Monday, August 17, 2015

The catio is open

I finally finished a project I've been wanting to do since I moved into this house: Create an outside space for the cats.

I've always felt kind of bad about keeping Keaton inside. I know that indoor cats live longer lives and aren't at the same risk for disease, fleas, etc. as outdoor cats, but Keaton was kind of a free spirit, and it kind of made me feel like I was depriving her of that by not letting her out.

But on the other hand, I was worried that if I let her and Alex out, they might try to go back to the old turf, and — for a cat — that's a long way to go. Even if they didn't, this part of town has more traffic, and I've noticed a few dogs that run loose. Plus, there's probably some cats that have claimed this territory and would fight over it. So I know they are safer indoors.

But that doesn't mean they can't ever go outside. I did get (as Christmas gifts from my brother) harnesses and leashes for them. I have used them and probably will in the future, but it's kind of a hassle. Cat's don't like having harnesses put on them. Imagine that. And one time when I had Keaton out, she managed to wriggle out of the harness and I had to chase her down and crawl under the neighbor's deck to get her. But I think they might come in handy for trips to the vet or if I ever need to travel with them.

So my next step was to create an outside enclosure for them. You can buy such things already made or in sets, but they seemed like a lot more than I wanted to spend. So I thought I'd see if I could do it myself, and I came across this site, which describes how to build a cat enclosure from wire bookshelves. Seems like a great idea — you can design it how you want it, and it would be easier to disassemble and transport than some of the commercial ones.

So I finally got around last month to ordering the supplies. I found some of the wire shelving cubes (there are sets with four cubes available, but for what I needed the six-cube set was more of a bargain) and this pet door designed to be used with screens.

The first day's work. I at least had the layout set up.
I started on it this weekend. I was really only able to get an hour of work on Saturday and Sunday before it got too hot (and Sunday I didn't drink much water before or while working, so ended up with a headache that lasted most of the day). But today wasn't quite as hot, and I had the day off, so I set about getting the thing done.

Day Two: I put some garden netting around the edges to help keep them from trying to dig outof the enclosure, and also to keep things like toads from getting in (and maybe ending up in my bed. Eww.)
All in all, it probably took me eight hours total to get it completed. I was just kind of winging it, too, so I had to make a couple of runs into town for supplies (like replacing the bag of zip ties that I bought over a week ago and wasn't able to find. Grrrr.)
Another view after work on Sunday.

Zip ties are your friend on a project like this!
The pet door snaps together through the window screen.
The entry tower needed some extra support.
Today, as I progressed with building the entry "tower," I thought it would be a good idea to add a little stability to it. So I headed to the hardware store for some six-foot wooden garden poles. Those were just what I needed. They also help provide some support for a plank I found in the garage that acts as a "step" for the cats to use in getting in and out.

I drilled some holes through the garden stakes and put the zip ties through them.
The finished "catio"! It's not the prettiest, but it's sturdy.
Once I had it finished, I propped open the pet door with a stick. Then I went inside and opened up the bedroom window; Alex followed me in there, so I hurried back outside to wait for her to try it out. It didn't take long before she stuck her head out and started investigating. It only took her about 10 minutes to actually hop out and start checking out the "catio*." Before long, Keaton stuck her head out, and once she saw Alex out there, cautiously hopped to the ground, too.

They explored, nibbled on some grass that I had planted in that area a few weeks before and looked all around, wide eyed. After awhile, they were even able to relax and just lay around for awhile.

Keaton relaxes in a corner. I had to slip the milk crate in so they could get to the step a little easier.
For now, I'll just let them out while I'm around to supervise. I want to make sure they don't find a way out of the enclosure. And I'm not totally sure I'll just let them come and go when I'm at work anyway, especially if the AC needs to be on (if it's going to be hot enough for the AC, then I leave Buster inside).

I do still need to do a few things to make it really work. One of the comments on the pet door noted that after awhile, the snaps that keep the frame together would come undone, but the commenter was able to fix that with some screws and bolts through the frame. Also, I need a good way to keep it closed when I don't want them going out but want to keep the window open. I have a block devised so they can't push it open, but after I had that set, I found Alex at the window trying to PULL it open from inside! So for now, I'll just have to leave the window open a couple inches if I don't want them going out.

Alex really seemed to like it, which surprised me. Keaton, after all, was the feral cat. And after we moved to this house, she would at times sit in an open window or peek out the storm door and meow in a way that just sounded soooooooooo saaaaaaaaaaad. And yet, she only went out once today. It was Alex that I had a hard time getting to come back in this evening!

