Friday, December 30, 2016

Because Harris. Again.

I hope you had a merry Christmas. Mine continues to be merry because a few things I ordered on sale before Christmas are arriving now.

We have so far seen no signs of our late partridge tree ornament, which Harris mistook for a real bird and consumed the other day. As posted last week, here are its remains:

I guess Harris mistook its plastic body for delicious bones. Harris is among a small percentage of cats who love to eat plastic. Sigh.

On Christmas Day we stuffed ourselves and many packages into our little car to make our usual trip to my family in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, aka the "Christmas City of the USA." The whole time we were away, we speculated as to What Harris Might Be Doing Now. We have a great cat sitter who comes twice a day but there's not much she or anyone can do to keep Harris out of trouble.

It turns out he was busy. And not just in Possum's new apartment, a duplex that sleeps two:

As soon as we were back home in Boston on Tuesday, my husband discovered that his [airline] sleep mask was on the floor and missing about four inches of elastic. He is supposed to store these in a bag when he's not using them, but they often get lost in the night and end up on the floor. We're almost positive it was Harris who ate it. 

I called our vet, who answered saying, "Hi! What foreign object did someone ingest now?" We held our traditional holiday feline-forensic-pathology discussion and concluded that the elastic was probably not long enough to cause an intestinal blockage . . .  although it could. But it seemed more likely it would come back out from one end of Harris or the other in time. 

So we watched and waited for vomiting or other symptoms, and continue to do so. Harris and Toffee had their annual checkups yesterday; of course, the vet didn't find anything out of the ordinary as she examined Harris — except that he kept sending death-rays and hissing at all three of us.

If looks could kill, his probably will.

We told him he was the Greatest Cat Ever and that we had a lot of respect for him, and our vet even bowed down to him a couple of times, but it was too little, too late. He was furious. Harris hates the indignity of being transported in a carrier and handled by a strange lady as we look on. Toffee is a more reasonable fellow, although he complains loudly in the car. Harris is too busy plotting our murders to make a lot of racket in the car.

Neither of them liked their rabies shot. They have to have them every year in Massachusetts, although it's risky, expensive, and unnecessary to do it so often. Our vet is willing to inject it in the tail,  figuring that amputating a tail is less traumatic than a limb if vaccine-related sarcoma develops. But injecting the tail is slow going.

Both cats are going to be mad at us again fairly soon. It turns out they both have tooth resorption, an auto-immune condition where the teeth are reabsorbed into the gums. Both cats need to have two lower teeth extracted. I can't believe I didn't see the awful signs of this as I brushed their teeth every night. I know I don't do a great job although most of their teeth have very little tartar, at least. 

I felt a little better after our vet explained that even very good dental hygiene can't prevent tooth resorption; no one knows what causes it but brushing does nothing. Our vet's first available surgical appointments are in early March, and the estimate for each cat's surgery is $825, good heavens. After thinking about it, I've decided I need to call other practices to see if we can schedule them sooner, since tooth resorption is probably painful.

We went home armed with the Feliway-sprayed paper towel that our vet always makes for us. We are are supposed to rub it all over every cat and ourselves, which annoys everyone no end, so we all smell like one big happy cat family. Even so, Harris hisses at us for a few hours. But if we don't do it, his hissing lasts for days.

That was yesterday; today, he is his usual bad, adorable, little self. We figure he is waiting until close to midnight on New Year's Eve to have some sort of spectacular reaction to all the plastic and elastic he's been eating lately. 

I will keep you posted.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas!

Possum, Wendelina, Harris, Toffeepot, and Lion join me in sending you our best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. 

I admit I have a lot of doubts about the likelihood of the latter. At least there are no politics in the cat universe so that's where I hope to dwell for the foreseeable — while keeping a watchful eye out for anything I can do, from my Blue-State perch here in Boston, to help preserve our democracy, civil rights, and environment.

I know it won't be much. And I can't even preserve wrapped Christmas presents from fangs, but I will try my best. It's everyone's job now.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Christmas Concert

Last Friday night we went to Chorus pro Musica's annual holiday concert at Old South Church. We have two friends who are singers and we look forward to this performance every year. The singing is superb, and the program is usually varied to include early music and carols and songs from other cultures as well as a few contemporary selections. The audience also has to stand up and belt out carols periodically, which I love. 

This year they sang "Emerald Stream," an "environmental hymn" written by Seth Houston on his 17th birthday as he was taking a month-long wilderness canoe trip. 

The highlight, though, is the candlelight procession. The church is in darkness as two rows of singers pass two little flames along, lighting one candle from another, and when all their candles are lit they hold them and sing. For me, that's when the Christmas spirit descends and the season truly begins. Here's a cellphone recording of their candlelit "Silent Night" from a few years ago. Even with bad production values, it gives you a sense of how lovely and moving their music is.

A Gothic Revival masterpiece, Old South is beautiful always, but especially at Christmas:

We often sit in the balcony, but this year we were on the floor. We noticed this fellow in the row ahead of us:

My initial thought was that one of Boston's Revolutionary War heroes had come back from Beyond to rescue democracy, like the Ghost of Christmas Past. But then I realized he was wearing a red coat.

So he's a British soldier. I was still glad to see him. Even British monarchy would be an improvement over what probably lies ahead. And he seemed like a gentleman, even though he put on his hat before he left the church.


Friday, December 23, 2016

There Was Snow

Last Saturday we had snow. It melted the next day when the temperature hit nearly 60, but for several hours we were walking (and Christmas shopping) in a winter wonderland.

Here's Trinity Church in Copley Square, at twilight:

The Gingerbread House at Wilson Farm

We always look forward to visiting Wilson Farm around every holiday but especially Christmas, when they go all out — the outdoor area becomes a forest of cut trees from standard to exotic (from California, not Canada). In the greenhouse there are poinsettias, cyclamens, and other Christmas flowers. And of course they have pine roping, bundles of branches, holly, wreaths, and all the makings to decorate .They sell wreaths made entirely of holly — ouch!

They also sell little decorated boxwood trees:

This year, the "Wilson Farm Bakery" gingerbread house attracted our attention, sitting above a display of smaller houses for sale: 

Look inside one corner to see pastries. I was surprised to see ceiling lights:

The other side had breads and more cake:

The outside of the house was as good as the inside. Nice use of candy canes to support the awnings:

Are the roof tiles Necco Wafers?

Wilson Farm went to town on the holiday cupcakes and loaf cakes this year, too. Do the white-and-blue ones on the lower shelf depict polar bears in bathtubs?

The Rudolph and Santa cupcakes were very cute, too:

In case you want something besides sugar, Wilson Farm is a farm, and they sell plenty of very good produce (local and not) as well as bread, meat, cheese, prepared foods, and groceries inside their big barn, which has sawdust on the floor:

I hope we will use New Year's as an excuse to visit again.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Because Harris

For 35 years I have been parking a plastic Partridge covered in feathers in my Christmas tree. It was secured to its branch by a wire from one of its plastic feet. Over time, my various cats . . . Franoushe, Truffalo, Margalo, Chloe, Snictoria, Snalbert, Bunnelina, Possum, Wendelina, Toffee, and Lion, would take a few swipes at the partridge and maybe snap off a feather or two. I'd often find it dangling upside-down from its perch, and occasional I'd find it left for dead under the tree.

I thought that, after 35 years of subjecting my partridge to the scrutiny and scientific curiosity of a considerable number of cats, my partridge's long-term survival was assured. But I was wrong.

Because Harris. Here's what I found under the tree this morning:

I'm almost positive that it was Harris who butchered my partridge and subjected it to anatomical dissection. He seems to have eaten some of its torso along with most of its feathers, and one plastic foot is missing, too At any rate, this was all I could find — and I looked hard.

The plastic is brittle, at least. If any of it made it into Harris's stomach, I hope we will not find out in some dramatic way. But when have we had a Christmas in recent years that wasn't fraught with some feline disaster? We are perpetually on the alert since we've had our current crew. Swallowed cords from ornaments, chewed Christmas light bulbs, licking the gold leaf off a picture frame, jumping onto the hot burners of the stove on New Year's Eve  . . . the holidays are filled with peril around here since we got Toffee and Harris. Toffee used to be the dare-devil, but he grew out of it. Now it's Harris, our Perpetual Kitten, who keeps us on our toes. 

