Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Twinkies, the popular cream-filled tube-shaped shortcakes, are 75 years old. Incredible. My dad loved them, so we always a box of them handy. They're a little too sweet for me, so one or two year are plenty. I did always wonder why a box of 12 contains individually wrapped Twinkies, while a "single" serving package contains 2 Twinkies.

One of my friends has a cat, Mia, whose favorite food in the whole world is Twinkies. Mia is a cat of discriminating taste, however; she only eats the spongy shortcake, not the creamy filling.

After 75 years, Twinkies are part of our culture. The Interstate Bakeries Corporation, distributor of Twinkies and Wonder Bread, cites these examples:
  • Twinkiegate: A grand jury indicted a Minneapolis city council candidate for serving coffee, Kool-Aid, Twinkies and other sweets to two senior citizens groups. The act led to the passage of the Minnesota Campaign Act, widely known as the Twinkie law. The 71-year-old candidate, George Belair, lost the election but the charges against him were dropped. The case was dubbed "Twinkiegate."
  • Twinkie Hall of Fame: 89 year-old Lewis Browning of Shelbyville, Indiana, has been eating at least one Twinkie every day since 1941, consuming more than 20,000 Twinkies. James Dewar, who died at 88, is said to have consumed more than 40,000 Twinkies in his lifetime. Chicago consumes more Twinkies per capita than any other city in the United States.
  • Twinkiejackings: In the late 1970s, reports of Twinkie hijackings began surfacing. In 1975, a Kennett Square, PA house twice was broken into and robbed of its Twinkies. That same year, AWOL marines from a California base were stopped on a freeway driving a truck full of "hot" Twinkies. In 1976, someone stole a bakery truck containing 1800 Twinkies. The truck was found; the Twinkies were not. In 1978, two Albuquerque men held up a delivery truck and made off with two large boxes of Twinkies, which at the time were valued at $16. Nothing else was taken and no one was injured.
  • Twinkies to the Rescue: An elephant living in Sarasota, Fl refused food for days after undergoing surgery; Twinkies reportedly were used to end the hunger strike. When fifty baboons escaped from a wildlife reserve in an Ohio amusement park, Twinkies reportedly were among the treats used to try to lure the AWOL creatures back.
  • The Twinkie Defense: After former San Francisco supervisor Dan White killed the city’s mayor and another supervisor, he argued diminished capacity as a result of excessive junk food consumption. The strategy was dubbed the "Twinkie Defense."
Disclaimer: the Urban Legends Reference Page says the "Twinkie Defense" is not true.

My favorite news item today about the Twinkie's anniversary were the recipes from Hostess. Heck, I never thought of making anything out of Twinkies, I just ate 'em! (They're great with milk or vanilla ice cream.)
My favorite recipe wasn't from Hostess, though. It was this picture of the "Hillbilly Wedding Cake," sent to me by a student. The Urban Lengends Page says the "Hillbilly Wedding" pictures are hoax but my students and I agreed that the cake is clever and funny! One student, a Hostess connoisseur, identified the layers from top to bottom as Ding Dongs, Ho Hos, Twinkies, Cup Cakes, and Suzy Q's.

I suggested this cake for my niece's wedding. Although she has a great sense of humor, we just had regular wedding cake -- but my dad would have loved the Hostess version!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

We Will Never Forget

It seems the media would like us to forget the terrorists attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Look at this picture and this video and never forget why we are fighting a war on terror.

For more photographic reminders visit September 11 News.

Never Forget:
~ The horror of passenger planes used as bombs
~ The innocent passengers on those planes
~ The terror the passengers experienced in their last moments and the bravery they showed in fighting the hijackers
~ The 200 people who fell to their deaths from the World Trade Center
~ The hundreds of police officers and firefighters who died trying to save others
~ The thousands who died that day in New York City, NY; Washington, DC; and Shanksville, PA.
~ The senators and congressmen who stood side by side that night singing "God Bless America," all partisan politics forgotten
~ The strength and leadership of New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani and President George W. Bush
~ The thousands of families who are still grieving for their lost loved ones
~ The courage of a nation and its soldiers who continue to fight terrorism wherever it occurs
"I will not forget this wound to our country or those who inflicted it. I will not yield; I will not rest; I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people."

~ President George W. Bush
Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People
Sept. 20, 2001

Thursday, September 08, 2005

New Year or Endless Summer?

The beginning of school usually feels like a new year for me: new students, new beginnings, and new classes. Not this year, however; it feels like endless summer!

I associate the beginning of school with fall, but since school started Aug. 31 temperatures have remained in the 80s. My classrooms vary from warm to hot, and that's with air conditioning.

I know I'm in a vast minority, but I hate summer. I love sunshine but hate everything else about summer: heat, humidity, mold, and pollen. I hate the effects of humidity: your clothes stick to you, you sweat while sitting still in the shade, and towels and sheets feel clammy. Thank God I have air conditioning!

