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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Six Years Old

Happy Birthday, my beautiful brilliant boy. My world is so much bigger, so much happier since you were born. Many, many happy returns of the day to you -- may all your wishes come true.

(Except the wish for your own X-ray machine. Or the one about having a Pterodactyl for a pet. And ix-nay on the time machine, too. Yeah, Mom's no fun. Good thing you're fun enough for us both!)

My Lil' Sweet Peas

In honor of my first lil' sweet pea's sixth birthday, I wanted to give a little sneak peek of a new design I've been working on in Mama's Magic Studio: lil' sweet pea pod pendants!
I'm still testing out the design -- my other two initial prototypes both used pearls for the peas and used felt for one pod and polymer clay for the other. But neither was just right. This latest iteration of the design uses a lovely green satin for the outer pod and dyed genuine freshwater pearls for the peas, with a green wire frame.

I've been wearing mine for a week or so on a neck wire to give it a test drive.

I like how lightweight and vibrant it is, and I've been getting lots of compliments! I'm trying to decide if I should treat the satin in any way to make it more durable. Considering applying an acrylic sealer and will do that in my next sample, to see how that works out.

Of course, like my bird's nests, I'd be able to customize this design so that the number of pearl peas in the pod is exactly right for you! Naturally mine has two, one for each of my lil' sweet peas. Even though neither one is really so little anymore! (Happy 6th birthday, BJ!)

Hope you enjoyed the sneak peek! What do you think?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Snail Season

BB and I had a lovely morning on Monday, hanging out in the sunshine. It's snail season again, with all the wet weather we've been having, and she continues to be fascinated with the little mollusks.

She loves to collect them, set them up for snail parades, and make "snail houses" for them.
And what, you might ask, does a snail home look like? Well, it depends on her particular architectural inspiration, which varies from day to day, but on Monday it looked like this.

Science Fair, Kindergarten Style

Yesterday was the Science Fair at BJ's school, and not surprisingly he was very excited. A chance to hang out and talk scientific stuff with other students interested in science? Of course he'd love it!

After nixing project proposals that involved rocket ships, high powered telescopes, and x-ray machines, we settled on a simple yet illuminating experiment that compared the effect of solar energy on black and white. I wanted to figure out a project that he could execute himself for the most part, and this was a pretty good fit. First he painted two water bottles: one white and one black.
We found out the bottles needed a good wrapping in masking tape first in order to let the tempera paint stick. He left one clear for the control. Then, all three were placed in the sun to see what happened.

He measured the temperature after 90 minutes and then after 180 minutes.

After 90 minutes in the sun, the black bottle measured 86 degrees, the white 72.6, and the clear 77.3 (It was 70 degrees outside.) After 180 minutes, the black bottle had jumped to 99.1 and was hot to the touch. The white was 79.5 and the clear was 83, while the air temperature had climbed to 75 degrees.

It was neat to see him get excited about his project working the way that he'd thought it would. And I breathed a huge sigh of relief - not because it worked, because I didn't really doubt it would, but because we'd managed to get it done in time! When we decided on which project to do, I hadn't reckoned on two straight weeks of rainy weather! The sun peeked out finally on Sunday morning, before his birthday party, for long enough to complete the experiment. Then we put together the poster on Monday (which was easily the hardest part of everything for him).

But all told, he was very proud of the results! Here he is at the fair:
BB wanted to be in the pic too:

His classroom did a project as well, asking "What makes things change?" He was pretty excited about that project, too.

They did experiments with toast, ice, and water, and also asked the kids about what kinds of changes had happened to them in kindergarten. BJ's reply was apparently quote worthy for the poster, which cracked me up:

His very favorite part of the classroom project? The fact that his cut out pic pasted on the background made him look really really tall. So funny the things that kids come up with!

And so hard to believe he'll be six years old tomorrow....

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Puss in Boots

I've always found Puss in Boots to be one of the odder fairy tales -- not that there's any shortage of strangeness in fairy tale stories, of course -- but a trickster feline with questionable fashion sense? Definitely unusual. The kids love it, and the other night when I was reading it for a bedtime book, they were especially delighted when Butchie came up to listen as well. It was so cute, I asked S to take a pic:
Clearly the kitty is doing much better. (Yay for that!) The abscess-or-whatever-it-was on her face is healing up nicely, and she seems much happier. What a relief!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Naturally Curly Hair

As a straight-haired girl myself, having genetically gifted my daughter with my own straight hair (albeit in a different shade) I absolutely sympathized with BB's request recently: "Mommy, can we make my hair curly?"

