May 30, 2009

Chocolate Mint Muffins, or Possibly Cupcakes

On a whim I tried a new variation on my favorite muffin recipe and it came out TOO YUMMY. It is not really muffins anymore, it is more like cupcakes. Like brownie-muffins. And yet, nutritionally about the same as muffins. I altered it so much, I'm just going to post the new recipe, rather than saying "instead of this, use this" a million times and getting everyone including me all messed up.

Chocolate Mint Muffins (or Possibly Cupcakes)
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 ten-ounce bag (like, 3/4 - 1 cup) mint chocolate baking chips
2 eggs
1 cup mashed stuff (pumpkin and/or banana and/or carrot baby food)
1/2 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon peppermint extract

Mix dry stuff in one bowl. Mix wet stuff in another bowl. Mix dry with wet. Divide evenly into 12 paper-lined (or greased) muffin cups. Bake 350 degrees F. for 23-24 minutes. Say, "OMG!"

You can instead make 12 regular muffins (dividing evenly makes slightly larger-than-usual muffins) plus maybe 8-10 mini muffins. In that case I'd put the regular-sized muffins in for 22 minutes and then put the mini muffins in when there were 12 minutes left on the timer.

Don't get confused: this is a double batch, so it's 24 muffins plus 22 mini-muffins.

May 29, 2009

Old Navy SCORE

Old Navy, Old Navy, have you any bargains? Yes ma'am, yes ma'am, two bags full.

I bought two of these reusable shopping bags to carry home my stuff, and two more to put in future care packages. They were on clearance for $3.49, and then all clearance was an additional 50% off, so I got each one for $1.74.

Boy shirts. Top row, left to right: polo for Edward; dinosaur shirt that probably won't fit Henry (it's 18-24m) but at $1.49 I HAD to try it; stripey polo in Rob's next size up.

Bottom row: Rob asked me earlier this week if he could have a purple t-shirt: he'd noticed he had red, orange, yellow, green, and blue, but no purple. I said I'd look, but I didn't have much hope. This one was on clearance for $1.98, and with the additional 50% off it was $.98. The other shirt is a stripey/picture polo in Rob's next size up.

Long-sleeved Elizabeth shirts for next year or possibly the year after. Upper left is a $4 sweater. Center column is basic shirts in periwinkle/white stripe, pink, periwinkle, grey, blue. Also a red shirt that says "oh deer" on it, with a picture of---wait for it---a deer. Upper right has a cute owl on it. Lower right is a shirt that has a rainbow made up of the words "red" and "orange" and so on, and a cloud made up of the word "fluffy." Except for the sweater ($4.23) and the rainbow shirt ($2.99), everything was $.99, $1.49, or $1.74.

One single short-sleeved Elizabeth shirt. I spent an entire $1.99 on this one because I liked it so much, making it one of the highest-priced items in the bunch.

For my lovey-lovey niece-niece. Four shirts ($.99-$1.99 each) and a pair of tights ($.98).

I also bought seven pairs of socks that aren't in the photo because I'd already put them in the wash.

Total bill: $47.67.

May 28, 2009

I Swear to Tell the Whole Truth. If I Can Remember It.

I present the following evidence that I am losing my mind:

1. I was making a portrait appointment for Henry. I asked for "Saturday" and she said, "Okay, I have 10:00 on June 6th." I was pretty sure there was a Saturday before that, but I couldn't clarify my question because I couldn't remember (1) what today's date was, or (2) what day of the week today was. Tuesday? Saturday? No clue.

2. When I bought a plane ticket to go see my niece, I thought it was a 6-hour non-stop flight. This is because the flight number didn't change, and no third airport was listed, and the number of stops was listed as "1". I thought the "1 stop" was....well, I thought it was the landing.

3. Earlier this week, I completely forgot to make the kids their dinner. Paul said, "Uh..." and I had to sprint to the kitchen and make sandwiches because there was no time for anything else.

4. I have completely forgotten my fourth piece of evidence.

5. I was doing a breast self-exam and found a lump and panicked. The lump turned out to be a nipple.

6. As we left the play area at the mall, I thought, "Oh! If I hadn't been paying attention, I would have thought that stroller was mine! It's the same as the one I had for the twins when they were babies!" It WAS my stroller.

May 25, 2009

Opening Up a Can of Confrontation-Avoidance

It's pretty common for checkout clerks to make small talk with the littles. Things like, "Oh, are you tired of shopping?" or "Oh, is that your favorite blankie?"

Yesterday as I was putting things up on the belt I could hear the clerk talking to the twins softly and confidingly, so I turned on the smile I give to people who are being kind to my children. But when I tuned in, I heard that she was saying quietly to Edward, who was sucking his thumb, "That's disgusting. Don't do that. Take your thumb out of your mouth. Ew, yuck. Disgusting."

Well. I could feel that smile drop completely off my face. Perhaps you are wondering if at this point I opened up a can of whoop-ass, but that is not my style. If I can manage to open up any sort of can in a confrontational situation, it tends to be a can of sob-kleenex.

