Thursday, October 8, 2015

Little Things

The new place has been listed for sale. We like and trust the agent we picked. Now I'm holding my breath, hoping that someone will fall in love with it, as we once did... and that we can extricate ourselves from this muddle soon.

If not... well... I'm going to try not to think about that.

But whatever happens, I'm beginning to see that it won't be the end of the world. I have heard and read too many true stories lately about friends, acquaintances, and strangers near and far, who are going through far worse troubles. Death, serious illness, crime, accidents, loss of homes to fires and floods... all tragic, devastating, and unexpected. And not self-inflicted.

We got ourselves into our housing muddle. We should be able to use our brains to get ourselves out, without losing everything, I hope. We continue to have each other, our friends, our health, and a lot of nice felines.

I am going to stop here, on this positive note, which is practically the first I've felt in a few weeks, in case pessimism returns.

But first I have to advise you to hurry up and get some of this:

We found ourselves driving north aimlessly on Sunday. We missed the New Hampshire exits and wound up at the Stonewall Kitchen Company Store in York, Maine. Unlike their other stores, this is their huge HQ, a foodie destination with a café, cooking classes, and the full range of their products along with all kinds of kitchen supplies, tableware, and "seasonal" stuff. And, of course, the kicker: loads of free samples. You can taste dozens of their 50 or so varieties of jam, jelly, and marmalade if you want. My husband happens to be crazy about pretzels, including the cheap little sticks they provide for sampling sauces, so he is often willing to go there for "tasticles" as he calls them, although he doesn't always put anything on the pretzels.

Everyone must love pretzels as much as he does; the place was packed, as always. Not everything for sale is wonderful: they had glass jars of same-old candy corn for $10.95 which would net you several pounds of disgusting solidified corn-syrup at CVS. But their own products are generally very good in addition to being prettily packaged.

I'm not a fan of pretzels, maple, or aioli, but I tried it... and nearly finished the bowl. I kept walking away to put distance between me and it, and getting drawn back magnetically. I think I returned to "try" it four times, preferring it to all of their jams and dessert sauces.

It's rich. It's creamy. It's high in fat. It tastes more like maple-smoked bacon than real maple-smoked bacon sometimes does. It is not bacon-flavored aioli with maple syrup added for sweetness. It's maple-smoked bacon in a jar. Spread a small amount on a ham or turkey sandwich, or a cracker, or your finger.

Little things make life a lot better sometimes. This is one.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Good News in Cat Food

Liz Eastman of The Natural Cat Care Blog has just updated her list of Best Cat foods. This is great news because feeding your cats the best-quality food you can find (and afford) is the key to keeping them healthy and happy. It should also mean lower vet bills and less heartbreak for you down the road, because poor nutrition is the cause of many common health problems from renal disease to obesity.

Read about Liz's thinking here. I find that her priorities match mine in choosing the safest, healthiest, low-carb foods. I choose our cat food using the same criteria she does but when I tried to do the research myself, I found it so frustrating and difficult that I finally gave up. My thanks for Liz for doing that hard work.

See the new, expanded list of foods here. Note that these are all raw and canned foods. Liz doesn't bother with dry food, and neither should you. You can read her thinking on this here.

The other online source for the best cat (and dog) food is Susan Thixton of Truth About Pet Food. Susan is a passionate advocate for honesty and quality in pet food and she works hard to persuade the food industry, lawmakers, and government organizations to pay more attention to honesty, safety, transparency, and quality — it's shockingly obvious that none of these takes priority over profit for anyone involved in the business.

If you are new to Susan's work, read about it here.

Susan publishes an online database of pet food information for paid subscribers ($17.95 annually), called  the Petsumer Report. She also publishes an annual list of a relatively small number of brands that she'd feed her own animals. She charges a small fee for this list, and it doesn't seem to be available on the site right now, perhaps because she's updating it. (I've found it confirms some of Liz Eastman's research but it primarily features dog foods, since there are many more good ones out there than there are for cats. Her cat food list is small — mostly raw foods, and often local brands.) You can also subscribe to her free newsletter to stay informed about pet food recalls, her battles and successes as a pet food advocate, and other news.

Possum is excited to know that we will probably expanding his food choices but I don't think he understands that we are still planning to feed him the same amount twice a day.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Recent Adorableness: The Nervous One

We all do stupid things sometimes. Some of us do, anyway. I'm sure many of you readers have never achieved my level of "What the Hell Was I Thinking?"  

I have spent most of my life trying not to do stupid things. I was in my thirties (and married twice) before I felt I could relax and stop worrying about becoming a Teenage Unwed Mother. But despite my best efforts, I still manage the occasional doozy. The current real-estate mess is a case in point.

After we screw up, some of us feel horrible and guilty, and torture ourselves about it for ages, while the rest of us keep a stiff upper lip, learn from the mistake quickly, and move on. (And some of us deny everything. I've found that Harris is like that. He believes he's the perfect cat, so it's impossible that he would, say, roll my husband's expensive Josh Simpson paperweight off the mantel and onto the floor. Harris would say that didn't happen. But it did.)

Anyway, guess which of those categories I fall into: tortured, stiff-lipped, or denying? And then guess about Lion and Possum. Here are some photos I took of them the other night:

Possum hasn't had anything to be embarrassed about since about the middle of April, when he shocked my husband at breakfast one morning. Come to think of it, that was probably the first embarrassing thing he ever did. He is so self-assured that he manages to look dignified even when he accidentally rolls off the sofa in his sleep.

Lion, on the other hand, is my kind of guy. He hasn't been caught doing Anything Really Stupid since that  rather expensive blunder on May 10, 2014, but I swear he's still processing that ordeal. He's definitely the worrier of our bunch. (Wendy worries, too, but only about me killing her. She is a good reminder that some people manage to be somewhat stupid all the time.)

But Lion is the anxious type, like me. He feels the weight of the world on his plush shoulders. Just look at him:

I don't know if the cats have figured out that they might be moving, or that their supply of pricy cat food might be in some jeopardy in coming months, but I'm pretty sure they sense that we are under unusual stress these days. When I look at Lion's face, it's easy to imagine that there's something heavy on his mind, just as there is on mine.

But then he comes to purr and snuggle with me after I go to bed, and that's a wonderful distraction. It's important to take comfort when it's offered — from friends, cats, and soft cushions.

Thank you, everyone, for being there for me.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

An Intriguing Boston Craigslist "Missed Connection"

Yesterday, Universal Hub posted about "The Most Amazing Boston Missed Connection Ever" from about a craigslist post from several days ago. It sparked comments, research, speculation, and nostalgia from several readers. If you click on the UHub link above and go through the comments, you'll see that the essay inspired Adam Gaffin and his readers to investigate what was going on here and abroad in December 1972. They explored bombing raids in Vietnam, society events in local newspapers, Boston's Blue Laws, details of long-gone downtown lunch counters, and the day's bad weather.

Based on what everyone found, the Missed Connection is probably fiction. [Update: It was just debunked (and seriously dissed) by another blogger, and that link was posted on UHub, too.] But it's an evocative piece of writing that will probably disappear soon, since craigslist posts are of short duration. So I decided to copy it here to give it a longer life. It would be fun to know who wrote it, and why.

I met you in the rain on the last day of 1972 - m4w (Old State House)

I met you in the rain on the last day of 1972, the same day I resolved to kill myself.

One week prior, at the behest of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, I'd flown four B-52 sorties over Hanoi. I dropped forty-eight bombs. How many homes I destroyed, how many lives I ended, I'll never know. But in the eyes of my superiors, I had served my country honorably, and I was thusly discharged with such distinction.

And so on the morning of that New Year's Eve, I found myself in a barren studio apartment on Beacon and Hereford with a fifth of Tennessee rye and the pang of shame permeating the recesses of my soul. When the bottle was empty, I made for the door and vowed, upon returning, that I would retrieve the Smith & Wesson Model 15 from the closet and give myself the discharge I deserved.

I walked for hours. I looped around the Fenway before snaking back past Symphony Hall and up to Trinity Church. Then I roamed through the Common, scaled the hill with its golden dome, and meandered into that charming labyrinth divided by Hanover Street. By the time I reached the waterfront, a charcoal sky had opened and a drizzle became a shower. That shower soon gave way to a deluge. While the other pedestrians darted for awnings and lobbies, I trudged into the rain. I suppose I thought, or rather hoped, that it might wash away the patina of guilt that had coagulated around my heart. It didn't, of course, so I started back to the apartment.

And then I saw you.

You'd taken shelter under the balcony of the Old State House. You were wearing a teal ball gown, which appeared to me both regal and ridiculous. Your brown hair was matted to the right side of your face, and a galaxy of freckles dusted your shoulders. I'd never seen anything so beautiful.

When I joined you under the balcony, you looked at me with your big green eyes, and I could tell that you'd been crying. I asked if you were okay. You said you'd been better. I asked if you'd like to have a cup of coffee. You said only if I would join you. Before I could smile, you snatched my hand and led me on a dash through Downtown Crossing and into Neisner's.

We sat at the counter of that five and dime and talked like old friends. We laughed as easily as we lamented, and you confessed over pecan pie that you were engaged to a man you didn't love, a banker from some line of Boston nobility. A Cabot, or maybe a Chaffee. Either way, his parents were hosting a soirée to ring in the New Year, hence the dress.

For my part, I shared more of myself than I could have imagined possible at that time. I didn't mention Vietnam, but I got the sense that you could see there was a war waging inside me. Still, your eyes offered no pity, and I loved you for it.

After an hour or so, I excused myself to use the restroom. I remember consulting my reflection in the mirror. Wondering if I should kiss you, if I should tell you what I'd done from the cockpit of that bomber a week before, if I should return to the Smith & Wesson that waited for me. I decided, ultimately, that I was unworthy of the resuscitation this stranger in the teal ball gown had given me, and to turn my back on such sweet serendipity would be the real disgrace.

On the way back to the counter, my heart thumped in my chest like an angry judge's gavel, and a future -- our future -- flickered in my mind. But when I reached the stools, you were gone. No phone number. No note. Nothing.

As strangely as our union had begun, so too had it ended. I was devastated. I went back to Neisner's every day for a year, but I never saw you again. Ironically, the torture of your abandonment seemed to swallow my self-loathing, and the prospect of suicide was suddenly less appealing than the prospect of discovering what had happened in that restaurant. The truth is I never really stopped wondering.

I'm an old man now, and only recently did I recount this story to someone for the first time, a friend from the VFW. He suggested I look for you on Facebook. I told him I didn't know anything about Facebook, and all I knew about you was your first name and that you had lived in Boston once. And even if by some miracle I happened upon your profile, I'm not sure I would recognize you. Time is cruel that way.

This same friend has a particularly sentimental daughter. She's the one who led me here to Craigslist and these Missed Connections. But as I cast this virtual coin into the wishing well of the cosmos, it occurs to me, after a million what-ifs and a lifetime of lost sleep, that our connection wasn't missed at all.

You see, in these intervening forty-two years I've lived a good life. I've loved a good woman. I've raised a good man. I've seen the world. And I've forgiven myself. And you were the source of all of it. You breathed your spirit into my lungs one rainy afternoon, and you can't possibly imagine my gratitude.

I have hard days, too. My wife passed four years ago. My son, the year after. I cry a lot. Sometimes from the loneliness, sometimes I don't know why. Sometimes I can still smell the smoke over Hanoi. And then, a few dozen times a year, I'll receive a gift. The sky will glower, and the clouds will hide the sun, and the rain will begin to fall. And I'll remember.

So wherever you've been, wherever you are, and wherever you're going, know this: you're with me still.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


Happy October, everyone! It's usually my favorite month although right now I can't wait for it to be over. Still, I'm doing my best to enjoy the pleasantly cool, cloudy weather, which I've been waiting for since about May. It felt good to put on jeans and my old motorcycle boots this morning, and to dig out a cardigan, jacket, and scarf. I've lost a few pounds from all the real-estate angst, so the jeans fit more comfortably than they did last spring.

My anxiety waxes and wanes, and always returns with a vengeance sometime between 2 and 4 am. I wake in a panic as reality hits again: "What have we done?" I worry in the dark until I can't stand it anymore, turn on the light and disturb my poor husband, and try to distract myself with a book.

All day long, we are gathering information and talking over the choices. We're talking to agents, friends, bankers, and contractors as we try to figure out what to do with both apartments.

An agent we met with today recommended that we sell them both. Right now. We'd lose maybe six figures on the new one, he thought, but we'd make a decent amount on the old one. "And then would we move into a van down by the river?" I asked. (If you've been following our house-hunting saga, you know it took us six years to successfully buy a place we now don't want!)

The agent said we should use all the proceeds to buy this cool place he'd soon be listing — a totally modern, recently renovated penthouse, which will cost at least a half-million dollars more than we paid for our current, exorbitant penthouse. When we stopped snorting, we brought him down to earth and explained that we want much less condo and expense in future. And reminded him that we vastly prefer old-fashioned places with the high-ceilinged, Victorian detail that penthouses sadly lack. (What were we thinking?)

Then I asked him, "If you were us, what would you do?" He thought, and his answer was honest: "I'd move in and make the best of it. I'd move past the fear of everything you feel is wrong with it. I'd make small improvements to make it livable. And if I still wasn't happy living there, I'd put it on the market in the spring, or in a year. And hope to break even or do better then. I'd look at it as an investment, and another step along the way to the right place."

Move past the fear. I know what he meant, but I have too much of it. Fear (and remorse) dominate my life now. I hate it. But I can't see our situation from any other perspective. It never changes for me, although I have heard many other points of view. I'm not brave enough to deal everything that comes along with the place: the possible/likely secondhand smoke, the expense, the inability to renovate it enough for our comfort. My husband is willing to give it a try, but I can't get back to my optimistic frame of mind of a month ago, when I thought living there was a great idea. The blinders are off. I can't put 'em on again. I know too much.

In the meantime, the rooms are being painted in matte, off-white shades, a great improvement over shiny purplish-gray. We had picked out real colors for a few rooms, but when our thoughts turned to selling, we had to play it safe. My husband sees the fresh paint and likes it. I just hope it helps us sell.

We will probably list it next week and see how things go. If no one makes a reasonable offer in a week or two, we'll probably move in and list our old place. I will be sad and sorry. But we can't hold on to both places for much longer. We need the equity in the old place to help pay for the new one. We can't rent it.

Change is good. Right?

The odd thing about the new place is that it offers almost too much flexibility in its room arrangements. There are three rooms that could function more-or-less as our bedroom. There's the real one, which is so narrow I'd have to inch sideways to get around our bed. The other options are the two living rooms. Either one could have a door added at no huge expense and become a much nicer bedroom with a fireplace and two sunny windows. And people are telling us to turn the foyer into a little dining room, and the skinny bedroom into a dressing room or TV room... The mind boggles; I have never been able to figure out where any of our furniture belongs in the new place because we've never settled on which room should be used for what. And then my thoughts turn to multiple monthly mortgage payments, assessments, taxes, and secondhand smoke.

Oh, there's that familiar sick feeling in the pit of my stomach again. Time to get back to my seventh Barbara Pym novel in a row. They are the literary equivalent of tranquilizers and the only medicine I will take to alleviate the stress. They are always set in London, Oxford, or a charming English village in the 1940s to '70s. The plots revolve about church ladies, vicars, curates, and spinsters, plus an occasional anthropologist. Nothing much happens from beginning to end. I love that. I can't wait until my life is like that again.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Happy Gotcha Day #6, Wendy!

We adopted Wendy six years ago today. On that day, unbeknownst to me, I became Evil Mommy. (And let's not forget that other surprise she brought with her: ringworm. Compared to what we're going through now, that little nightmare was a walk in the park. But those were some crazy months.)

Here she is, giving me the stink eye when I congratulated her this afternoon:

She's a beautiful, silky-furred girl but I can't usually get near her. If I corner her on a windowsill I can pet her a little while she tenses up; otherwise she dashes away. I do a lot of "air petting" above a vanishing Wendy.

Look at her fuzzy little feet. They have polka dots on the bottoms, too. My husband gets to pet her every day. He can play with her feet, and rub her belly, and stroke her chin...but only at designated "safe" times when he's either in bed or sitting in his leather chair. He pulls over a bentwood chair and she settles in and purrs like mad as he strokes her. If I get too close or even say anything, she's gone.

In the past year I have been given the privilege of being able to rotate her food dish as she eats her supper, to make it easier for her to get every morsel. If I try to touch her with so much as a finger after doing this, she flies.

Sigh. I still love you, Wendybird.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Another Update

The unit. Big, lovely improvements could be made to its layout. One could knock down a wall to eliminate a skinny bedroom, incorporating it into a handsome, wide living room with three windows overlooking Marlborough Street. Then one could convert the back living room into a spacious master bedroom with a fireplace pretty simply — add a wall with a door and build a closet. Ideally, one would reconfigure the nearby bathroom and laundry closet to make it "en-suite," as they say.

But this would be too costly and difficult for us to undertake while living there, especially with cats who fear noise, strangers, and disruption. We can't stay in our current place for the many months it would take to plan, schedule, and do that work before moving We can't carry so many mortgages for so long, especially on top of construction costs.

These were ideas we believed we'd plan for over a couple of years, after we were more settled financially and knew exactly what we wanted. But we are realizing we can't face the chaos, dirt, and expensive surprises that come with major renovations. Even simpler changes, like bathroom remodeling, are not always simple given the added costs and hassle of doing work in a 4th-floor walk-up.

Live and learn. We renovated our current bathroom and a kitchen, so we're not completely ignorant about what is involved, but we did not think hard enough about all the issues before we bought this place. I think we were just too eager to finally take the plunge after looking for far too long. We thought it would work for us, and it still might. If we can't sell it without taking a hit. We have to move in. Which raises Issue #2:

The secondhand smoke. The smoker is a kind, thoughtful person. She said she's been smoking a lot more lately and she promised to quit, saying our problem might be the "kick in the pants" she needed.

That proves that we've got an unusually considerate neighbor with the best intentions. We love her for it and we're grateful. But can we count on her to quit? And what right do we have to interfere with her choices and activities at home? I realize that quitting can be life-saving, and I strongly encourage everyone to do it. But ultimately, it's not my business and I can't help anyone much on that extremely difficult road. It's up to her, and it's one of the hardest habits to break. I know more people who struggle and fail than those who quit. So while we appreciate her intentions we're not sure we can rely on them. The stakes are too high to take that risk, we fear. If we move in there and the smoke starts again, we're stuck.

So we are going to try to sell the new place. There must be buyers with the time and resources to renovate it to their taste into a great property. And cigarette smoke doesn't seem to bother most people. In that eight-unit building, we were the first to have a problem with it, before we even moved in. So I doubt there's a chance of getting the unanimous vote that is often needed to add a no-smoking policy to the rules.

Between my asthma and our shared distaste for smoke, we now realize that any future condo of ours has to be in a smoke-free building. But such buildings also tend to have restrictive pet policies. so we're probably doomed if we want to stay in the city. (Let me just say that three brokers and a banker visited our place recently, separately. Each told me he didn't smell the cats at all. And they only saw Harris and Possum since the others hid. As far as the agents were concerned, our cats are not an issue for a condo association except in theory. Confirming what I always knew.)

Anyway, it seems we will need to think yet again about leaving our beloved Back Bay for a little house somewhere. Someday. Not as far as Newton. We looked at many tiny houses and rejected them all for their location or lack of walls to hold my husband's library. He may finally decide to jettison many of his books or put them in storage, so we have better options going forward.

But let's jump off that bridge when we manage to stop teetering on the edge of this one.

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Little Update

Things with the new place are no better but we are gathering information and trying to decide whether to move or not, to re-sell (and take a huge loss) or not, to renovate (huge expenses and months of chaos for an uncertain return) or not. It's all nerve-wracking and confusing.

Secondhand smoke coming into the unit has become a "burning issue" in recent days, strongly influencing these decisions. (And yes, we asked about smoking beforehand. Apparently the situation changed since we asked.)

What a mess. We thought we'd be so happy to finally buy a place and move. Oh, well.

At least we saw a good sunset over the Charles the other night:

Monday, September 21, 2015

More Postcards from Brimfield

Ah, it's good to distract myself with something other than real estate and my ongoing worries and woes. I skipped my traditional apple fritter this time and lived — although I wonder if it spoiled my luck since we didn't find anything we could or should buy. (We also passed on some whoopie pies that were the size of personal pizzas and selling two-for-one. They were made using the original Drake's Devil Dog recipe from 1950s; we tried a sample and it was clear.)

Back to the fields.

Someone had to be talked out of buying one of these shiny lifesize sarcophagi. And it wasn't me.

Once in a great while, I find a tent full of great stuff that's been perfectly arranged, and it's rare and attractive that I feel I want to buy everything. This toy and doll shop had that effect on me:

The shopkeeper had wonderful inventory and knew how to show it off:

Display skills can make almost anything more attractive. Almost anything:

I don't normally crave a bear, but I briefly wanted one of her bears, because they had so much character. Several of them looked like Sebastian Flyte's Aloysius.

What we really wanted was this rare Victorian burlwood rolltop desk with Japanese influences, glass medallions, and a $9,500 price tag. We had never seen such an amazing desk and it was surprising to find it sitting in the grass at Brimfield. Inside was a decorating magazine from 1961 that featured the desk and the house it once belonged to. We were tempted to splurge and it's a very good thing that we figured out that it's as tall as our tallest ceiling. (Our next place will have high ceilings, I swear.)

It seems I've come round to worrying again, so I'll sign off before it gets boring.