Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Terrible Two's.

My niece is two-and-a-half. After a whole lot of developmental therapy, she's finally caught up with her language skills. I was a bright and extremely articulate two-year-old, and it wasn't until now that I realized most kids that age are still sticking two or three words together and not having full-blown conversations. Also, they are largely unintelligible to people who don't talk to them every day.

I've concluded that two-year-olds are pretty boring, and I'm dying for my niece to get to the stage where she starts asking 'why?' so I can explain the world to her. Watching a kid develop is pretty damned slow, it seems like her milestones just get further and further apart. I absolutely cannot wait until she turns into a real person, it feels like I've been waiting for eternity. Maybe she'll turn out to be really fun in another year or so. Right now she's just kind of fun.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Everybody's Cat

Evilcat is Z's cat.

Tabby-Hellion is my cat.

Torti-Hellion is...everybody's cat.

She's particularly fond of new people.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Social Skills

My sister and I were walking down a busy sidewalk when I suddenly became aware that there were three boys walking right behind us, probably around 13 years old.

If you were ever bullied in school you will be very familir with this situation. It's basically a win-win for the bully, there's no good way to handle it while keeping your cool. You can keep walking and ignore them while they silently read your body language and know that they got to you. You can stop suddenly so they run into you, and they still know they managed to piss you off. You can spin around and whack them, or give them a piece of your mind, but no matter what you do the bully still wins.

The nice thing about growing up awkward is that you become intensely aware of all the details that make up good social skills. When you have to consciously learn the rules of social engagement, like how much eye contact to make and how close to stand to people, you learn a lot more than those who just acquire good social skills naturally. Also, when you really don't give a fuck, you can choose to disregard of those rules.

Invading someone's personal space from behind can make you feel powerful and intimidating. Face-to-face with a stranger, that same distance can be very uncomfortable. Prolonged eye contact with a stranger is even more unsettling. A stranger walking backwards for the next two blocks while making direct eye contact and grinning can be very uncomfortable. Yes, junior high boys, you may be annoying but I am crazy.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Cats are Stupid: Exhibit A

While they are very nice little creatures that are always happy to be petted, the Hellions are really, really dumb. 

It's true, they eat ribbons and fall off furniture and are generally stupid in the ways that all cats are stupid. However, they occasionally do something really epic that reminds me just how much intelligence they lack. The first clue that we might be dealing with impaired animals came the day Z coaxed Grey-Hellion into the shower.

A regular-dumb cat might get coaxed into the watery torrent once, but it takes exceptional-dumb to be coaxed in again moments later.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Mandatory Organ Donation

I come from a family of devout evangelical Christians who really, really don't understand why I use the Constitution instead of the Bible when considering what laws our country should and should not have. I grew up in a very Pro-life culture, surrounded by people who truly believe that laws restricting abortion are about saving lives.

I believe I may be espousing an unpopular opinion here...

But it's a pretty valid point when you really think about it.

There's really no way around it. If the government has a right to your body in order to save a life, than abortion should be illegal and kidney transplants should be compulsory. If you have a right to your own body even at the cost of another life, than abortion should be legal and bone marrow donation should be a personal choice.

I have yet to hear a good answer to this one that doesn't involve somehow legislating the morality of one religion on the entire population of a country founded on freedom of religion. Seriously, we could drastically reduce the rate of abortion through improved access to birth control, comprehensive sex education, and better welfare programs for single mothers. We could reduce the amount of shame and trauma an unplanned pregnancy can cause by eliminating the stigma against premarital sex and single mothers. We have all the studies we need to know what kind of education and social programs actually reduce unplanned pregnancy, yet most anti-abortion people would rather focus on a moral ideal where nobody has sex unless they're ready for a kid. Instead of facing reality and trying to reduce unplanned pregnancy, they attempt to overturn supreme court rulings while unborn babies die. I'm beginning to think that pro-life supporters are stupid, delusional, or just haven't given it that much thought...

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Very Scary Story

I teach a summer class about animals every year and bring a different pet every day. I also take them to visit other classrooms during the school year just because I know a lot of people in the education field. I tend to play up the amount of care and cleaning and time any given animal requires, because even simple pets take more commitment than a kid is really capable of. I'd rather scare them off pet ownership than doom some poor creature to a lifetime of neglect. Sometimes I run across a really smart kid who realizes that I have a ton of pets that all require a lot of care.

And then I get to horrify the kids.