In this case what I did was push the stroller forward so that Edward was no longer within her soft-chatting zone. I stood right where Edward had been, now between her and Edward, and I continued to not-smile. I finished the transaction and I left.

Would you have done it differently? I'm interested to know what other people consider The Right Reaction in a circumstance such as this one.

May 24, 2009


Samantha of Back to Me is a former vet tech, so I've been emailing a lot with her about Georgie. I was fretting to her because I felt bad that I hadn't noticed his side-breathing (which means he's having trouble breathing), and that when the vet asked how long he'd been doing it, I had NO IDEA because I HADN'T NOTICED. And even after the vet pointed it out, I still don't feel like I can see it. I'll look at him and think, "AH! Yes! I see it!"---and then I look at one of the other cats and their furry sides look the same to me.

Sam reassured me that breathing stuff is hard to see. I was relieved.

It reminds me of other things I've learned in various jobs, things that at first were impossible to see but then became obvious. One example is when I worked in a plant nursery and my co-workers were trying to tell me about plants that were "stressing"---that is, plants that needed to be watered but weren't yet WILTING or anything. At first I was just, "What?? I don't know what you are TALKING about." But after awhile, "stressiness" stood out to me like a blinking red light.

Once you learn something like that, you don't unlearn it: it's still like a blinking red light. I get a little stressed myself when I see a stressing plant in a lobby, or a whole row of stressing plants outside a grocery store. If I have a sippy cup of water in the diaper bag, I'll give them a little drinky.

Another example is when I worked at the daycare and learned to tell if a diaper was wet. It seems so obvious now, but I remember when my co-workers would say, "Well, just FEEL it. Is it wet?" and I'd be all, "Uh." Now I give it a little squeeze and I know if it's wet or dry or OMG DANGER DANGER EXPLOSION IMMINENT.

Also from the daycare I learned how to estimate a fever by putting my lips on the child's forehead. I never got as good as my coworker Steph, who could judge it within a couple of tenths of a degree, but I could tell "no fever" from "low-grade fever" from "oh dear, we are going to have to call the parent."

I used to make a lot of bread, and I got very good at telling when the dough needed more flour and/or more kneading---even though at first I was looking with frustrated bewilderment at the recipe that told me to add more flour "if needed."

And I've made batches of fudge so often, I can tell by the smell and taste of it when it's ready to pour out---even before it's lost its shine or stiffened up.

I'll bet you all have superpowers like this: things you can spot right away when the average person wouldn't know what you were talking about. Tell me! I'm interested!

May 23, 2009

Brown Paper Packages Can't Be Shipped All Tied Up With String

You know what drives me crazy? Yes, but that's not what I'm thinking of. Oh, yeah, definitely, but that's not what I'm thinking of either. Er, no---I mean, it's true that drives me crazy, but I'm thinking of something else. Okay, FINE, so there are a LOT of things that drive me crazy. I'll just tell you which one it is this time: Official Rules that MAKE NO SENSE.

Today I went to the post office to mail a package. It was a blog package, so in the return address field I'd written only "Swistle." The clerk told me I needed to write my whole address. I preferred not to, and explained why. She said that the package COULD NOT BE MAILED without a return addresses. I suggested that this might not be the case, since I have mailed almost all my blog packages without return addresses.

She went to check with a superior. The superior said it was okay. Then a moment later the superior said, "But WE need to know your address: we need to Know Our Customers." So I told her my full name and my full address, and I showed her my driver's license, and she asked if I'd lived here long, and I said YES, and that my parents were Ruth and Robert Whistle and told her their address, and I told her my mail carrier's name, and she was finally satisfied.

BUT THEN she had to give me a long, sober explanation about "Ever since 9-11" and "This has to go on a PLANE" and "What if it had Something Dangerous in it?" And THIS is the part where it is revealed that that rule is STUPID, because I could have written in a totally fake name and address and that would have gone through just fine. They wouldn't have asked for ID to prove that it was my name/address, nor would they have asked me how long I'd lived in the area.

The only way their policy makes sense is if they ID every single customer to make sure the return address matches that customer's driver's license information. Since this is not done, the rule that packages can't be mailed without a full return address is a Dumb and Pointless Rule and they should not be using that sober, serious tone of voice to explain it to me, as if I am not showing sufficient respect for the safety of our country.

May 22, 2009


Here's another video Paul found, a song written for a baby nephew by the baby's uncle. I love it, the kids love it, and now I love the name Arlo.

L L L, Ellen Degeneres!

May 21, 2009

Baby Food Muffins

Every time I go down to our "pantry" (a set of shelves in the middle of our basement), I look glumly at row upon row of baby food jars. When Gerber was switching to the plastic containers, Walmart cleared out the glass ones for something lovely like 20 cents each. The twins were babies, and one of the baby foods on the "do not make at home" list is carrots, and carrots are so vitamin-Ariffic, and long story short, I bought...100 jars? 200 jars? A LOT OF JARS.

