Yard sale finds

At a raucous yard sale with kids and dogs milling around the merch, I ask an old woman how much she’d like for her vintage olive suitcase.

“Can’t take any money for it, dear,” she says. “I can’t remember the lock combination.”

I test it out and confirm that yes, the suitcase is locked, but since I intend to use it on my stack-of-suitcases nightstand, it hardly matters. Though it does feel strange to buy something you can’t open or use for its intended purpose. It also feels wrong to take it for free.


“Wait, is there drug money in there?” I ask.

“I should think not! It’s empty.”

I offer her some money, but she won’t hear of it, so I head home with a small suitcase that a stranger tells me is empty, but that makes me wonder, especially when my cat sniffs it all over. If you are a retired spy and know how to bust open a locked suitcase, let me know.

In addition to the mysterious suitcase, I also score a couple of necklaces and tops before something compels me to buy this kitschy fisherman needlepoint from a woman who says it was her mother-in-law’s, and who perhaps isn’t sorry to see it go. I add it to my wall of eclectic art.





Peace and love

I head to Woodstock not as a pilgrimage (though Jimi Hendrix is playing on the local radio station and I wander through the village) but to see the animals of the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. From the cat that greets me assertively at the gate to the steer that, allowed to be full grown, is imposing yet sweet, I fall in love with every creature. Miss Piggy jumped off a slaughterhouse truck in North Carolina. Ducks Brian and Kath were saved from a foie gras factory. Goats and sheep sidle up to visitors for petting or a snack as volunteers provide a tour packed with anecdotes about the animals–their personalities and history of abuse or escape–and info about factory farming and how to be a successful vegan.  If I didn’t live three hours from here, I would volunteer at the farm and muck out the barn just to be with the animals, whispering to them how glad I am that they found their way to a sanctuary.

sanctuary sign

Cat greeter at sanctuary


steer hide

shaggy sheep

sheep face

toy farm animals in rice

grains of rice

Woodstock sign

Woodstock flea market

Ride a bike sign

I love (Tivoli) NY

Movie scouts, listen up. You should film something in Tivoli. It’s quite possibly the sweetest little town in New York. I walk past the book shop, the vegetarian cafe, the colorful Mexican restaurant, the corner laundromat and half-wonder if real people live here. Its small, four-way intersection has stop signs, no lights, and is the hub of the town–the type of place where your waiter yells out to the guy walking by, “You got a haircut!” then continues taking your order.

The library, located in a renovated fire station, is open on Friday nights for neighborhood kids to gather and make stuff. Couples bike through town on old-fashioned bikes and precocious kids order their steak quesadillas medium-rare. I realize later that Bard is down the street. The waiter at Santa Fe tells me that yes, real people live here, some families, some professors, some students who attend Bard and some who never leave. The restaurant has the requisite twinkly lights. The porches are reminiscent of New Orleans or Savannah. The street signs are funky. Gardens are in bloom. When I visit the restaurant later in the week, the waiter comes over to say hello, like we’re old friends. I really like it here.

Santa Fe restaurant

Tivoli library

Children's room at Tivoli library

Tivoli library entrance

The Lost Sock

Painting of Tivoli four corners


Horseshoe and plaque on Black Swan bar

Country mouse

My friends give me a hard time because I don’t have curtains on my windows. They’re just . . . too much. Yes, I suppose someone walking by could see me half-naked, but the chances are slim because I live across from a cemetery. I’m cool with ghosts checking me out. So when I arrive at my vacation rental and see a wall of windows, I am in heaven (ironically, where all the ghosts are). It’s like staying in the Philip Johnson Glass House. The only difference is that my house is not in the middle of the country so when it’s lights out on vacation, it’s the darkest darkness I’ve ever seen. Fireflies are welcome little flashlights.

As you might imagine, it’s also very quiet, aside from moths batting themselves against the windows and really, really big beetles that hurl themselves at the door so fiercely it sounds like someone is knocking. Which is a scary thought in the middle of the night. In the middle of nowhere.  Insect static aside, the quiet and stillness are welcome in a world filled with noise. And serendipity being what it is, I happen upon a fantastic podcast, On Being with Krista Tippett and the first episode I hear is an interview with Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist trying to preserve the few remaining quiet places in the world. The man really listens. Also, is that not the coolest job? Anyway, he doesn’t define quiet as the absence of all noise, but the absence of man-made or non-natural noise. Even in the quiet woods there are leaves rustling and water dripping and birds singing. I hear it all this week.

Red Hook windows

House at night

The same view at night. And this is with an exterior light on.

Dark dirt road


The daylight trickles in, dampened by thick tree cover that keeps the house cool in the midst of a heat wave. Maple roams the house sniffing everything, while I appreciate the well-appointed house and its mid-century modern charm. I pretend that I live there, enjoying the Bose system and walk-in shower, and devour weeks of New York magazine. I’m stealing a lot of their ideas–an old hospital cart that holds toiletries, taxidermied animals that are not as creepy as they sound, and this fantastic suitcase idea:

Suitcase of books

I have a suitcase, books and magazines too. This will happen pronto.

Maple on washer

Maple finds it is coolest on the washer

Maple, genius hunter

I’m not a big fan of zoos, but I respect the movement toward enrichment ideas to keep animals engaged in activities that challenge them–ones that they’d find in their natural environment. To that end, I try to keep my cat occupied while I’m at work. I use whatever’s handy–egg cartons, yogurt cups, cereal boxes–and hide treats that she has to find. It seems to work for a few minutes anyway. When I’m home I try out new items to make sure they’re safe, which is how Maple came to have a paper bag on her head.*


*No cat was harmed in this exercise. In fact, I think she’d endure this embarrassment daily if I kept the treats coming.

Then I found just the thing: this activity box you can stuff with mice, balls, and treats. Maple loves it, but if I had to fish out my treats from a box, I would not be pleased. Another reason it’s good I’m not a cat.

cat toy

Gangsta cat

My friend tells me that my cat, Maple, is a little vandal. “Sit on the right side of the train when you head home and check out the abandoned train with graffiti all over it. You’ll see ‘Maple’ spray painted in a couple of places.”

Apparently, my cat has been tagging trains.

OK, so it probably isn’t my cat because I lock the door at night, so I know she can’t get out, but seriously, whose gangsta tag is “Maple”? It’s so . . . sweet.

On a lunch excursion this week, I spot this amazing piece of work on Stuart St. in Boston. The clever style smacks of Banksy. If you haven’t seen the documentary on this artist–Exit Through the Gift Shop–you should. It’s weird, like graffiti  done by a cat.


A little research turned up the fact that the artists behind this are Os Gemeos (twins) who have also contributed art to the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston.

Yard sale finds

yard sale sign

The season has begun.

At a school fundraiser, I spot two things you normally don’t see on the bargain-hunting circuit: a man playing bagpipes and a girl cradling her ferret–two odd lumps that both emit strange sounds. But I will not be distracted by the hoopla. But in fact, I was distracted: by the time I make it over to a unicycle for sale, it’s gone, which is probably just as well because in what scenario am I actually mastering the thing and not falling on my face?

You might think given the unicycle and the picture below that I have kids. I don’t, but I like mini cookie cutters as much as the next kid, and they’re just the right size and shape for animal crackers. And, like I always say, where there’s a rooster banner, there’s a reason to celebrate. The tiny Halloween-themed notebooks I’ll hand out to trick-or-treaters in October.

Maple and yard sale finds

rooster banner

Given my newfound collage mania, I buy a couple of books–one of photographs, one on constellations–that I’ll try to rip up without thinking I’m going to hell. A vintage Clue game for $1 might also make its way into a collage; the furry tail in the photo will not. And my favorite find: a one-of-a-kind wood-carved painting of an aviator bunny in a polka-dotted plane. My friend pointed out that carved in the bottom corner is “July ’72,” the month and year I was born, like it was destined to be mine. I think it actually says “Judy ’72,” and while I don’t know Judy, I really wish I did. I think we’d get along.

yard sale books

It’s Halloween. Can I come in?

The ferris wheel came down early in Salem this year lest anyone get blown off it during Hurricane Sandy, but what this city lacks in cheap carnival rides it makes up for in revelers decked out in all manners of ridiculousness. My unscientific survey of the pedestrian mall turns up more adults in costumes than children; when else are adults allowed to dress up and pretend they’re someone else? A little fantasy never hurt anyone.

Still, it’s hard to tell the costumed zombies from the real ones roaming the streets amid tiny super heroes and cotton candy vendors, all backlit by fireworks over the water. Adults in wigs, feathers, and leather (sometimes all at once) replace the briefcase-carrying business folks on the train ride home to Salem. I have to admit it adds a little spice to the commute.

A handful of kids turn up at my door—a quartet of princesses, a Superman, and a masked something or other.

“Trick or treat,” they say in chorus.

“Do you have a dog?” asks a princess.

“No, but I have a cat,” I say, doling candy into their sacks.

“Can I see your cat?” says the masked kid, walking into the house.

“She’s hiding under the couch,” I tell him. “You’re too scary.”

Is this question-and-answer thing a new Halloween ritual?



