools were painted white for no good reason. I also don't know why they got rid of the subway tile backsplash, or put that giant industrial-style fixture over the island. Even the new fridge looks cold and shiny. The wood panels on the old one weren't as trendy, but they blended in with the cabinetry and floor. The tall cabinet is dull now, nearly empty of books. Compare this photo to the kitchen in 2009, and you'll see that much of its charm and warmth is gone even though  all of its original cabinetry, most of its appliances, and the marble mantel remain. (That lonely fish over the mantel isn't doing much for me.)

Comparing different treatments of the same room is always instructive, showing the dramatic ways that color and accessory choices can make or ruin a space. This condo can be politely described as "full of potential" now, and could quickly become beautiful and interesting again, starting with a coat of paint and some furnishings with character. At least no one messed with its classic "bones," and those are what matter.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Late Summer Sunset

On Monday, we walked to the Charles River to see the sunset after the dull, rainy afternoon had finally cleared.

At first, the sky was opalescent:

At first we thought that was all the color there would be for the evening. But then it intensified:

Then it turned bolder:

We went up to the bridge for a better view. It was psychedelic:

And then it became apocalyptic:

As darkness set in, the water stayed on fire:

And finally orange turned to rose. We headed home, dazzled and grateful that we'd made that last-minute decision to take a walk.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Our Cats Are in the Paper

The packing paper, that is. Our favorite Arm & Hammer cat litter arrives from Amazon these days in 60-pound loads because all the local Star and Shaw's supermarkets stopped carrying the unscented variety. Scented cat litter is an abomination to cats and sensible humans alike. The 20-pound cartons come in two big boxes, both packed with long swathes of packing paper for reasons unknown to me, since a crumpled paper won't prevent a 20-pound carton of cat litter from shifting around inside a box.

But the cats love the paper, so we don't mind the mess it makes in our living room or the racket they make jumping in it at night. 

In gratitude, everyone stopped playing long enough to sit for their portraits:






The cats often play hide and seek, attacking each other in the paper. They also like to chase toys around underneath it, but the best thing is rolling the lighted ball around in the Turbo StarChaser while it's partially covered with paper. While they rarely tire of that toy, hiding it under paper makes it even more fascinating. 

Here's Toffee, worrying that we think he's having more fun than is good for him:

Don't Try This at Home: Dancing on the Ceiling

There's this house for sale in Somerville, offered by Brokers Collaborative. Its kitchen confuses and disorients me and I'm here to show you why. (All photos via

Tell me that's not vinyl floor tile on the ceiling:

I think it wanted to be a tin ceiling. You get a lot of bang for your buck with a tin ceiling in the kitchen, especially if you choose one of the simpler designs. A tin ceiling in this kitchen would have looked nice. They are simple to install and not that expensive. But I'm guessing that vinyl floor tile is even cheaper and easier to install — and now you can dance on this ceiling if you get urge.

Now, please tell me that those walls aren't covered in bathroom floor tile:

In many cases, tile is tile, meaning that many types of tile are suitable for both floor and wall applications. But it's not always the case. You never see white ceramic subway tile on a floor, for example. And you rarely see these tiny, inexpensive black-and-white hexagon or octagon tiles on walls. They are the classic choice for old-fashioned bathroom floors. Not walls. On the walls, they look like polka-dots. And a polka-dot kitchen is weird. It would annoy me.

The dining room in this house also has issues. First, let's check out the paneling on that soffit in the corner. How much do you want to bet that it's flooring — either wood or durable, scratch-resistant composite?

Something else in this room bothers me even more. One would think that, by now, no one would install those ceiling fixtures, which are popularly known as "boob lights" and have been for ages. One boob light is bad enough, but here we have two. They are spaced far apart, but two boob lights together is still very wrong.

It's probably not even very cold in that room, but you'd think it was freezing in there all the time.

Let's move into the living room to warm up.

Oh, my — are those rafters or is that a bookshelf on the ceiling?

We know the right answer to that question by now. This is a weird house.

We will not be going to the open house although I'm sure many eager if not desperate homebuyers will be.

Recent Adorableness: Harris and Possy

These two are in the habit of sleeping together under the ceiling fan every afternoon:

If I speak to Harris he will roll onto his back, purring and extending his paws toward me, waiting for a belly rub. Possum, always dignified when he's not displaying his own impressive belly, looks on quietly.

It's a study in contentment. I cherish the sight of them all the more now that I know we'll soon be enduring the racket of a gut-renovation project two doors away for nine hours a day, five days week, starting one of these days at 7 am sharp. It shouldn't take more than a year, or a year and a half . . . .

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Dress

In case you're new here, I'm not an impulse shopper. I'm picky and frugal, and I hate to pay for shipping. I wait for sales. But when I saw this dress during Anthropologie's recent 20%-off promotion I stepped out of character and ordered it despite the shipping fee that ate up a chunk of the savings.

I ordered it late Sunday night and it arrived yesterday afternoon, so I've forgiven Anthro for the $13 shipping fee. And the dress is even nicer in person than in the photo, elegant, substantial, and flattering. The fabric is crinkled, similar to Fortuny pleats, but the skirt is full, not clingy. And I love the color and the low back, which isn't too low:

I'm even starting to like those gold pumps:

I thought the heels were too chunky and high at first but they are growing on me; I really like the simple shape of the shoe from the front, then the surprise of the heel. I initially thought the heels were tortoiseshell, which would be very cool, but I think they are actually covered in glitter. 

Whatever they are, they are not on the Anthro website and I'm probably still too cheap to spring for them anyway.  My old wedding shoes look great with it — Ferragamo T-straps in bronze kidskin, with narrow toes, skinny straps, and French heels. They cost me a whopping $13.12 in the original Filene's Basement . . . 19 years ago. Those were the days, when a dedicated bargain hunter could turn up astonishing finds.