I went through a most of them with the twins, of course, but I still had a bunch left over. I'd thought I could use them for Henry, but then he had his little issues and one of the foods we were supposed to avoid was carrots. So there the little jars sat.

Eventually it occurred to me to donate them to a food bank, but by then they'd expired. Expiration dates don't make me nervous with things like jarred carrots (I do a sniff test, that's all), but what was I going to DO with them?

Today, inspiration struck: MUFFINS. I made my favorite muffin recipe, using three small bananas that had reached the Emergency point, plus 2 (four-ounce) jars of carrot baby food. This was for a batch of 24 muffins. For the optional spices, I used 3 teaspoons of cinnamon, and for the optional chocolate chips I used nearly 2 cups of chocolate chunks. For the optional extract, I used 2 teaspoons of vanilla. I didn't put in any optional nuts/fruits.

They are YUM.

May 20, 2009

Two. TWO! (Nearly)

If you have time, I wonder if you'd mind going over to my Milk and Cookies post to help me choose presents for Henry's birthday. I am STUCK.

And incidentally, do you realize Henry is turning TWO this month? Two. TWO!!

Then: newborn with bird limbs and woodland-creature eyes. Barely big enough to wear a tiny side-snap baby Dior shirt I bought at a consignment shop when I was pregnant with Rob.

Now: nearly 2, grubby and loud and taking over the household.

May 19, 2009

Giveaway Thataway

Oh Em Gee, you guys are SO LUCKY, because this is one of those times when my exuberance overcomes my common sense and I tell you about a contest I am myself entering, thus dramatically decreasing my own chances of winning. And I don't know if you know this, but I can't accept either payment or gifties for saying nice things (it's the rules with that BlogHer ad over to the right), so you can be sure my motives are pure, if a little dim.

Our own Bird has a contest up for her shop Redbean Dream, and ska-WEE it is cute stuff. (All these photos are hers; I asked permission before I yoinked them, because I am SO POLITE and also because I am so in awe of artistic talent.)

One prize she's giving away is your choice of an illustrated letter. This is "F is for fleur de lis," but you can choose your own letter, your own color, and your own picture. Doesn't that kind of thing get your mind clicking? I'm all, "S is for Swistle"! I could get the S is for Swistle done on a Swistle-colored background! With, like, a picture of that little skirt ("S is for skirt"!) that's my avatar for no good reason except that I liked the skirt and couldn't find it in Elizabeth's size and so got a little obsessed with it.

She's ALSO giving a second prize, your choice of a fine art print. Don't let me influence you, but Fleur de Pea in pink (it also comes in blue or yellow) is my definite favorite.

And then she's going to pick a THIRD winner to get a SURPRISE prize. Which, OMG fun.

You only have until Friday to enter, so GO GO GO. And if you win, I will try to be genuinely happy for you.

May 18, 2009

Never Crabby Shirt Winners

Never Crabby Shirt update! Cindy used a random number generator to choose two winners:

1. El-e-e of hello, self
2. Dawn of the May 15th, 11:26 a.m. comment

El-e-e and Dawn, email me (swistle at gmail dot com) with your mailing info and I'll send it on to Cindy.

Mr. Pickles: Farm and Airplane

I'm finally getting caught up with photos.


Mr. Pickles thinks airplanes are so CLIQUEY.

Mr. Pickles is already tired of looking out the window and wants to know when food will be served. Got some bad news for you, Mr. Pickles.

(More photos at The Chicken Game Flickr Group, which everyone is welcome to join.)

May 15, 2009

Never Crabby

SaLy at Incubation Nation wrote a post about the new "never crabby" shirt from The Children's Place, and that reminded me that YOOPS I forgot to post something I meant to post a long time ago, which is that reader Cindy emailed me to say that has two of the old never-crabby shirts in size 4T and she'd be happy to send them to someone who wants them.

Remember those shirts? We pretty much ALL bought them. I think I bought it in 2T, 3T, and 4T.

Anyway, if you have a use for one (or two) in 4T, leave a comment and Cindy will pick someone to send the shirt(s) to!

May 13, 2009

Living Doll

So, doll collecting: more controversial than potty training. Good to know!

I am reading American Psycho, so I'm having trouble doing anything else. I get so grossed out I have to put it down, but then I'm so mesmerized I have to go back to it.

I had a happy Postcrossing thing happen: at the airport I bought a postcard OF the airport---and then today I drew the name of someone who collects airport postcards. I've never seen someone request one before, so it was pretty exciting.

I'm still settling in from my trip. I haven't gotten through my email yet, or through the posts in my Google reader, but I'm getting there. And then I need to go through five kersnillion photos of THIS:

Hard Decisions. About, Um, Dolls.

Perhaps the first thing you will notice about this picture is, "Hey! That's the old couch! Paul must have fixed it!" And you would be right: he did fix it, so now we still have it, but in the playroom rather than as the main piece of furniture in our living room.

Or perhaps the first thing you will notice about this picture is the SEVENTEEN DOLLS sitting ON the couch.

This is a little embarrassing. After William was born, we'd planned to have a third baby about 2 or 2.5 years later. Then Paul lost his job and couldn't find another for almost two years and so I went to work full-time. There's never a "perfect time" for a pregnancy, but there are definitely times that are better than others, and this was not one of them. So we delayed our plans.

Evidently I went a little crazy? That's all I can think of. Because I had NEVER been interested in dolls before, not even as a child, and yet I started collecting them, and collecting clothes for them, and CHANGING their clothes, and COMBING THEIR HAIR and so forth. Then Paul got a job and I quit mine and got pregnant and totally lost interest in the dolls and packed them all away, so draw your own conclusions.

We're going to be putting in a second bathroom, and it's going to mean a loss of storage space in the basement. My doll collection, totally ignored for more than four years now, takes up five huge Rubbermaid bins. I've been reluctant to cull, though, because what if I get interested in dolls again? Some of these dolls were acquired only after expensive, time-consuming quests. What if I get rid of them and then WANT THEM BACK?

Well, but this is getting silly. I can't just hang onto them forever, and Elizabeth is, so far, uninterested in dolls, and we need the space. So my goal is to pare it down to what fits in ONE large bin. That way I can keep my top favorites and my favorite outfits, just in case either Elizabeth or I suddenly get interested, but can also free up space.

The problem, of course, is deciding on favorites. I'm very influenced by how hard the dolls were to find and how much they cost, or by how badly I wanted to buy them originally. I'm TRYING to judge only by how much I LIKE the doll, but it's tough. Doll #1 was a $20 Walmart doll that eventually went down to $8 on clearance. I bought her new from a large stock of the same doll. Doll #11 was a hard-to-find doll from a line of dolls that sold for $80-100 each before the line was discontinued; I bought her used on eBay after many failed attempts, in a very exciting auction that I WON and went around feeling thrilled about for WEEKS. I prefer Doll #1. But it's hard to ditch Doll #11.

All right, yes, this is all just a stall while I'm supposed to be culling. Fine, I'll get back to it now.

May 12, 2009


Oh, hello! I am home! In the first hour, I:

1) Removed a tick from Henry's scalp
2) Removed clumps of peanut butter from the underside and leg of the coffee table
3) Cleaned up the results of a child over-using air freshener without permission (and then threw away the air freshener because what are we, an anarchy now?)

Note that it was not until the second hour that I:

4) Peed

And I have not yet:

5) Unpacked
6) Read my email
7) Deleted any of the "over 1000" (!) posts in my Google Reader

Paul proudly reported that he brushed everyone's teeth TWICE while I was gone. So THAT went well. And my parents, who took over the shift I usually work alone, did not run screaming into the sea, so THAT went well too.

Seat choice report, for those of you who didn't read my laboriously-thumbed Twitter updates: my favorite seat on a Southwest plane is the window seat in row 20. It's right over where they load the luggage, so you can count pink suitcases and be glad yours is a carry-on because GEEZ do they have to SLING them around like that? That's rough enough to snap a SOCK. And oooh, nice muscles! It's close enough to the wing that you can make sure the wing is still attached and so you really feel like you're On An Airplane, but not so close that the wing blocks your view. The seats toward the front fill up first, so that I had a whole row to myself for one flight, even though the front half of the plane had people sitting even in some of the MIDDLE seats. But it's not so far back that the bathroom line is standing next to you. I hesitate to recommend the seat, since the next time I fly I might find YOU sitting in MY favorite seat, but I guess there are lots of flights I WON'T be on.

The view from window seat row 20

What else? Oh, yes, here's my recommended Carry-On Snack List:

1) apple
2) baggie of pecans
3) empty water bottle filled at a water fountain after security
4) candy bars
5) chocolate-covered dried cherries
6) baggie of roasted salted sunflower seeds

I found this covered all my snacking needs satisfactorily. Raisinets make an acceptable substitute for the chocolate-covered dried cherries. Milk chocolate Dove with almonds was my favorite candy bar.

Can it get better than this? I put it to you than it cannot.

May 11, 2009

Quick Update

Oh, hello! Do you know what? It's possible to use "computers" in "other people's houses" to "post blog posts"! Isn't that WILD?

I've been using my cell phone to use Twitter occasionally to send little updates (the Twitter box is somewhere in the righthand margin), but GEEZ that's time consuming and my thumbs aren't yet good at it, so it's all, "I......a.....m.....FORGET IT."

The quick update is that I am having a WONDERFUL TIME, and Niestle is THE CUTEST EVER and The Place Where They Live (I never know how careful to be with info, do you?) is TERRIFIC and I want to MOVE HERE and play with Niestle all day and hang out with my brother and sister-in-law so much they start to wonder when I will go HOME! This is just the best vacation ever and I love it, and my flight here couldn't have gone better (unless they had FED US, but luckily I'd packed lots of yum snacks), and I've been sleeping luxuriously, and they have been buying me treats left and right (ice cream cone from a cool ice cream place that had flavors like "Honey Lavender"! fun meal with all the dishes named after the cities they came from! a truffle cake for after dinner tonight!), and we have been watching 30 Rock which is hilarious, and I have been snuggling and snorfling and squeezing babies like crazy, and it was a totally good decision to come here, and let me see if I can find a picture. I'm using my brother's computer so I have to snoop around a little and hope I don't come upon anything Embarrassing. ...Okay, here we go, here's a picture he took of me and Niestle:

I have of course bitten off all those delicious little toes by now, so it's good he documented them before they were gone.

May 8, 2009

Pre-Travel Fret!

I am in such a pre-travel fret! Last night I took sleeping pill from 2002 because I was sitting (read: standing) there in our bedroom saying, "Oh! Wait! I should have done a load of laundry this evening! I forgot to try on my pedal pushers! Are my new pink sandals going to arrive in time and why does UPS say they don't recognize the number when Lands' End says they shipped? Which of the ten paperbacks I bought at the library book sale should I bring with me? Oh, dang, I meant to paint my fingernails! I should bake another batch of muffins just to be sure there are enough."

Then I was reassuring myself in a way that wasn't particularly reassuring, thinking, "Even if I totally forgot to pack, and then woke up late and couldn't shower, and had to rush to the airport with nothing but my purse which let's say for the sake of my peace of mind had my boarding pass and ID in it, I could still SURVIVE a 4-day trip. I would just go to a store there and buy a package of underwear and a thing of deodorant and maybe a t-shirt, and everything would be FINE JUST FINE ABSOLUTELY FINE."

*pant pant*

I kind of love this kind of Anticipation Fret. It sure gives chores a little boost in the butt when I can think, "I should wash these clothes so I can TAKE THEM ON MY TRIP!!" and "I should bake muffins for the kids to eat WHILE I'M GONE ON MY TRIP!!!"

I do have one thing I'm genuinely fretting about, and that is the carry-on situation. Southwest says I can have one carry-on and one smaller personal item such as a purse or a laptop. When I was more distant from Flying Time, I casually interpreted this to mean I could have two carry-ons: my "as big as possible carry-on so I don't have to check any bags" carry-on, and my regular "magazines and snacks" carry-on.

Now that I am flying TOMORROW OMG IT'S TOMORROW, I'm worrying that no, they really mean one carry-on and one purse, and my regular carry-on will be my carry-on and so they will make me check my big carry-on.

Surely SOME of you have flown Southwest and can tell me The Scoop. Meanwhile, I will be running around going "OMG OMG OMG OMG" and cycling laundry and sorting paperbacks and digging out another 7-year-old sleeping pill for tonight.

Oh and p.s.: I checked in at the very MINUTE it would let me do it, and I was still number 25! But I'm in A group! Woo!

May 6, 2009

Okay, Sure, Let's Talk About Potty Training

Yesterday's post about declawing cats (and was it only me that had the urge to go out and declaw some cats JUST FOR FUN after that?) was insufficiently controversial for some of you, who now want me to talk about POTTY-TRAINING. Oh dear Maude. Next shall we discuss the death penalty?

All right, fine, let me just phone in for a tranq refill first.

Here is Swistle's Main Philosophy of Potty-Training: "Meh." Any preferences I express for one method over another are mild and casual and only because I find that way easier: I could be talked out of or into just about anything---though not for long, since I would soon default again to whatever was easiest.

I tend to side with the idea that children train when they train, and that the only changeable thing is how much time you get to spend doing the training and actively managing the pottying. This may or may not correlate with the VERY LATE TRAINING at our house. You're welcome, landfills!

If I start experimenting with training and it's a big struggle, I stop and try again later. Consistency is not one of my strong suits anyway.

I like to train in warm weather, when the child can run around without pants on. This makes it easier for the child to remember that he or she is not wearing a diaper. It also makes it easier for ME to remember that I need to be reminding and/or monitoring and/or making sure the child isn't sitting on the new couch.

I'm in favor of pull-ups for the stage when the child WANTS to make it to the potty in time but doesn't always succeed. I'm not in favor of them for the stage where the child doesn't care either way. But the only reason I'm "not in favor" is the cost. If they were the same price as diapers I'd be in favor.

We have a potty seat that attaches to the toilet like a third lid---like, so there's the regular toilet lid, then the potty seat flips up the same way, and then the regular toilet seat is the third thing to flip. It is the best thing ever. I bought it ten years ago from The Right Start or One Step Ahead or a place like that, and I haven't seen one since.

I use food treats to reward potty usage. Two small things (like M&Ms or Smarties or mini marshmallows or chocolate chips) for pee. Four small things for poop. Double treats for using an unfamiliar potty. Treats are stopped at whatever Major Upcoming Event (starting a schoolish program, turning a year older, a new calendar year) occurs soonest after treats no longer seem necessary for motivation.

For the training/learning stage, I buy ugly cheap children's underwear on clearance. That way it isn't painful to throw away a pair that got pooped in, and in fact it can be a real pleasure. See ya, ugly stupid animated character I hate! It even turns into a bit of a game, where I'm ROOTING for the child to have an accident in a particular pair. This helps reduce the frustration I might otherwise feel at accidents.

I don't know WHAT to do about night-training. I don't get it at ALL. It seems like kids either wake up and pee or else they DON'T, and very little can be done about it. According to our pediatrician, 10% of 10-year-old boys are not yet night-trained, and although there are alarm systems and so forth, the most effective cure for bedwetting is time.

There. Is that enough potty talk?

May 5, 2009

Reader Question: Declawing Cats

Sarah writes:
As a cat person, I thought I would get your thoughts on declawing. I adopted a little 10 week old rescue kitty this past weekend. I love cats and my 3 year old daughter has been asking, so I thought...why not? The last time I got a kitty (16 years ago) declawing was regularly done and now I am finding that it is Not Done because it is inhumane. What do you think?

I think this is the kind of thing I don't want to Google. As I understand it, this is the kind of topic that makes people wish they'd talked about something uncontroversial like vaccinations or circumcision.

When I was little, it was the norm for pet cats to be indoor/outdoor or just-indoor animals. It was common for an indoor-only cat to be declawed: the feeling was that an indoor/outdoor cat NEEDED claws for self-defense, but that an indoor-only cat would only use them to defend itself against the household's furniture.

By the time I was an adult, many shelters were asking cat-adopters to sign papers saying they wouldn't let the cats outside at all. We were apartment-dwellers at the time, so that was no problem. When our cats ripped the fabric off the back of two chairs, I asked the vet about front-claws-only declawing, which I'd heard was a nice compromise between Declawing and Not Declawing. From the way my vet reacted, I quickly understood that it was no longer considered a nice compromise.

These things to seem to PENDULUM AROUND. First it will be "Mutilation wing-clipping foot-binding crippling" and then it will be "Braces appendix electrolysis tonsils." Sometimes we screw with Nature and sometimes we don't, and whether a particular procedure is in the "Screw With" category or the "Don't" category depends on the time and place and person.

(Speaking of which, wouldn't there be a BUNDLE to be made in clinics that performed Currently Unfashionable Procedures with no Embarrassing Disapproval?)

So anyway, my cats have all their claws. But this is not because I feel strongly about Not Declawing, but rather that I prefer to go with the norm. If the vet had instead said, "We recommend neutering and declawing for all indoor-only cats," my cats would have been declawed in addition to having their reproductive organs surgically disabled.

May 4, 2009

Window or Aisle?

You may recall that soon I am GOING TO SEE MY NIECE OMG I CAN'T WAIT. I'm flying Southwest, which has open seating rather than assigned seats. This fills me with anxiety. I don't even know what seats to hope for! I don't know what I should choose. That is, IF I get my choice rather than getting stuck with whatever dregs are left---or, oh dear merciful Target, a MIDDLE SEAT.

Should I hope for an exit row, which I think has more leg room but also requires lengthy fretting about whether I really would be up to the task of assisting the flight attendants in an emergency, considering I am the kind of person who freezes up when asked unexpectedly what she wants to drink? (OMG, what if I say "diet Coke" and they're a PEPSI establishment and the server corrects me???) The front row, which has no one putting their seatback on my knees but also has no underseat place for my bag and gets all congested with people waiting in line for the bathroom?

What if I can choose between window and aisle? If I were alone in the row, I'd sit in the window seat. But I hate being trapped in the window seat by someone in the aisle seat. And I also hate being the one who traps someone else.

Okay, I made a list.

Window seat:
  • I can lean on the wall to sleep or to scootch away from rowmates
  • I can go to sleep without worrying I'm blocking someone in
  • I can look out the window
  • I don't get whacked in the elbow by everyone walking up the aisle
  • I have to make my rowmate(s) stand up every time I need to go to the bathroom, or else suffer because I can't bear to do it YET AGAIN
  • What if my rowmate GOES TO SLEEP and I NEED TO PEE but CAN'T?

Aisle seat:
  • It's a 7-hour flight and I can get up to walk around without disturbing anyone else
  • I have to get up every time someone else in my row wants to get up
  • What if I fall asleep and LOLL, either into the aisle or on the center-seat person?
  • What if I fall asleep and trap my rowmate(s)?
  • Getting brushed against and/or mouth-breathed on by every single germ-infested person who walks up or down the aisle

I made a poll, over to the right. What's better on a nonstop 7-hour Saturday flight, a WINDOW seat or an AISLE seat?

May 2, 2009

Buzz Muffins (Caffeinated Muffins)

I MADE UP this recipe for caffeinated muffins. For reals, I did! And so I am not even going to Google anything about it, because if someone else already made it up I will be so disappointed! And what at if they, too, came up with the name "Buzz Muffins"? Life will seem so grim, so repetitive, so "There is nothing new under the sun." It is not worth the emotional stress. So if you already have this recipe, be kind to me and don't tell me. ...Unless we're talking about knee-breaking/jail-term kind of repercussions, in which case tell me.

There are two basic variations: the ones that taste kind of like coffee, and the ones that don't.

Buzz Muffins: The Ones That Taste Kind of Like Coffee
1/2 cup very strong coffee
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
5 caffeine tablets, 200 mg caffeine each
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder

Icing (optional but recommended)
1 cup powdered sugar
1.5 tablespoons very strong hot coffee

This recipe is going to sound like a lot of FUSS, because I can't just say "Mix this and that together," but it wasn't too fussy to DO, it's just fussy to EXPLAIN.

Preheat over to 375 degrees F. See? This isn't too fussy yet!

I started by brewing the coffee. I used two tablespoons of Starbucks ground coffee and 8 ounces of water. When it was done brewing, I poured the coffee into a cup and then back into the filter basket (NOT into the water part of the coffee maker, but right on top of the grounds, slowly) and let it trickle through the grounds again. I used a cup so I wouldn't have the coffee pot in my hand when the coffee started re-trickling down, especially since I needed to pour it kind of slowly. Allowing for the water lost to steam and to making the grounds all soggy, I ended up with almost exactly the right amount for the muffins plus the icing plus a wee swig for the cook (I mixed it into a cup of hot chocolate).

Meanwhile, I melted the butter in a 4-cup glass bowl in the microwave. When it was melted, I stirred in 1/2 cup of the coffee.

I put the caffeine tablets (my Target sells the Jet-Alert brand, and they're right next to the sleeping pills---a little hard to find because it's such a small section) into a little bowl, and I used the handle of a wooden spoon to grind them into powder. Then I stirred the powdered caffeine tablets into the butter/coffee. I used the tablet-crushing bowl to fork-whisk the eggs, then added the eggs to the coffee/tablets/butter bowl.

In another, larger bowl I mixed the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Then I poured the coffee/tablets/butter/eggs into there and mixed it up. It makes a relatively soupy muffin batter, almost like thick pancake batter. I divided it among 12 greased or papered muffin cups (my #20 disher was perfect for this: 12 level disher-fulls almost exactly) and baked for 22 minutes at 375 degrees F.

While they baked, I made the icing. I mixed the powdered sugar with about a tablespoon and a half of hot coffee and stirred the dickens out of it until there were no lumps.

When the muffins are out of the oven and have cooled for a few minutes (five?), peel off the muffin papers (if you used muffin papers), put the muffins on plates or a cookie sheet or something, and put about a half-spoonful (whatever Regular-Sized Spoon came with your flatware) of icing on top of each muffin. It will drip down the sides of the muffins; this is why we take the papers off, so we don't face the choice of licking muffin papers or consigning delicious icing to the trash.

The batch of 12 muffins has about the same amount of caffeine as 11 eight-ounce cups---so, nearly a cup of coffee per muffin. If you felt like adding a couple more crushed tablets to up the caffeine, I think that would probably work fine---but I'd start getting nervous about UNEVEN DISTRIBUTION, and also it's nice to make them light enough on caffeine that people can eat two, or can eat one WITH some coffee. You could also REDUCE the number of caffeine tablets, of course.

If you don't like the taste of coffee but want the caffeine, substitute milk or juice or water for the 1/2 cup of coffee in the muffins, and also substitute milk or juice or water for the 1.5 tablespoons of coffee in the icing, and also add a sixth crushed caffeine tablet to the recipe. This will make a very PLAIN-tasting muffin, but you can add flavored extract (orange, vanilla, lemon, etc.) to both the batter and the icing: about 2 teaspoons to the batter and 1 teaspoon to the icing, depending on the strength of the flavoring (if adding to the icing, reduce milk/water/juice by the amount of extract you use; in batter, it doesn't matter). Here's a version I tried:

Buzz Muffins: The Ones That Don't Taste Like Coffee
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
6 caffeine tablets, 200 mg caffeine each
2 eggs
2 teaspoons lemon extract
1 teaspoon dried lemon peel
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder

Icing (optional but recommended)
1 cup powdered sugar
scant 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1 tablespoon hot water

And the instructions are just a modified version of the ones above:

Preheat over to 375 degrees F. See? Basically the same.

If you think of it ahead of time, put the eggs and the orange juice on the counter for awhile before you get started, so they'll be room temperature. Otherwise their coldness can make the melted butter clump up. If you don't think of it ahead of time, put the eggs and orange juice in a pyrex bowl and put it on the OFF back burner of your pre-heating oven, assuming your oven vents extra heat out the back burner like mine does. This'll warm them up a bit while you work on other steps.

I melted the butter in a 4-cup glass bowl in the microwave. When it was melted, I stirred in the room temperature orange juice and egg.

