Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Fenway Open Studios: The Building and the Doors

Heavens, it's almost December and I still haven't posted about our visit to the Fenway Open Studios. Built in 1905 in the Arts & Crafts style, Fenway Studios is America's oldest continuously operating artists' workspace and residence. There are about three dozen  studios, all with have huge windows and northern light, 12-foot ceilings, and a certain irresistible charm. Some have beautiful fireplaces, many have small kitchens and bathrooms, and most have original floors and other details. I'd swear that a few still have some original furniture. The building is now an artist coop and, every November, they hold a weekend open house, so visitors can view the National Landmark building, meet some of artists, and view and buy work. You can find out more here.

This year we went on Sunday. We had a great time. Talking to artists is never dull. I used to do it for a living and I miss being able to do it a lot. I took a lot of photos when I wasn't chatting, mostly of the spaces, along with some art.

In this post, I'll show you the building and some of the artists' doors. We'll go inside some studios and see some art in the next couple of posts.

The building looks vaguely like a brick fortress. It overlooks the Mass Pike, which is close by and as noisy and distracting as you can imagine. Directly across the highway, there's a huge, ugly parking garage. Since each loft has a wall of large windows, it's a challenging situation, especially on the first floor.

The entrance has wonderful ironwork, with lions, scrolls on the lintel, and bands of rosettes on the doors:

 Inside, there's a sort of ironwork cage, a lobby, and stairs and an elevator to the three upper floors:

The studios run along one side of a long, plain corridor on each floor. On the other side, there are original steam radiators and several windows (overlooking a parking lot, sigh).

Still-life vignettes are everywhere, including the windowsills:

I checked out the bathroom and was surprised to find this terrific old sink. To the left was a stall, which I didn't explore. There was also a fully stocked bookcase.

I especially like the metal knockers gracing some of the artists's front doors:

We always take the stairs rather than the elevator. I'm not sure why; perhaps we were in better shape when we first visited the studios. Since they have 12-foot ceilings, you have to climb almost two flights of stairs to get to each floor. The stairway is dingy and utilitarian, but there is this sign:

Stay tuned for the studios.

(PS: I want one!)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Happy 4th Gotcha Day, Toffee!

It baffles me to think about how we dithered about adopting Toffee over two long days. This is the first photo of him that I took, at the Animal Rescue League:

And I hesitated? "Adirondack" was gorgeous, as friendly and sweet as could be, and he took a nap in my arms.

Well, I wanted my husband to see him. So after I spent a few hours with him that afternoon, the shelter let me put him on hold as  they were closing for the day. He was getting neutered in the morning and couldn't go home with anyone until that evening, anyway.

The next afternoon, I arrived and hung out with him, ambivalent, until my husband arrived after work. I spent a few more hours holding Toffee and hanging out by his cage. I prevented a frat house from adopting him and at least one quirky couple. I remember thinking that I just couldn't let this kitten be adopted by anyone wearing a ponytail that stuck straight up from the top of her head. (His picture had appeared in a news story about the shelter and people who saw it were coming in to look him over.)

When my husband showed up, he was ambivalent, too — but it was probably because I was ambivalent. What was the matter with me? Look at this kitten:

Sleeping in my husband's arms at the shelter:

Finally, it was getting toward closing time, and a photographer had arrived to take "Adirondack's" photo for his adoption listing. That finally spurred us into action; we signed all the papers, and took him home in a cab. We were a four-cat family again and it was good. Although I continued to be nervous about him for a year.

I eventually figured out why. Toffee was so perfect that I was afraid that someone had lost him and would come looking for him. At the Animal Rescue League, adopted pets can be reclaimed by their previous owners — if they were lost or strayed — for a whole year after they arrive there. I just couldn't believe anyone would surrender this kitten:

So, during the first year we had him, I was always a bit of a wreck and didn't relax until his first Gotcha Day. When I told my vet how worried I was, she told me to stop. Not because no one would claim him, but because she'd change his markings with magic markers so he'd look like a different cat. I knew we'd never do anything so dishonest (well . . . maybe I would) but it still made me feel better. Nevertheless, I didn't let myself fall madly in love with him; I loved him cautiously. 