Sleeping in a field of flowers

I bought this dog bed that we’re going to pretend is a cat bed at the yard sale of a pet store owner in Marblehead who used it in her shop as a bed for the store’s dog. You’d expect a used dog bed to be a lot furrier, but it turns out the shop’s dog was a giant stuffed animal. The pillow was much poufier, so I replaced it with a more cat-friendly pillow in hopes of keeping my couch fur-free.

I paid five bucks for the bed, originally $115 from bowhausnyc, so I figure I saved $110. But at what cost? I worry Maple may get a complex from sleeping on a dog bed, but then she does make occasional barking noises and fetch things.

Yard sale finds

It’s a good day when I find original art at a yard sale. Thank you, artist around the corner who dug out some old pieces and decided to stick them out at the yard sale. It’s a sweet hillside town, rural, I think, but it’s the spacious sky with a great swooping cloud that makes me pick up the painting three times before I decide to buy it for a mere $10.

I’ve been trying to gather more information about the objects I find, especially the stories behind them, so I ask if she remembers the location depicted in the painting.

“Do you know where that is?” she asks.

“The little painted houses on a hill make me think Guatemala or maybe somewhere in South America,” I say.

She laughs at my guess that turns to be way, way off.

“I painted that from the top of the Kendall Square garage in Cambridge,” she says, smiling. “Do you know that area?”

“I’ve parked in that garage next to the cinema so many times,” I say. “I can’t believe that’s Cambridge. Local art!”

I even catch Maple admiring it.

I also find this cute vintage-inspired bag (purse or reusable grocery tote, depending on the day) and toss this retro bracelet into it at the next yard sale where a woman says, “I love your bag.”

I also score a strawberry pot, which just about saves the strawberry plant that was just waiting for a roomy replanting. In the soil from another pot I fish out a peanut from a local squirrel that’s getting to work collecting for the winter. It’s a game: the neighbor scatters peanuts around and the squirrel plants them all over the neighborhood. Every time I find one I hide it again and hope that the squirrel will find it in its new spot. I picture the fuzzy guy looking at the map, digging around my basil, and coming up empty handed. Something tells me my tomatoes will disappear next year.

Cat hammock

I’m not crafty, but the layer of cat hair on the couch has pushed me toward Martha Stewart tendencies.

I’ve made a cat hammock.

I used the bones of wooden magazine rack and a fabric cushion cover bought at a yard sale 10 years ago (seriously) that was just waiting for the right project. Let’s pretend this is the right project and that it’s sewn beautifully and not at all lopsided.

Maple likes it. Even if I had to toss her in there, forcing her to look relaxed.

Westport, thunder be damned

Lest you think I’ve needed a week to recover from the big 4-0, I was actually just enjoying summer in the jubilant manner in which summer should be enjoyed: swimming, daytripping, reading (because sometimes turning a page is all you can manage in the heat), and taking days off to do absolutely nothing, which is hard because summer is about activity and the outdoors and adventure. Winter lacks this cache so utterly it shouldn’t even be a season.

But a quick wrap up on the birthday outing to Westport. First, unless one is a multimillionaire, one may only visit Connecticut, so Opal (the Toyota) and I, set out amidst warnings of severe thunderstorms with the potential for torrential rain and hail (birthday, on!). We cruised by grand stone homes and renovated farmhouses overlooking Long Island Sound, harbors dotted with sailboats and yachts, and everywhere: ladies who lunch.

First stop: Goodwill. I’d heard magical things about this new outpost (fancy wood floors, birthday month discount) and it did not disappoint. I pounced immediately on olive-green Oxford heels while pondering why someone would buy them, wear them once (from my estimation), and then ditch them. But who cares. They were mine for $12. Maple says they match her eyes. I also scored a frilly red top and a J. Crew cardigan with glass buttons I’ve been searching for on eBay (found!). And the cutest vintage French poster that has already claimed a wall. All for 20-something buckaroos.


Lunch at Tarry Lodge needs minimal description to get across the majesty of cheese: lightly fried squash blossoms with goat cheese and a 4-cheese pizza that melted and crisped in less than five minutes and was consumed in less.

When the sky opened up, I was at Terrain, a heavenly nursery—the Anthropologie of plants. Lilac bushes, feathery fronds, and sunny annuals beckoned, rinsed by the rain, all of us cooled. I bought a bushy birthday plant studded with purple flowers and resisted the rustic planters, colorful metal chairs, strawberry vines—all of it.

I dipped in and out of other shops before grabbing dinner, like a tween, at Shake Shack (what’s a birthday without ice cream?) and headed home, windows rolled down on a warm summer night, lightning flashing in the distance like birthday fireworks.


Odd lots

> You know what costs more than a root canal without dental insurance? Window treatments. I got an Amazon local deal (think Groupon) for a local home decor shop and was excited that I wouldn’t have to install a damn thing. Already prepared for the investment after getting quotes for two custom shades at Home Depot, I thought this place might be a bit more than the $200 estimate, but worth it. They do the measuring and wield the tools. So the saleswoman and I browsed dozens of colors of “product” in the comfort of my living room, and I chose a set of shades in cinnamon blush that opened and closed like butter, and already I was picturing the light streaming through them on my patio doors, when she said something that sounded like “They’re $800,” and I said something that sounded like laughter. Then she said, “each” and I said, “Thank you for your time,” and showed her out the patio door.

> I watched NY Med, despite my aversion to Dr. Oz, and you know what? It was good. Or I need a doctor.

> This is why I hate ordering online. SO much packaging. To be clear, I don’t actually hate ordering online, because that little shopping cart is so darn cute and there’s little effort involved (click!), but with all the cardboard, paper, and bubble wrap you could destroy the earth while also losing a small cat. But my set of plates did arrive unscathed. Still, with all this bubble wrap, I could set up an eBay account and be able to ship things in a very cushiony matter for a long time.

> You can tell by looking out the window how hot it is by how slowly tourists are walking through the city. Like turtles on vacation.

> I participated in a video shoot this week, providing a quick overview of academic support services at the college where I work, and like a good reality TV star, I practiced what to say, so that I’d be ready. I was feeling prepared until the director and interviewer arrived with two cameramen with towering lights and an audio guy in tow, and before I knew it, a microphone was snaked up my skirt and I was talking into the camera. My speech went out the window when I realized we were improvising a sketch, apparently.. Suddenly, I was acting. Just a heads up that if I disappear for a while, I’m probably answering a flood of calls from agents.

Yard sale finds, kitchen edition

Maple and I are watching Brit Andy Murray try to win Wimbledon for his country. In other words, I’m spending 4+ hours on the couch.

Well, I’m fitting in a few domestic chores, like washing my yard sale finds: a blue and white striped rug ($3) and some kitchen scrub cloths ($2), which I hope eliminates the icky sponge routine. They’re a great match for some orange and white dish cloths I bought at Marshalls for actual retail prices. But at $3.99, the prices at Marshalls rival those at a yard sale. But first, Maple sniffs the curious new items, applying her scent to each by rolling about.

Satisfied, she then lords her body over them, possessing. I can only hope she’ll tackle the dishes in the sink with the same devotion.

Odd lots remix

> Am I the only person who doesn’t get s’mores? The marshmallows take forever to melt, the graham crackers are dry, and the chocolate melts all over you (well, that part is OK). They never come together in the sandwich promised land and you end up with white marshmallow lips.

> I’m at the gym this week when the irresistible aroma of fresh-from-the-oven cookies wafts by. Let me repeat that: my gym smells like a bakery. Now, I’m not saying I’d prefer the alternative (sweaty man, dank towel, chlorine), but whose idea of a cruel joke is this? You spend an hour lifting stupid little weights and running on a conveyor belt only to have the image of a chocolate chip cookie assault you when you’re vulnerable. I caved, and I’d do it again.

> I’m cat sitting this week for a friend and I have a whole list of things to do with his Maine Coon, Seamus. Oh, the places we’ll go! First, I hear there’s a jacuzzi in my friend’s building; perfect: I can relax while Seamus treads water and sheds some pounds. We’re hanging out on the 4th of July, too, so maybe we can learn the words to Yankee Doodle Dandy (all the verses), while watching the fireworks and waving an American flag. I’ll have to get a basket for my bike for outings and a leash in case we want to walk along the beach. Oh, and we’ll get manicures (he’s a male, but easygoing) and eat pizza and watch movies and maybe even color our hair.

Yard sale haul

Maple sniffed today’s Crayola-colored finds like it was a pile of tuna fresh from the ocean. Oh, the scent of strangers! I had barely washed, dried, and folded the clothes before she was back in the laundry basket; secondhand smells and fabric softener all intriguing, apparently. Life is composed of small pleasures, so I let her do her thing but insisted she rate every outfit I tried on. Two paws up, though I could tell she was iffy on the green sweater.

Some neighbors around the corner were having a yard sale while also trying to move a couch out the door. I tried to help and explained that I was a neighbor, not a yard sale freak ready to sue them for a back injury. They didn’t need me, but I needed their black leather jacket that I bought for a cool 5 bucks, channeling Lisbeth Salander. I bought a studded belt too because she would have. Still working on the chest tattoo.

Today’s haul: two pairs of colored denim, two bright cardigans, a striped green sweater, one flouncy red dress, a leather jacket, studded belt, and a James Taylor CD, which I find it hard to believe I didn’t own before now, all for $20.

Angry birds

> A pyro set up shop in my bathroom this weekend after three mornings of me pretending the scrabbling noise wasn’t a bird nesting in a vent. Climbing onto the roof didn’t seem like an option. “Let’s smoke him out,” he said, lighting newspaper in my watering can and waving it like a madman at the vent. A controlled burn in a dry, dry season.

More scrabbling this morning and no sky-blue eggs as a gift.

> I’ve heard the phrase “in his wheelhouse” four times this week. Is that a thing?

> A man walked by me today whistling a catchy tune that got me humming the words–until I realized it was “O Christmas Tree,” or, for persnickety devotees of German Christmas carols, “O Tannenbaum.” Sing it in German though and you sound angry.

> Instead of a brush, it may be more efficient to use the lint roller directly on my cat.

> Apologies to men everywhere for Warner Bros’s advertising “The Lucky One” as “the perfect date movie.” And frankly, apologies to women too.

> My arms are scratched and pricked, bruised enough to cause suspicion. Gardening at night. A friend dropped off some plants from his garden that needed immediate planting and watering, so I found myself tucking in plants at nightfall and adapting REM’s “Nightswimming” to some ridiculous lyrics. Darkness makes potting plants tricky (lopsided shrubs), but it does help to cloak giant insects. And singing wards off the giant possum roaming the neighborhood.

Stomping on my vision

Every year my friends and I make a vision board. An excuse to flip through magazines while snacking and gabbing? A nostalgic nod to making collages for your dorm room door? Yes and yes. But the exercise is a good one to focus your thoughts for the year and to think about what you really want in your life. And then it will just happen! OK, not really. One year you might focus on career aspirations; another you might collect images of home. Sometimes you just browse the images and see what appeals to you (George Clooney). This year, I’m goal-less so I collected images that spoke to me. Turns out I’m interested in animals, books (and strangely books about animals) and two people jumping off a cliff, naked, with a caption that reads “Living fearlessly.”

Am I subconsciously mulling a career as an animal rights author? Do I want to live out a real-life We Bought a Zoo? Do I want to become a nudist?


But last night, I’m roused out of bed by a cat calamity. I trudge downstairs to see what Maple is plotting to discover that she has not only knocked my vision board off the bookshelf, but is now dragging it, face down, across the floor. She does like to bring me things, so maybe she is trying to remind me of my vision in a not-so-subtle way. Here, look at your dreams! she commands in her kitty voice. But then I wonder if she is instead dragging my vision board through the proverbial mud, stomping on it with her little paws in an act of sabotage.

That is one scary kangaroo on my board and its threatening stare might be too much for Maple. Or she worries I will leave her for a kangaroo. Or she doesn’t think anything at all, because she’s a cat, and I need to read more about animal behavior to get to the bottom of this. Lucky for me, that’s on my vision board.

Who wants to see cute pictures of my cat?

Most days when I come home, Maple is peering out the patio door either sensing my arrival or bird watching, jaw clicking. Or, I’ll spot her waiting on the stairs that provide a nice view out the front door. On rare occasions though, I’ll come home to silence. After hunting around, I can usually find her curled up in the linens or under the couch, a dusty hangout that she enjoys even when not hiding from guests. When it’s cold, she burrows under the sheets, the lump barely discernible. But when I ferreted her out recently, she was under the covers nestled on my pillow like a human, ensuring that it was sufficiently furry when I went to bed that night.

Scared of the sheep?

Other times she can’t resist a dresser drawer or the lure of an open suitcase. This is her helping me pick out what I’m going to wear in the morning and simultaneously ensuring that it will be too wrinkled to wear:

That’s all. Cute cat show over.

Hiding out

Whenever I leave the house, Maple is usually gazing out the patio door checking out the squirrel situation. It’s rare that she’s not at her post when I head out, so I have a habit of doing a quick check on her location to ensure she isn’t accidentally trapped in the closet as was the case once when she tiptoed in when I wasn’t looking.

So, the other day, after checking the closet and confirming that she wasn’t behind the couch (her go-to hiding spot), or behind the wardrobe or under the bed, I was worried that she had vaporized—until I saw the corner of the armoire curtain was amiss. A cursory looked turned up nothing, but a second look deep into the recesses of the assorted linens and pillows revealed a surprised Maple, nestled in mosquito netting.