I'm not sure exactly why the thought of never watching television is horrifying to children.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cooking with Ned: Belgian Street Waffles

Pirate? and went to Europe a few years ago, while in Belgium we bought waffles from the street vendors. They were the most amazing waffles ever, sweet and sort of crispy and perfect without anything on them. Pirate? tried one covered in chocolate and it wasn't nearly as good as the plain street waffles.

Step 1: Visit Belgium, Eat Street Waffles, Return Home, Die Trying to Make Street Waffles

I kept trying different recipes for Belgian waffles, and always ended up with fluffy cake-like waffles. I tried adding more flour, honey, more sugar, anything I could think of to make them dense and chewy and amazing. My kitchen became increasingly covered in failed waffle batter. Finally it occurred to me to search the Internet, Fountain of All Knowledge. I automatically assume that any problem I have (aside from a small dog covered in hair dye) has already been experienced by someone else, who has both solved the problem and then posted about it on the internet.

Step 2: Liege Waffles, Street Waffles, Pearl Sugar
Fact: There are actually two kinds of "Belgian waffles". The familiar ones you get from the guy who makes the omelettes at a champagne brunch are known as Brussels waffles. These are the big, round, cakey waffles that I don't like. They are not street waffles. For some bizarre reason, the Liege waffle, iconic street waffle of Belgium, is completely unknown here in California. Once I found the secret identity of my beloved street waffles I was able to find some recipes to try out.

The next big barrier between myself and waffley goodness was the unavailability to pearl sugar in stores. See, in Europe they have a bunch of different kinds of sugar. There's caster sugar, pearl sugar, loaf we mostly just have sugar. Pearl sugar has much larger granules than regular table sugar, and it caramelizes during the waffling process to give the street waffles their crispy, waffley goodness. You can buy imported pearl sugar online, but if you lack the foresight or ability to plan your cooking exploits you can also just crunch some sugar cubes up with a meat tenderizer or other blunt object. Just don't mash them too fine.

Step 3: Find Recipe, Make Street Waffles, Die of Waffle-Poisoning
I found a number of recipes for Liege waffles once I knew what I was looking for. All of them called for yeast, and some also required the waffle batter to rise for an hour or more. I am impatient, so I selected a recipe that was probably authentic and only called for a total of 25 minutes of waiting. I originally planned to half the recipe in case these weren't the waffles of my dreams, then immediately forgot and added double the amount of sugar I needed. I now have a whole batch of waffley goodness, not exactly perfect, but definitely the closest thing to Belgian street waffles that I can make in my $20 Hello Kitty waffle iron.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cooking with Ned: Candied Citron

Z likes fruitcake. I hate fruitcake but love to cook. I vastly prefer to cook things from scratch, so I decided I would make him a fruitcake. I found this recipe and used it as sort of a guideline. Z loves candied citron from the store, so I didn't want to leave it out of the recipe. I was already drying fruit in my food dehydrator, so I figured I might as well candy a citron.

Step 1: What the Heck is a Citron?
No really. Having shopped primarily in large chain grocery stores my entire life, I had no idea what a citron was. At first I thought "candied citron" was just candied citrus peel, but further investigation  shows that a citron is actually a fruit. A very difficult to find fruit. There are basically two different types of citron found in grocery stores. The etrog citron looks like a large and very lumpy lemon. The Buddha's Hand citron looks like the illegitimate offspring of a lemon and a kraken. I found mine at Whole Foods.

Step 2: Unbrining That Which You Have Brined

Candied fruit is made by boiling the fruit in sugar syrup for all eternity. I used this recipe because it gave candy thermometer temperatures to follow so you know when it's done. Two cups of water, three cups of sugar, a spoonful of corn syrup, boil to 230 degrees F. The Buddha's hand citron doesn't have any fruity bits on the inside, it's basically nothing but rind. No scraping, no peeling, just dice the damned thing up and throw it in the pot.

When I first looked up candied citron, I found a lot of recipes for candied fruit peel that involved soaking or boiling the peels in saltwater first. I neglected to note that none of the handful of candied citron recipes online called for salt, and ended up with weirdly salty candied citron. I'm a terrible but optimistic cook, so I decided to throw it back in plain water and boil it until it wasn't salty anymore, then start over with new syrup.

Join us next time for fruitcake! Or possibly toffee, depending on what I decide to do with that syrup.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

How Newtzilla Save My Sanity

This is the fourth place we've lived in 3.5 years of marriage. We appear to be doomed to live next door to screaming people. The first ones were a domestically violent teenage boy and his mother.