Who wouldn't love him? He was a spectacular kitten. Not crazy-active like some, but playful and adventurous — with purpose. Mostly, his purpose was to get into trouble and put himself at risk. He was his own science project: "What will happen if I eat this?" What will happen if I knock that on the floor?" "What will happen if I jump on hot stove burners on New Year's Eve?" What will happen if I chew a bunch of light bulbs off a lit Christmas tree?" "What will happen if I eat a long length of string from a pole toy while my human's on the phone with her sick relative?"

The answers to most of those questions weren't great. The answer to the last one was: doses of horse tranquilizer for both Harris and Toffee in the emergency ward at the local hospital (since we didn't know who ate the string). Fortunately, Toffee barfed up the toy, saving us two endoscopies, at least. But the tranquilizer knocked him out for a very long, scary day, probably because he was already on pain meds from his New Year's Eve stove jump. Life with Toffee the kitten was never dull.

Possum instantly took him under his wing, as he did with Harris. Possum was extremely avuncular with those two: washing them, letting them attack him, fake-wrestling, cuddling. It seems he wanted a posse:

Toffee was quite the charmer when he wasn't trying to destroy himself or our possessions:

To this day, I keep asking him when he's going to grow back the stellar ear tufts he had at the shelter. He lost them within months of coming home with us. I think they were rental tufts, passed from cat to cat to speed up adoptions:

I had even more pictures to post here, but something's wrong with my photo library so they imported as tiny and pixelated. I hope they haven't vanished. I foresee a long call with AppleCare support in my near future.

Toffee and Harris were great friends from Day 1:

There is nothing nicer than seeing cats curled up together companionably or hearing kittens chasing each other in the middle of the night.

Toffee grew up into the perfect cat. He's classic and dignified. He would look like a wild forest creature except for his white sneakers and butterfly-shaped milk mustache, which do not belong on a ferocious killing machine.

Happy Gotcha Day, Toffee! I'm glad I finally made up my mind.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016


It rained last Tuesday, and I forgot it was one of the last Tuesdays when the farmers' market would be happening in Copley Square. Around 3:30 I remembered, and put on my raincoat in hopes of buying a loaf of bread. We love the hearty, nutty, "Seeded Levain" from BirchTree Bread Company in Worcester, and they are only at the market on Tuesdays. They have pretty much ruined us as far as enjoying other wholegrain breads and we are cranky and bereft now that the market has ended for the season. (They sell their bread through the winter at the Somerville indoor market on Saturdays, and I hope we can manage to get there now and then.)

My jeans, boots, and socks were soaked by the time I'd walked a block or two. I kept going, hoping there'd still be a farmer's market when I got to Copley Square. It was 4 o'clock and nearly dark when I arrived in time to see the last sellers loading their trucks to leave early. Only two organic produce stands were still toughing it out. No bread. So I slogged to Trader Joe's with my trusty leather boots squishing from all the water inside. I have rain boots but, of course, the rain had let up until just after I left the house so I didn't bother to put them on. Then it returned to a downpour.

When I got home, I was sodden. After I changed into dry clothes I was amused to see what I'd bought besides rolls for dinner:

Cheese (for mac and cheese), chocolate, pastry, and roses. Indulgences that soothe me in bad times. They will help me recover from the election and provide a little comfort over the next four (it had better not be eight) years.

My boots were still drying three days later. A week later, I can report that the mac and cheese was excellent, a few of the roses are still barely alive, and we still have some chocolate and some babka leftover, but not for long.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Possum's New Apartment

All of our local supermarkets stopped carrying Arm & Hammer unscented cat litter, the only kind we use. The shelves are now filled with Arm & Hammer's new "Clump & Seal" litter, which has perfume, along with scented versions of the original formula. I feel sorry for all of the cats of the Boston area; I don't know if I need to feel sorry for cats across the nation (and I'm already feeling sorry for every human who cares about, you know, tolerance, democracy, freedom, social services, equality, and that stuff, so I'm already pretty busy). 

Anyway, cats' noses are far, far more sensitive than ours, and I'll bet many unenlightened locals are wondering why their cats have not been using their boxes reliably these days. If there's an uptick in the number of cats being taken to shelters over this, it will be sad indeed. 

We can still get the original, unscented litter we've always used via Amazon, so we order a half-dozen 14- and 20-pound boxes every few weeks. I think it's cheaper than buying it in stores. But the poor delivery men.

The lucky cats:

The delivery cartons make great apartments. And as you can see, they even come nicely furnished with coordinating bedding. Possum's new apartment even has a deck:

Possum has frequent guests, although only one cat can fit inside at a time. (Back Bay apartments are notorious for being small.) He lets his friends hang out in it when he isn't home. And Wendy is allowed to park her beloved green snake near his deck. 

He had a visit from Lion the other day:

I thought there might be some friction because Lion wanted Possum's comfortable, crunchy bed.

But I was wrong:

Possum got a nice head bath. It seems he is one of those spendy consumers who pay hairdressers to make house calls.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Cat Food Crisis: Update

1. All five cats are fine, although Lion didn't eat his supper again last night. He ate his breakfast with gusto this morning, however. Before and afterward, he woke me up for attention several times as I tried to sleep in this morning.

2. Primal's customer service rep called in the afternoon, after I'd left three messages with their automatic voicemail and even tried to get a live human via their shipping/receiving number, which went to voicemail, too. (The company is in California so I imagine they all go surfing on Fridays. Or maybe they do team-building group therapy; it's California and no one's answering the phone. I was out when they called so I didn't get an explanation.) They told my husband that they use iron granules as a dessicant, which are non-toxic.

3. By that time, I had already stopped freaking out because a wise, scientifically trained reader here had written to tell me that the little fang-pierced packet probably held charcoal or iron, so not to worry. (Thank you again!) By then, I was off at a CPR class, happily learning how to smack unconscious people about the shoulders, whack babies on the back, pound on sternums, rip hair off men's chests, and save lives.

4. It doesn't inspire confidence when a company customer service line goes directly to voicemail and the message informs you in calm, mellow tones that your call will be returned "at our earliest possible convenience." When I worked in customer service, responding to complaints and questions was never convenient. It was my job, and a job by definition is not something you do at your conveniences. You do it because you're supposed to, and you do it as soon as possible.

5. I think I might be turning into a cranky old lady. But with justification. More on that later.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Cat Food Crisis?

Someone, or everyone, got into an unopened bag of Primal dehydrated raw cat food last night. I was planning to use it to make breakfast and supper for all five today. Mixing the contents — 5.5 ounces of turkey, etc., in this case — with water makes 20 ounces of food.

Possum and Lion patrol the kitchen counter at night so I assume one of them found it and chewed it open from the bottom, which was not easy, since the bag is thick and has a foil lining. We found most of the chewed-up pieces of the bag in the living room, but someone probably ingested a few bits, along with a lot of dehydrated food. About half the food in the bag was gone, which would have been enough to feed everyone a nice, warm, wet breakfast this morning.

I try to keep the cats safe from themselves but they still manage to outsmart me almost every time. We try to keep rubber bands out of the house, for example. Harris still finds them. He also loves to eat plastic bags of every kind. Lion helps himself to anything left overnight on the kitchen counter — even asparagus. It never occurred to me that they would break into such a heavy bag of food. Live and learn.

At this point, I've nearly surrendered. I know how hard I try to protect my cats from themselves and their curiosity. I know how often I fail in spite of it. I feel some guilt every time something like this happens but, deep down, I'm Darwinian. Natural selection. If one of my cats is that determined to endanger itself and he lacks protective instincts to such an extent, there's only so much I can do.

My husband found the bag was found on the floor in the tiny hallway between our living room, so it had traveled some distance from our kitchen, probably feeding several cats along the way. I assume everyone partook, with the possible exception of Wendy — not because she has any moral qualms about stealing or wrecking her humans' property, but because she tends to hang back when the others are having a feeding frenzy over any kind of treat.

In response, my husband split just one can of food among the four oldest cats, instead of the usual two, and no one complained. Lion had the food he didn't finish from supper last night. He's become skittish about suppertime. Last night he was upset because I'd vacuumed a couple of hours beforehand. He also doesn't want to eat if I feed everyone later in the evening than usual because I was out. He needs to be coaxed to his bowl, or carried to it, and even then he'll run from the slightest noise.

Last night, my husband carried Lion's dish to him in the living room, where was sitting in his usual spot in a cardboard box by the windows. This probably guarantees that Lion will expect delivery every night from now on, as I pointed out to my husband. I also told Lion to get his furry rumpus in the kitchen from now on.

I suppose I should be more worried than I am about Lion not wanting his supper but he snarfs his breakfast every morning and is often quite interested in food later at night. So I am slightly worried but not freaking out. He is not losing weight or acting weird in other ways, so I am assuming he loses his appetite when he is nervous, and he makes himself nervous a lot.