(I just didn't expect that request to come so soon, I confess! I blame Peanuts and Frieda. We Johnson girls just won't ever have Naturally Curly Hair.)

So next best thing: I gave BB some twists after hair washing night.

She was a little skeptical that night, but the next morning she was very excited to take down the twists and see her curls...

It's too bad that the cute little ringlets don't stay -- brush them even slightly, and it turns into a frizz-fest!

(At this point, I was having flashbacks to bad 80's perms. Alas.)

But she loved it!

Look Out, Lucy Van Pelt


Courtesy of my son, the entrepreneur.

(I love that the tours are free but cost money. HA!)

BJ's 6th Birthday Party Was A Blast!

As advertised, the "Blast Off" to BJ's 6th Birthday Party provided an astronomical amount of fun!
(That's the pic we put on his invitations -- first time I'd gotten a good pic of him in the space suit he received for Christmas!)

The cake, as I mentioned yesterday, turned out pretty well.

It was certainly on-theme, and tied in nicely with the bounce house!
We got really lucky to have a break in the rain so that we could go ahead with the bounce house as planned. And after a cabin-fevered week, mostly spent indoors avoiding the downpours, it was really great to see the kids spending time outdoors and getting some exercise.

They bounced, played tag, did outer space themed crafts (color your own space magnet and making a "Universe in a Bottle" -- a pretty neat craft that I'll post directions for soon). Hung out in the rocket ship tent.
Bounced some more, had some cake...

There's the rocket ship and Jupiter, along with the lemon sun cake (which turned out to be very yummy). Then the kids bounced some more, the girls had a dress up session in the play room (BB was especially happy to play with E and J). It was just generally a jam-packed two hours!

The ten kids were all very well-behaved -- a good thing, since we'd told parents they could either stay or drop off and only three of the parents hung around for the party (interestingly enough all of them dads). Did I mention how happy we were that we could have an indoor-outdoor party? Thank you, Weather Gods, for looking kindly on our little celebration.

After the party, BJ opened his gifts and was absolutely thrilled that so many of them were Cleary Scientific. He got started right away on the Dino Excavation Kit. Clearly, as far as he was concerned, any party day that ends up with him wearing safety goggles is A Good Day.

The bounce house rental place was very generous in letting us keep the bouncer well beyond the 6 hours we'd paid for, which turned out to be a mixed blessing. BB and BJ were playing in it right up until bath time, and at the end of the day they were both utterly tuckered out. The only downer to the day -- and it was a doozy but could have been much worse -- was that when BB went to bed she was complaining about a sore arm. She was so tired she could barely keep her eyes open, but she kept mumbling about her elbow hurting, so we checked it out (she could move it and didn't seem to be in too much pain) gave her an ice pack, and told her to tell us if it got worse.

Well, about an hour and a half she woke up screaming and crying. Both S and I ran in, and at first we thought it was a nightmare, but then we realized she was hysterically trying to tell us that her arm hurt. She's had nursemaid's elbow twice before, so of course that was my first thought. I stood her up and did the manipulation to get the elbow joint realigned, but unlike the last time I neither felt it pop back into place, nor did the manipulation immediately calm her down. She was still sobbing about how much her arm hurt, so of course I got on the Kaiser nurse line to see where we should take her at 9:30 at night on a Sunday.

Thankfully, the minor wound clinic in San Jose was open until 11 p.m (I really, really didn't want to go into the ER unless we had to) so I bundled my poor crying girl into the car and headed out. About five or ten minutes later, as she was settling down, she started chattering randomly and rather cheerily about how strange it was to be out in the dark, and how weird the street lights seemed, and "Look Mommy, there's a palm tree! I always wanted one!"

