Friday, May 29, 2015

It's a Boy

Robin Olson from Kitten Associates just sent us this baby photo of Harris, which she said we hadn't seen before. It was taken when he was 12 days old, as the vet checked him out and declared him a boy. Harris is still pretty much the same pouting, adorable baby even though he'll be turning 3 soon. But he can no longer be mistaken for a hamster.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Hot Hot Hot

We are much too warm in this apartment, and it's only in the mid 80s.

I close our windows as soon as the air is warmer outside than inside, not that it helps much. I'll open them sometime after sunset and beg the breeze to come in. We have a ceiling fan going slowly in the bedroom, which the cats like more than I do. I don't like air blowing on me. But our noisy, awful, inefficient air conditioners are still in storage. How I loathe them. I'm not sure what's worse: roasting or listening to them roar and struggle to cool things down a bit. But for the sake of the cats, we'll go get one of them soon.

Possum was in this expressive pose when I came home this afternoon.

We have two units, but we only used one last year, having learned the hard way that it's impossible to sleep with one going in the bedroom. I'd rather melt into a coma and be able to open the window. These units are a famous brand (I can't remember what or I'd tell you) and are just two or three years old. They had high ratings from Consumer Reports, and I carefully used those online calculators to choose the right size for our rooms. And they are garbage.

New air conditioners are just horrible compared to old ones. I am going to start hunting for ancient Panasonics with freon, like the ones we got rid of. But first I will have to summon the energy to search. The cats and I are all reduced to lying about exhausted and languid, like Possum.

Things should be looking up by October.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

And Then There Was This

This shot is more "painterly" and "atmospheric" than I'd like, but it captures Possum in a relaxed moment during one of his lectures. I can't remember if this one was about Sargent's murals in the Boston Public Library, why we should buy a set of Thomas Hardy paperbacks (so he can sit on them and "read" them in the manner of cats), or the nutritional importance of popcorns (as he says) for feline development. It could have been all three; some of his lectures are interminable and cover a wide range of topics.

He is joining me as I'm slowly reading Wallace Clement Sabine: A Study in Achievement, and he seems to know and like the guy. Since I've always believed that cats can see more than we can, I asked him if we have ghosts (I don't think we do, but when ghosts are polite, you often don't know). He ignored me. I should probably interpret that a "yes."

Monday, May 25, 2015

Where Are They Now?

Genealogy websites are often useful for figuring out when people died, but rarely how.... or where they are now. However, there's a site called that is very helpful for the latter.

It's where I found that the Sabines are all interred in Mount Auburn Cemetery, one of my husband's and my favorite haunts, so to speak. They were not a religious family, which was somewhat unusual in those days, although according to his biography, Professor Sabine walked his two little girls to Sunday school every week himself. (I'm assuming that they realized that Sunday school was important for their daughters' social prospects. Their little girls were expected to be debutantes, being Mayflower descendants.)

At any rate, I did some hunting and found their location number in the Bigelow Chapel Columbarium, for they were all cremated. Everyone is in the same niche, except their oldest daughter Janet, who is buried alone on Thistle Path, not far from Harvard president Charles Eliot, who was her father's great mentor and supporter. We've been visiting his grave for years.

Looking around on Mount Auburn's website, I learned that Bigelow Chapel was going to be open on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend for an open house — it's only open to the public on three Sunday afternoons a year. The rest of the time it's used for services, including weddings.

Perfect timing. Yesterday we went walking in Mount Auburn on a hot, sunny afternoon:

Remember how far away all this greenness and warmth seemed in January, February, and March? I was dreading the heat even then.

Bigelow Chapel is beautiful, but I think it looks even better in snow:

I hadn't been inside in years. We once went to an outdoor dinner party in the cemetery, to celebrate some major anniversary. It was an unseasonably cold June night and everyone was freezing. At our table, we passed a votive candle around so everyone could thaw their hands. We also left between courses to huddle in the chapel for warmth.

Anyway, the chapel is a beautiful Gothic Revival space, smaller and more intimate than you'd expect given its soaring ceiling. The Sabines' funeral services were held here.

There are small niches on the ground floor and larger ones up flights of stairs on each side of the chapel. I needed the flashlight on my phone to hunt for them. The Sabine niche wasn't easy to find. It is at the bottom corner of this wall, next to the window.

Here lies the professor and his wife, his daughter Ruth, and his father, Hylas, who has a grave marker in Ohio but was buried here. The whole family was remarkable and interesting, including Wallace's sister Anna. I may eventually do a post on each to tell you why.

The ashes of Janet, the Sabines' older daughter, are buried under a yew, next some early 19th-century gravestones. She was married twice and I imagine her second husband planned to be buried there sand changed his mind. They had been married less than a year and he survived her by many years.

We'll be back to visit again.

House Facts and Mysteries

By searching online newspaper archives, I learned that the Back Bay townhouse where we own a condo was valued at $20,300 when Wallace Clement Sabine* and his wife, Jane Kelly Sabine** bought it from its first owners, the Heath family. I also found that Dr. Jane Sabine's estate received only $9,500 from the sale of this house after she died in 1950.

Back Bay's caché went downhill during her years here, as its well-to-do families moved to the suburbs and their former homes were converted to apartments, schools, dormitories, rooming houses, and medical offices. Many Victorian showpieces were torn down or "updated" catastrophically before the Back Bay Architectural Commission came into being (in 1966) and acquired the power to stop all that nonsense. We have preservation rules and guidelines now. The whole neighborhood is landmarked and no one can mess with any of its historic exterior elements.

I believe that our neighborhood's state of preservation is one of the reasons that the Sabines' house is worth about $4 million today.

After this house was sold in 1950, it was used as an apartment building or rooming house with shared baths and "kitchenettes." The new owners, Harry (a teletype operator) and Harriet Thorson, lived in one apartment and rented out the rest. Ads for "furnished rooms" and for the 4th-floor apartment with "terrace" appear frequently in the Boston Herald classifieds during the 1950s

We know that the house had "12 rooms and 3 bathrooms" at the time of that sale, but we can't figure out where they were located, or even how many floors the house had at the time. It started out with three stories (or was it three and a half?). It mysteriously acquired a fourth story at some point (there are no building permits on record). Either Dr. Sabine or the Thorsons must have added it.

The top-story addition looks newer than that, both inside and out. It's covered with ugly sheet-metal and has narrow casement windows that seem more mid-century. When the Sabines bought the house in 1909, it was described as a 3-1/2 story house, and that's confusing, too. The half story may mean the basement, since it's below-grade in the front and fully above ground in the back. Or it has something to do with the top floor. We are struggling over that one. Deed research is on the docket.

I keep saying "we" because I have a partner in my new obsession. She lives in California, but she used to live in my living room when she was an undergrad studying theater at BU in the early 1960s. Several years ago, she was revisiting her old haunts on a trip here and rang our bell, but we weren't home. So she wrote a letter... and we became friends. She loved living here and remembers many details about her old rooming house, which also housed an architectural firm on the parlor and basement levels. She visited Boston again a few years ago and we met and went touring as many of her old apartments as we could charm our way into.

When I emailed her with some Sabine-related questions, she got interested — she's a theater professional and loves old houses and house history. And Professor Sabine was the first person to study and master acoustic engineering in theaters and concert halls, so she loves that connection. While she's waiting for her copy of his biography to arrive, we're trading bits of research and grousing about facts we can't find.

* Harvard physics professor, dean of the Graduate School of Applied Science, inventor, founder of the science of modern architectural acoustics, and aeronautics expert.
** Doctor and surgeon at New England Women and Children's Hospital.

Sunday, May 24, 2015


I really can't hold it against you if you get tired of seeing photos of Possum's belly, but I obviously never do. Even though I get to see it for hours almost every day. I don't usually see him with three of his feet crossed, however, just two. So that's my excuse for posting this shot.

I promise to write about something more substantive tomorrow. For example, I have more things to tell about my Sabine family research, including attracting a research partner on the West Coast. I'm still reading Professor Sabine's biography... and reading aloud all the many choice bits to my husband. More about that, too.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Lion... and Possum

Lion still loves that cushion on the armchair. He is often the first cat to visit me in the morning, waking me with loud purring (a lovely sound at any hour... no complaints). He's also usually the first cat to curl up with me in bed at night, where I'm still reading Wallace Clement Sabine: A Study in Achievement, about the man who lived in this house a century ago.

All of our cats have a lot of nicknames, which are mostly too silly to discuss here. But Lion's latest is "Nino," which comes from my calling him variations on Lion, including "Lionino." It suits him, and he already comes when I use it call him. It reminds me of some handsome, spoiled Italian playboy wearing a tuxedo in a Fellini movie.

* * *

In other news, Possum is no longer limping but he still stumps around audibly, which is unusual for a cat. Only very big, fat cats make noise when they walk around, and Possum is not that big or fat. We had a different vet for his appointment last week and she didn't think he was so very heavy. She pointed out that he had a "waist" and that he didn't have a lot of fat along his back or a very saggy belly. But I dared her to try to locate any of his ribs and she surrendered.

I keep telling him to try to be more of a twinkle-toes to save wear on his joints. He just stares right through me, as he does whenever I suggest tiny ways that he might improve. "Just because you're perfect doesn't mean you can't be even more perfect," I tell him, but to no avail.

The Choppy Charles

We went for a sunset walk along the Esplanade tonight in an unexpectedly strong wind. The water was choppy and only two sailboats were out. My hair flew and my ears froze as the wind blew straight through my fleece. But it was beautiful, as always.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Miss Wendy

I took this photo of Wendy tonight, as she gazed at me with disdain and expectation since it was almost  time for the cats' dinner and I have the evening shift in the kitchen. I can easily read the two thoughts circling around and around in her calico brain: "... I hate Mommy! When is she going to give me food in a bowl? ... Mommy is the worst! Where is my supper, lady? ..."