I'm not going to get a giant crate to protect the Christmas tree. If our cats are desperate to win some feline version of the Darwin Award there's only so much I can do to prevent them.

Here are some recent photos of Harris to show he isn't always being Bad. He was very Helpful as my assistant as I wrapped presents:

In the photo below, he's studying the floor plan of the new Eataly that opened recently, just a couple of blocks from our place. When he heard me say they sold hundreds of kinds of cheese, he was very interested.

I will, of course, as usual, keep you posted as we observe Harris in case he develops symptoms from his plastic bird encounter. Same old, same old!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Possum's Presents

Yesterday, Possum and I discussed his Christmas List, as we do every holiday. He wore his Santa hat; knowing how winsome he looks in it, hoping to put me in a more receptive mood.

This year, he began by saying that he wasn't going to ask Santa Paws for any more cats, as he had the winter we got Lion. He said he has his paws full with managing his current "staff," to use his term. He reported that Harris seems weirdly immature for his age, Lion has anxiety issues, Wendy is paranoid, and Toffee doesn't have enough respect for him.

I told him that was fine, as I, too, thought we were full up. He reminded me that there are still many cats who need food, shelter, and help finding good homes and, since we can't take them all, we should donate to the local rescues, and I told him that was already on my to-do list.

Possum then wanted to know why Mr. Obama can't be president forever. This was also on his Christmas list. Possum was a baby during Obama's first presidential campaign and he has always been a strong supporter. He thinks that the campaign's motto, "Vero Possumus," translates as, "Hey, let's all be like Possum." (Possum's full name is Possumus P. Passamaquoddy, but we rarely call him that. In fact, I usually call him Mousie, for reasons too complicated and boring to go into. . . . and he will probably be annoyed that I even mentioned it here.)

"He seems like a very smart, decent, hardworking guy," said Possum. "Why is it necessary to make some dramatic change just because a few years have passed? It's stupid to try to fix something that isn't broken, and it looks like this new guy is nasty and clueless, and is already making a terrible mess."

"But Possum," I said, "We have no choice. It's in our Constitution that we have elections every four years. We are all supposed vote, and pick someone to be president for one or two terms. In this case, one person got nearly three million more votes than the other one. But then a bunch of people called the "Electoral College" got together, and they picked someone else, following a set of rules designed to protect the states that once allowed slavery, even though slavery is illegal now."

"Good heavens! That makes no sense at all," said Possum. "It's not only antiquated and unfair; it seems extremely dangerous in this case. Very bad things could happen. In a democracy, the people's vote should determine who is president. You really ought to do something to correct this, although you've already let it go on for too long." And I agreed, although I am not personally taking ALL of the blame. Then we agreed that we were lucky to live in Massachusetts, a state that has stood for democracy liberty, education, and civil rights from the beginning.

Possum then consulted his list. He said he wanted lots of catnip toys and those little springs (which always get stepped on and lost under furniture) for himself and his staff, so he won't have to share his but so he'll be able to help himself to theirs whenever he wants. Selfless acts of generosity are what make the Christmas season especially lovely, don't you think?

Possum thinks that selfless acts of generosity toward him are fabulous, so he encourages them. I've noticed that all the cats have been offering him portions of their supper recently. However, I've also noticed something else — the other cats flinching as Possum playfully pretends to chomp on their ears just before they offer him their bowls. Possum is such a good actor that it looked quite real.

Possum had no comment when I mentioned this. He continued with his list. Freeze-dried rabbit ears are a new thing he wants to try. He also wants a daily supply of smoked turkey from Trader Joe's.

Then we got to the heart of the matter. Once again he is respectfully asking Santa Paws for a bicycle rickshaw. This is the model he wants:
He asks for one every year, the idea being that I will pedal him and a few select pals to the dumpsters behind the finer restaurants (the former Hamersley's Bistro was a longed-for destination) so they could check out the pickings. 

This year's desired model is a lot simpler than those from previous years, including this Indian-style model from Anthropologie in 2011 and this crazy number with klaxon horns from 2012. Possum explained that he would like me to ask some members of the Garden Club, who are very good at working with plastic and glitter, to decorate this model. He wants streamers on the handlebars, flower garlands on the carriage, and ribbons woven into the wheels. As usual, he wants some colorful catnip cushions for lounging, too. 

He has never specified what sort of uniform I'll be expected to wear as I cart him and his cronies around town. I hope we never get that far because I'm sure he has some ideas that he's not telling me.

I told Possum that he should ask my husband for a bicycle rickshaw this year, since he seems to like, if not love/admire/worship, my husband a great deal more than me nowadays. I have been neglected these past 18 months or so. I have had much more free time since I am seldom weighed down by a purring cat anymore. Last spring, I even had time to design a large hardcover Apple book for my husband's birthday, entitled The Year You Stole My Cat. It was mostly filled with photos of my husband trying to work while pinned to our sofa and chairs by a large, blissful Possum.

Possum was disappointed by my response. He can usually wrap me around his paw and get anything he wants short of a bicycle rickshaw. My husband is made of sterner stuff. But Possum proceeded to climb all over my husband and squeeze himself next to him on the leather chair, purring so loudly that it sounded like snorting from across the room, where I was wrapping gifts. 

I don't know if a bicycle rickshaw will appear this year. It's not my job. But I will keep you posted.

I did notice that, unusually, Possum was at the foot of my side of the bed last night, where he warmed my feet as he used to back in the old days. That was nice. I wonder if it was my Christmas present from him for the year.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Recent Adorableness: Lion and Harris

If only I'd managed to get a couple of Santa hats onto their little heads. . . .

Well, that was easy. (Thanks to Connie for showing me this trick long ago.)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Lying' Around the Christmas Tree

Wendy impersonates a furry woodland creature under the tree:

Harris takes his poses very seriously:

Contemplating future "redecorating":

Trees make Lion nervous. Wrapping paper makes Lion nervous. The whole idea of Christmas makes Lion nervous.

Wendy isn't afraid of the tree. She is only afraid of Evil Mommy who will probably Cause Her Die so She'll be the Main Ingredient in the Christmas Stew. (Note: Evil Mommy  never makes stew.)

Bi-level cats:

A classic Possum pose:

Friday, December 16, 2016

Wreath Week with the Garden Club: Day 4

Often, the last day of our four-day Wreath Week is a frenzy as everyone races to finish the final orders in time for delivery. This year was much more mellow. Most of us only had one or two wreaths to make and, by lunch time, things were wrapping up. 

Even so, it was an exhausting week. It always amazes me that I can get so tired and sore all over just from standing and decorating wreaths for 9 or 10 hours a day. I must be terribly out of shape. While my arthritic thumb joints were protesting, my back, legs, and shoulders were equally upset with me. Even though I look forward to Wreath Week for months, Day 4 makes me glad there is no Day 5.

My last assignment was a matched pair, "designer's choice," for a building on Marlborough Street, I chose a light gold bow for visibility from the sidewalk and then privately resolved to out-do myself by incorporating a wider variety of materials, including using up just about everything I'd been "hoarding" since Monday. 

I used: gold pinecones, pine sprays, magnolia leaves, holly, yarrow, yucca pods, lotus pods, more golden jingle bells, clusters of little gold glass balls, some kind of dried ivory buds I can't identify, protea, eucalyptus berries, some sort of little woody flowers, and the last of the very delicate, fluffy greens I'd never seen before.

The wreaths took a long time; I was the second-to-last decorator working while everyone else was eating lunch, packing up tubs of stuff to take back to the storage area 'til next year, sweeping, and folding up tables.

There wasn't much left on my table to clean up when I was done. I put my tools in my bag and I peeled the medical tape from my finger tips, which hand been pricked by thorns and holly in spite of it. Then I went to the kitchen and scooped up some Crisco from the package we keep by the sink to clean our hands. We rub in the Crisco, scrub our nails with plastic vegetable brushes (which doesn't help but feels useful), and then wash our hands with dish detergent. Most of the pitch comes off, but not all of it. 

I still have grimy-looking cuticles a week later. Showering and doing dishes isn't enough to help. What I need is a few days of soaking in a nice hot tub with a pile of old New Yorkers that can get soggy. Alas. (I finally finished the October 10 issue this morning. It took me about six weeks. An article about Karl Marx almost did me in.) 

I went upstairs, where all the finished wreaths are kept until they are delivered by our volunteer drivers or picked up by customers. There was an unhappy customer surveying her wreath, which had a pretty burgundy bow. It had been a new decorator's maiden effort and, since it was supposed to be an indoor wreath, she had used a lot of dyed burgundy grassy material to coordinate with the bow. But the customer had decided to hang the wreath outside instead and found that the red dye would run when it got wet. It also smelled fishy. 

I took the customer and the wreath downstairs to our quality-control team. They promised the customer that we'd fix the wreath and she agreed to come back later for it. We pulled off the grass and there wasn't a lot of decorating left — just some big heads of yarrow, a few pinecones and lotus pods and sprays of cedar.. I was asked to redecorate it with whatever I could scavenge. 

We were almost done emptying the basement and packing everything in cars to go to the storage unit. But someone gave me some pinecones and someone else handed me magnolia leaves, probably fished from a trash barrel but still in good shape. I found blue eucalyptus pods lying under a table, and there were a few yucca and lotus pods sitting around, along with the last of someone's rose hips. Someone produced some florist picks, just enough that I could attach everything to the wreath. I worked as fast as I could.

When I was done, there was a mix of plain, gold, and glittered pinecones and lotus pods. It looked odd and not up to our standards. Everyone was putting on their coats to leave. I did the unthinkable: I grabbed a can of glitter paint, since the spray paint hadn't been packed away yet, and sprayed all the plain materials right onto the wreath. It did the trick. I like this woodsy, wild wreath a lot.

Then I slowly walked home, still in my apron. Another Wreath Week was over . . . and soon our beautiful wreaths would be all over the neighborhood adding our signature holiday style. We can all spot our wreaths instantly since they stand out from the rest with their perfect bows — we can even tell when a former customer has recycled their old bow onto a new wreath.

Now it was time for me to reconnect with my cats and husband. And decorate our apartment.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Wreath Week with the Garden Club: Day 3

Wednesday is the home stretch of Wreath Week: we're halfway done with our orders by Wednesday morning — or we should be. This year, we were on track, unlike other years when we realized we had to hustle.

I found this big spray of holly when I pulled a handful from a bag. It was so beautiful I had to photograph it:

It was too big for a wreath and far too poisonous to take home, so I gave it to someone who knew what to do with it and didn't have cats.

My first wreath was for yet another all-natural outdoor wreath with a red bow and some gold accents:

By Wednesday, we're often running low on some materials. This year it was pinecones. I was aghast. Fortunately, I begin hoarding some of my favorite materials on Monday morning, so I had plenty of them to get through the day, as well as more holly. I covered these with glitter spray for a subtle effect. This wreath also has pine sprays, more tiny gold bells, gold-glittered plastic twigs. I'm not an inventive decorator; I tend to use too little gold, or else I go overboard and create a monster.

If you go to the Garden Club's excellent website, where a "Wreath of the Day" is featured, you'll see many of the spectacular wreaths that everyone else creates, and which I ought to use as examples for expand my own skills.

That said, I really like decorating all-natural wreaths that have no bows and I think I manage to pull off a nice, old-fashioned look. Without a bow, the materials with a mix of colors and textures makes it interesting:

This wreath contains most of of my favorite "usual suspects:" pinecones, holly, silvery dried eucalyptus berries (left over from last year), smelly eucalyptus pods, golden yarrow and some scratchy yellow-green stuff that is either cedar or juniper. (If I don't know what some type of green is, I just call it "juniper" to be done with it.) Those pointy white things are milkweed pods. They are very fragile and I tend to wreck them as I wire them to the wreath but they were needed here.

Wreaths always look better outside in sunlight than under fluorescent tubes in our church basement:

My next project began with a big, bright bow that cowed me:

Lacking the skills to work with lots of glittery plastic items, I used what little I could handle and went to town with sprayed gold pinecones and lotus and yucca pods instead. There was still plenty of good holly, too, although it was running low. I added some red glass balls and more of those charming little gold bells and called it quits. 

I used similar materials for the next wreath, which is now hanging on a black door on Marlborough Street. The bow was sparkly, with gold, red, and green on the front, but burgundy on the back. There are some glittered gold leaves tucked in the greens, as well as sprays of sparkly red beads and more of those tiny gold jingle bells. I was crazy about those bells. They reminded me of something I'd once read about, probably in The Rise of Silas Lapham: the sleek, shiny, horse-drawn sleighs that once raced down Beacon Street in the evenings after a snowfall, packed with young Bostonians joking, singing, and having fun. 

My last wreath was "designer's choice" — phew! Back in my element, using mostly all-natural materials. The rosy bow was so pretty I ordered one like it for my bedroom wreath. The big leaves are eucalyptus. The lotus pods and pinecones are sprayed with glitter and gold and are still attached to their branches. The rose hips are mixed with sparkly red beads. For greens, I used some very soft and fluffy green stuff I can't identify and more of the yellowish-green "juniper."

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Wreath Week with the Garden Club: Day 2

Whoops, where did the time go? Things have been busy around here, due to some extended-family issues and getting ready for Christmas. But here are more wreaths:

Another all-natural outdoor wreath. The blue buds are eucalyptus. They are pretty but they smell like cat pee (not that I would know) so they are only used on outdoor wreaths. I also used pale green eucalyptus berries, pinecones, cedar, rose hips, yucca pods, and another woody bud that I can't identify:

I learned a trick late last year that I remembered this year. I discovered that photos "flatten" the wreath in such a way that I could see where the wreath needed pruning and shaping, easily accomplished with my pruning shears while it's still on the easel. I used to take a photo right before carrying the wreath upstairs to our holding area. Now I study the photo and make adjustments before I call it finished, and the wreaths have much nicer shapes.

I also started taking more detail photos because I think they are pretty.

Because I was taking it easy due to the osteoarthritis in my thumbs, I didn't do a lot of matched pairs. But I couldn't escape entirely. Back Bay has a lot of double doors, and we get a lot of orders. The problem with doing them isn't so much that they are twice as much work; they can take less time than decorating two different wreaths because, once you've got a plan, you just have to reproduce it as a mirror image on the other wreath. The problem is that, often the second wreath isn't as cooperative as the first. So, to get the same item to stay in place and look right, I often need to use more force, and that's what can hurt my hands. With just one wreath, I can readjust my design a little if the wreath "objects" to my inserting a florist pick in a certain place. With a matched pair, there's much less wiggle room.

The bows on these wreaths are edged with tiny gold beading, so I used gold "pearls" along with sprayed-gold pinecones, lotus pods, and yucca pods to play up the ribbon, although this customer doesn't care for a lot of glitz. Shiny magnolia leaves always look nice, when I remember to use them. I also used yarrow, cedar, and some spectacular holly that showed up in a shopping bag that morning.

I like surrounding my bows with big pinecones:

My final wreath was for a building where one resident loves glitz and another only loves all-natural wreaths. They both want the wreath to make an impact when viewed from the sidewalk. The bow that was chosen was brilliant red with shiny polka dots, so that provided plenty of splashy color and sparkle right there. Last year, I used some spiky, glittery gold sprays on their wreath and they were a hit, so I did it again. Then I added loads of two-tone cedar, light-colored pinecones (for visibility), and holly to pick up the red in the bow. And for a little more gold: clusters. of tiny bells, which will make a sort of faraway, silvery jingle every time the wreath is moved. Opening the door of that building should be fun.

It had rained on Monday, and our wreaths were still soaking wet on Tuesday. This helped keep them fresh and moist during the week, but the water sometimes ran down my easel so it seemed like the wreath had drooled or had an "accident." Usually it had dried by the time I was done working and took the pictures.