I'm sure Keaton will like it eventually. She's probably just pretending to not care.

All told, I probably spent about $170 on this project. Most of that was for the storage cubes. The green garden netting was already here; Mom had placed it in the same location, I assume to help keep the weeds down. I just had to pull it up and cut it into strips. And that milk crate, I've had that since college. I didn't steal it, I inherited it from a roommate.

* I really have some mixed feelings about using the word "catio." It is one that is frequently used to describe an outdoor cat enclosure, but I guess the editor in me shudders at using "trendy" made-up words. But it's better than what my neighbor said — "Oh, a cat house, huh?"

They seem to enjoy it!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Hitting a new trail

Panoramic view from the Prairie Crossing portion of the trail.
Continuing on our summer excursions theme, Buster and I headed to the Dr. Howard Reynolds Nature Trails at Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays.  Around 2 miles of trails through 22-acres that includes prairie, wooded areas and Chetolah Creek, this was a really nice area.

It's a bit rougher than the Vineyard Nature Trail we went on a few weeks ago. Where that's a fairly wide, somewhat-groomed path (meaning they run a big mower along the path once in a while), this one is narrow, curves up and down hills and through trees and often has vines, branches, grasses and even cactus growing in the path. It was great. The Vineyard trail would be good even for people with some mobility issues, but this one is a good prairie hiking path.

The trail gets a bit rough at times. Well, "rough" for Kansas. =)
We walked nearly every bit of the trails, with the only exception a part of the main trail near the monument where we would have had to backtrack one way or another. We did a little backtracking here and there anyway, making it a total of 2.16 miles.

I enjoyed this one more than the Vineyard trail; it was a bit more of a challenge, and longer, so a better workout.

We did head over to the Vineyard trail afterwards and walked part of it, too, but not the whole thing. Buster was pooped by the time we were done, so I think in the future, it will be either-or, but not both, especially on a hot day like this one was already turning out to be.

Check out the Flickr album of our hike.

Ready to head home!

Monday, June 29, 2015

A little excursion

I've been taking some vacation days on Mondays when our workload is not too heavy. Unused vacation days don't roll over at the end of the year, and I actually lost about a week last year. I don't want that to happen again. After all, I've earned that time, I should use it!

Mostly, I've used them to keep caught up on housework, mowing the lawn, that sort of stuff. Not exactly vacationey. So today, I decided Buster and I should do something kind of fun and go for our morning walk at a new place.

I'd only recently learned about the existence of the Vineyard Park Nature Area north of Hays, so I thought we should check that out. It's a little over a mile-long trail, with a shorter trail option, that meanders through the prairie. There's a pond where fishing is allowed and a little stream, although it's dry now. Before you get to the pond, there's a path that splits off to climb a small hill, then rejoins the main path at the pond, but it was an easy climb.

It took us about 40 minutes to walk the long trail, which is about an average walk for us. We got there a little after 8:30 am, so it wasn't too hot of a walk, and there are some shady spots from the larger trees. All in all, a nice little walk. Check out the whole photo album here.

If I thought it about more, after finishing that trail, we could have then driven a little farther south to the Dr. Howard Reynolds Nature Trail at Sternberg Museum of Natural History. Maybe next time.

We did stop by the dog park before heading home, but that wasn't as successful. There was a family in the big dog section with an excited huskey. He wasn't aggressive, just very eager to have another dog to play with, but Buster actually seemed a bit intimidated. I don't know if it was the dog, the strange people, it being our first time at the park, or a combination of all of that, but he just didn't seem comfortable with going past the staging area.

That's OK. I think we're both more the trail type than the park type. I'm happy the city has a nice place for people to take their dogs and let them be off leash, though.

I'd like to go explore the hiking trails at some of the area lakes, too, but that will take a bit more planning —  packing a lunch and plenty to drink — and might be worth spending the whole day anyway. I'd just like to go when there's not a lot of people so I guess this weekend (Independence Day) is out.

In my searching around on Google Maps, I also came across something else I'd never heard of — Wilson Wildlife Area. I can't find much about it online, either, so I'm not sure if there's a trail there, but it might be worth checking out sometime. (ETA: I did finally drive out to find this "Wilson Wildlife Area." It was a recently cut wheat field. Thanks, Google!)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Happy Pi Day

Pi, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, and this is just the beginning; it keeps on going, forever, without ever repeating. Which means that contained within this string of decimals, is every single other number. Your birthdate, combination to your locker, your social security number, it's all in there, somewhere. And if you convert these decimals into letters, you would have every word that ever existed in every possible combination; the first syllable you spoke as a baby, the name of your latest crush, your entire life story from beginning to end, everything we ever say or do; all of the world's infinite possibilities rest within this one simple circle. Now what you do with that information; what it's good for, well that would be up to you. ~ Harold Finch, "Person of Interest."

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


I do really like my every-other-month-Tuesday-morning-off schedule at work. Seems like I'm more productive when I can take my time, if that makes sense. At least it feels that way.

And instead of brown-bagging, it lets me make a yummy lunch like this:

I made this black bean and corn salsa last night and added some bite-size chicken breast pieces that I stir-fried. It was so good, I decided to have it for lunch, this time with some diced avocado. Add some tortilla chips to eat it salsa-style and it's pretty dang good.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sweet kitty

Alex, the almost-not-kitten-anymore, is being real sweet this morning.

On my days off, or mornings off as this one is, the critters all insist on being fed at their usual time -- around 6 am (if not before). So I get up, let Buster out, get his food, then get the cats' food, and go back to bed to snooze for a couple hours.

This morning, after I went back to bed, Alex started wandering around the house meowing. This went on for about 10 minutes or so, and I wondered if maybe she "lost" me since I wasn't following the usual weekday routine. So I called her, and she came into the bedroom and jumped on the bed, staying just long enough for a little head scratch. But she quit wandering around and meowing.

After I fell back asleep, I had a dream where I was visiting someone in a strange town with all the pets. Alex got out of the house. I followed her into the back yard, but she was already out of sight. I started calling her. There were plenty of cats around, but not her. I started to panic and ... woke up with a start. And there was Alex, in the perch by my bedroom window looking out over my back yard.

I don't know if she sensed the dream had upset me, but then she jumped up on the bed and lay down on my stomach, purring as I petted her and scritched her head. She doesn't do that very often any more, so it was a nice way to start the day.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Juicing up

Time for an update on my recent blood pressure diagnosis. 

I've been doing pretty well on keeping track of my blood pressure. The highest I recorded at home was 158/93 on March 3. I kind of forgot to take any readings last week, so I was really happy this morning when I took a reading and it was 120/78! I've also lost about 4 pounds.

One of the things I decided to do to get this under control was to get back on juicing. So I splurged a little and got a NutriBullet — yes, one of those TV gadgets. I'd been looking into it for almost a year, though, reading reviews and user comments on sites where you can purchase it, like Amazon, Target, and Bed, Bath and Beyond. I ended up going with Amazon, and it arrived about a week after I saw the doctor.

I've done pretty well using it, missing only a couple days in the last two weeks. I've followed recipes on this site. I like that you can look up recipes according to what health condition you want to benefit, or by what ingredients you have on hand.

Here's one juice I had recently. I guess you could call it a berry blast: spinach, frozen strawberries and blueberries, and some fresh raspberries. The NutriBullet comes with a book of information and recipes (seen in the photo), but I haven't really used it, partly because the poorly edited stock art makes me laugh too hard to read it. Seriously, you can tell they photoshopped the NutriBullet cups over a coffee mug or something.

This is one I made Saturday — spinach, cantaloupe, carrot and cucumber.

There's two things I like about the NutriBullet. No. 1 is it's so easy to clean. You might remember, a friend sent me her unused juicer a couple years ago. I used it til it just quit sometime last year. I loved it, but it took a lot of effort to clean it. I easily spent a couple hours or more cutting up the fruit, juicing, then cleaning the machine. I learned pretty quickly to make a whole lot of juice and freezing it so I wasn't spending time every week with a long task.

With the NutriBullet, I chop up just what I need (what I don't use, I keep in a vacuum-sealed bag for the next day) and when I'm done, just rinse the blade piece and the cup and it's ready for the next day.

Also, there's very little waste with the NutriBullet. With a juicer, there's the pulp left over. I usually put mine in the compost bin in the back yard, but it seemed like such a waste. And actually, that pulp is all the fiber in the fruit and vegetables that is really good for you. Without it, you might be spiking your blood sugar, and that can be dangerous.

I don't do a "cleanse," and never have, so I'm not worried about that. Instead, I just make juicing part of my diet. I usually make about 8-12 ounces in the morning for breakfast. I do need to work out an easy way to get a solid breakfast later, though — something I can put together quick and heat up to eat on my drive to work or after I get there. Maybe the breakfast sandwiches I made in this entry. They were pretty tasty.

So that's the health update for now. I'll find out officially how I'm doing after the upcoming follow-up visit.