I put the caffeine tablets into a little bowl, and I used the handle of a wooden spoon to grind them into powder. Then I stirred the powdered caffeine tablets into the butter/juice/egg. Then I added the lemon extract and dried lemon peel (you could use fresh here, or you could use one and not the other, or whatevs---I was just winging it with what I had on hand; it's hard to get a nice strong lemon flavor in baked stuff, without resorting to that stuff they use in Hostess fruit pies) (mmmmmm, Hostess fruit pies).

In another, larger bowl I mixed the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Then I poured the juice/tablets/butter/eggs into there and mixed it up. It makes a relatively soupy muffin batter, almost like thick pancake batter. I divided it among 12 greased or papered muffin cups (my #20 disher was perfect for this: 12 level disher-fulls almost exactly) and baked for 22 minutes at 375 degrees F.

While they baked, I made the icing. I mixed the powdered sugar with a scant half-teaspoon of lemon extract and a tablespoon of hot tapwater (oooh, I should have used orange juice), and stirred until there were no lumps.

When the muffins are out of the oven and have cooled for a few minutes (five?), peel off the muffin papers (if you used muffin papers), put the muffins on plates or a cookie sheet or something, and put about a half-spoonful (whatever Regular-Sized Spoon came with your flatware) of icing on top of each muffin. It will drip down the sides of the muffins; this is why we take the papers off, so we don't face the choice of licking muffin papers or consigning delicious icing to the trash.

Other ideas:
It would also be yummy to add chocolate chips or butterscotch chips, or use melted chips in place of the icing, and I'm going to see if I can come up with a Coffee Creamer Flavor by using milk and adding vanilla and nut extracts.

Caution: These are kind of like Caffeinated Jello Shots: a novelty item not for kids to get into. I'm planning to store these as "out of reach" as I store the caffeine tablets themselves---maybe a little MORE out of reach, since the tablets look like medicine and the muffins DON'T. I also labeled the ziploc with "CAFFEINATED MUFFINS" in huge letters.

May 1, 2009

American Wife

I finished American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld. I loved it.

I feel like I should rush to point out that Curtis Sittenfeld is a GIRL, and the reason I'm pointing that out is that I almost didn't read Prep, which I also loved, because I generally don't like to read a book with a female narrator and a male author. Some of them make it clear the male author thinks the female brain is "Shoes shoes shoes SEXY MEN shoes shoes BRAND NAMES shoes shoes!" So if that bugs you, too, you might skip this book thinking it's one of those, just because you think Curtis is a boy's name. It's not! She's a girl!

Anyway. Where was I? Oh, yes. The book. I almost didn't read Prep because I thought it had a male author, and I almost didn't read American Wife because I thought it was going to be mean. I don't like to read mean books. But it was not mean.

My mom and I both like to have a mild to moderate awareness of celebrity goings-ons. That is, we both read People magazine, and we sometimes talk a little about celebrity news. And sometimes, the official version we're reading doesn't make sense to us, so we talk about it until we think of an explanation that DOES fit the situation. Sometimes we think we may even be RIGHT---that is, that the reps of everyone involved are trying to spin things to look one way, but that details don't make sense with that explanation, and our explanation is the one that makes sense and is in fact more likely to be true or at least contain more of the essence of the truth.

This is a FICTION book. It is not even "biographical fiction," where the author tries to write as accurately as possible but is forced to fictionalize certain elements such as private dialogue. This is JUST FICTION. BUT! It seems to me that it was MORE TRUE than an autobiography or a biography would have been, in the same way my mom and I sometimes feel like we've come up with an explanation that rings more true than the one the celebrity magazines are giving us.

An autobiography or an authorized biography would be the same carefully-spun information the public is given through magazines and press releases and scripted interviews. And an unauthorized biography tends to be spiteful, making use of quotes from all the people who are eager to speak up for something unauthorized. But this! This is different. This seems MORE TRUE than any of those other things would be, even if the guesses are WAY OFF. I can imagine Laura Bush reading it thinking, "Well, no, heavens no, that didn't happen.........but actually, this does give the GIST of the reason why I did that."

What I get what I read this book is that the author had a lot of the same wonderings I had about George W. Bush and about Laura Bush and about the two of them together, and that the released details didn't make sense to her, and that she went over it and over it and over it until she thought of a context in which all the details WOULD make sense. When things clicked into place, she wrote it down as a story of Charlie and Alice Blackwell, but making no attempt to be coy about it: she makes it clear who they're supposed to be, but also that she made it up so she uses non-real names.

One detail I could have lived a happy life WITHOUT was the fictionalized (ONE HOPES) description of "Charlie Blackwell"'s penis and what "Alice Blackwell" thought of it. I mean, srsly. How am I supposed to recommend this book to my mother?

Bat Chicken

(More spottings of Mr. Pickles at The Chicken Game Flickr Group, to which you are officially invited to post your own photos of Mr. Pickles---or of Mr. Pickles's brother, Mr. Pickles.)