By this point we had practically reached the turn into the medical facility, and I was suspecting (with great relief) that my girl was in fact Perfectly Fine. I asked her if her arm hurt "a little, a lot, or not at all." She replied it hurt "only a little, little bit." Clearly, she was no longer in excruciating pain. I asked if she felt okay, and she said, "Yes, I feel okay."

I was tempted to turn back around, but since we were all but there, I figured we might as well get her checked out -- better that than ending up back at home later on, after the clinic had closed, having her in pain again, and going to the ER in the wee hours of the morning! So we went in, and after only a five minute wait or so, based on my explanation the doctor entirely agreed with what I thought had happened: she had at least partially dislocated her elbow, probably when she was jumping around in the bounce house with her brother, holding hands and playing Ring Around the Rosy very energetically. When she went to bed, she was so exhausted that it didn't cause her much pain, and she moved in her sleep or rolled over so that she was on her arm or dislocated it further, which is what woke her up. Then, when I manipulated it, I got it back in, but she was so upset and hysterical she didn't notice it.

At any rate, the doctor said it was back in joint, no sign of any problem. So we only lost about an hour and a half of the night -- and as a result, BB is currently napping. Alas, I need to go wake her up so we can pick up her brother from school! The good news is she's been in a really good mood today and is clearly Just Fine. And BJ is all excited to come home and play with his new science toys -- plus get together the poster for the science fair -- so it should be a good afternoon. Hope so! Those post-party parent energy levels are pretty low today!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Baking a Cake!

We're getting ready for BJ's 6th birthday party today (and I'll spare you my extensive, sentimental, astonished rant and instead just use a lot of caps to express that It JUST CAN'T BE POSSIBLE That This Son Of Mine Will Be Six Years Old). We're having the party at home with an Outer Space theme (naturally) and last night BJ and I made the cake. Not surprisingly, he had very specific notions about what the cake should look like. After nixing the idea of nine realistic representations of the planets, plus a sun, I considered my (rather limited) cake making skills and told him I thought I could do a rocket ship.

I played around with a paper template to see how I might carve a rectangular sheet cake to make a nose cone and fins (geometry is fun!) and once I had a plan we set to work. Of course while the cake was baking, he wanted to read The Magic Schoolbus Gets Baked In A Cake.

After the kids had gone to bed, the cake had cooled enough to start constructing. It was a nervewracking couple of hours, but I'm reasonably pleased with how it turned out.

I'm still getting used to our oven here at the apartment. It's a lot better than it was, now that we've gotten it more level, but it still cooks unevenly especially for things like baking a cake. I had to slice off a fair amount from the top to level it off -- but I was able to use that part cut down into a circle to make Jupiter.

For the rocketship fins, I used the triangles I'd cut from the top of the cake. I also had to slice off one edge to narrow the body of the rocket a little bit, and those pieces got used for the engine and the antenna. I made a cupcake for the window (where the 6 is).

I wish I hadn't done the antenna, actually. It ended up being the "weak link" in the design and was really hard to deal with. I used licorice ropes for the black lines, and though I'm pretty sure the kids won't really like the licorice, decoratively it was an especially good notion when I realized how difficult it was to use black icing for piping around the window -- I'm really, really glad I didn't try to get a bunch of straight lines in that black! Plus, it turns out that the black frosting is really not that tasty. I got some Wilton's coloring gel at Michaels and either this stuff is generally yucky in flavor or I used way too much in the attempt to get a good black color, because it is pretty bitter. But I mostly used that to cover the alumnium foil covered base on which the cakes are sitting, so that it would look good. Stars courtesy of Trader Joe's yogurt covered star cookies. All told, considering that I'm entirely self-taught at this cake decorating business, I'm fairly pleased with the results. I mostly applied the frosting with a knife -- felt like I was oil painting with cake icing, actually, especially when I did Jupiter with those swirls around the Great Red Spot (which I'm quite pleased with).

We have a ton of other things to do this morning to get ready, but it turns out I'll need to make another cake. It occurred to me (being my mother's daughter, always wanting to be sure we had enough food) that after cutting down the sheet cake it was unlikely we'd have enough cake left to serve all the kids and parents who will be here today. (10 kids plus 10 or more parents!) So this morning I'm making a basic yellow cake with yellow frosting, putting it in a circle pan and calling it the sun. Now so long as BJ doesn't start pestering me for the other 8 planets (which was his original idea, after all) we'll be fine...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tattooed On My Forehead

It's been such fun to see BB's drawings evolve. No more googly-eyed people. Now we have nice, precise dots! (Actually, I kinda miss those googly eyes.) Hair is very important, as is the smile. Here's BB's most recent portrait of me:
"What's the star for?" I asked when she showed it to me. "Is it a hair pretty?"
"No!" I was told. "It's a tattoo on your forehead!"

Considering that I don't have any actual tattoos myself, I find this very intriguing. Maybe she knows that my love for her might as well be tattooed on my forehead. (Though in that case, perhaps it should have been a heart instead of a star. Ha!)

I love the side view, too. Looks like I'm flying -- Super Mom!

This one is staying on the fridge for a while.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My Son, the Singer-Songwriter Scientist

BJ wrote a song the other day -- as best I could tell, he composed it on the fly, then asked his dad to type it up on the computer so he wouldn't forget. S said he could do that if BJ could sing it again, and that wasn't a problem. He repeated it exactly! I wish I'd been able to get a video of the performance (and I may yet ask BJ to sing it again for that very purpose) but here are the lyrics, complete with rhymes and a repeating chorus:


Triassic to Cretaceous with Jurassic in Between
by BJ

Triassic to Cretaceous with Jurassic in between,
Your knowledge about dinosaurs will be very keen.

First in line is Triassic, time period number one.
The compsognathus now lived under the sun.

Triassic to Cretaceous with Jurassic in between,
Your knowledge about dinosaurs will be very keen.

Next is the Jurassic, time period number two.
Stegosaurus and Brachiosaurus lived here, but not me and you.

Triassic to Cretaceous with Jurassic in between,
Your knowledge about dinosaurs will be very keen.

Next stop Cretaceous, time period number three.
T-rex, velociraptor, pteranodon , and spinosaurus lived here, but not you and me.

Triassic to Cretaceous with Jurassic in between,
Your knowledge about dinosaurs now is very keen.

Not bad for a 5 (almost 6) year old, huh?

BJ then said he wanted to bring in a copy of the song for his teacher, and when I picked him up from school I was informed that not only did he share a copy, but he sang the song for the entire class (complete with commentary on the content). My kid, he sure ain't shy!

Apparently, according to the teacher, the song went over so well that the entire class is going to learn it so they can sing it for their music teacher next week. Between that and his upcoming birthday, BJ is pretty excited.

Monday, March 21, 2011


Walking BJ to school this morning, we saw all sorts of signs that spring has sprung. Jonquils nodding in the yards, some trees in bloom and more heavy with buds waiting to blossom, stormy skies.

For the record, since I don't think I've mentioned it and because I need to remember such things: I get such daily joy from walking my boy to school. He still wants to hold my hand most of the time, even in the rain, and I love having his little warm fingers wrapped in my own. As another season passes, and he grows ever bigger, who knows how much longer he'll want to walk, hand in hand? Cherish the now.

Here's another sign of the season: in two blocks, BJ and I counted half a dozen couches lining the street, accompanied by all sorts of miscellaneous junk. The seasonal spring cleaning in our city is accompanied by a one-day free junk pick up. Typically, it feels less like a junk day and more like one big city-wide rummage fest, illustrating the trash/treasure relationship to ownership (and price paid, or lack thereof, naturally). Lots of stuff ends up rescued from the dump, re-purposed and given new life. But today, with everything soaking wet, it was just depressing. So much evidence of what's wrong with our consumer culture, now thoroughly ruined.

It was hailing a few moments ago, and we've been getting lots and lots of rain -- so much that a leak has sprung in the kids' bedroom! Last night we discovered that their carpeting along the wall was soaked, so today the maintenance guy has been trying to figure out how to isolate the problem and fix it, all in the pouring rain.

Truth is, I'm feeling a little like I've sprung a leak myself recently. Between the State Of The World and the Time Of The Month, and some Other Stuff that I won't go into here, I suppose a tendency towards tears isn't surprising. But not much fun. I'm trying to keep things in perspective, to focus more on the importance of my son's hand in mine than on things I can't control or influence. And I'm waiting for those buds to blossom, waiting for the sun to shine again.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Feature -- Mystic Wynd

This week's featured Etsy artist is the Etsyblogger of the month! Congrats to Karen of Mystic Wynd. Her shop is full of beautiful jewelry in a variety of styles. With so much loveliness, it's really hard to choose a favorite! But this Aspen Leaf necklace especially caught my eye. I love the simple, unique design.

Enjoy the interview!

1. Please tell us about the items in your Etsy shop. What do you make? How did you learn your craft? What is involved in your creative process?

I sell a wide variety of jewelry designs using everything from acrylic beads to gemstones and everything in between. I’m self taught for the most part, although I’ve taken some classes in the basics. Gosh, my creative process is a 24/7 thing… I draw on life, nature, events, childhood memories - you name it. I’ll jot down notes or throw together certain components for future projects when something flashes through my mind and eventually it becomes a reality!

2. To which Etsy Teams do you belong?

Etsybloggers, of course! BEST (Boosting Etsy Shops Team), Treasury Team for Tutti, Captains’ Quarters, Etsy Blog Team, Etsy Success, and Handmadeology

3. Tell us two (or more) other interesting things about you.

I love science and anything that makes me stretch my imagination, and I tend to be a bit of a nerd/geek at times. I currently have 7 grandchildren under the age of 6 thanks to my three children, and they are all the light of my life! My favorite getaway would be to a cabin in the mountains for a long weekend of hiking, skipping stones on a lake, hot dogs over a camp fire or hot chocolate in front of a fireplace, lots of nature photography, and maybe some fly fishing!

4. What is your biggest challenge related to your Etsy shop?

Hands down, it’s finding the time to do everything I need (and want) to do to be able to compete in the handmade market – creating, promoting, learning new techniques, and taking care of the business end of the business is pretty overwhelming at times, but I tend to be a workaholic, so for me it works!

5. What advice do you have for other folks selling or buying on Etsy?

My advice to sellers would be to put yourself on the other side of the listing. A photo and a few words are often all a buyer has to go on and you want to give them the best possible information you can. Buying something sight unseen takes a leap of faith and the more accurate and detailed your listings are, the more likely your customer is to be satisfied with their decision to purchase from you. For the people buying on Etsy, please put yourself in the crafter’s shoes – many of us put our heart and soul into our work, not to mention the time we spend buying our supplies and doing the bookkeeping and trying to keep costs down while we keep quality up. You can shop for bargains or you can shop for quality, and occasionally you’ll be lucky and find both… don’t be afraid to ask questions to make sure that what you’re buying is going to meet your expectations.

6. If you had a gift certificate to Etsy for any one item you wanted, what would you buy?

You should have put a dollar limit on the gift certificate! LOL – I’d love to have this dragon sculpture from metalbymartin - I can just imagine how beautifully it would patina over the years… sigh… I love it!

7. Which one song describes your life the best? Why?

There was a song back in the early 70’s that started out as a commercial for Coca-cola and ended up morphing into a real hit song. It’s called “I’d like to teach the world to sing” and its message is about peace and mankind working together to achieve a wonderful world. I’ve always hoped for that, so that song is kind of like my life’s vision.

8. Where else can we find out more about you and/or your creations?





Tuesday, March 15, 2011


I've been quiet over here because every time I sit down at the computer, my screen brings up more awful, terrifying news about the catastrophic events in Japan. It makes my heart hurt, and like so many I feel incredibly powerless in the face of such horrors. Anything I might have to share here seems so very trivial in comparison. Household humor, minor frustrations, small triumphs, daily joys, kindergarten news, preschool happenings, the medical complications of an aged cat... what meaning can they have alongside such devastation?

And yet, life goes on. Miracles happen, like the rescue of this 4 month old baby. Astonishing. But so little good news to outweigh the bad.

It might seem a strange juxtoposition, but I keep finding myself thinking of the movie Living Out Loud. In particular, the scene when Holly Hunter's character is watching the series of terrible news reports -- crack babies, terrorism -- and she keeps repeating, "Awful, awful! What do they expect us to do with all this information? What am I supposed to do with all this information???"

What, indeed, other than let your heart hurt, help in the ways that you can, and hold life a little more dear.

I'm clutching BJ's hand a little tighter as we walk to school. I'm cuddling BB closer whenever she'll consent to it. I'm hugging S a bit harder whenever I get the chance. I'm a helluva lot more anxious about the fact that we live in Earthquake Country ourselves. But oh so grateful for how good we have it.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Exception To The Rule

Walking with BB this week to pick up BJ from school, we passed a long iron fence full of spiders' webs. Black widows have been much on our minds since discovering so many of them on our patio, and seeing the webs got BB talking about widows: "Mom, you know what? You should never, never, ever never touch a black widow. Nobody should EVER touch a black widow. They are always poisonous."

I nodded and told her she was absolutely right. After a considering pause while we crossed the street, she added, "Except if you're Santa Claus."

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday Feature -- Shophana

This week's featured Etsy artist is fellow SF Etsy teammate, Laurel of Shophana. "Giving old items new purpose" is the catchphrase for her shop, and that's a sentiment that I can definitely support! I love seeing how creatively folks can repurpose items to give them a renewed life. Her skeleton key necklaces are especially neat!

Enjoy the interview!

1. Please tell us about the items in your Etsy shop. What do you make? How did you learn your craft? What is involved in your creative process?

All of the items in my shop are repurposed or upcycled. I do not make anything out something new from a store. I love to make items out of antiques and vintage items the most. I also love to knit and I make all of the items in my store out of either vintage yarn from my collection of my great grandmother’s yarn. Or I make my knitwares out of yarn I have found in skeins at yard sales, estate sales, and thrift stores. I learned to knit with my mother but she soon got frustrated and quit while I kept learning.

I learned the rest of my crafts from trial and error as I have been crafting and decorating since I was a child. My sister even nicknamed me HG because I love HGTV and I am always thinking about how I can make a room better by doing it my self. My creative process is all about seeing something and wondering what I could do with it to give it new life and new purpose. I don’t really stick to any one craft or style I do whatever feels right.

2. Tell us two (or more) other interesting things about you.

I am currently a grad school student earning my multiple subject teaching credential and hope to be an elementary school teacher. I also teach group exercise classes and in my spare time I love to dance. I love to go “garage saleing” with my boyfriend and family and bake for loved ones (and myself).

3. How did you get involved with Etsy?

I got involved it Etsy because a coworker of mine told me about it. It was just around Christmas time and I had wanted to be involved in the Christmas Craft show at work but I could not make enough stuff in time. I found Etsy and fell in love. I started my store right away.

4. What is your biggest challenge related to your Etsy shop?

My biggest challenge with my etsy shop is sales because I haven’t made one yet, iwould love to make more items and have many different ideas but it is hard to justify spending more on my store when it is not paying me back at all.

5. What is your favorite item in your shop? Why is it your favorite?

This vintage glass candle holder is my favorite item because it uses two vintage items in a totally new way. An old bedspring becomes the base and an antique glass telephone line insulator gets turned upside down to hold a candle. The antique glass glows with the light of the candle.

Note from Jen: it's even on sale!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Laudable Pus

Warning: if the post title didn't tip you off, be aware that there is a pretty high gross-out factor in the following account. You Have Been Warned.

I'm a great re-reader -- always have been. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of summer afternoons spent re-reading Paul Gallico's Thomasina or Nancy Drew books. Lately, I've been re-reading the Aubrey-Maturin series, which is easily on my list of most beloved books. I've lost track of how often I've read the series (all 20 books, plus one unfinished tale) but by now it's 8 or 9 times. Reading them again feels like visiting with old friends, deeply comforting and thoroughly satisfying.

So it's not too surprising, given that context, that "laudable pus" would be the phrase that immediately came to mind when we took Butchie back to the vet today. The swelling in her face had seemed to stabilize, until this morning. Overnight, all the fur on the swollen area had either fallen off or been rubbed off, and the entire area of her cheek was turgid and a little scabby. It looked pretty horrible, and I wasn't sure what other options we might have at the vet, but it seemed to me that such a dramatic change in so little time definitely needed looking at. I didn't see the kitty rubbing or pawing at her face, so I'm not sure what happened.

But when the vet saw it she seemed pleased, told me that it now looked like an abcess that was trying to burst, and said she would like to drain it. We talked about possibly sedating Butchie, but given her age and the risks involved, and the fact that she seemed pretty cooperative, the vet decided to try to do the procedure without anesthetic. So they took poor boo kitty out of the examining room, and about ten minutes later they brought her back with a gaping incision on her cheek. They said she was a really, really good kitty for everything. They were able to remove a lot of yucky pus and junk from the swollen area, and while the open wound and bald skin was certainly not attractive, Butchie seemed much more comfortable without the enormous swelling on her face.

We're still not sure what caused the abcess -- doesn't seem to be a tooth, no sign of a wound -- and we're not sure if it will come back, but the vet had hopes that it would heal without incident. I've been instructed to apply a hot, wet saline compress to Butchie's face several times a day for as long as she will let me, at least a minute at a time. And if you think that's an easy thing to do, well then you're welcome to come and give it a try! But the vet wants to keep the incision open to help it drain, and let out any remaining pus.

Laudable pus! I'm certainly no Stephen Maturin, but doing my little layperson's medical treatment is definitely interesting. But mostly it's such a relief to think that the poor kitty might heal up OK after all.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Thank goodness for antibiotics. Both the boy and the cat are on them, and for BJ at least they have meant a return to normal kid health. BJ was back at school today, saying he felt "great!" and now we're just watching BB closely to be sure she's not coming down with anything. She's been a bit cranky today and running a lowgrade fever, so we'll see.

Butchie has perked up a bit, probably more from the steroid shot than from the antibiotics. In her case we don't expect a miraculous recovery. It still looks like she has a cherry tucked inside her cheek, puffing out underneath her eye and making it close halfway. But she seems in good spirits, purring and wanting attention, and she seems less uncomfortable. So we'll take what we can get.

In other less than wonderful household news, we have now found many black widow spiders on the patio. The campus brought in pest control this morning to deal with it, so hopefully that will take care of the problem. Hate spraying, but hate even more the idea of my kids being bitten by a black widow. The pest control folks were very thorough (even going through all the bins of stuff on the patio and getting around and behind stuff). They confirmed the presence of black widows and were really good about talking over options before settling on pyrethin based treatments.

Between the drugs and the pesticides, we could be an ad for Better Living Through Chemistry. Fingers crossed that The Strep Stops Here and the spiders don't reappear!

Friday, March 4, 2011


Turns out BJ has strep throat, poor boo. I remember having strep throat a LOT when I was a kid. (Still have my tonsils -- do they even remove them for strep anymore? I remember hearing about that a lot when I was growing up, but not so much anymore.) Seems every winter it would hit and I'd be wretched. Mom would take me up to Main Street to see Dr. Lloyd (I was never allowed to read the books in the waiting room) and I'd gag on the wooden swab. I still remember the color and taste of that pink antibiotic liquid. Probably penicillin.

I tell ya, Kaiser Permanente really gets some things right. I called the nurse line last night, described the symptoms (103.5 fever, sore throat, to the point that the poor guy was sobbing about how much it hurt) and she set us right up with directions for how to get the strep test done today. We didn't even need an appointment. Just came in when it was convenient between 8:30 and 5, waited about 10 minutes before the nurse took us back, did the quick swab, told us we'd have results within 24 hours. We were at the hospital about 10:30 a.m. Around 9:30 p.m. I received an email with the test results. Called the nurse line again, got the antibiotics prescription, and should be able to pick it up about noon tomorrow.

Now we thank heaven for antibiotics and pray that the rest of us don't catch it....

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mama Radar

My Mama Radar must have been set to Extra-Sensitive today. I was taking a much-needed walk with my dear friend M, and the idea was to stroll for a bit before picking up BJ from school. We ended up at the school about half an hour early, and we were hanging out chatting, when I got a call on my cell. I almost never get calls on the cell, since we use it as an emergency only number, and in fact I usually don't even have it on. But as we were leaving, some extra mama-sense told me that I should have the phone with me....

Good thing, since it was BJ's teacher calling me to ask if I could come get him early. And there we were right across the playground from the door to his classroom. I was literally waving to his teacher as I was saying, "Oh, of course I can, in fact I'm right here now!"

Poor boo was sick -- fever of 103.5 when we got home -- and it was heartbreaking to walk home with him crying all the way because he felt so crummy. M was very kind about carrying his backpack for him and helping him hold it together while I signed him out of the office. His fever came right down with some ibuprofen, so hopefully this is just a quick virus. We'll see. At this point, I just hope that he gets a good night's sleep and that it's nothing serious -- and that it doesn't play dominoes with the family's immune systems.

On a happier note, Butchie seems a little perkier today and the swelling in her eye has gone down enough for her to be able to open it a little bit. Still quite swollen and painful looking, but better. Thanks to the many people who have reached out with their kind words and thoughtful reactions. It's greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Comfort Care

We heard back from the vet yesterday with Butchie's blood test results, and it doesn't look good. While I didn't manage to jot down everything the vet told me, I did note that she said the globulin numbers were off the chart (the vet likes to see them in a 2-5 range and Butchie's was above 6) protein levels were high and also there were alarming results having to do with white blood cell count and changes. As the vet put it, "I'm not entirely sure what's going on, but it's something sinister."

It may not be a kidney issue after all, but something is definitely wrong. Cancer, maybe, or a systemic infection of some sort. She then asked how the eye looked, and I told her that it looked like if anything the swelling was worse since she was completely unable to open the eye. Not good, the vet said. Since she'd gotten an injection of antibiotics on Monday and we were using the antibiotic ointment as well, things should look at least a little better. Today it's the same.

Last night, while the kids were watching me put the medicine in Butchie's eye, BJ said, "Mom, she looks like a monster." He looked at me, worried, and I bit back a sharp reply. I can see what he means -- all the area around her eye is horribly swollen, to the point that she can't open her eye. The lower inner lid is puffed out and red and a little scabby. Combine that with the oozing and the greasy ointment in her fur, and it's not a pretty sight at all. But even so, I don't want to think of her as a monster.

(And even though I know my kid wasn't meaning to be hurtful, I'm still a little sensitive about how he reacted when I said that Butchie wasn't doing well. He asked, obviously thinking about Socksie this past summer, "Does that mean we'll have to bring her to the vet to die, Mommy?" And when I said that maybe it would come to that, he immediately switched from looking sad to looking excited: "And does that mean we can get a baby kitten???" Um, no.)

So it looks like we're in feline comfort care mode again.

With Socksie, we were there for several years before it turned so bad it was unbearable. I don't think we'll have nearly this long this time. I was grateful to have some good Cat In Lap time on Monday night. I asked S to take this picture from Butchie's "good side" with her affected eye away from the camera, but if you know what she normally looks like you can still tell that her right eye is all puffed out.

The good news in all this is that I really, really like our vet. She was never anything less than thoroughly compassionate while managing Socks's leg tumor. She was wonderful years ago when Butchie had a cancerous skin tumor on her shoulder that she removed. (The resulting scar, a diagonal across Butchie's back, only increased my friend M's assertion that Butchie really is an alien in a cat suit; after the surgery, it was as though you could now see the zipper in the costume.) She is great about giving us a range of options, sharing her opinion, and then leaving it up to us to decide what would be best -- without making us feel horrible about the fact that we simply can't spend thousands of dollars on our pets. Ethically and financially, it's just not something we can do.

(Important Aside To At Least One Regular Reader -- dearest M, you know who you are -- I know other folks make different decisions when faced with sick pets, and I make no judgments about that at all. I'm very much pro-choice when it comes to pet care decisions. All of it is heartwrenching, I know from experience. I believe that only the animal's caretaker knows best what should be done in each individual case.)

So we have decided not to run a bunch more tests (involving anesthesizing the cat to get a biopsy, doing cytology, etc). Gaining the knowledge that it's cancer or something else wouldn't be helpful for us, because we won't be doing any of the expensive, intensive treatments that would treat such conditions. She's 16 and has had a very full, feline life, and I'm not ready to say goodbye. But I don't think it's a kindness to put her through all that. We're continuing the antibiotics and today I took her in for a steroid injection in the hopes that it could help calm the inflammation and make her more comfortable. We're going to take it a day at a time and be grateful for the time we have.