Friday, September 22, 2017

Two Boxes of Harris

We can't bring ourselves to recycle two shipping boxes that Harris has taken over in our bedroom. He's been having so much fun with them. Since we don't have his favorite pole toys anymore (and no swallowed string has materialized) we play with a fleece ribbon on a pole and a red plush cherry toy that I tied to a length of wide grosgrain ribbon that no one has ever seriously tried to eat. 

Harris also likes to play in his boxes by himself. If he keeps tossing them around at 4 in the morning and waking us up, I'll have a serious talk with him. But I still won't get rid of the boxes. I am wrapped around his paw.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Possum Is Perfect

First — we've seen no sign of the missing foot of string, nor have we identified the string-eater yet. Everyone seems just fine: eating, sleeping, pooping, playing, hiding, purring. Toffee did throw up a bit this morning, which got me all freaked out, but then he ate breakfast with gusto and wanted to play.

Possum and Wendy had their annual checkups on Saturday including rabies vaccines in the tips of their tails. Wendy is well but needs dentistry, which we expected since we can't brush her teeth. Possum may need a cleaning, since we don't brush his teeth well enough, but he probably won't need any extractions, which suggests that our efforts are better than nothing. (Our vet kindly pointed out that we humans brush our teeth yet need regular cleanings, too.) We're going to switch to PetSmile toothpaste and hope it improves his plaque problem.

Possum has lost a little more than half a pound since last year, perhaps from my vigilance about keeping his nose out of other cats' food bowls at supper time. He was a little overweight to begin with. But we agreed that he should have blood and urine tests to make sure he was okay. His results were declared "perfect," and we are so glad. Wendy will have her blood tests when she has her dentistry in November.

Our "perfect "Possum condescended to pose for me yesterday and I was grateful and obsequious:

Sunday, September 17, 2017

I'm an Idiot

Harris brooding quietly in his carrier at Angell.

I was home alone and on the phone Wednesday morning, trying to support a friend with a sick cat and other troubles. When we began talking, I had Harris and Toffee chasing a Neko Flies pole toy in the bedroom. These very attractive toys require vigilance; when Lion finds one unattended, which has happened at least twice, he's eaten more than a foot of the nylon cord, and needed endoscopy to remove it. One time he jumped to a very high bookshelf to get it; another time, we'd left the pole by a chair and he sneaked over and helped himself.

If you've been reading this blog, you know where this is going.

I put the phone down, more than an hour later. A while after that, I remembered that we'd been playing with that toy. The phone conversation had been so intense that I didn't remember putting it away . . . or setting it down anywhere. I ran into the bedroom found the pole on the floor, separated from the toy, with more than a foot of the tough fluorescent green cord gone.

It's hard to describe what it's like to make that discovery, but I've been through it a few times now so I'm better identifying the stages once one remembers that the pole toy wasn't properly put away:

1. Astonishment that one could be such an idiot. Again
2. Hope that nothing was eaten this time
3. Disbelief upon making the discovery, while feeling like an idiot
4. Horror (while searching frantically for the string)
5. Denial (surely that string will turn up somewhere)
6. Returning horror and acceptance that one, indeed, is an idiot with a string-filled cat
7. Panic. Which cat?
8. Action: calling the animal hospital and Uber while gathering carriers, phone, charger, water, sweater, etc.
9. Racing to the animal hospital with two or three suspects.

This time, the usual suspects did not include Lion. I hadn't seen him all morning. He's been hiding even more than usual during the day lately because we'd had  guests (two days previously) and more mess and disruption than usual from some fall cleaning and touch-painting. So I figured it had to be one of the two who had played with the toy. My money would have been on Toffee, since he'd eaten string from a pole toy when he was a kitten. I felt I could only manage two cats on my own, so I picked what I thought were the most likely candidates.

Toffee put up a fight as I forced him into his carrier. Harris, a model individual, went right into his. The drive to Angell Memorial Animal Hospital was quick.

The emergency vets weren't that busy (four patients ahead of us is better than average, I'd say) so I probably waited an hour to see the vet and hand over the cats. We sat in the cat-only waiting area with only one other patient, who talked to me loudly, quickly, and nonstop about her cats and their numerous parasites and kidney problems, firing questions at me and staring until I responded. It was exhausting, so I gave her a lecture on feline nutrition just to quiet her down.

The vet said there was still time to try to induce vomiting by giving the cats a powerful tranquilizer with that side-effect. After it's administered, they wait and watch for 30 to 45 minutes to see if it works. If not, they reverse the sedation with another drug. While cats always vomit when you least want them to, it's very difficult to make them do it; the drug is successful at emptying the stomach only about half the time or less. But it's relatively safe and inexpensive compared to an endoscopy under full anesthesia.

I said I was afraid to go back to the waiting area and told them about the lady. They knew who I meant and let me wait in the exam room.

The tranquilizer didn't work, although they reported that Harris helpfully threw up some liquid.

I was at Angell for five hours while all this was happening, which gave me time to think, and to text with two of my wisest cat friends, who were full of advice and support. I calmed down and saw things more clearly. It occurred to me that Harris would have eaten the toy, his beloved "Growly," instead of the cord. I had most likely put him through all this for nothing. Toffee was more mysterious. He had eaten a pole-toy cord as a kitten, when I'd been distracted by difficult phone call and set it down.  He'd done many dangerous things until he was about 2, when he grew up, wised up, and stopped giving us fits. He had been very excited about playing that morning; so he could have eaten it, but it would have been odd, given his years of good behavior.

As for Possum and Wendy, anything is possible, but neither has ever caused us any worry by eating cords. They are older and weren't interested in toys that morning. Wendy was hiding in her usual spot under the bed with Lion. Possum was taking a long post-breakfast nap.

That left Lion. I hadn't seen or heard him come out from under the bed to eat the string that was lying on top of it. But it dawned on me that it's exactly the kind of thing he'd do. He's sneaky, and he loves eating strings much more than playing with the toys themselves. He'd already done it twice, and shown no signs of enlightenment. He could have heard us playing with it because the metal clip at the top of the pole makes a distinctive tapping sound as the cord flies around. So I sat in the exam room realizing I'd probably left the real patient at home.

Which was another reason to feel like an idiot. When will I ever learn, I asked myself? I am supposed to be smarter than my cats. I'm supposed to protect them from hazards, not create them.

The vet didn't want to perform two endoscopies, especially since we couldn't be sure that either cat needed it. We were sent home with instructions to watch all the cats carefully for at least a week for signs of intestinal blockage: vomiting, lack of appetite, lethargy, straining in the box, etc. Any of those will send us racing back to the hospital for emergency surgery.

So far, all the cats seem perfectly normal. Lion gave me what I thought was a guilty look when he finally appeared for supper.  I try to go to bed late and get up once in the middle of the night to check on them, and I make sure I don't leave the apartment for very long.

The Neko Flies pole toys, most beloved by all our cats, have been thrown out, never to return. I saved both the pole sand the toys in case someone develops a safe, edible string or some indestructible alternative (chain?) that can't be bitten. I'm not optimistic. I was an idiot to keep them after they caused trouble on previous occasions but Harris especially loves them more than anything else. And I thought I was mindful and sensible enough to always put them out of the cats' reach. Ha.

With any luck the string will pass through whoever's digestive tract without getting stuck, and turn up in the litter box very soon. That would be great. But I don't seem to have any luck, so who knows what will happen.

I'll keep you posted.

Friday, September 15, 2017


Remnants of Hurricane Irma drifted through Boston yesterday. It hit as I was walking across the Mass. Ave. bridge to meet my husband for an impromptu dinner at the taqueria on the MIT campus. The sky looked ominous from my side of the river and I hesitated about going, but he reported bright sunshine and blue skies on his side. I was skeptical but hungry, so I took the big umbrella and walked fast.

The river was calm but no one was sailing. I should have taken that as a sign to turn back but I did not. The thunder and lighting began and the downpour quickly followed when I was less than halfway over the bridge, at about 150 Smoots for those of you who know Boston. I was glad to have my umbrella — I passed lots of people getting drenched. But umbrellas only do so much when the rain is blowing sideways, so my legs got soaked and my sandals turned into squishy, slippery nuisances. However, there was a quesadilla waiting for me.

I dried off with paper napkins and we stayed inside until the rain stopped. Walking home, the light was still weirdly yellow, with mist and massive clouds. I can't imagine what it was like to experience this storm's intensity in Florida and on the islands, and I hope I never find out.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Catching Up & Patching Up

If you've noticed that I haven't been babbling communicating as much as usual in recent weeks, it's not because I find talking to you dull. I've been both lazy and busy, partly with projects for some of the neighborhood organizations where I volunteer. I've been spending time in Back Bay's alleys inventorying and photographing trees, for one thing. I did this for a few weeks last September and I still have more work to do. But soon we'll have an alley tree website as a reference (proof) whenever someone cuts down a tree without permission — or plants one, which happens more rarely.

I've also been on a small home improvement kick lately. Since we began house-hunting (was that really eight years ago?) we'd neglected our condo to the point where it was depressing me. And it would have depressed anyone who came to visit.

In future posts, I'll tell you about a few simple things we did recently, with the cats' cooperation, of course. Here's one project, which shows you not only how lazy we are about doing repairs around here but also how willing we are to paint a ceiling the wrong color.

In 2013, an early-morning leak from the top floor sent water pouring into our bedroom closet and the crawlspace above it, threatening to soak our best clothes and all of our Christmas decorations with dirty water. It was a memorable morning. Our building manager hired a mold prevention service to open up walls and bring in equipment, and we spent a week trying to sleep next to a massive dehumidifier that blew like a jet engine 24/7, while the cats enjoyed clawing at the sheets of plastic that formed a little room around it. What a lousy time that was. When the dehumidifier left, and the walls were replastered, we were left with large white patches on one sandy-gold wall and a rectangular "cloud" on our sky-blue ceiling. The handyman who works for our building was supposed to return to paint them. Ha.

We finally gave up and repainted ourselves last winter. The wall paint matched perfectly but the ceiling patch was the wrong color — a shade too light, even though I had written the color, Forget-Me-Not, in the book where I keep records of all of my paint colors and glazing recipes. It's hard to forget a color named Forget-Me-Not. We got used to living with a different two-tone ceiling.

Last week, the name "Serenity" popped into my head as I was looking at that too-light ceiling patch and not liking it at all. I looked up the color on a Benjamin Moore paint deck and decided it looked like a match for our ceiling, although I didn't go up on the ladder and compare the two because I don't like ladders. I thought I might have changed my mind about Forget-Me-Not after a previous flood, and forgot to write down this new, familiar-sounding color. It sounded plausible to me.

I bought a quart of Serenity and handed it to my husband with a very cute little touch-up painting kit: a toddler-sized roller packed in clear plastic that's a mini tray. The color was much too dark and looked far worse than the previous wrong color. We decided that the too-light color was better, even though it was obviously wrong, but we figured that we'd never figure out the right color. So my husband went to the paint store again for another can of Forget-Me-Not. And the second time around, it matched perfectly! They must have mixed the wrong color for me last year. They must have set their mixing machine for one shade lighter.

So, three quarts of paint later, the ceiling finally looks great — if you don't pay attention to the cracks.

Friday, September 8, 2017


Toffee thinks his wildcat markings look best when he's baring his fangs and curling his ears:

He thinks he looks ferocious but who could be scared of a guy with a butterfly-shaped milk mustache? This photo tells me that his teeth look good; for a month or two we were lazy about brushing the four boys' teeth every other night but lately we've been back in a routine, and it shows. 

He's more teddy bear than wildcat.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Lion

Lion appears to be a magnificent creature — when he is out and about and not in seclusion. He spends much his days communing with himself behind our laser printer, which sits inside a wooden cubby; we can't chivvy him out, so he feels safe back there. If we really need him, we turn the printer on and the sound sends flying across the paper tray like an enthusiastic 3D black-and-white print. We see a flash of baleful eyes and blurry white feet as he flees into the living room to disappear under the sofa, his other hiding place.

That was a long way of saying that he isn't nearly as dignified or self-posssessed as he seems to be in photos:

When he isn't nervous he can also be extremely friendly, snuggly, talkative, and silly. We usually see that side of him after his breakfast and supper. The middle of the day he reserves for thinking deep thoughts among the dust bunnies. He also likes to visit us when we go to bed, and sometimes again in the middle of the night. Then he comes again around 5 or 6 in the morning, sitting on us to stare into our faces at close range, lick our noses, and bite my husband's chin.

He loves to play, but his idea of playing it to catch the toy and hold it in his paw so he can eat a dangerous length of the string, and go to Angell Memorial Animal Hospital for an endoscopy. 

It's not about the toy for Lion. It's all about the string:

I devote much our playtime to lecturing him on the evils of string and how it is unwise to eat it, not only because it ends up costing us thousands of dollars but because a broken toy is no fun for the other cats. I try to impress upon our cats certain democratic principles: helpfulness to others, sharing, public service, not kicking each other in the head, and not ingesting foreign (or even American-made) objects.

I get nowhere.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Car Candy and a Box

I saw this adorable Fiat the other day when I was in the alley doing some tree stuff for the Garden Club. You can find everything from six-figure Aston Martins to ancient VWs parked in Back Bay alleys, but I consider this a find:

It made me want to race off to get myself a driver's license and a tiny (red, Italian) car of my own.

Then I came home and there was this: 

And I think we are on the same wavelength.

Friday, September 1, 2017

It's September!

I always look forward to September: cooler days, vibrant gardens, the best tomatoes and corn at the farmer's market, October's chill just around the bend. I even like the back-to-school vibe as the college hoards return, settle in, crowd Trader Joe's, and party through the night. But they bring a certain energy to the neighborhood. I can't honestly say I missed them but it feels right to have them back. 

My professor husband is in back-to-school mode, too. I always think I should sit in on a big intro course — economics? computer science? — or take a course at one of the local art schools, since I used to love drawing. And yet I never manage to get organized to do this. Maybe this will be the year.

Ha ha.

Of course, September is also hurricane season, so let's keep our fingers crossed that no more storms hit the US. I've been watching the situation in Texas with horror, and thinking about how we might manage to evacuate, since Back Bay is close to sea level. 

I'm grateful we don't live on the ground floor or in a basement. All we could probably manage to do is stuff our five cats into four carriers (a near-impossible task even if we had five carriers) and pack our laptops and phones (and chargers) into a backpack, with as much cat food as possible and maybe a handful of my better jewelry loaded into a second backpack with my wallet and some meds. 

That's all we could carry: cats in our hands, technology on our backs. We're going to be taking photos of our most important papers, which will keep them safely in the Cloud. It's also high time we took a new video inventory of everything that matters to us for insurance purposes. 

But, most of all, I'm trying to develop a more Buddhist attitude. I truly love a great deal of my possessions and would be devastated to lose them. But, at the end of the day — or the world — it's just stuff. If we and our cats are safe, that's what matters.

A Crime in the Night

We had an incident last night: an open box of Star Market Raspberry Burst Sugar Cookies (awesome despite the palm oil) tried to make a break for it, and were stopped by the night patrol. We don't know who apprehended the cookies — our cats are modest — but my husband reported that Harris ate breakfast with less speed and enthusiasm than usual. However, nothing ever seems to diminish Possum's speed or capacity, so we are giving him credit, too. 

Toffee had morning duty and was present at the crime scene, but was not authorized to release any details. As you can see, though, one of the cookies managed to get pretty far before it was nibbled to death.

It must have been a violent confrontation; I don't know how we slept through it. Most of the cookies had signs of being forcibly subdued, bitten in strategic places. 

The cat experts tell us that cats have no interest in sweets. They can't taste sweet things and are naturally averse to them. So my cats were brave and dedicated to dig into these cookies the way they did. They remind me of our late, great Snalbert, who was known to snatch suspect oatmeal cookies off plates and run away with them. He would also get into those little paper boxes of Dunkin Munchkins if any happened to be around overnight. He made great sacrifices on our behalf.

I'm not sure whose white ruff and toes those are in the bottom-right corner, but at first I thought it was someone standing up on his hind legs, which would have been very cute. Now I think it's Lion, since he has the biggest, whitest, ruff. But those toes could also be Possum,'s since he'd never be very far away from cookies on the lam.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Seen Around Town

I thought that those of you who aren't following me on Instagram (I have a pathetically small very exclusive following) might enjoy some of these photos. Apologies to those who've seen them already.

There's a beautiful work of art in this Back Bay window, plus some sort of vase:

The guy in the pink shirt arranged to propose in a gondola on the Charles, with parents spying from a couple of footbridges they passed under. Their mothers had flown in from out of town and were visibly jumpy when I joined them to gawk over the railing and snap this photo.

Mom, shouting: Did you say "Yes"???

Daughter: Duh!

The angel fountain in the Public Garden is at least as pretty at night as it is during the day:

We have a growing population of Back Bay bunnies. I bet it's because we have no feral cats these days, a good thing. But the rabbits eat a lot, driving many gardeners to fence in their front yards with chicken wire. I've gotten used to seeing them but my husband is still transfixed by every rabbit we spot.

The rainbow stairs in the Uniqlo store on Newbury Street:

I'm happy to report that Uniqlo has finally restocked their toasty HeatTech thermal turtlenecks, including the striped ones I like, which they haven't had since 2015. They're still $14.90 and I plan to  get two or three and toss my old ones, which have little holes from two winters of constant use.

In other Uniqlo news, their Ines de la Fressange fall collection launches tomorrow. This French designer's line tends to be classic, a bit retro, a bit boyish, well made and decently priced. She's produced her first men's line, too. The launch is August 31 at 9 pm. The best things sell out quickly (within the hour) so fashionistas mark their calendars.

Speaking of fashionistas, how many trends can you spot on this girl?

My answer? All of them — assuming she's wearing a cold-shoulder tee under that ruffled-sleeved cardigan. And I'd bet on it.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Last Postcards from Maine

Here are the last postcards from Maine.  

A bookplate from Thuya Lodge:

I want the lodge's icebox — don't you? 

Two cool and shady views of Thuya Garden:

Two classic Acadia views from the path along the Park Loop Road on a moody day:

Paperbacks on a table at the Jessup Memorial Library Book and Bake Sale in Bar Harbor. Many thousands of books are for sale in the main hall of the library, the basement, and under tents outside. Then there's a long table piles with cookies, brownie, cupcakes, and cakes, in case all those cheap, fabulous books aren't enough to satisfy your soul. My husband bought three ridiculously huge hardcover biographies, which nearly filled the trunk of our car, for $6. I picked up a trade paperback of Mary McCarthy's The Group for $2.

A carefully coordinated garden on a busy commercial street in Bar Harbor:

An unusual all-white house in a quiet spot in Southwest Harbor. I love the different-sized windows with functional shutters in quirky sizes. There's a knobby, whitewashed stone chimney on the opposite side of the house. If it had a little pool and a hot tub we'd have to bankrupt ourselves and buy it.

My swimsuits drying in the sun on the porch of our bungalow:

A foggy morning view of boats in the harbor from the same porch:

You didn't think you'd get through a stack of Maine postcards without a single popover photo, did you? This one was soon slathered in blueberry jam, butter, and lemon curd.

I think these purple flowers are called "liatris," but I call them "not-lupines":

Tiny marigolds in all shades of orange, the color of fall. It's coming: pumpkins will appear in the markets, the leaves will be turning, and we can go apple-picking in woolly sweaters.

And, in October, we hope to return to Mount Desert Island.