For me, dressing up is often a struggle but I think I've solved that problem for a while. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sleeping Party 2: Possum and Harris

Possum and Harris are close friends. When they curl up together for a nap — often after they've given each other a head bath — it can be hard to tell where one leaves off and the other begins. 

This arrangement was more free-form:

Sleeping Party 1: Possum and Toffee

On a late summer afternoon, sleeping cats are a peaceful sight; two (or more) cats sleeping together are even better. They are a natural tranquilizer. I'm often tempted to curl up between them and sometimes I do.

The sight of Toffee stretched out, showing his colorful belly fur, is interesting from all angles:

Possum often sleeps with at least one foot in the air:

If I watch long enough, he'll stir, stretch, scrunch his back legs up toward his belly, and then relax again, his feet slowly drifting back into sleeping position.

A massive gut rehab of a house two doors down from us will be beginning soon. (A second house will be gut-rehabbed on our corner at the same time.) Construction in Boston is legally permitted between 7 am and 4 pm. I estimate it will take more than a year. They are going to excavate the back yard down to six feet to replace the sewer line, and in the process they will cut down two tall, shady old trees — one's a linden that fills the alley with its sweet, heavy scent every spring. We're going to miss those enormous trees. And the quiet.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Recent Adorableness: Harris

"What terrible thing should I do next?" wonders Harris:

Seen on the Street

So, for weeks, someone was walking their dog — or their pony — down our block very early in the morning and not cleaning up after it. The mess happened daily and was gigantic, and always in front of the same three or four houses (not ours). Lots of people stepped on it, too, another hazard of walking while looking at a phone. 

I spotted some neighbors discussing a solution and then I saw these, taped to a fence and pinned to a tree:

An exceptionally polite solution — and it's working.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Don't Try This at Home: Colorful Kitchens

There's something to be said for property owners who defy their realtors, ignore the law about "neutralizing" interiors, and put their places on the market au naturel. While colorful rooms are often a refreshing contrast to the countless interiors that get so drabbed-down that it's hard to tell if they were shot in black-and-white, sometimes it's obvious that buyers are going to be turned off. (All photos are via

Take this kitchen, for example. The colors must have been inspired by a pack of Starbursts, while the checkerboard floor holds its own against all the excitement on the walls. 

The people selling the house pictured below enjoy strong colors, too, but limit themselves to one wall color per room, thank god:

Admirable restraint, wouldn't you say? This is probably the only turquoise kitchen you'll ever see with equally bright yellow accents. Their entry hall is lime green, as you can see in the first photo. People entering this house instantly find out what they are in for.

The culmination is this bedroom, where color covers the ceiling, too. I can't imagine wanting a bright red bedroom but then I can't imagine wanting any bright red room. (Pompeian Red, maybe. Not this.)

Decorators usually tell us that red is the wrong choice for a bedroom because it's so energizing that it can make sleep difficult. I don't know about that; we wouldn't see the walls with the lights off and the room-darkening shades pulled down. But waking up to this much primary red could be startling. It's so strong it's abrasive —  even hostile.

But there's an appropriate place for every color (a place for screaming turquoise paint is inside a closet). Look at how the red fireplace wall livens up this Back Bay condo:

I'd call this a happy apartment, full of someone's personality and charm. I will take this over typical beige-and-gray staging any day. I have trouble imagining myself in generic, neutral interiors because that's not how I live. I can better picture myself living here. I would repaint that red wall to match the rest, and then I could bring in my own furniture.

It's been so long since I've seen hanging plants in windows that I first thought they were some kind of floppy abstract sculpture.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

A Prospect on Beacon Street

I spotted this fine feline in a parlor window on Beacon Street the other day:

I think Possum and some of our other cats would like to make a new friend, especially if the friend went home well before suppertime rather than moving in permanently. (Five is plenty.) All the Back Bay dogs know each other but the cats all stay indoors and keep to themselves. While the cats certainly shouldn't be roaming the streets unescorted, it might be nice if they could pay each other social calls once in a while.

I think Possum, Harris, and Toffee might enjoy visiting this cat and inspecting its apartment even more than hosting him/her as a guest. (Wendy and Lion are introverts.)

Our cats would quickly discover that this cat has much to learn. They would get busy coaching. "You need to eat those plants," Harris would say, "Even if they're plastic, you can at least pick them up and throw them on the floor. That's what teeth are for. And why is that duck still upright? You have so much potential here."

"A TABLE LAMP?" Toffee would exclaim. "You let your people have a TABLE LAMP! With a  SHADE? Is that base BREAKABLE?? We need to knock that over right now and see how it breaks. My people never dared to have a lamp that wasn't all metal. That thing needs durability testing right away!"

Possum would be busy investigating for treats left lying unattended on the floor or in dark corners.

I can foresee my cats going  into business, making house calls to other Back Bay cats to show them how to make the most of their decor. Or, I should say, the least. I suppose what they do is more like "interior undecorating,"

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Before the Storm

Hermine didn't have much impact on Boston. We had several hours of rain and some strong winds but nothing unusual — unless you count any rain at all as unusual and, this summer, you certainly could. We also had some deliciously cool, dry days after a sweltering August.

And there were dramatic clouds and colorful skies just before Hermine arrived.

This gondola did not just float in from Venice:

I'd want my gondola to always head west at sunset. Who'd want to turn her back on this:

Facing north, the clouds looked as though Something Big had exploded on the MIT campus:

Sometimes the best scene presents itself as we're heading home. Here's the Lagoon almost in darkness: