Monday, April 24, 2017

And Still Nothing

Still no progress on restoring my photos on this laptop. While the Apple Support Specialist tries different things, each of which takes several days and makes the laptop too slow to be useful, I resort to using my phone for reading news, web surfing, email, and everything else I do.

I miss posting here but even writing this is an annoyingly slow operation.

Aside from this, things around La Casa de Sabine are fine, or as well as they can be — given who is in "charge." We've taken to watching nightly television news for the first time since 9/11. We tune into Rachel Maddow with curiosity and wonder, like it's a soap opera.

The cats are flourishing and enjoying the kraft paper and boxes from a recent Amazon delivery of litter. Harris slept between our heads last night. When he decides to be snuggly, no one is snugglier. He puts his head on my shoulder. It's hard to stay asleep in the presence of so much feline gloriousness, not to mention his nursing on our ears.

To pass the time, I'm rereading The Age of Innocence, one of my favorite books, again. I've done this every few years since my 20s, and it amuses me to discover how my impressions have changed since I first devoured it. Newland Archer has been steadily losing his stature as a noble and tragic hero over the years. I still think he's tragic, of course, but he seems more and more like a fool. He's far too traditional and limited in his thinking, too "New York" after all, to have had a happy life with his Countess. Still, he deserved someone far more companionable than May. A bolder, more honorable and creative man would have found a way out of his engagement that left his and May's reputations intact. As for May, she was no fool at all, yet he never bothered to find that out about her.

Possum is also rereading the book but he's less interested as he feels the descriptions of food and art and inadequate, and there are very few descriptions of birds or wildlife in the country scenes.

That's all I'll say. Please go read some LITERATURE until I can post more drivel here. Thank you for your patience.

Friday, April 21, 2017


I'm still waiting to hear if Apple has been able to find thousands of photos that are missing from my iCloud account. I was supposed to hear on Wednesday; maybe today will be the day. In the meantime, I'm taking photos on my phone but iCloud is turned off, so they aren't transferring to my laptop.

In the meantime, I could be droning on here without any photos, but what fun would that be for anyone? But it could come to that, so be warned.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter Eggs

I hope you had a happy Easter. We celebrated with my husband's Armenian family, and they traditionally play a game where each person chooses an Easter egg — as a weapon. They take turns trying to crack the ends of each other's eggs while everyone watches and comments. When two eggs make contact, one will crack the other. If your egg cracks, you reverse it, which gives you another chance to crack someone's egg. People with two cracked ends are eliminated, and the game keeps going until only one egg remains intact; its owner wins the game. And then everyone realizes it's time to go home.

So my husband and I dyed a dozen eggs on Saturday, knowing they were sacrificial victims. That was a bit difficult for me, because I put some effort into creating pretty eggs. And I've been known to keep the prettiest of my eggs in my fridge until Christmas or beyond. But currently our little fridge is so stuffed with food that even fitting a tiny bowl of eggs in there would be a problem, so I was prepared to let them all go.

While the eggs were cooking on the stove, I settled into an armchair to investigate our newly purchased Paas dyeing kit. Paas kits were hard to find this year because CVS and Walgreen's stopped carrying them, and even the Star Market only had one kit left, weeks ago, and it was the ordinary kind with no special decorating materials. We finally drove to a party store, which also had slim pickings. But there was one kit left to make "Golden Eggs," which included a packet of shimmery gold paint, somy tiny sponges, and a little plastic tray to hold the paint and a few drying eggs.

I quickly discovered that our kit was a few years old, well past its prime. Two of the five dye tablets had crumbled to dust, which poured through the cracks in the brittle cellophane packet that held them. Particles wound up on me, the armchair, and then the kitchen, where I fled to clean it off. But any touch of moisture produced brilliant dye . . . so I had color all over my hands and many parts of the kitchen. We vacuumed the armchair and cleaned up the kitchen as much as we could while the eggs cooked.

Dyeing was messy and fun as usual. We used food coloring along with the surviving tablets, and the eggs came out looking fine, if a little boring. So I opened the tube of golden glaze, hoping it still worked. It did, sort of — but as I was painting an egg it got slippery, and I accidentally knocked over the painting tray, cracking two more eggs and spilling the slimy gold glaze all over our counter. But we kept at it and I only broke one more egg before I gave up and left the others plain. Here are the results:

The egg game participants who chose gold-glazed eggs admired them at first but quickly began complaining that the color was coming off all over their hands. I had no sympathy since they were wrecking my lovely eggs and also because I had just eaten such a quantity of Armenian food, coffee cake, fruit salad, and a bagel (we have a Jewish contingent as well), that I was borderline comatose. That gold glaze is slimy, but it washes off quickly, and a slippery, sticky egg makes the game more challenging.

I took these photos of the eggs yesterday morning, to memorialize them.

Harris knew better than to touch any of the eggs this year. Last year, he kept trying to fish them out of the bowl so he could roll them onto the floor. This year he just posed attractively. Harris is smart.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

In the Public Garden

Back Bay is all spiffed up so it looks good on TV during the Marathon. The streets have been cleaned, spring bulbs are blooming in gardens, urns, and windowboxes, and the swan boats are back in the Public Garden, floating on what was only a pond-sized mud hole last week.

I went by and took the usual, boring shot:

After all, it's always nice to see them in April after months of looking at the mud hole. 

Then I walked toward Charles Street and ran into Jesus. I knew Him right away because of the crown of thorns, the shepherd's crook . . .

And the rollerblades: 

We were happy to see each other. It had been a while (since high school, to be honest), and we hadn't been keeping in touch. 

This was on Thursday, so I reminded Him that He had a dinner date and an appointment at the Garden of Gethsemane later. So He was in the wrong garden. (I always try to help visitors find their way around my city.)

He skated a tight, graceful circle around me as we talked, and confessed that He had no idea where He was supposed to be going next. "I should read the Bible. I actually don't know a thing," He said, looking deeply into my eyes in that Jesus way of His.

I said it made no difference, really, because the story turns out okay for Him in the end.

On Berkeley Street

I spotted these hydrangeas in a pair urns flanking a door on Berkeley Street, and the colors couldn't have been better:

But as I walked around the corner to Beacon Street, I was surprised to find this guy in the garden instead of the Easter Bunny:

Friday, April 14, 2017


Just checking in . . . I miss you all!

I've made a few more new Apple Support Specialist pals around the country — including J (a patient, old-school Southern gentleman), D (Genius Bar, entertained us with spectacular mime and hip-hop moves during the long wait times of our 2 1/2–hour session), and S (Sacramento by way of New Jersey, rescued newborn kittens last year who didn't make it, so I'm hoping to talk him into adopting).

But my photos still aren't fixed and my laptop is still slow and cantankerous. My case has been "escalated" to an Apple Engineer, who will try to repair my iCloud account. This will take several business days. I don't know how it will happen, but I imagine that the engineer's first step will be to go up in a plane and look for my account, and then try to find my 9,000 missing photos, which are probably floating around loose up there, and persuade them to go back where they belong.

In the meantime, I'm supposed to keep my paws off the Photos app. But I will post some unedited recent photos tomorrow.

Good night!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Patriot on Pinckney Street

This bust of Paul Revere (his name is on the base) has been looking out of this window of an old wooden house on Pinckney Street for as long as I've been living in Boston — and that's more than 35 years. I remember admiring him shortly after I moved here and began exploring the nearby historic neighborhoods. If you dare to peek further into the window, you'll see a room nicely furnished in antiques that match his era, so he's right at home. 

Those ruffled curtains haven't changed, either. They are a quintessential Old New England item that that's been out-of-fashion for years, replaced first by polyester sheers and then by everything from floor-length drapes to wooden blinds and shutters. But the old cotton curtains still look charming and appropriate in our old houses, and plenty of Old New Englanders swear by them — just not that many in Beacon Hill anymore. Beacon Hill is a popular place for young families now, and their taste runs to modern and trendy. But you can still get curtains like these from Country Curtains, in white or natural, in pure cotton or a blend, with or without ruffles. Long may they wave in the multi-paned windows of our historic houses. 

Paul Revere hasn't changed a bit over the decades that he's been watching over Pinckney Street, while I have definitely gone downhill and become an antique myself. I realize this was inevitable, just as I know that Paul's time in that window continues to decrease, so that every time I see him feels like a little victory over time. Whoever keeps him in there will eventually move on, one way or another. And then Paul will disappear, the house will change hands, and the new owner will likely gut it to the studs. 

Then, one day, I'll pass that window and find — who knows? but I can guess — millennial-pink drapes in the replacement windows, and a trendy breed of lapdog looking out from Paul's old spot. Behind him, in the newly "opened" kitchen-living-dining room, there will be a vast Viking stove, a stone-topped island with bar stools, and a big TV screen over the fireplace. A young family will be sitting there, eating takeout from Anna's Taqueria or The Upper Crust.

How I hope it won't happen soon.

Growly Time

Harris wants to show off again with his fox-fur Growly, now battered and partially digested. We even broke the pole in half the other day but it's still useable.

He looks vicious as he growls away with that soggy mess in his mouth. I like to pick him up and carry him over to my husband so he can share in Harris's scary growliness. I have to pry his jaws apart to rescue the toy, risking my fingers. I can't believe how strong he is. He claws at my hands but his claws are trimmed and smooth. And I can tell he doesn't feel good about possibly hurting me, so I win that battle.

I think his goal is to get the entire thing into his mouth and he is getting better at it. As a result, our playtime gets shorter since I have to keep pulling it back out. We could use a bigger, tougher growly, but it needs to be real fur to entice Harris. We have the fake-fur version of this thing that is going strong after many years.

More of Same

For the past few days, my laptop has been very, very slow, making me remember what computers were like in the '90s. It's even brought back buried memories of my days using early word-processors, like Wangs and Laniers, the first high-tech office machines of the early '80s. They had little green or brown screens, and our lives revolved around floppy disks of various sizes. If you didn't remember to insert a floppy disk into your Lanier at the end of a day, everything you'd typed was erased when you turned off the machine. We were always in such a hurry to get out of that office at 5 pm that this sort of thing happened with surprising frequency. But since our bosses didn't understand a thing about our computers, the consequences were minor since they'd accept all sorts of creative explanations.

I've been spending time on the phone with Apple Support Specialists. The last one, who spent more than two hours with me, lives on a horse farm three hours north of Chicago. She confessed that she has never been to an Apple Store and has no desire to visit one, although she's heard they are cool, because cities give her the creeps and she is a "country girl." She told me they have 42 horses, which is more than they'd like since the horse market dried up some years ago. She also has two kids, numerous barn cats, four dogs, two donkeys, and four indoor cats, all of whom were found as kittens near death on the property. We had time for her to tell me all of their stories, and many more. I know that a bale of hay in Illinois can cost $5, but the same bale will cost $20 in Arizona. I also know that her little girl had managed to save $400 by the time she was five, which allowed her to buy her own horse, a miniature one, at auction. Her mother just had to supply another $10 for the winning bid. (Chores pay well for preschoolers on horse farms; I only had a piggybank with coins when I was five, but it seems kid wages have gone up a lot in subsequent decades.)

I think it's great that Apple trains and employs people remotely all over the continent — I've worked with people everywhere from Nova Scotia to Florida. Also New Hampshire. While they are all easy to work with, well-informed, and helpful, they haven't solved the many problems afflicting my machine, and they have caused a few more. For a while the other night, my computer was so slow to start up that, for about 20 minutes, it appeared to have become nothing more than a digital picture frame for my background photo of Harris.

I was able to wake up the laptop and write this today, though, which is an improvement, since even typing a short email is sometimes problematic. (I know a couple of little ways to try to "soothe" this laptop myself now.) I'm still missing 10,000 photos, and so on, despite the best efforts of a small national cadre of specialists, so I have an appointment at the Apple Genius Bar this afternoon. I will probably have to leave the laptop there for some time.

In the meantime, I'll try to post of cat photos, just to cheer myself up. I'll do that as soon as I'm done venting here. Fingers crossed.

My husband is convinced my laptop is on its last legs and wants me to get a new one. It's true that it is seven years old, so very close to the end of a normal lifespan if not beyond it. But I like it so much better than the new ones. Over the years, Apple has removed feature after feature from laptops in the name of making them cooler and sleeker — and more like an iPhone. For example, mine has a DVD player, and a pressure-sensitive magnetic "Mag"Safe" power plug, which has saved its life several times when one of us has gotten a leg caught on its power cord. The new laptops stay attached to their power cord and go flying when the cord gets yanked. They also have super-glossy screens, and glare is a big problem for me. My laptop also has useful ports, which I need to connect various back-up drives, since our wireless one, the Time Capsule, had a change of heart last month and reported that it doesn't like living in the past anymore. It said it wants to every single back-up — years of them — and start fresh. Just when I've lost 10,000 photos. I'm opposed to this.

I'm opposed to a lot of things these days.

I don't think there's much about the new laptops that make them superior to mine. They are faster, but our wifi is so troublesome that I doubt I'd notice. I know they have a touch-screen in place of a toolbar, but I don't care. I know there are other bells and whistles that I'll probably want to ignore or disable. I know the screen is supposed to be brilliant and sharp, but if it's always covered in fingerprints and cat noseprints plus GLARE, who cares?

My husband says I sound like a geezer, but I insist that I have a point. Apple laptops are getting more and more like our phones. It's great to give a phone more functionality, to make it more like a tiny laptop you can throw in your pocket. But I think it's wrong to make a laptop behave more like a tiny phone by removing drives, ports, and magnetic plugs, and by ignoring the advantages of a big screen and full keyboard, which make working on a laptop superior to working on a phone.

It's easy to move a shiny phone screen into shadow — often you just have to bend your head over it. It's hard to prevent glare when the laptop has to sit on your desk or lap. If I have to get a new laptop, I'll need to retro-fit it with an anti-glare screen, a DVD player, an after-market magnetic plug adapter, and a set of ridiculously expensive plastic adapters called "dongles" to serve the purposes of the ports that sit in a neat, unobtrusive row along the side of my laptop. This strikes me as stupid.

I know I have to move on, and adapt, but I resent the fact that Apple is increasingly dumbing-down its laptops and removing features that its customers like and rely upon. I recently had to update my operating system (which has caused most of the problems I have now.) So I had use a newer version of Photos, and I can't stand it. The previous version allowed me to see two rows of large thumbnails of photos in the same batch as whatever photo I was editing. When I take a lot of shots, say of Harris in a box, it's really helpful to see all those other photos as I'm choosing which ones to keep and edit. But that wonderful double row has been replaced with a bar of  tiny thumbnails across the bottom of the window. Now I have a choice of seeing my photos in two sizes:  about the size of my little fingernail, or the size of my index fingernail. (I have little hands.) Those views are useless. But that's how photo editing might work on a phone, which I can hold up to my nose to see. I can't do that with a laptop. So photo editing just became a pain. It's stupid to make a laptop act like a phone.

My husband tells me that my choices are to get a PC (horrors, we've been Apple customers from Day 1) or lower my expectations. I suppose I could experiment a little on his shiny new laptop and see how I like it. But it's in the shop. The spacebar doesn't work.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


By Sunday, I'd thought that my laptop and phone were back to normal. But I was an April Fool.

About a quarter of my 40,000 photos are missing in iCloud, and the older photos I do have are misbehaving. Apple Support insisted that I upgrade my laptop to the newest operating system before they could help me solve the problem. So I did, reluctantly.

It was a big mistake.

More later. I'm trying to do a full back-up, save all the old back-ups (that want to erase themselves), find those missing photos, and figure out a better way to store them so that they never disappear on my again. (Ha.)  Then I plan to regress my laptop back to the older OS, which runs more smoothly on my 7-year-old machine. Even Apple thinks this is a good idea. (Ha.)

This is the photo that made me realize I was in trouble:

I took this in 2013, and it should be sharp at the usual size here. But something happened to the large, original file. This is as big as it gets. At least it still exists.

Friday, March 31, 2017

An Early School Group Tour at the MFA

This photo (undated, photographer unknown) was taken some time after the Museum of Fine Arts moved from Copley Square to its current home in The Fenway in 1909. An enlargement hangs in the corridor around the museum's rotunda with several other historical photos.

Judging from the clothing, I'm guessing this photo is from about 1912 to 1916, mainly because the adults' skirts are long and the hats are small. It's interesting that many of the girls are wearing shoes instead of boots. (If you can date this more accurately, please let me know!)

I like to imagine that these girls are from the Winsor School, an easy walk across the Fenway. And that maybe Janet and Ruth Sabine are in the group. It's possible, but I'll never know.

I continue to think about the Sabines, who lived (and died) in my building from 1909 to 1950, all the time.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Few More Tech Troubles

I think and hope that this will be my last post about my passel of technology woes. And I think I will also spare you the Nightmare That Is Our Taxes.

As if the credit card fraud and new email address hassles weren't enough, last night I decided to update my iPhone to the latest operating system, which came out last fall. For months, the phone has been giving me little messages several times a day, demanding that I agree to this update —  interrupting me as I was trying to take photos or check email. Every single time, I sternly refused and told it to bug me again "later."

I liked the phone as it was. I don't like adjusting to unnecessary, arbitrary new ways to get to the camera, turn the darn thing on, etc. I have learned from experience that whatever they do to switch things up is rarely an improvement.*

I'm not sure what possessed me to agree to the update last night, although one of the several Apple Support people who've been spending lots of time with me lately urged me to get it done. (Yet I'd successfully ignored all of my husband's frequent admonitions to do it.)

Since I've been going through so much tech torture anyway, I must have figured, what the heck, why not add one more thing to the mess?

Big mistake. For one thing, I didn't check that I'd backed up the phone before starting the update. I just caved — I was busy, in the middle of making dinner — and I just blithely set the update in motion when the nagging message showed up for the 1000th time.

After all these months of nagging me to update, you'd think the phone might have nagged me even a little bit about making sure it was backed up first. And set up with a strong wifi signal to speed things along. But no.

It began around 7 pm and was still chugging away at 9, claiming it was updating iCloud settings. My husband had decided it was taking too long and helpfully powered-down the phone and restarted it, thinking this would get it to behave. I turns out that is one of the worst things you can do during an update. But I didn't have a fit; I would have done it myself if he hadn't beaten me to it.

Every time I'd check the phone, it did the same maddening thing: It would show me a series of white screens that said "hello" in about 36 different languages, one at a time. Then it would ask for my passcode and my password, and then it would go right back to telling me it was updating iCloud settings. Those hellos began to seem passive-aggressive as hell.

I called Apple around 11 and learned that we could either let the phone keep updating overnight or erase it completely and reinstall everything as if it were a new phone. I'm not sure of the whereabouts of around 9,000 photos since the other night, when I dealt with changing my Apple ID on iCloud, my phone, and my laptop. So starting fresh wasn't an option. We went to bed.

When a cat knocked over a pile of recycling in the kitchen at 5 am, we both got up and checked the phone. It was still "updating iCloud settings" while saying hello in too many languages.

I slept in, and the phone was still misbehaving when I got up. I noticed the wifi signal was weak. I walked it around the house to find the best spot. The living room mantel has one spot that's not bad but I can't get a full signal anywhere in the house. I stuck the phone in the spot and checked it every hour or so.

Hello. Hola. Bonjour. Dobry Den. 

I had to pay a few bills on my bank's website. First, I had to change the my credit card number to the newest one — my (second) replacement card had arrived yesterday. But to do that I had to enter a security code that the bank texted to my iPhone. Except my iPhone was still too busy saying hello to accept texts.

I called Apple Support for — what? — the sixth time since Friday? I have to say they are always really good. It's not their fault that Apple keeps messing up its products; they can still help us cope.

I was instructed to find a cable to connect my phone to my laptop while iTunes was open. (I found one behind our breadbox.) Connecting it seemed pointless, but as soon as I did the phone snapped to attention, stopped greeting me, and began to work for the first time in 16 hours.

Sixteen hours without a mobile phone (and camera) turns out to be a lot. Isn't that sad? I need to reflect on this, and my life.

I was so grateful to have a working phone again that I'm still not complaining about how horrible it is now.**

It could be that going for "a long time" without a phone taught to appreciate having one, no matter how frustrating it is now.

Or it could be that my husband had had enough of all the tech sturm und drang around here (we both know I married him for 24/7 tech support) and sensibly scheduled himself to be on campus from early morning until late tonight. Moaning to cats is not nearly so satisfying as moaning to him.

You pick.

* I hate the new iPhone 7, with its simulated Home button, to the point where I emit an involuntary "Ew!" and shudder every time I try to use my husband's. When I touch that button, it doesn't feel like a boring little click, it feels like the phone is collapsing internally because I just broke it. Ew! It creeps me out. I will never move on to an iPhone 7 unless someone develops a hack to improve that.

** I can't easily turn on the phone, or find the camera in a hurry (essential for taking cat pictures), or figure out how to get written directions in maps, or any of a dozen other things that were intuitive yesterday but are now just different enough to be annoying and hard. I could read up on it and I probably will (unless my husband gives me lessons) But I'm a little too fed up to do that right now.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Possum and Toffee

Possum played possum in this dramatic pose the other day. I'm not sure how to interpret this shameless, or unselfconscious, or silly, or just weird display. Toffee wasn't sure, either, but felt obliged to bear witness.


Some Technical Difficulties

I haven't been posting as much as usual because I've been distracted by life, The News, and various technical problems.

I'm sorry this post has no cute photos. I always like to post photos I've just taken, but I've been having trouble getting those photos to copy automatically from my phone to my laptop via iCloud these days. For example, I've been waiting for a series of odd Possum-and-Toffee photos, which will appear in my next post, to load for several days. I finally gave up and emailed them to myself — how primitive. How 2008.

This is just one of many troubles I've had in recent weeks. If you are not into long and boring stories about how technology fails us, please, please quit reading here and look for the cat photos I'm about to post next, okay? This post is mainly to document the mess I've been in this month. That way, if/when it happens again, I'll know what happened and what to do next.

I've had to stop using the Verizon email address that I've used for everything for close to 20 years. Verizon decided to get out of the email business. They are switching those accounts to AOL. But I don't have to tell you that AOL is not cool. I couldn't use it anymore than I could ride a girl's bike or wear pristine white sneakers. Some things will never happen.

I've been spending part of every day changing my many, many online accounts over to a more recent Gmail address I've been using for a little while. It has been a nuisance, particularly because the old email address was my Apple ID, and that Gmail address was the backup "recovery" address in case bad things happened. For some reason, Apple made it very hard for me make the switch. I had to jump through several virtual hoops, including dredging up an ancient Yahoo address (and remembering the password) to swap for the recovery address. Then I had to wait 30 days to see if that worked. It did. But everything still went to hell when I finally did the switch and it didn't register at iCloud. I had to enter it manually in about 20 places on all of my devices. (Oh, no. I forgot all about my iPad! Argh....)

An hour or so on the phone with Apple Support made things better but not great. Fixing  the mess meant erasing all of my photos, contacts, calendars, and notes on all of my devices, one at a time, and hoping they'd reappear via iCloud. That's how some photos went missing. I'll be back on the phone with Apple tomorrow to see if we can find them. I estimate that about 9,000 disappeared. I am trying to stay calm. (It's not hard because I'm far too confused and tired to successfully freak out.)

Yesterday I discovered that my carefully curated set of bookmarks, which appear in a row across my web browser, had gone to hell. They were still there, but they were mixed in with about 50 others, many of which were ancient history. These must have lived somewhere on my phone, where I ignored them, but iCloud didn't. Similar things happened to my "Reading List," an insane number of web links that I consulted all the time to find blogs and other sites I frequented often. It is now a mess; I can't find anything.

Maybe this is God's way of telling me to read more books.

I'd be philosophical about all this except that, recently, my automatic "Time Machine" backup disk decided that it didn't like me and my laptop anymore. It was my main archive if my laptop died or fried. And now it is on the fritz. On March 11, it whimsically told me that it wanted to erase ALL of my backups, the ones it carefully saved over several years, because it wants a fresh start. I have no way to tell it that "fresh starts" are rarely what they are cracked up to be.

I wouldn't care that much except for my photos. I have had other weird stuff happening to them. I have about 40,000 and maybe that's a lot for Apple to handle. But it seems to me that some people take about that many in a week — and all selfies. Anyhow, I refuse to let my archive erase itself. So I had to stop those life-preserving automatic backups. Now I just do manual backups to an external hard drive — when I remember. Fortunately, I'd done that just before those 9,000 photos took off for Neverland. Of course, if I back up my laptop NOW, all of them will disappear from my archive. Sigh.

On top of that, I discovered fraudulent charges on my credit card earlier this month. I just happened to be looking at my account online (after changing the damn password). I discovered a $300 charge to a company in California called Keen. I also saw that someone had set up a Lyft account in San Francisco, setting up auto-billing with a charge of less than a dollar. Clearly someone had stolen my info.

I called my bank and, as part of dealing with the fraudulent charges, they had me call Keen to dispute the charge. I had imagined they sold hiking shoes, but they are an online fortune-telling service. They sign up freelance psychics who use the site to charge gullible people large sums for "advice." I wonder if their advice ever includes advising clients not to throw money away on psychics.

Keen helpfully has its own fraud department. I spoke to a woman who began by asking for my name and address.

"But you're psychics." I said.

"I am not a psychic," she said, patiently.

"Honey, nobody is." I said.

That charge was dropped, my credit card was canceled, and a new one arrived. To get it overnighted, I had to pay $6, and I'm still hopping mad about that, since I've been a customer for 22 years.

I assumed that the Lyft charge had been settled, too. I began using my new card. That meant giving the number to various companies I use often like the pet store where I order all the cat food. I did this during breaks from spreading my new email address around, which included repeated contact with some of my associates, who kept ignoring my repeated pleadings and warnings to delete the Verizon address.

The other day I got at my latest credit card bill and found more Lyft charges. So, back to the phone. I'm getting yet another credit card. This time, they are paying the overnight postage. And the bank has finally figured out that they can't just automatically transfer over all of the monthly automatic charges to this new card, as they naively did last time.

And this time I contacted Lyft and their fraud department tracked down the crook's account and froze it.

However, I got a couple of weird emails, yesterday, informing me that my Apple Pay AND Android Pay accounts were updated with my new card number. (I love Apple Pay, because all I need to buy groceries is my phone. I can leave my wallet and purse at home.) But I don't have Android Pay. Maybe the crook in California does. I made some calls. Neither my bank now Apple knows what those emails are about. My bank can't even tell me what that new card number is — they don't know! The card has to arrive here and I have to authorize it first, I guess. I'm hoping those emails have something to do with all that iCloud erasing I had to do the other night, to start using my new email address. More phone calls tomorrow.

Such fun. And I did mention it's also Turbo Tax time? Let's just not go there. Ever.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Nose in the Roses

Guess whose pink nose that is?

Harris, of course. My husband has taken to referring to him as "Doctor Evil," a term of endearment. Harris just can't leave anything unexplored, including these roses from Wilson Farm. The bunch was huge and they didn't all fit in the vase I use in the bedroom. Harris immediately spotted the extras on the living room mantel, and that was that.

From here on, the soundtrack for these photos was me saying, "No Harris!" or "Stop that!" Emphatically and repeatedly.

You can tell I'm annoying him because his ears are back in most of these photos.

Saying "NO" and urging Harris to remember his better nature are rarely effective deterrents.

He doesn't like being told he can't do something.

At some point during his crimes, Harris inevitably pretends to be (briefly) uninterested in whatever he's after, in hopes of fooling me into leaving him alone and going off to bother someone else:

But he can't control himself:

If he could talk to us, I bet he'd say that his investigations are of a purely scientific nature.

But I think his real goals are to eat my roses and disobey me. My exhortations kept him from chomping away on the flowers but he refused to surrender entirely.

I can always tell when Harris isn't happy. He has such an expressive face, especially when he's peeved:

He thinks the world is a cruel and unfair place. Yes, it is, Harris. But not for you.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Spring is Here

Spring arrived cold and breezy in Boston, but the brilliant sunshine and cloudless skies reminded me that soon I'll be hot, cranky and dependent on sun hats. I walked home from a doctor's appointment along The Fenway this morning and wished the snow would stick around. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The New Growly

I took pity on Harris (and myself, since he tortures me every morning by pushing things off my desk and clawing at our jackets on our coatrack) and unwrapped the back-up Neko Flies Kittenator pole toy attachment, aka Harris's "Growly," which I had squirreled away for future use.

Harris at war with my messy desk because he wants to play with his Growly.

After only a few days, it's ready starting to look like his previous one — that is, how it looked after it spend long stretches of time in Harris's mouth but before Lion ate 14" of its string and put it out of commission. This is the old one. It's made of fox fur, I think, and it is irresistible. I don't dare try to photograph the new one because it will be attacked if it sits anywhere for more than a few seconds.

Kittenator showing signs of being digested

I wish I could show you Harris's intense focus and feats of athleticism as he chases his new growly. I work hard to keep it from him; it flies high and darts all over the room with just a few tempting pauses to challenge him into running after it. He's a match for me, though — talented at grabbing it when I least expect it, often when it's in the air. And we play where HE wants to play. He usually likes to play in the bedroom, so he will race in there and wait for me to follow.

I wish I could film him victorious, strutting around with it in his mouth. He drags me from room to room, growling and proud, with ears flat and eyes narrowed. He especially loves to jump into the Amazon box we kept around for him, which he thinks is the perfect spot for growling over his Growly.

But I can't photograph him because I won't take my focus or my hands off the pole toy even for a few seconds after what happened with Lion. I'm no longer letting Harris spend several minutes at a time with the toy clenched in his jaws, either. I want this toy to last and it won't if his saliva dissolves it. So I pry open his jaws, which is a struggle, and I yank it out after a short time as he fights me off with his paws. Growling.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Talking Tea: Part 4, The End!

When it finally sank in that my husband hated our kettle, which he'd been using many times a day for years to make our tea, I felt bad. I wanted to fix the problem quickly. I like problems that can be fixed with shopping.

After some scouting, I confirmed that there was no stovetop kettle we'd both love. He has to use it but I have to look at it. I'm unusually fussy about kettle functionality and aesthetics. I rejected everything out there. 

A kettle should have a pleasant, clear whistle; most do not. A kettle should be easy to fill and pour, and have a handle that doesn't get hot (or melt) and a lid that stays put. Its interior should stay spic-and-span or be easy to clean. It should not turn alarming colors, as ours did. 

A kettle should also be beautiful, since it sits on the stove, attracting attention. Our Simplex is beautiful — it just, you know, annoys my husband and might be poisoning us. No other kettle can beat it for looks, though. I'm not a fan of colored enamel (Chantal, Le Creuset), or black plastic handles (practically everybody). Copper kettles are lovely until they tarnish, and they sure tarnish. All stainless kettles (All-Clad, Cuisinart, Alessi, Oxo) look grayish and dull compared to our silvery, chrome-plated Simplex. 

Staub makes a cast-iron one that looks like a weird little cookpot. According to its Williams-Sonoma blurb, it heats water slowly. That's a plus? When we want tea, we don't want the water to gently simmer. We want it to boil like hell. We want fast

"Aha!" I thought. "People like us use electric kettles." But, in my mind's eye, I saw my scale-encrusted $5 hot pot from college. I saw the cheap, grungy plastic and metal kettles from True Value that sit on elderly relatives' countertops. None of those would do, but was their a nice electric kettle? I began looking. 

I soon arrived at and their excellent article, The Best Home Electric Kettle. They did everyone's homework and analyzed all the major kettles. However, their criteria weren't the same as mine. We agree that a kettle should be affordable, safe, fast, easy to fill and pour, and should shut off automatically. But they prefer variable-temperature kettles that heat below boiling for brewing green, oolong, and white teas. We only like black and herbal teas, so we just need a kettle that boils. Their top-rated Cuisinart is a big, boring steel pot with too many buttons and options.

Electric kettles get bad reviews because they leak, fail, don't boil, overheat, or have parts that melt, discolor, shatter, or break off. As with all foreign-made electrics, there's always a chance you'll get a dud or doozy. Always read product reviews for the disaster and success stories others have had. Most people are satisfied but there are always a few who end up with melted kitchen cabinets or strange skin rashes.

With an electric kettle, it's most important that your water doesn't come into contact with a reactive material. Steel and tempered glass are good, but rubber, adhesives, and plastic are not. Most kettles have a least a few plastic parts that come in contact with the water, even if it's just while you're pouring it. Those parts ought to be BPA-free, of course, but there's no guarantee that BPA-free plastic is less toxic; BPA is the only chemical that's regulated but there are numerous similar chemicals — too many to regulate.

I decided I could live with a little plastic in an electric kettle. At least we would no longer be poisoning ourselves with copper or blackened tin. 

The Sweet Home recommended one glass kettle and the photos looked cool. Then I remembered seeing one at a friend's house and being surprised at how quickly it worked. So I looked for glass kettles on Amazon. Glass sort of disappears on your counter. Glass lets you watch the water roil and boil, and you'll always know how clean your kettle is, or not. You never have to peer into a cloudy little window to check the water level.

Then I discovered one other feature, which had nothing to do with quality, purity, speed, safety, or anything at all, but it made up my mind. Some glass kettles LIGHT UP BLUE as they heat. I knew we were getting one. 

I knew my husband to be a guy who likes things that light up, especially for no particular reason, and especially bright blue. I mean, LOOK:

I presented him with a few options and he chose a small, simple one with double-walled glass so it won't burn us (or cats jumping on the counter). At $53, it was an affordable experiment. 

So far, he completely loves it. It's fast, clean, and easy to use. While it is far from some gorgeous, high-end design, I find it relatively unobtrusive on the counter, despite its big white plastic handle. And it's fun to turn off the kitchen lights and enjoy the kettle's bright glow as we wait for it to boil. We've only had it about a month, so we may get tired of that, but not yet.

If a more elegant model comes along, we'll get that. As long as it lights up blue. 

I still keep the Simplex on the stove because I like to look at it.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Talking Tea: Part 3

This is now a four-part tea series instead of three because an update on Simplex tea kettles is long overdue. In my last "Talking Tea" post, I'll tell you about our newest kettle, which we love.

My husband makes almost all of the tea we drink while I research and choose all of our household equipment. This means that he is stuck using the kettle I choose. This isn't right if it makes him suffer, and it took us both until last month to figure that out.

From the late 1990s to 2010, we used a Bodum steel kettle with gold-plated trim, a wood handle, and a pretty blue ball on the  lid:

Our scary-but-pretty Bodum kettle, left, and the Simplex Heritage chrome kettle, right.

My husband thought this kettle was fine. I hated it. I'd heat water in the microwave or drink something cold rather than use it. The handle had swingy golden hinges so the kettle would sway and try to burn my hand as I poured it. The lid liked to pop off and burn me as I poured, too, no matter how firmly I'd pushed it down and prayed for it to stay put. And it didn't whistle, so we sometimes forgot it was on the stove. In fact, we'd destroyed our first Bodum kettle, an expensive copper one, that way within days of receiving it. (I think it had been a wedding present; I know it was a bad day.)

By late 2010, I was tired of being afraid of a kettle. I did my research and wrote about it here. I settled on a Simplex Beehive, made in England. Simplex kettles, in copper or chrome, had been made by the same British factory since 1903. They earned almost uniformly rave reviews everywhere I looked, and their happy owners promised they'd last a lifetime. Naturally, as soon as I decided we had to have one, I discovered that the company had unexpectedly locked its doors one night the previous summer and ceased production. Retailers were selling out of them and couldn't restock. I'm a relentless hunter-shopper, but Simplex Beehive kettles were no longer available anywhere. 

I decided I'd settle for their other model, the Heritage. I got on the phone and tracked one down in the stockroom of a Sur la Table in Michigan. The kettle (dated 2007 on a slip of paper inside it) arrived just before Christmas 2010. At $150, it was far more expensive than most kettles (except maybe those cutesy Alessis), but I believed it was worth it, since we'd never need to replace it. 

It turns out that Simplexes don't always last a lifetime . . . if you turn your stove up a little too high, or scrub at what you think is gunk on the interior but is actually the fragile, discolored, and essential tin plating over the copper core of the kettle. You need to handle a Simplex with care; my husband didn't. Alas.

In 2011 and 2012, I kept tabs on future of the Simplex company and reported here. They pledged to reopen under new management; eventually they did. In the meantime, this blog got lots of hits from people trying to track down a new kettle. Used ones were selling for a small fortune on eBay. In England, my blog was said to appear at the top of Google search results for "Simplex."

In the years after the factory reopened, American companies, including Amazon, Williams-Sonoma, and Sur la Table restocked the kettles, but customer reviews were generally negative, if not horrible. Issues with rust, the tin lining flaking, dead whistles, defective lids, etc. were widespread. And these bad kettles now cost twice what I'd paid, about $300. Soon they all stopped selling Simplexes again — but by choice this time.

In December 2015, I was evaluating all of our shabby, old cookware with an eye to replacing it. I bravely peeked into our kettle and thought I saw copper instead of tin. The interior was reddish and blackish, streaky and evil-looking. Boiling water in copper is not considered safe. There are differing opinions on just how unsafe it is, but it's probably never a good idea. Our kettle had probably been that way for years. I mentioned this during a visit to the liver specialist and she eagerly offered to subject me to a battery of tests for copper poisoning. I said no, and pulled our Bodum kettle out of storage. I also took photos of the kettle's interior and emailed them to Simplex's customer service, with links to relevant old blog posts of mine. 

They sent me a replacement kettle for free. It arrived in time for Christmas, packed in a fancy carton and wrapped in a soft fabric bag. At first I was delighted and planned to writing a glowing update here. Upon further inspection, the kettle's tin lining was already mottled black and gray. It looked almost as unwholesome as my old kettle. I suspected they'd sent me a reject or a refurb. When we used it, it had a sickly, half-hearted whistle we could barely hear. 

Simplex still wasn't making decent kettles, it seemed. I felt awkward complaining about a freebie or asking if they'd sent me a reject. I decided not to blog about it; bad reviews were already speaking for themselves all over the intertubes. (You can still find some on Amazon.)

In January, I talked to a guy named Jim in Rhode Island who does copper re-tinning. I sent him both kettles. He re-tinned the interior of our old one and shipped it a few back months later, and sold the new one on consignment. 

Re-tinning is expensive. I exhorted my husband not to overheat the kettle in future; he obeyed. But its dull, rough, gray interior soon was covered in a black bloom that looked like mold, or tiny lichens. I told Jim, who said this was normal tin discoloration; as long as copper wasn't showing through we would be okay.

Okay. But making tea in a blackened kettle seemed far from pleasant. My husband wasn't happy about it, especially as it continued to look worse as time passed. He claimed it was probably poisoning us (while offering no evidence). He also complained that he'd always had trouble filling the kettle* and that it took forever for it to boil, now that he had to use less heat. He said hated the kettle. 

And here he was, using it as often as three or four times day. 

I finally realized this was not nice at all. So last month I went kettle shopping again. 

In closing, I need to report that the Simplex Kettle Company has changed hands, or something, once again. They are now calling themselves the Richmond Kettle Company and they sell four "Richmond kettles" that look identical to Simplex Heritage kettles —for around $300, in copper or chrome, and for gas or regular stoves, just like before. (They also make a silver-plated Jubilee edition for $350 to honor HRH QE2. )I discovered this just last month. They are on Facebook.

It remains to be seen whether the Richmond kettle is as good as the old Simplex kettles were/are. Let's hope that they aren't as bad as newer Simplex kettles. I'll be checking reviews when American shops start carrying them. And if anyone in England wants to send me one, I'll be happy to put it to the test. 

It's a gorgeous kettle. It's the Mrs. Patmore (Downton Abbey) of kettles. It's the Mrs. Bridges (Upstairs-Downstairs) of kettles, too. There's no kettle I've ever admired more. 

But we've had to move on.

* I have never, EVER spilled drop of water filling that kettle. The opening is wide; the handle is NOT in the way. I observed my husband in action and spotted his problem. He filled kettle with water from our Brita filtration pitcher  — right after he'd overfilled the pitcher. He always adds more water than will fit in its reservoir, so there's extra water on top, which overflows from under the lid instead of the spout when we pour. He refuses to stop overfilling it. So, when he pours it, he gets a waterfall. I pointed out that his problem was with the pitcher and not the kettle. He didn't care.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

So Much for a Big Snowstorm

I'm not impressed with today's so-called "blizzard," which promised up to two feet of snow and delivered about six inches. And now it's just raining and turning to slush.

Still, it was an excuse to lounge into the afternoon in PJs, sitting by the window and toasting my feet on the radiator while reading The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food, by Judith Jones, who was Julia Child's editor. Delicious. There were grilled-cheese sandwiches and tomato-basil soup with for lunch, when the snow was still coming down hard.

Others didn't pay the slightest attention to the white stuff:


Friday, March 10, 2017

Talking Tea, Part 2

I submitted this photo of Possum to the Harney's Instagram contest. And didn't win!

(Full disclosure: this is not a paid ad or sponsored post. I just like the brand.) 

We discovered Harney's teas on the October Sunday we adopted Harris in 2012. We'd spent the night in an inn near Woodstock, Vermont, and planned to drive to Kitten Associates in Newtown, Connecticut, to meet Robin and Charley, as he was called then. We hoped to bring him home ahead of Hurricane Sandy, which was due to start battering New England that night.

I was a nervous wreck. I had no doubts about the kitten, just us. I was afraid Robin would take one look at us on her doorstep and change her mind. We had passed a rigorous application process that began with an intense, interactive online questionnaire. Depending on my answer to a question, new windows requesting further details would cascade down the screen. I also had a phone interview, and our vet was called for a reference. We lived too far away for Robin to do a home inspection, however, so I felt we still weren't in the clear. But I already loved Harris; I felt he was my cat.

Oh. Aren't we supposed to be talking about tea?

That morning at the inn, I felt too anxious to eat the waffles, bacon, and eggs in the breakfast room; I could barely handle tea and toast. There was a selection of Harney's tea sachets in pretty tins. I don't remember what I picked, probably something soothing, like mint or chamomile, while my husband tried Vanilla Comoro, a decaffeinated black tea. He raved about it, so I made a mental note to buy some if I ever recovered from my grief in not getting Harris.

We got Harris, and not much of Hurricane Sandy. When I could tear myself away from my cats, I went tea shopping and found Vanilla Comoro at Cardullo's in Harvard Square, and at That Darn Patisserie on Newbury, and Savenor's on Charles, which has the best price. That was four years ago; now Harney's is in supermarkets.

As much as I enjoy tea, it took me a long time to get around to trying other Harney's varieties. I assumed that the best teas came from English or French companies. But black tea is not native to either country and so there's no reason to think that only Europeans can find and buy the best leaves in far more distant countries, or that only they know how to blend and flavor them to make a perfect cup.

It turns out that we Americans can do it, too. Harney's was founded in the 1980s in Salisbury, Connecticut — less than 50 miles north of where Harris came from. (Robin also loves Harney's.) The company recently moved to Millerton, New York.

Two or three Christmases ago, I discovered their Holiday Tea, flavored with almond, citrus, cloves, and cinnamon. I was out of Mariages Frères Noël, and I liked the dark red tin. It's wonderful to drink all year long. That tea brought me to the Harney's website, where I discovered that they have about 300 varieties; Cardullo's only stocks two or three dozen, so this was exciting. I spent hours browsing and reading descriptions, ratings, and reviews. (Tea drinkers generally write useful reviews.)

I also discovered how little I knew about tea. What didn't I know? Just about everything. How black teas, differ and what green and white teas are. Why loose tea may taste better than a teabag, and why a sachet is a good compromise. What temperature the water should be for different types of tea. How teas can be differentiated and judged by not only their flavor, but also by their "briskness," "aroma," and "body." Tea can be judged similar to wine, but I'm not likely to taste the subtle differences others can.

 "I don't see what all the fuss is about."

You can find a lot of what I learned about tea on this helpful page.

Harney's teas are reasonably priced and their website is easy to use and informative, with detailed descriptions and comparative ratings for each tea. They smartly sell inexpensive sample bags of many loose teas, so you can brew two or three cups and decide if you like it. I discovered their Irish Breakfast, Chai, and Chocolate Mint teas this way, and I plan to try a lot more. We buy tins or their  economical bags of 50 sachets of the teas we like best.

Not every variety is a hit. I don't love their "Oaklands Full Assam" because it's too "brisk," or astringent, for me. Their Irish Breakfast is also a pure-Assam tea, and I like it much better. Their "Tower of London" blend in the photos above is a little too flowery-sweet for me, although it's fine once in a while. (And I'm happy to have the purple tin.)

I'm on Facebook and, somehow, Harney's finds me and messages me there about the status of my orders — and so far I've been hearing from members of the Harney family. When I write back with questions, I get prompt, detailed answers. And one stormy day, I called the company with a question and had a great chat with the same Harney son that had messaged me on Facebook.

He told me that their best-selling tea by far is — I'd never guess — Hot Cinnamon Spice. "Tastes like that red-hot candy," he said, sounding a little bemused. "It's so popular that if we only carried that tea, I think we'd do all right."

It's a China tea blended with three kinds of cinnamon, plus cloves and orange peel. I've always hated that candy but the tea is probably worth a try.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Talking Tea, Part 1

These are outtakes for a Harney's Tea "Show us your mug" contest on Instagram. 
I read about the contest at 11:30 pm and it closed at midnight, so I had to hustle. 
That's iced tea in the mug.  The silver bowl holds cotton puffs on our bathroom sink. 
I could take or leave that tea, but the purple tin looks pretty. I didn't win.

This will be the first of three posts about tea. The next post will be about Harney's Tea, and the final post will be about how to boil water, focusing on our new electric kettle, which just replaced our Simplex British stovetop kettle because my husband loathed it despite its timeless good looks. It's time I gave an update on Simplex and what's gone since the company's sudden demise a few years ago, its seeming resurrection, and its current status under a new company name. 

* * * * *

We love tea. My husband always gets up well before I do, puts the kettle on, and makes mugs of black tea for both of us, with milk and sugar. Since I prefer lukewarm and cold tea, I have something nice to look forward to every morning, no matter when I wake up. It's is usually all I need for breakfast. Fortunately, I can handle a mug and a pole toy at the same time, because Harris demands his playtime as soon as I'm up.

My husband drinks regular or decaffeinated tea at all hours and it has no effect on his sleep. If I have a cup of decaf after about 4 pm, I will be up all night. Sometimes that's okay: more time to read.

Our tea preferences are not fancy. We avoid Salada and Lipton, but who doesn't? We use loose tea, bags, and sachets without noticing a lot of difference. We prefer black teas from India and Ceylon to those from China. For Christmas, I got my husband a tea chest similar to this one and we keep it packed with a variety of brands from Bigelow to Tazo. It's easier for him to pick out what he wants instead of rifling through boxes and tins in our cabinet. (I wanted to get him this fancier one, but it's so big that it wouldn't fit anywhere. One of us would have had to move out.)

He drinks a lot of English Breakfast and Earl Grey. My favorite morning tea is Assam, with its strong, malty flavor. Assam often the main component of Irish and Scottish Breakfast teas, which I like, too. 

Green tea tastes like grass to us, but that could be our fault; more on that later. White tea seems "weak" rather than "delicate." Red teas made with hibiscus remind me of Egypt, where they drink it cold and sweet. 

For herbal tea, we like mint, but Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger is among my "madeleines." It returns me to my high school years, when I also discovered overalls, coffeehouses, Earth Shoes, The Grateful Dead, bean sprouts, and Tolkien. I don't step into that time machine often.

We drink lots of flavored black teas, too. No doubt many connoisseurs look down their noses at those, but that leaves more crème brulée, caramel, vanilla, chocolate mint, and butterscotch for us. We also stock up on the spiced teas that are sold at Christmastime so we can have them all year along. And I love chai — my Starbuck's pick if we're out and thirsty.

We used to buy tea in Paris, at Mariages Frères, in business since 1854, and at least as good as English tea in our opinion. We'd find room in our suitcases for their signature black tins filled with fruity Marco Polo, Imperial Wedding with its caramel notes, Vanille des Iles, fragrant Noël, and Butterscotch — our favorite! — among others. But since we aren't crossing the Atlantic very much anymore, we've had to find alternatives. Tealuxe's Caramel Creme Brulée is about as close as we've come to butterscotch.

In Paris, we also discovered Kuzmi Russian teas; their tiny, colorful shop is always packed. Cardullo's in Harvard Square stocks many of their varieties in pretty tin. I like Kashmir Tchai the best, but I also like their Vladimir and St. Petersburg teas, which are sweeter, more complex versions of Earl Grey. They make a nice, low-caffeine Russian Evening tea, too.

We tried various English teas on our trip to London a few years ago, but somehow the Fortnum & Mason and Harrod's teas we eagerly brought home didn't wow us, although they were fine. We made a point of having a "cream tea," every afternoon at a different place, including Fortnum's, our hotel (The Cadogan, where Oscar Wilde was arrested), a church basement, a midcentury-modern tea shop, and a hipster hole-in-the-wall. Every one was marvelous. Why don't we have more tea shops here? Coffee, you say? Ha! Tastes like burnt sticks, or burnt sticks with milk and sugar: I'll have tea.

There is no shortage of imported and local tea around Boston. We can now get several flavors of Harney's teas at the Star Market as well as upscale grocers and Cardullo's. (More on Harney's, which started out in Connecticut and now supplies some London hotels, later.)

For Irish and Scottish breakfast teas, I rely on Taylor's of Harrogate. We drink lots of the Stonewall Kitchen's Wild Maine Blueberry Tea, made by Republic of Tea. We buy tins on our way to Southwest Harbor every summer. Republic of Tea also makes a caramel-vanilla flavor inspired by cake and a line of Downton Abbey teas, which look good, anyhow.

There are a few stores around Boston that sell their own brand but we're not fans. I've just never liked any tea I've tried at David's Teas or Teavana. There's a new Australian shop, T2, on Newbury that may have potential . . . but I'm skeptical. They have some intriguing black teas, including Caramel Brownie, Creamy Chocolate Chai, and Terrific Toffee. The latter has nougat bits in it; the ingredients include sugar, glucose syrup, almonds, honey, egg, cocoa butter, and potato starch. Weird. I want mostly tea in my tea. And when I asked for more information about their Irish Breakfast blend, all the shopkeeper could do was look at the box I was holding and recite what it said: "black tea." Gee.

Harney's has me so spoiled. More on that soon.