My husband reported that no one clamored for more breakfast despite having half the usual amount. Harris didn't feel well afterward. He licked his lips a bit, regurgitated a tiny amount of liquid, and then went to hang out on his favorite windowsill. He is now sleeping on the bed. He doesn't appear ill but he is quieter than usual, not rolling around as he usually does when I tell him how splendid he is.

I am more worried about the packet of dessicant from the Primal food that I found in the living room about an hour ago. It had a couple of neat fang marks through it, and it seems to hold powder as well as large granules. So I don't know who may have ingested what, but if anyone ate any of it, it was apparently a very tiny amount. I left a message for Primal's customer service, to see what it is and if it is toxic, as I suspect it could be, although, frankly, a company would have to be pretty damned stupid to put something toxic in a bag of pet food. There's no info online and they are on Pacific Time. I can't wait to hear from them. If the packet is toxic, they will get a piece of my mind. They are ignorant about animal behavior and need to stop. It never occurred to me that there could be something toxic in a bag of expensive, healthy cat food.

I am upset but not as upset as I might have been before I had this current crew of acats. It's gotten harder for me to panic over situations like this because, with five cats, I have too many culprits and potential victims. I have no idea who might have been poisoned, if anyone. I have no idea who will be constipated later, after eating too much dehydrated food, but I'll probably be enlightened.

All I can usually do is watch and wait. Harris may have just eaten too much. Or he may have gotten into the dessicant.

We observed Possum and Lion drinking water this morning, which is almost unheard-of around here, since they eat wet food. Good instincts after bad, I say.

I will keep you posted.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Possum Perched

Possum has been exerting himself to jump onto the bookcase lately. Usually that's Toffee's territory; occasionally we see Lion or Harris up there. Never Wendy. Wendy is strictly low-altitude.

As Top Cat, Possum has the freedom to go anywhere in the house but he is a little, um, portly for athletic jumping. It's not far from the back of the sofa to the bookcase, but it requires agility and missing the top is embarrassing. When anyone does fall, which is rare, we hear the racket and we freak out about possible injuries. Any cat would resent the indignity.

Harris can't bear it if someone else is getting more attention than he, so he jumped up, too.

Possum loves Harris, and doesn't mind sharing the spotlight.

Getting down is an even bigger challenge for Possum. Everyone else jumps onto the sofa cushions but Possum gets macho and jumps more than four feet onto the floor with a painfully heavy thud. Sometimes I seem him limping a bit the next day. 

So after this photo session, I coached him in the art of sofa jumping by getting in his way whenever he aimed for the floor. He finally gave in and leapt onto the sofa. And then he got treats.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Mrs. Party-Pants

Here's a rare shot of Wendy lounging. She usually runs off if I come into the room when she's relaxing like this. But she must have been too sleepy on this particular night — or else she is learning to trust me more.

Ha ha. No way.

Wendy's calico markings always interest me since I seldom get a chance to study and enjoy them up close. She is a mix of solid black and orange tabby, so her orange spots are striped, and she has has some of the distinctive "M" on her forehead, although her black and white fur gets in its way.

Seen from behind, she has three bold, black and white stripes down one back leg, and three corresponding orange and white stripes on the other. The three bands line up across her backside for a harlequin effect. I've been trying to get a photo of her "party pants" forever. She also has black polkadots on each of her feet and even some her pads are bicolored, pink and black together.

Wendy has such festive, amusing fur that you might expect her to be a correspondingly exuberant, outgoing cat.

But you'd be wrong.

Thursday, November 10, 2016


Here are seven photos of Harris in bed. He settled into my spot this morning and stayed there all day. He had the right idea.

And that is all I am in the mood to think about or say at the moment.

I really need to stop reading the news. Surely things will get better.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Connie Has Kittens! Part 2

Do not ask me who is who. But if you are in the market for some fabulously friendly sweet, quiet-tempered, and beautiful kittens, go on over to Tails from the Foster Kittens and help yourself.

While they play nicely and are advanced for their age as lap cats, they still need a little work on their table manners:

Mild-mannered as they were, there was some of this:

These close-up shots of one kitten (Was it Puffer? Flounder? Salmon? Tuna? Catfish?) happened spontaneously. The kitten was at rest and my iPhone managed to zoom and focus and stay that way. I was surprised by how well they turned out. Here's one more, uncropped and unedited: