gooollysandra

Thoughts on thoughts and images of beautiful things

About gooollysandra

When thinking about how to describe myself, I find it hard to say exactly what defines me. I think we are always evolving and changing, creating ourselves and growing into ourselves. So it is not easy to have a clear-cut definition of who one is in one instance that can apply at all times, because we are never the same. We are always changing.

Los Angeles

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My first trip to California was to the great sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles, and it was actually quite a bit as I had pictured it. I’ve heard people describe it as a series of suburbs connected by 5 lane highways, and we certainly used them to get around to various neighborhoods. It was interesting to try to guess how long it would take for us to get to each place; not that we had to do much guessing with GPS, but as a friend of ours there put it, everything is anywhere between 10 and 50 minutes away. We were pleasantly surprised that we didn’t have to deal with the nightmarish traffic that is attributed to L.A. Maybe it’s not as bad as they say, or maybe we just got lucky!

Our flight got in late, but our introduction to the city at a friend’s apartment in North Hollywood with a beautiful, tropical courtyard was already a nice change from the chilly midwest (our trip was in early May). The first thing I noticed the next morning as we started out with a driving tour through the Hollywood Hills neighborhood was the vegetation. I was so in love with the vegetation – all of the cacti, the variety of palm trees, combined with the sun and blue skies, is bound to raise anyone’s spirits. I also really enjoyed seeing the architecture of the houses, colorful stucco, and tile roofs. Driving up and down the winding roads of the Hollywood Hills was an amazing introduction to L.A. because for me it was the epitome of why we travel – to be transported and immersed into a world different from our own. The houses, their precarious driveways, and the views provided an invigorating look into the rich and famous culture of L.A. I felt transported into a movie!

Next up on the agenda was a hike at Griffith Park, and my were our Midwestern asses not prepared! By all accounts, it’s not a difficult hike, if you can even call it a hike. I’m sure the locals consider it a walk. But living in the Midwest, we are not used to that kind of terrain. It was a beautiful walk though! We stopped by the Griffith Observatory (hello La La Land fans!) and admired its Greek and Beaux-Arts architecture, while eyeing the Hollywood sign in the distance. And to think that I wanted to hike up to the Hollywood sign…nope!

The next day we drove to downtown L.A. to see the Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels, and The Broad art museum. The concert hall was a sight to behold, as the massive steel structures converged together and gleamed in the light. We couldn’t leave downtown before looking for the Cecil Hotel, which wasn’t as eerie as we had pictured after watching Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel on Netflix. We also didn’t want to leave downtown before at least poking our heads into skid row. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was definitely sad and shocking. I was surprised by the fact that there are businesses there that people who don’t live in skid row go to, and they just walk past all of the disorder and bleakness around them without blinking an eye – just a day in the neighborhood, conducting normal business. Our last stop in the area was the fashion district, with the seemingly endless rows of clothing stores and vendor tents set up on the sidewalks.

That afternoon we went to LACMA. I love art, so I always try to go to an art museum when I visit a new city. Your eyes are delighted before you even enter, as the architecture of the whole museum campus is enchanting. The bright red steel elements juxtaposed with the stone, and the palm trees hugging the museum’s facade on all sides is worth seeing, even if you don’t go inside. It reminded me of Centre Pompidou in Paris. With an outdoor restaurant and bar, and the iconic Urban Light display by Chris Burden (hello No Strings Attached fans!), it’s a multifaceted gem of a destination. We saw a wonderful exhibition on the artist Yoshitomo Nara, who paints captivating large-scale portraits.

We drove through Beverly Hills and, of course, played Weezer’s Beverly Hills. We walked down Rodeo Drive, stopped into some stores, and pretended that we could actually afford anything there. Rodeo Drive was as I had pictured, with beautiful and glamorous people everywhere, photoshoots taking place on various corners, and a collection of stores that screams capitalism and consumerism. But again, beautiful with the palm trees and fancy cars everywhere you look that most people only get to see in the movies.

We wanted to experience a California beach and the Pacific Ocean, so the next day we went to Santa Monica and Venice. The Santa Monica pier was packed! Walking along the boardwalk was a touristy experience and not something that I would necessarily do again. There was music, there were dogs, there was fair food, and people excitedly/nervously posing with snakes around their necks. We then set our sights on a calmer kind of vibe and walked along the Venice canals – so pretty and relaxing. Venice Beach was only a short walk away and we got to enjoy the water and the sand, and watched surfers do their thing in the Pacific Ocean.

Driving along the Pacific Coast Highway at sunset en route to Calabasas for my boyfriend’s birthday dinner was one of my favorite parts of the trip. It’s a gorgeous drive with sweeping views of the ocean, and it started to get more hilly and winding as we got closer to Calabasas. The restaurant was tucked away in the hills and had an upscale cabin feel with a decadent menu featuring wild game. It certainly did not disappoint!

Before our trip, my boyfriend and I did a lot of research on restaurants by category/cuisine and we watched City of Gold, the documentary about food critic Jonathan Gold. Inspired by Gold’s passion for food in L.A., we tried to go to some of the restaurants featured in the documentary. Great documentary!

Art viewing in the time of Covid

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I went to the Art Institute of Chicago recently for the first time since the covid pandemic hit the U.S. last Spring, and I was surprised by how much I felt like I had to re-learn how to look at art and get the most out of a museum visit. I suppose we’ll have to re-learn how to do a lot of things post-pandemic. The Art Institute was quite crowded, which I was not expecting, and there was a three hour wait for the Monet exhibition. I didn’t wait for it, but I definitely want to see it before it goes down in June. It was incredible and rather surreal to see some of my favorite works of art at the museum, and I found myself spending more time than usual in front of them to soak them all in – scanning them from top to bottom so that I didn’t miss anything. I mostly went for the Henri Toulouse-Lautrec special exhibition, Toulouse-Lautrec and the Celebrity Culture of Paris. He’s one of my favorite artists and I always spend time with his works when I go to the Art Institute. They are typically on display in a room close to where the special exhibit is now. To have a full room dedicated to him and his large colorful posters and prints was spectacular. I love the playful imagery in his works that have a slight sense of mockery underneath their artistic virtue.

During my first museum visit since the pandemic started, I had this New York Times article about museums in the Berkshires on my mind. The Berkshires hold a special place in my heart. I love the beauty and the peacefulness of these majestic mountains, that take on a purple hue in just the right light. My mom grew up in the Berkshires and I lived there for one year before going to grad school. This area might be rural, but it is certainly rich and vibrant in art and culture. With numerous museums for its small scope and population, it’s a destination for visitors seeking solace in nature and intellectual awakening in its cultural institutions. The house that my mom grew up in in Williamstown, MA (the same house that I spent my time in while living there) was just steps away from the Clark Art Institute. We also took advantage of and appreciated MASS MoCA and the other museums in the area.

Williamstown, MA

What I really appreciated about this article was the commentary on contemporary art. Contemporary art is certainly contemporary, relatively speaking, but it’s not as contemporary as it claims to be. As this article points out, it can’t keep up with the current times that we have experienced over the past year. What then, one can argue, is the value of contemporary art? I agree with the author, Jason Farago, that we can learn just as much from the old masters as we can from contemporary art. Furthermore, art isn’t so much about what we can learn from it, but how it reminds us of our humanity.

“If I seek out art in a time of national catastrophe, it’s not because I need that catastrophe explained to me. And it’s not because I want to block that catastrophe out with a veil of pretty pictures. It’s simpler than that. It’s because I need to be reminded what to live for.”

Jason Farago

American Honey & Nomadland

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I’ve watched American Honey and Nomadland over the past few weeks, both for the first time, and what a happy coincidence that I watched the two in the vicinity of one another. I wanted to see American Honey in theaters when it first came out, but it had a short run at my local movie theater and I missed it. So I finally made a point to stream it at home. After all the accolades that Nomadland received at the Golden Globe awards this year, I was curious to watch it, even though it didn’t really spark my interest previously.

I loved American Honey for its dreamy, whimsical, and intimate glimpse of a facet of life that, while all too real for those living it, is not as familiar to many people. I kept trying to put myself in Star’s shoes, the main character who is so closely followed by the camera throughout the movie. The intimate camera work and focus on the main character reminded me of Blue Is the Warmest Color, another movie which I love so much and is one of my favorites. As I was trying to put myself in Star’s shoes and imagine how desperate she must have felt with her circumstances to go on this cross-country adventure with strangers, I was reminded of how vastly different peoples’ circumstances and experiences, which are beyond one’s control, can be. I admired her bravery and her resolve, even her recklessness, which always somehow ended up in her favor. I loved the music and the lighting that created the dream-like aura throughout the movie, despite its sad, melancholic undertones. Each character so interesting in their own right, making up the troupe of nomads in search of any glimmer of triumph and jubilation – any reason to celebrate as a means to escape their daily grind to get by. Yet they find that their camaraderie and continued pursuit of adventure is perhaps enough to carry on.

What I loved about watching Nomadland soon after American Honey, was the similar attention to landscape and the characters’ surroundings in both, and seeing the nomadic lifestyle from different perspectives due to the difference in age of the nomads. In American Honey, they’re constantly chasing that elusive euphoric feeling fueled by drugs and alcohol. In Nomadland, they’re chasing exploration of land, exploration of self, and bonding with others who harbor the same nomadic lifestyle. The landscape in Nomadland, a central character in itself, is breathtaking, and Frances McDormand’s performance is so simple in some ways, but speaks volumes in its simplicity.

Both movies are about solitude, as a natural facet of our human condition, but also about the strides we make to connect with others. Both are about our relationship with nature and our surroundings, even if that place is not fixed and is always changing as we’re propelled toward novelty and transformation. Both mostly star real people as opposed to actors, which is striking for their performance that isn’t really much of a performance at all.

Life presented in theater and literature

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I’ve never been a big reader, but have always wished that I was. The way Hanya Yanagihara, editor of The New York Times Style Magazine, describes the power of a story to take hold of you only reinforces this desire. Our imagination sparked by the what if possibilities that literature affords an author is so exciting. The world that an author can create is truly a testament to the power of the mind and artistic expression. As Yanagihara points out, as an audience we tend be more drawn to stories that are outlandish and exaggerated. They catch our attention because they are different from our experiences, and perhaps encompass that which is not possible for us to experience in our life, making them even more alluring. 

She goes on to discuss the art form of theater and what it is that draws us to this particular art form, one of the oldest. Similar to other art forms that we seek for entertainment and out of intellectual curiosity, like movies or concerts, theater offers us the suspension of our own reality for a short time while we’re witnessing what’s playing out in front of us. Like film, theater also affords us the opportunity to watch a human experience as an outsider looking in, removed from the action, but yet feeling all of the emotions of the characters that we’re watching. Unlike movies or concerts though, there is something more immediate and intimate about theater since the characters acting out these life-like scenarios are doing so right in front of our noses and we can literally touch them with our own hands.  

What I love about the arts is their promise of teaching us something about ourselves, both about our human nature and our individual complexities, as they reflect back to us a clarity and a challenge that leaves us with more questions to investigate. All at once, this duality carries on the intrigue that draws us to the arts in the first place. 

Paris

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Seeing these ‘Then & Now’ pictures of Paris by Eugene Atget are striking, showing the parallel between the late 1800s/early 1900s and the past several months as the pandemic has taken hold of the world and forced people to stay at home. I have loved photography since I was in high school and took a few black & white dark room photography classes. I was also in the photography club that met on Fridays after school. I have been in awe of Atget’s photographs since my family took a trip to France for three weeks one summer when I was in high school. His photographs are eerie, majestic, and magical depictions of Paris, laced in fog and devoid of people. He achieved these dreamy scenes by getting up early and taking photographs before the streets swelled with Parisians and tourists.

The present day photos of Paris during the pandemic were taken by Mauricio Lima, who has followed in Atget’s footsteps and recreated the same scenes. The lesson learned from both Atget’s and Lima’s depictions of Paris is that people may need Paris, but Paris does not need people. It stands in its grandeur, with or without its inhabitants and visitors. I don’t quite know what to make of this, whether to be comforted or insulted, but I think we can all rest assured that the magic of Paris can endure and outlast adversity.

At the drive-in

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Lincoln Yards Drive In: Blockbuster Nostalgia

I remember seeing people going to drive-in movies in shows and movies and thought they were so cool, but I never had a chance to go to one because drive-ins were so few and far between. There certainly weren’t any where I lived. Imagine my excitement when the drive-in made a resurgence in recent months because of the pandemic! I went to a drive-in movie and concert for Halloween, my first one, and it was mostly as I pictured it, albeit a bit cold. The movie was The Exorcist, apropos the occasion, and the music was punk. Sitting in the car, eating popcorn, and trying to get the sound right on the radio was fun, although trying to find a good angle so that everyone in the car could see proved to be a bit challenging. It was not the drive-in date make-out scenario you might be picturing that you’ve seen in the movies. There were four of us in the car, one couple and two friends. The concert portion of the night was a unique experience with everyone out in front of their cars, sharing in the music together, but separately. No mosh pits!

This article by Judy Carmack Bross about the nostalgia evoked by drive-in movies perfectly encapsulates how audiences have received and rejoiced the drive-in, forced by the circumstances of the pandemic. While drive-ins are mostly pop-up fixtures at the moment, hopefully they’ll stick around in some capacity after the pandemic, since they’ve regained popularity. I know that I myself want to go to more!

Time Out

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Man coming back from vacation is the WORST. It almost makes me wonder if it’s worth going on vacation because going back to your daily routine is just too hard. But I think it’s a reminder of how important it is to take time off and, if anything, we need to take more time off. What constitutes ample time off is relative to who you ask or where you live. In the U.S., if we compare our time off to most of Europe, it pales. Their standard seems to be 4-6+ weeks off, while we get 2 weeks off in the U.S (if that). But, if we compare the U.S. and Japan, a country that doesn’t seem to have much of a work/life balance at all, 2 weeks might sound like a luxury. In any case, I live in the U.S. and I wish I lived in Europe! If, for no other reason (which of course there are many), for their generous vacation time.

I went to Michigan for a week with my boyfriend over the summer and it was my first week off of work in a year and a half. I realize that complaining about not having enough time off is a luxury these days when I should simply be grateful to have a job. And I am VERY grateful to have a job (for the moment at least). But I think we still need to uphold the importance of time off for one’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being, if one’s job is labor-intensive.

The week in Michigan was very much needed, and fun and relaxing and all of the things that a vacation should be. We went to Traverse City, Beaver Island, and Mackinac Island. We drove to Traverse City and took ferries to the two islands. It felt quite safe, as everyone wore masks and all of the places we went to provided hand sanitizer. Each place was different and we stopped at some unexpected places along the way, which were lovely surprises!

The setting of Traverse City is beautiful, on a bay of Lake Michigan. It’s a great place if you like water activities – sailing, kayaking, etc., and maybe an even better place if you like wine! There are several vineyards and wineries where you can sample the fruits of the land. We also stumbled upon a cider place called Sutton Bay Ciders that has an incredible view of the bay! Back on track, we went to a winery called Mawby, which specializes in sparkling wine and is nestled in a rolling vineyard. Next stop was Hop Lot, a brewery in a forest-like setting. The beer and pretzel we got were delicious. We explored Leland, a small historic fishing town, and got some amazing smoked whitefish at Carlson’s Fishery.

Back in Traverse City, we grabbed dinner at The Little Fleet, which is a parking lot full of food trucks and a bar that serves very tasty cocktails. The food trucks offer a variety of good eats and it was a fun spot to people watch. There were also lots of dogs all getting up close and personal to get to know each other. We checked out Grand Traverse Commons, which is an old mental hospital that has been converted into shops, restaurants, and apartments. Trattoria Stella was a real treat – Italian fine dining in a wine cellar in the basement of the former mental hospital, with a high quality menu and excellent service.

If you like biking, kayaking, and beer, Kayak, Bike, & Brew is the activity for you! It’s a four hour tour to four breweries and you get to each one by bike and kayak. You get some exercise, try some beers, and meet people on the tour. It’s a fun time!

We stayed at a goat farm Air B&B one night just outside of Traverse City, which was my favorite place that we stayed at. It’s no secret to those who know me that I LOVE goats and that I dream of having a little goat farm of my own someday. So it was really cool to get to spend some time with the goats and run around in the pasture with them. I even got up at the crack of dawn in the morning to watch the milking! The guest suite in the farmhouse was modern, minimal, and clearly Scandinavian-inspired. It was perfect – the kind of place I’d like to call home in my future. The farm also had a couple cows, chickens, and vegetables. Oh, and we were greeted by amazing goat cheese, crackers and jam.

Beaver Island was an experience. It was quite remote, which we knew before going, but I think it was even more remote than we had anticipated. There are a few main roads that are paved and lit, but most of the island is made up of a forest with dirt roads throughout that are not lit at all. Driving on these dirt roads at night felt like we were driving towards our death in a scary movie. We had a very interesting and hospitable Air B&B host who gave us a tour of the island and told us about the island’s history, including its spiritual nature. He even made us breakfast one morning! I don’t know if I would have taken notice of the island’s spiritual presence had he not told us about it, but there clearly seems to be an energy of sorts there. I am not a spiritual person so I can’t say much about it, but there was a special feeling on the island. Our host owns a meadow, Tara’s Meadow, which, after discovering it, is what drew him to stay on the island after visiting out of curiosity for its history and spiritual nature.

The island’s shores are very pretty and serene. The water is crystal clear! The beaches are rocky though. There was plenty of social distancing on the beaches – two to five other people besides us at most. Having a beautiful beach to ourselves was amazing. We made our way from one beach to another around the island’s perimeter, and each one was more beautiful than the last. We went on a couple hikes, and visited Protar’s Home and tomb. Feodor Protar was an Estonian immigrant who became a healer on the island and is highly revered there even now long after his death.  The temperature was a little chilly, despite it being the first week of August, but our Air B&B host told us that it was unusual for it to be on the chillier side at that time of year. So unfortunately the water was cold, but the Beaver Island locals didn’t seem bothered by it. We watched the most beautiful sunset at Donegal Bay, and it was just so colorful and picturesque.

The ferry ride back to the mainland is a little over two hours, but it’s a nice and comfortable ferry. Charlevoix is home base for the ferry, which is a cute town on the harbor, if a bit touristy.

The charms of Mackinac Island stand the test of time. I had been there once before as a kid with my family, and it was mostly as I remembered it. If you haven’t been, or don’t know about it, there are no motorized vehicles on the island. So you have to get around on foot, bike, or horse & carriage! There is something refreshing and endearing about seeing everyone ride around on bicycles and ‘parking’ them to go into shops. I will say that seeing the horses truck along with a carriage full of people or luggage made me sad, but hopefully they are strong enough to handle it. We rented bikes and rode all the way around the island (which is 8 miles), as well as on smaller trails throughout the island. One thing I noticed this time that I hadn’t noticed when I was there the first time was the variety of the island’s landscape and vegetation. I didn’t realize how wooded and hilly it is! It’s beautiful. I wish we would have had more time to explore the island and take some hikes because the trails looked really dreamy. We visited a couple historic forts and Arch Rock.

We stayed at a bed & breakfast that apparently is quite haunted. My boyfriend likes scary movies and stories, so we bought a book about the hauntings of Mackinac Island. It turns out that our B&B is one of the most haunted on the island! Just my luck…I don’t like spooky stories and I couldn’t sleep. We played a really fun and beautiful game of mini golf right on the water at sunset with glow in the dark golf balls. The island was crowded with tourists, but not as much as it normally is. The crowds can be unpleasant, so I’m glad that it wasn’t to full capacity.

On our last day we stopped at Sleeping Bear Dunes as we were leaving northern Michigan. It was a rainy day, but we still hiked up to Pyramid Point through a beautiful forest full of birch trees (my favorite). Seeing them in all of their glory made me so happy. The rain and the fog made it all the more magical. The view of the lake from Pyramid Point is also quite stunning, with the vastness of Lake Michigan sprawling out before you. We were really lucky with the weather all week and the last day of the trip was our only rainy day.

Please remind yourself of how important it is to take time off, and unplug and recharge and adventure! I know that I’ll need to continue to remind myself of this.

Public art

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Mark Blanchard, Yestermorrow-2B

Public art can sometimes be overlooked because of its place in an open space – not confined by walls or curated as part of an exhibition, standing in conversation with other works around it and all encapsulated by a an aligning thread. I think we’re certainly developing a stronger appreciation for public art these days since museums and galleries  have been closed for the past few months. Not only is it of great value for public art to be admired more emphatically, but it’s also an important reminder that art is for everyone and not only to be accessed, in many cases, by paying for a ticket to get in to a museum.

This article about public art in Chicago by Luke Fidler in New City Art magazine struck me for its simple message conveying our appreciation for public art in a very thoughtful way. I only wish that I always appreciated it so much and that it didn’t take these circumstances to serve as the catalyst.

To be moved and made to think: I’ve always known that public art can do these things, but I’m more grateful now than ever for its capacities. – Luke Fidler

As the streets have been more deserted than usual, we have the opportunity to sit with public works of art more intimately than before – to spend more time with them and get to know them better.

 

Virtual voyages

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One of the biggest disappointments for people amid this pandemic has been the cancelled travel plans and not knowing when we’ll able to plan a trip again in the future. I really enjoyed this article by Reif Larsen in the New York Times advocating for virtual travel since, well, it’s our only option right now. I especially liked his virtual voyage to Charleston, SC with his son because I went there last winter with my parents and we were enamored by its southern charm. His voyage was powered by Google Street View, which albeit is amazing that we’re able to see the world through the lens of Google, it doesn’t compare to being there and feeling the history and beauty around you. I admire Larsen’s creativity in recreating the trip as much as possible, complete with landing at the airport and getting a rental car to navigate through Charleston.

Larsen also identifies why we travel in the first place, which is not only to see places we want to explore, but also, or perhaps mainly, to chase that ever elusive feeling of getting away –

“This is why we travel: to force ourselves to take a breath, to bend space and time, even if just for a moment. We go there so we can come back and appreciate the here.”

The not being able to get away that we’re experiencing right now is wearing down on all of us. In an effort to find new ways to get away, maybe we consider how spending time at home, which we might not normally do, can be our new refuge. Instead of resenting our homes because we have no choice but to be there, let’s try to embrace them and treat them like the humble escapes they can be. I personally love my new lifestyle of spending more time at home and all of the warm cozy feelings that go along with being at home, including endorphin-producing bonding opportunities with pets (who seem to enjoy this newfound abundance of company and time together just as much, if not more, then we do).

A positive effect of the quarantine is a healthier and more sustainable environment, at least for now while many continue working from home and generally staying put more than usual. This certainly makes a good case for virtual voyages rather than contributing to pollution with air travel and car travel.

Larsen also points out that there are other ways to travel other than exploring physical places. Reading a piece of literature can take you on a voyage to a real or imagined place. Or create your own story about whatever kind of magical place your imagination allows. These seem to be lost arts, but worth revisiting in a time like this.

My Collection of Plants

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I remember feeling indifferent a few years ago when I noticed that some of my friends began collecting plants for their apartments and actually seemed to enjoy taking care of them. Like actually felt a sense of joy in the company of their new friends and prided themselves on their accomplishment as they watched them grow. Well, over the past year or so I’ve gotten a taste of the plant bug. These are just a few of my plants, as not all of them are photogenic. But we can work on that together. Not only do I find pleasure in taking care of my plants – watering them, deadheading them, repotting them when necessary, turning them to even out their sun exposure, etc. – looking at them and feeling them around me simply makes me happy. It must be that air purification getting to me.

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I’m very grateful that my cat (who I picked up off the street, not knowing anything about him) doesn’t bother my plants. He’s never tried to eat any of them, so I don’t have to worry about bringing a toxic plant into the apartment (hallelujah because so many beautiful plants are toxic to cats). Instead of being taunted by my plants, he enjoys sunbathing and napping in his favorite cat tree, complete with a view of much larger plants outside.

My sweet alley cat, Ollie