It's not bad enough that the heat and humidity make it uncomfortable to be outside, they contribute to the mold and pollen levels. If you haven't already guessed, I'm allergic to mold and ragweed, so for me summer is just a long stretch of ever-increasing allergens. August and September are the worst because mold and ragweed are at their peak. Even prescription allergy medicine and air conditioning (which acts like a big allergen filter) don't completely alleviate the symptoms. Allergy sufferers won't get real relief until the first killing frost, usually the first week of October in this part of Michigan.

After that, fall is heaven: cool temps, sunny days, crisp nights, beautiful leaf colors, vivid blues skies, apple cider, pumpkins, college football, and the wonderful sound and smell of walking through fallen leaves... Come on, frost!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

What's a Cat Bastet?

A couple people have asked about my screen name, The Cat Bastet. It's the name of the Emersons' first cat in Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody mysteries. Bastet is a distinct character in the early stories (which is no surprise to cat "owners").

The Cat Bastet is also my screen name or Nom de Clavier (Keyboard Name) on DorothyL, a discussion and idea mailing list for mystery lovers. Since one's nom is related to mystery stories, it adds an air of fun. According to the rules:
the nom may represent a person, either fictional or real, or an animal (e.g., Giant Rat of Sumatra) or a thing (e.g., Tailor Paul, a bell in Dorothy L. Sayers' The Nine Tailors) or a concept (e.g., The daughter of time, i.e., Truth from Elizabeth Tey's novel Daughter of Time) or even a word (e.g., the Latin word 'placet' by which Harriet Vane accepts Lord Peter Wimsey's proposal of marriage in Dorothy L. Sayers' Gaudy Night).

The name of a living person may NOT be chosen as a nom. You can choose to be known as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Dorothy L. Sayers or Ellis Peters, but NOT as Elizabeth Peters or Jan Burke or Sue Grafton or Sara Paretsky or Parnell Hall or Nancy Atherton. Only they are entitled to use their names, whether or not they are subscribed to DorothyL.

Those who know I wrote my Master's Thesis on Ellery Queen are probably wondering why I didn't use that as my screen name! Noms are limited to one person and someone already had Ellery Queen, so I had to choose another favorite character.

In case you don't know, Bastet was the cat-headed Egyptian goddess. So The Cat Bastet combines two of my hobbies: mysteries and Egyptology.

For those wondering why I didn't choose a Titanic-related name... come on, now. Would you want a screen name that means huge? I didn't think so!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

How NOT to Give a Cat a Pill

The last time I had our Siamese mix at the vet, he told me that Siamese have more behavioral issues than other cats. After living with one for a year and half, we'd figured that out but I decided to learn as much as I could about Siamese cats.

After checking out every book in our local library on Siamese I was amused to find some of these books were really outdated. They include basic info about the breed (some more useful than others in that respect), and general cat care info. My favorite advice on how to give a cat a pill came from Marge Naple's books:

Open the cat's mouth with your left hand. You will note a little groove formed at the base of the tongue. Drop the pill or capsule into this groove and give it a push into the cat's throat with the index finger of your right hand. Transfer your left hand to the nape of the cat's neck and pull his head right back while supporting his back and his hind legs with your right hand until he is upside down. If all this is done quickly, he will be so surprised he will swallow the pill before he knows what happened.

This might work if you have an extremely docile cat, but most cats I know wouldn't tolerate this. It seems to me that flipping the cat on his back -- so all his claws can scratch you to ribbons -- is a good idea only if you are dying to visit the Emergency Room for stitches.

What I really want to know is: has any cat owner really seen that alleged groove at the base of the tongue? Whenever I've tried to pill my cats by forcing their mouths open, I don't have time for prolonged anatomical observation. It's more like open the mouth, shove in the pill, hold the mouth shut, rub the throat, and hope for the best. Repeat. Repeat again... and again.

Thank God our Siamese mix still falls for the crushed-up-pill-mixed-into-a-spoonful-of-canned-food routine.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Cool Conjunction

Sky and Telescope says that Jupiter and Venus will be in conjunction tonight. They will be low in the sky, visible at dusk. Don't miss it!

Titanic 20 Years Later

20 years ago today a U.S.-French expedition headed by Dr. Robert Ballard found the wreck of Titanic. I don't remember what I was doing when the announcement was made, but I was fascinated by the images of the wreck. One in particular touched me: a delicate teacup sitting upright on a massive boiler, as though someone had set it down for a minute.

For me, this was the second time Titanic touched my life. The first was when I read Walter Lord's A Night to Remember in junior high school. I never got over the emotional impact of that book, and seeing the wreck renewed my interest in this beautiful ship and her disastrous death. Now in addition to a tragedy she was also a huge forensic puzzle.

Today, 20 years after her wreck was found and 93 years after her sinking, she is most famous ship (and shipwreck) of our time. Titanic societies around world continue to study her and preserve her memory. Many who have explored the wreck say Titanic has a presence, that it seems as if she doesn't want to be forgotten, as if she wants us to remember her short life, and find clues to her tragic death. Even those who have only seen pictures of the wreck are touched by it. It may be true. I think Daniel Allen Butler, author of Unsinkable: the Full Story of RMS Titanic, said it best:

"Once the Titanic gets into your life she never, ever leaves."