The second was a lady with at least five kids in a 700 square foot house, who basically shrieked profanity at the lot of them constantly. She had a boyfriend who appeared to be 17, and possibly sold drugs given the number of people who would walk up to her door at 3am, speak with her briefly, and then leave. At our third house we lived next to a group home for disabled teenagers. Now we live next to a family with preschooler and a toddler, who basically scream nonstop all day, every day.

They scream when they run around outside. They scream when they fight with each other. They scream when they have to do something they don't want to do. They scream when they are excited. They appear to play games that consist entirely of taking turns shrieking like they are being murdered. Our neighborhood is pretty packed, and my home office window opens approximately 15' from their house. We don't have air conditioning in most of the house, and so basically I had no way to escape from the sound. Mind you, I did daycare for years and the sound of kids playing doesn't really phase me unless it's continuous high-pitched shrieking. One day, after six hours of continuous high-pitched shrieking, I snapped.

I was going to call Child Services on them. I was going to file a noise complaint. I was going to start screaming profanity every time they started screaming. I was utterly filled with impotent rage at the parents for viewing the screaming as "kids being kids." Just going over and talking to them was not really an option, we don't speak the same language. It would also leave me vulnerable to retribution if I ever take legal action, and I don't want to risk starting a feud with neighbors who think screaming=playing and would take offense to "Please ask your children to stop playing, their playing bothers me." Fortunately for the neighbors, they took a week-long vacation right after the Scream-a-Thon. By the time they returned, I had acquired Newtzilla.

I got Newtzilla on Craigslist. The kid who gave her to me said she was probably a Chinese firebelly newt. I was expecting to receive an animal the size of my pinky.

Newtzilla is a 9" paddletail newt, in a genus that typically tops out at 7" or so. I am utterly in awe of this animal. Unfortunately it's a bit hard to find people who appreciate her.

Half the time I get "What's a newt?" in response. Even though she is under-appreciated, Her Newtliness has proved to be a major asset to our household. She likes to have running water with a decent current, and her tank needs to stay nice and cold so I keep a fan blowing on it at all times. This provides a enough white noise to cover most of the shrieking, so I am no longer poised on the brink of madness.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Beware of Pregnant Ladies.

My sister is pregnant again, and I'm keeping my distance. It's not that I'm not happy for her, I'm just afraid of her. See, the last time she was pregnant I had knee surgery during her second trimester. A week after my surgery I went out to dinner with my family and we decided to squish my brother and sister and I into the back seat of the car just like we did when we were kids. I still had stitches and couldn't bend my knee, so I decided to sit in the middle and put my leg between the front seats. This required a fair bit of maneuvering.

Yes, my 4.5 months pregnant sister sat on my hand with such force that she sprained my thumb. Normally this would be worthy of an "Oops!" or "I'm sorry!" or "Oh my god, are you ok?!"

I couldn't use my left hand for over a month, I had to stop using crutches to get around, and I finally went to a doctor when the swelling didn't go down after a few days.

That was almost three years ago, and to this day my sister has never given a hint of sympathy or apology. If I dare to bring it up she still insists that the entire thing was clearly my fault because she was pregnant. End of discussion.

I'm avoiding her until she has the second kid, for my own safety.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


My hair is falling out.

There doesn't seem to be any medical explanation for it. I've had my thyroid and a bunch of other stuff checked, and everything is fine.

I combed my dreadlocks out after the hair loss started, so I'm giving it a couple of months to grow back before I find a dermatologist. For now I just wear hats all the time. I have a lot of hats.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Thing I Can't Talk About with Regular People #25

I went to a company party with Z. His boss and the boss's wife were there with their baby. She's about a year old with orange hair and green eyes, exactly the kind of baby I want to have.

I need to add "stealing people's babies" to this list.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

I can't sleep.

Sometimes Tinydog has to pee at 4am. He lets me know by sitting on my head until I wake up and take him outside.

You know when something is wrong, but you're not awake enough to figure out what? I've had asthma attacks and reflux in my sleep, and I usually spend an hour or more trying to figure out why I can't sleep before I become conscious enough to realize what the problem is and how to fix it.
Sometimes it takes me well over an hour to realize there is a dog on my head. I sleep pretty deeply.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


We have a dining table. Actually, it's a tall bar table. The height makes it utterly dog-proof, so it's the perfect place to feed the cats. We never eat at the table anyway, so it's pretty much always set for cats.

When we moved we started having friends over and occasionally using the table for real, actual people. This mean we had to scrub the cat food and fur off the table every time we used it. I decided that tablecloths were the solution to this problem. We could have a cat-tablecloth, and then when people came over we could swap it with the clean people-tablecloth.

I ordered my tablecloths online, and they finally arrived. I immediately cleared the table and applied the cat-tablecloth. The cats came to investigate. You know what's stupid? A cat hiding under a tablecloth.

The jury is still out on whether or not the tablecloth idea is going to work.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Waking Up

I have a lot of trouble waking up in the morning. If my alarm isn't alarming enough I end up shutting it off in my sleep.

I've been using my phone as my alarm in the morning. It has a setting that makes me do a math problem before I can shut it off. Theoretically this is supposed to help me become more conscious so I don't immediately fall asleep again, but really it's just making me really good at doing math in my sleep.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Evilcat is Evil.

We tried a new kind of cat litter and Evilcat disapproved. She demonstrated her displeasure by pissing all over everything in the house. Pillows, blankets, dog beds, towels, laundry, everything soft in the house got pissed on. I spent an entire week doing laundry and then she peed all over everything again.

I decided to kill her. I headed for the bedroom to strangle the beast, where I found Z napping with Evilcat snuggled in his arms like a teddy bear and purring furiously.

Damn cat.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Descent into madness.

When I was a kid, my mother owned approximately a dozen cockatiels, lovebirds, and parakeets. One of our regular household "kid chores" was to clean all the cages and feed and water all the birds, which took forever. She kept them in the tv room where we used to watch cartoons. Looking back now, I realize that the birds all lived in cages that were much too small and had no toys or anything to entertain themselves with. They desperately tried to stave off boredom and madness by making a lot of noise. As a kid, all I knew was that they were loud as hell. They were messy and horrible, and I hated taking care of them.

People who own birds tend to become bird-magnets. Other people foist birds off on bird-owners because hey, what's a few more? This is how my mother came to own Petey. Petey was either a gray-cheeked parakeet or a bat out of hell, or possibly both. In hindsight he was a miserable animal, but as an eight year old, all I knew was that he loved to escape from his cage, fly across the room to land on my shoulder, and then bite my face severely. Any attempt to remove him from my body resulted in my hands getting chomped as well. Unsurprisingly, I developed a fear of parrots.

Eventually most of the birds died or were given away, and I grew up and moved out and got married declared that I would never own birds. Ever. I hated birds. Birds were bad. Then I went back to visit my parents and heard one sad little chirp. Ernie, the cockatiel my mother bought when I was three, was still sitting sadly in his little cage in the corner of the kitchen. I had since learned all about bird care and have an uncontrollable urge to take care of animals in need. Ernie was 22 years old.

You know how bird people attract birds?

A lot of birds get dumped at the local bird shop near our old house.

And that is how I ended up with a house full of decrepit, defective, and ugly birds. They're still pretty messy, but they're not too loud when they have lots of toys and fresh foods to occupy them. The parrots have their own room where they can be as loud as they like, and huge cages for the times they can't be out playing. At 25 years old Ernie has a girlfriend, and he spends all his time preening and arguing with her. It's a good retirement for the old guy, fueled largely by my guilt over the way he spent his first couple of decades. Every so often though, I sort of wonder what happened to me.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Chihuahua bloodbath.

Last week Tinydog picked the wrong cat to chase.

After the dust settled and all the unholy demons had been cast back into the pit of fire from whence they came, I noticed a drop of blood on my hand.

I noticed that the tiny tip of Tinydog's tiny ear was bleeding, and then Tinydog shook his head.

Of course we dashed to the bathroom to find towels or styptic powder or something to stop the bleeding. Tinydog continued to be mildly irritated by his injured ear.

At this point it is pertinent to mention that I have vaso vagal syncope blood phobia. You know that thing you see on tv where somebody faints at the sight of blood? Yeah, I have that. So there is a finite amount of medical attention I can provide before my blood pressure drops so low that I can't stand up. I ended up laying on the couch for an hour, clamping Tinydog's tiny ear against his tiny head, waiting for the bleeding to stop. Z kindly mopped up the buckets of blood off the walls, the floor, the ceiling, all of our bedding, the couch...

We learned some important information about tiny dogs that night.

1. A 6-lb chihuahua can lose approximately four gallons of blood without any ill effects.

2. Copious amounts of styptic powder will eventually stop a bleeding ear, provided the dog doesn't continue to shake his head.

3. There is no good way to securely bandage a chihuahua ear.

4. Despite their large size, chihuahua ears appear to be devoid of any sensation or ability to feel pain.

5. A soft Cone of Shame is the most effective way to keep a dog's ears from whacking against his head every time he shakes.

Tinydog, on the other hand, learned nothing.