Friday, December 19, 2014

And So It Begins

Things seemed peaceful when I went to bed on Wednesday night. We'd just finished signing and addressing the Christmas cards and they were ready to be mailed. The cats seemed mellow; Harris was hanging out on the chair in front of the tree, just in case I needed another Christmasy photo of him:

Is that a scheming expression? Or is that just Harris?

We sleep with a sound machine making fan noise in the background so we miss a lot of nocturnal feline activity. My husband woke me up early, telling me that there was something strange lying on the floor that I had to see, because  he didn't know what it was. It was this:

Oh, noes!

That was had been one of my newest ornaments, a wool felt mouse wearing an acorn cap and carrying a tiny knitted bag and traveling stick, like the top figure in the photo below:

Traveling mice from a company called Roost.
Pretty cute, huh? Some of our cats thought so....

I'd put him up as high I as could manage on the side of tree, although the armchair had been in my way, and so it clearly hadn't been high enough. I'd wrapped the twine cord many times around the branch so no one could pull the ornament off the tree. But I obviously hadn't done it as well as I thought I had. If you look at the closeup below, you can find the ornament toward the back of the tree, to the left of the orange glass ball:

How did the cats recognize the ornament as a mouse — official prey that apparently legally obligates them to attack and kill at all cost? I documented the crime scene and cleaned it up, noting that the twine had not been eaten, although it appeared that one wool ear had. I also wondered how much styrofoam and wool had been ingested.  Hard to know. 

Then I found my ill-fated Vermont owl ornament on the floor, missing its foot, which had been nearly severed in a previous incident. I had also hung it in what I foolishly believed was a safe spot, wrapping its flimsy thread hanger "very securely" around and around the branch:

This poor ornament just can't win.

How someone managed to pull this one down, I don't know. (I will need my pruners when I take down the tree, to clip off the tips of the dry branches and then slowly unravel each twisted and tangled cord.) Do they recognize this rather abstract figure is a bird, or do they just have strong convictions against its survival for other reasons?  I am hoping that the black thread hanger, which was loose, is still on the tree. Because it's gone from the owl. You can find the owl in the closeup, too. I stepped on the missing foot, which was lying on the carpet, later.

We had to make annual checkup appointments for Harris and Toffee anyway, so I mentioned the wreckage as we scheduled them for Saturday. I assume it was one of them, or perhaps Lion. We heard the familiar drill: watch them for signs of vomiting, lethargy, lack of appetite, etc. 

My friend Robin told me, when she was here with Freya, that wearing out the cats with play sessions, especially before bed, would help keep the cats from going after ornaments and tree lights. We were too tired to do it that night and now we're paying the price. At this point, I'm alternating numbness with worry. I've been through this too many times before... I keep doing my best to protect the cats from themselves and failing. So we'll play the waiting game and watch for signs of serious trouble, as well as signs of styrofoam, wool, and bits of thread turning up on the floor or in the litter box. Sometimes this can takes weeks or months; more often nothing reappears. (I'll keep you posted, like it or not).

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

La La La LA

Our dear old Fa-La-La pillow has a new friend. Although Lion was afraid of the Christmas tree, he thought the jingle bells on the pillow might be good to eat.

Or not so much.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What You Want for Christmas

If you aren't 100% sure about what you want to find under your Christmas tree, or wherever your Hanukah presents go, I can help you...

1.  A fluffy kitten — admit it. Get her from Connie, who fosters in Maine (a lovely drive from the Boston area) and blogs at Tails from the Foster Kittens. She's fostered 376 kittens and counting, including our purring, biscuit-making Lion. Her kittens turn out friendly and sweet; she has a great recipe. Currently she has two longhaired sisters just about ready for adoption. They arrived terrified and in awful shape but are now friendly and flourishing. Do us all a favor and keep these two together; they are very bonded. Hurry!

You can also adopt from Kitten Associates, in Connecticut (a less lovely drive but the reward will be great). They make fabulous kittens, too, including Harris. Check out Ivy, Wallace, and Fernando. And if you really think your life is so darn rich and full that you don't have room for a kitten, then celebrate your prosperity by sending them a donation!

2.  You want Christmas socks, like these Japanese handmade ones by Anonymous Ism, or maybe woolly ones with snowflakes. ($39.50 and $16.50 at J. Crew). Sure, they'll look silly with your chic, mostly black winter wardrobe, but these need never leave the house. Wear them on the sofa when you're watching Downton Abbey (returning on January 5) and Scandal (January 29), not to mention binge-watching House of Cards (February 27). For you boys out there, J. Crew carries red-and-white snowflake wool socks for you, too.

3. You want seasonal candy, specifically something in the peppermint bark line-up, which is out of control this year. You want this even though the stuff is everywhere and you're worried that you might just be succumbing to the hype. But  no — just as the pumpkin is the autumn vegetable, the candy cane is the winter vegetable, and foodies always say we should eat whatever's in season. If you need more convincing, check out the always-profane and high-energy 2014 Hater's Guide to the Williams-Sonoma Catalog, and note that the author failed to summon enough hostility to completely reject the peppermint-chocolate offerings.

4. You want a bicycle rickshaw.  Where did that come from?

4.  You want something cool and monogrammed. That means heading over to Mark & Graham, where you can even choose monogrammed soaps in three different shapes. But you'd be happier with the versatile, unisex Everyday Leather Zip Pouch ($79) in one of nine colors (green is lovely; red is classic). Then add your initials in Didot, and you will be elegant. Even in your Christmas socks.

5.  You want moisture. Lip balm, hand cream, and body lotion are necessities during New England winters, and if you're still using Vaseline or drugstore basics, it's time you woke up and smelled the Neroli & Grapefruit Body Cream from REN Skincare ($29). It's a tall bottle of very pure, light cream that contains jojoba, shea butter, and grapeseed. REN uses only 100% plan and mineral-derived ingredients and is free from synthetics, including mineral oil, silicones, petroleum-based ingredients, etc. I have a bottle, so I'm sure you will want one.

6.  The scent of Christmas. Pop into Blue Mercury (160 Newbury St) to smell the Birchwood Pine Room Spray from NEST Fragrances ($28). Unlike Ebeneezer Scrooge, you may have a little trouble honoring Christmas in your heart and trying to keep it all the year... but you'll be able to smell it whenever you want.

Monday, December 15, 2014

More Outtakes from the Christmas Card

Wearing the Santa hat was not Toffee's happiest or most photogenic moment. 

Possum remarked that Toffee looks like an underprivileged Victorian orphan wearing a workhouse bonnet in this shot. Possum has been reading Dickens.

Possum said that Toffee looks like an underprivileged Victorian orphan opium fiend in the photo below.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Let the Games Begin...

Yesterday afternoon, I asked my husband if he even wanted to get a tree this year. We were positive last year that it would be our very last Christmas in this apartment, and so we are pretty bummed to find ourselves still here.

He mulled it over and decided it would be depressing not to have a tree. We drove to the Belmont Lions Club tree lot and bought one of the biggest ones they had. The people who work there are really nice, and they have very good, affordable trees and the best plain wreaths — fat and fluffy. 

We were going to settle for a tall, skinny tree we liked, but this gentleman insisted on
showing us this one. It was much bigger and better, and we had to go for it.

The tree wasn't quite as big as the car. High school boys really like our car.
Lion was afraid of the tree when we brought it in and missed his supper.
Later he joined our other furry woodland creatures, who were hanging out beneath it.

We stocked up on lights at CVS (two for one!) as I remembered tossing multiple strings
 last year afterToffee chewed the bulbs off them. Toffee approved our purchases. 
When it was time to put the lights on the tree today, four old strings were pretty dead.
We needed what we bought and we still have extras for next year — although I am not 
anticipating Toffee-related shortages this year. We had another little talk...

I love seeing my ornaments again each Christmas. This year, I only used about
two-thirds of my supply. You can see my minimalist result, below.

I'd just finished, and Harris began swinging at something I hope is unbreakable. 

The cats left us alone for most of the decorating, although Harris tried to swipe some ornaments. I suspect they've decided they'll meet up to redecorate it after we're in bed. The bottom of the tree is kind of bare, by design, but there's unbreakable stuff there. I should probably buy some boxes of those plastic balls that look like glass.

Another Christmas in our same-old place, and I don't think it will be so bad after all....

Friday, December 12, 2014

Outtakes from the Christmas Card

Harris is photogenic from nearly every angle and was agreeable to wearing this hat. But my camera angle was terrible — he looks like a Munchkin. And the view from our bedroom windows is like a Soviet painter's interpretation of drabness.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Recent Adorableness

Mr. Gorgeous still likes to hang out on his pillow although balancing is more of a challenge these days. He weighs 11 pounds now, and I hear he is looking forward to encountering his first live Christmas tree.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Toffee Talk

"Toffee," I said, "We need to talk. It's almost time to get the Christmas tree and we need you to promise not to climb it, eat any cords from the ornaments, or chew the light bulbs out of their sockets this year. We hope you've outgrown giving yourself electric shocks. You were still a kid last year, but now you're a gentleman cat, and we expect a higher standard of decorum from you."

 Precisely what we hope to avoid.

Toffee looked at me with polite interest, as if he wished to be helpful but had no idea of what I was saying. Silly me — trying to talk to a cat. You'd think I'd know better by now.

So I turned to his neighbor on the sofa. "Possum," I said, "Would you please translate what I just said into cat language for Toffee? I'd really appreciate it, man."

Possum opened his eyes and yawned. From his twitching tail, I knew a lecture was forthcoming. "Honestly," he said, "I don't know how you people are smart enough to live. First, you bring a huge evergreen into the house, that smells like forest, and squirrels, and birds. And then you tie cat toys all over it. And then you expect us not to have any fun. What on earth are you thinking?"

What could I say? I used one of Possum's own debate tactics. I became fiercely focused on examining one of my hands for possible fleas and didn't reply. It worked.

After a while, Possum said, "I don't suppose you'd care to make a little bargain with me...?"

I tried to do the human equivalent of perking up my ears and looking interested. "What did you have in mind, dear Possum?" I said.

"There's the matter of my Christmas List. Every year I put a few fantastic things on it, and every year I don't get them." he said.

He was referring, of course, to the Bicycle Rickshaw he's wanted every year since he saw one in an Anthropologie catalogue. It cost $10,000 and was tricked out like a fantasy from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Possum imagines me pedaling him and select friends around in search of treats from dumpsters of the best restaurants in the South End. I thought he'd given up on this idea now that his No. 1 destination — Hamersley's Bistro, for the roast chicken — has closed. (I enjoyed it twice just before the end, and I see his point. I didn't bring home leftovers, so please don't say a word.)

"But, Possum," I said, "Last year you put a kitten on your Christmas list and Santa did come through. Against all better judgment. I know it took some extra time, but we DID get you a kitten. And a very good one, too."

Possum considered this for a while. "This year," he said, "I really do want a bicycle rickshaw. And if you promise to get me one, I will do my utmost keep Toffee from electrocuting himself or otherwise trying to off himself by eating ornaments, strings, ribbons, and large tree branches. I will likewise prevent him from climbing the tree or the mantel, although I cannot make any guarantees about gift tags or bows. There all bets are off. That's my deal. I want catnip-scented pillows on the rickshaw and streamers on the handlebars. And a pretty canopy... something colorful."

I said I would think about it.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Too Much Cattitude

Possum, raising a ruckus and being unneighborly, as usual

Our offer on the co-op in Beacon Hill wasn't accepted. 

They said we have too many cats! Imagine! Sure, their rules permit only one dog or cat, but if one is okay, what's a few more? If, say, 120 pounds of dog is allowed, what's wrong with a collective 56 pounds of cat? 

A friend has been house-hunting for a few years on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where all the apartments are co-ops. She was shocked that a building had a cat limit. She said NY co-ops don't mind cats. They don't bark, pee in the lobby, or bite you in the elevator. Perhaps we should move to Manhattan. 

I wrote a nice letter to accompany our offer. There were a few paragraphs of gushing about the charms of the apartment and listing our credentials, including my husband's tenured teaching post and my activities as a local volunteer. I talked about how we are friendly, considerate people who had spent decades living in small Back Bay condo buildings, so we understood the importance of both being and having good neighbors. Co-ops usually ask very personal questions about finances and lifestyle as they're deciding whether to accept you into the building, so I mentioned that we don't drink, smoke, or throw wild parties. I said we both work at home at all hours, and are very quiet, and like to garden. I said we love historic architecture and care deeply about preserving and maintaining our home.

In other words, I said we were classic cat people. And I was honest. I'll bet there are people who aren't when it comes to applying to co-op boards. I came right out with our cat family situation. And then I explained a few things about our five:
I’d like to try to anticipate any cat-related concerns your co-op board may have, so I hope you will give me a little more of your time and attention to explain a few things. Our cats are all fluffy Maine Coon mixes. Most weigh about 10 pounds, although one is… portly. They are neutered and spayed, up-to-date on vaccinations, and never, ever leave our apartment except for vet visits. They are quiet, healthy, and well behaved. They do not howl or make noise audible beyond the apartment (a few of them meow at mealtime). They all get along beautifully and use the litter box perfectly. We trim their claws and brush their teeth. I’ve done a lot of research on feline nutrition, and we feed them an expensive, 95%-meat diet that I special-order from a shop on Newbury Street. Cats are pure carnivores and should only eat meat. When they are fed properly (and the vast majority of cat owners don’t do this), they digest food extremely efficiently. As a result, there is much less matter in the litter box — and much less odor, too. One cat fed dry or canned food from the supermarket will leave more solid waste in the box each day than our five. Even so, we take care of that chore religiously, twice a day. 
Adult cats sleep between 16 and 20 hours a day, so our visitors often don’t see more than one or two of ours, and they are surprised they don’t smell them, either. I’d be happy to provide a veterinary or neighbor reference if you like. In 30 years, we have never received a single complaint from a neighbor.
I should have included a photo of Possum. Who wouldn't want Possum for a neighbor?

I can only conclude that we escaped from having to live among barbarians. 

We decided that we don't want to live in that silly co-op anymore, anyhow. It had some lovely features: a real library for my husband, a sunny living room, a big dining room with a fireplace, and loads of storage. High ceilings, a bay window, old floors, and some nice molding here and there. I could tell it would work for us as soon as I stepped in the door. 

But it had quirks. It had only one bathroom and no possibility of adding another... inside the unit. We don't mind sharing a bath, but it's unusual for a large apartment with a seven-figure price tag to have just one — especially one done up with elderly Corian, Formica, cheapo tile, and brass hardware. We could have added a half bath, but only outside the unit, beyond the locked back door. The cramped second bedroom (former maid's room) was back there, under lock and key. Halfway up a flight of ugly service stairs was a closet with a stacked washer-dryer that could be converted to a tiny half bath. Some of the other units had done this, but we didn't see the point. 

We found a mousetrap in the master bedroom. I'd say they should rethink their cat policy.

When we got our rejection (five hours after it was due), we also found out within minutes that a condo we've been interested in for some time had finally gone under agreement. It had everything we wanted, including a lovely walled garden, but it was in a rough part of the South End, on a noisy, sketchy street. We wouldn't have felt safe coming and going. I'm glad it's gone.

The decks are clear; we can move on. 

But I can't help hoping the new owners at the co-op will have a huge, untrained, barking, biting, severely incontinent dog. I also hope they drink like fish, smoke weed for breakfast, have a set of disturbed toddler triplets, and hold salsa and flamenco parties several nights a week. That co-op board missed their chance to have very nice neighbors. Seven of them.