Saturday, February 28, 2015

So That Was February

I think Possum's dramatic pose symbolizes the trials of the last month.

Or maybe this is how he's looking forward to March, another month that never did much of anything for me.

"Oh, cheer up," I said to him. "At least cats don't have to deal with income taxes."

Friday, February 27, 2015

Possum & Popcorn

Possum discovered popcorn last night.

I discovered it last week. My husband loves popcorn but I've always considered it an organic packing material unless it's covered in caramel or chocolate. I'm not one for buying specialized kitchen gadgets, either, but I got him a Lékué silicone microwave popcorn popper for Christmas and he loves it. It's faster than making using a pot on the stove, and it's easier to clean up and requires less oil. And the bowl collapses to be about 2" tall, so it's easy to store in our tiny kitchen. He uses it several times a week.

I also bought him a bag of popping corn from Trader Joe's after one of the guys there told me it's really good. I tried some last week, and it is. The shells are not as tough and annoying: they don't make me choke or get caught in my teeth. I also got him some fancy, expensive popping corn with tiny kernels, and that's wonderful — hardly any shells at all. But it's hard to microwave it without burning it.

My husband has been making me my own little bowl of popcorn lately, as we've been binge-watching the first two seasons of House of Cards before tonight's premiere. Last night, he made it early, when I was still working, and I put the bowl aside. Then I looked up to see Possum's head in the bowl. I complained to him and he gave me a dirty look and stuck his head back in the bowl. I took it away from him and fished out the cold, soggy kernels he had been working on, and decided to let him have them. He loved them. Harris was interested, too:

A few pieces of plain popcorn with a bit of table salt will not harm an adult cat, I later read online — after having second thoughts and mildly panicking. Cats fed poor-quality food consume a lot of corn, so my initial thought was that a couple of pieces of popcorn would be fine as long as they weren't a choking hazard or covered in chemicals and creepy oils from a microwaved packet. And it turns out that I was right.

When Possum finished his popcorn he tried to get more from my bowl but I didn't let him. I received another baleful look and he went away.

This morning, I asked my husband if Possum had ever tried to eat his popcorn. He's made himself hundreds of bowls. while I've probably had about four. He said no, Possum has always left his alone. I thought that was odd, since Possum seemed to think my bowl also belonged to him. My husband pointed out that Possum loves me. But Possum spends much more time purring on my husband's lap these days than mine, even when there's a laptop already on it. I've been rather jealous of all their together time. My husband says it's easier for Possum to sit on him than on me because my armchair is too small for the two of us. I don't know about that.

My theory is that Possum thinks he owns me, and that what's mine is his. I will have to ask him, the next time he's in the mood to talk to me.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Wendy Warming Up?

I may be imagining it, and it may be a temporary whim of hers, but Wendy seems to hate/fear me less than usual these days. I've been able to pet her when she's lying on the bedroom window sill and on a chair under the table. Normally, she would flee in terror. Now, I would say — using the verb in the old-fashioned sense — that she "suffers" me to pet her, so I only do it for a few seconds. But then she doesn't run away. Also, when I talk to her, she seems more relaxed and curious, and her pupils seem less dilated. And, if I hold my hand out to her when we're eating and she's on the table or nearby on the floor, she'll sometimes come over, sniff my fingers, and walk slowly away. 

Believe it or not, this is all progress, although I will probably slip up in some way I can't possibly understand and return to being Evil Mommy in Wendy's little mind. In the meantime, it's nice having five cats who tolerate me, more or less.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Self-Portrait as a Potted Plant

I'm the one on the left. You can be the one on the right if you want. 

We had some thawing yesterday, when it was  a sunny and near-tropical 39 degrees. Icicles came crashing down and sheets of snow slid off roofs in noisy avalanches. We chopped some ice from our alley parking space but not enough to inspire us to try driving anywhere. We haven't used the car in more than three weeks, and it doesn't look like we'll be able to get it out of the alley anytime soon. 

Then last night all the melted snow refroze, and today the sidewalks are more treacherous than ever. I gave up and walked in the streets, but that's also dangerous since they are still reduced to single lanes banked with huge snow piles. 

The high will be 17 degrees tomorrow. I think I'll be staying in. I miss my shearling coat.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Annals of Real Estate: It Looked Perfect

It's the "spring market" for Boston real estate, but there hasn't been much for sale, partly because we've been in a real-estate drought for the past few years and also because we've just hit the record for 100" of snow this winter, with almost all of it falling in the past month.

But I saw a perfect place for us on Beacon Street on Thursday. The owners have carefully preserved as much of the 19th-century detail as possible and decorated it accordingly, with wonderful William Morris wallpapers and period lighting. I loved just about everything about it: beautiful old floors, three fireplaces, deep moldings, and walnut woodwork. Rooms with high ceilings and elegant proportions. The kitchen is exactly what I dream of: handsome cabinetry (probably reclaimed from a butler's pantry) right up to the ceiling, period hardware, soapstone counters, and an encaustic tile floor — 19th-century elements that harmonize beautifully with the rest of the apartment. While it doesn't have the deck or garden I've wanted for the past 30 years, it is very close to the Charles River, the Public Garden, and everything else we love in Back Bay. There are long, high walls for bookcases, and it is in our price range, too.

Take a look. For us, this is a dream come true:
All photos: Gibson Sotheby's International Realty, via
You must be asking yourself why I'm not bubbling with joy because we bought it. We didn't even make an offer, but not the usual reason — someone quickly made an all-cash offer above the asking price, with no bothersome contingencies like a home inspection or mortgage financing.

No, it was not the standard situation. My agent and I were wandering around at the broker open house, grinning at each other... and then we both smelled cigarette smoke. It was coming up through the original heating vents in the room that would be my husband's office. And, indeed, there is a heavy smoker living below the unit. And I have asthma, and neither my husband nor I can live comfortably around secondhand smoke.

We have been working with our agent for five years, setting a record. She's more than determined to get us a new place soon. She's tried to talk us into many places she felt would great for us, but that we couldn't stand  — usually because they are recent renovations, loaded with all the standard features that everyone else wants and I hate, from recessed lighting to granite breakfast bars. But, this time, even she knew that secondhand smoke is a deal-breaker. We left.

I learned more from one of the owners after getting in touch through a mutual friend — I realized that I'd heard glowing descriptions of this apartment a couple of years ago, including the huge stuffed peacock on the mantel. We learned that the smoker has lived there for about 30 years with no plans to leave, and that another unit owner building supports her right to smoke, so there's no hope of adding a no-smoking amendment to the condo documents. The common hallway is usually full of smoke.

I managed not to break down as I made these discoveries; I just cried a little. We can't win. At least I have stopped wondering if we are under some real-estate curse — now I am certain of it.

Back to Square 1.

Friday, February 20, 2015


We've been watching House of Cards again before the third season becomes available on the 27th. We watch on a laptop, sitting side-by-side on the sofa, accompanied by cookies, popcorn, and whatever cat is taking a fleeting interest in political intrigue and first-caliber acting. Last night, Possum gave us a distracting sideshow with his creative napping positions on the leather chair. Between him and Kevin Spacey, we completely forgot that we were missing Scandal, the silly, over-the-top, but nevertheless engrossing show we started watching when we ran out of House of Cards episodes last year and needed a Washington, D.C., fix.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Splatter: My Poor Coat

On Saturday, we had our Valentine's Day lunch at Boston Burger, a casual place that serves excellent burgers, mainly to the college crowd. We are not foodies; our tastes are too simple. We both feel that expertly made burgers, burritos, and pizza are generally more satisfying than the fancy and expensive dishes that we like to call "snooty food." 

On Valentine's Day in 1998, we'd been eating burgers in a similar place when my husband pulled out a ring box, shocked me speechless, and proposed. But this fact didn't occur to me until just now, as I'm writing this. We were too distracted last Saturday to wax nostalgic. 

Boston Burger has 28 burgers, including some weird ones,* along with the usual custom options. I decided on grilled mushrooms, pickles, and cheese. Our table was close to the servers' station and, as we waited for our food, someone dropped a full plate with a burger, chips, and a ramekin of baked beans close to our table. The food went flying.

We had both worn our shearling coats because it was very cold, and I thought my husband's must be ruined since he was sitting with his back to the mess, with his coat on the back of his chair. But his coat looked fine. Then I looked down and saw baked beans on my chair. My coat was streaked with beans, even though I was sitting against the wall — and sitting on top of much of my coat, which I'd tried to bunch up underneath me since it would otherwise be dragging on the floor. The food must have bounced on the floor with the plate's impact... and then it flew up and across our table to land on my coat. Wow.

My coat is British, a full-length, dark brown shearling with long, fluffy Toscana trim. It's the warmest piece of clothing I've ever owned and probably the most expensive.** (I would never wear fur, but I eat beef and lamb, and thus I wear leather and shearling. And I do all these things with a similar, small amount of guilt.) At least the coat was close in color to the baked beans, but there were plenty of obvious stains. Our server brought me a damp cloth and I tried to remove what I could. They use some kind of BBQ ingredients in the beans, so the coat was pungent. Then the server told me that she always got good results from the cleaning solution on the cloth. Oh, no: I'd thought it was only water. Cleaning solutions are risky for shearling. I was given another cloth with plain water.

Before our food arrived, we changed tables because there were beans on the floor and the wall. The burgers were terrific; the beans, not so much. While we were eating, the assistant manager came by and told us our meal was free. He was very nice. I told him my coat would need to be cleaned, and he gave me the manager's card, told me send him the bill, and I'd be reimbursed.

When we got home, my coat smelled of beans and looked worse than we'd thought, streaky and darkened in big patches, and smelly. Yesterday, I took it to the nearest fur shop. The woman who helped me was horrified but hopeful since the people who clean shearling for them often perform miracles. Apparently the brown sugar and/or molasses in the baked beans will be the challenge. She recorded all the damage, sniffing and exclaiming over the aroma. I tried to empty the pockets before she could, but wasn't quick enough. She stuck her hand in one and pulled it right out: "There's something prickly in there." Oh, right.  I'd picked up a few sweet-gum burrs, those round things covered with stickers that you see all over the ground (or snow) these days. I thought the cats would like batting them around. (And they're exciting to step on in bare feet, too.)

The cleaning bill was $140. My coat will be ready in three weeks and I will be nervous and chilly until then. One of my best techniques for surviving New England winters is to have a warm coat that I love, and that shearling was It.*** The next few weeks will be even chillier than I'd been expecting. 

I will take the bill to Boston Burger in the next few days and see how that goes. I expect it will be fine, but if it isn't, you'll be hearing about it here. I will also report about my poor coat when it comes home.

* The King features peanut butter, bacon, and fried bananas, along with a dusting of cinnamon and sugar. I'm glad one of those didn't land on my coat.

** I can't remember how much my first wedding gown, a Priscilla of Boston, cost in the '80s, but it was probably about the same as the coat, although I got the gown for half price. I got the coat deeply on sale, too. Of course. 

*** My worst technique, when the apartment in the 60s because of our old windows, is to imagine that it's August during a heatwave and that we magically have central air. That line of thought is worthless.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Box of Harris

I haven't left the house in two days. It's been snowing most of today, it's been bitterly cold since Sunday, and I don't need groceries or library books. I'm all set until maybe Thursday.

So in lieu of more drifts and giant-icicle photos, I present Harris in a Box.

In the next two photos, he demonstrates a couple of ways to fold and pack a Harris for transport to, say, Paris:

Harris has never been to Paris. (There's a rhyming children's storybook in there somewhere.)

Harris would also be cool with staying home, hogging this box and Possum's cherry toy, and getting all of  my attention.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Chilly Scenes of Winter

More photos of Copley Square and Back Bay taken during our frosty walk this afternoon:

Another view of those icicles: 

Best icicles so far: