November 8, 2013

Buddha in Glory

Center of all centers, core of cores,
almond self-enclosed, and growing sweet--
all this universe, to the furthest stars
all beyond them, is your flesh, your fruit.

Now you feel how nothing clings to you;
your vast shell reaches into endless space,
and there the rich, thick fluids rise and flow.
Illuminated in your infinite peace,

a billion stars go spinning through the night,
blazing high above your head.
But in you is the presence that
will be, when all the stars are dead.

Rainer Maria Rilke

October 8, 2013


could this selection BE any more random? behold, my reading material over the last two months. let's go!

How Animals Grieve
I am super interested in animal psychology, so once I read about this one on the NPR website, I knew I had to add it to my library queue. my love of elephants sparked this interest; they are one of the most emotionally/mentally evolved creatures on the planet. they have memories that last decades, they are very social and gregarious, they are capable of creating art (really) and yes, something happens to them when their fellow elephants die. as the author concludes, it's impossible to definitively prove that animals grieve. but she loads the book with anecdote after anecdote of animals and their dramatic behavior changes when a companion dies. elephants, dogs, cats, ducks, primates, dolphins... she has a story for each about an instance where a family member dies and the behavior that is displayed can only be described as grief. mothers refusing to abandon their stillborn babies, elephants circling & protecting the carcasses of their friends, cats lapsing into "depression" when a longtime companion fails to return from the vet. on and on. it reminds me a lot of Daphne Sheldrick's story of saving & rearing orphaned elephants, many of whom display classic PTSD symptoms from witnessing their family's slaughter.

continuing my Introduction to Graphic Novels 101, I checked out Habibi, by the same guy who wrote Blankets. this book is bananas. the illustrations seriously left me speechless. so intricate, with beautiful interplay between Arabic calligraphy and traditional Middle Eastern patterns. I have a bad habit of breezing by illustrations within a book, but each page gave me pause, if nothing else just to attempt to calculate the time each one took. the story has so much going on, but at the center are 2 child slaves, and older girl and younger boy, who become their own little family amidst the tragedy and injustice each one encounters throughout their life. it's a wild ride, and pretty disturbing at times (lots of mature content like rape/abuse), but in the end it's a really beautiful and expertly crafted story. Here are a couple pages early in the book.

Queen of the Air
and now for something completely different! the true story of Leitzel, the most famous trapeze artist in the world. she was born in 1892 into the circus life and traveled Europe in many small struggling circuses until she made her big break with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus. she was a favorite among the crowds and male suitors, and lived a short but colorful life. it's an interesting biography that weaves her story into the larger picture of cricus history and early American history.

another awesome graphic novel that takes place in the Middle East. this one's about the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, told from the perspective of the author who was a little girl at the time. her parents were liberals and the revolution and ensuing war with Iraq affected many of their family members and friends. the illustrations are much more simple than Habibi but still evocative. I haven't read Part 2 yet, but it's on my list. here's an excerpt below.

Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies
after Chris Kluwe grabbed the attention of The Internet last year, it was inevitable that someone would offer him a book deal. he's intelligent, forthright, scathing, witty, and he has a LOT of ideas to share. and he doesn't really care what you think. I loved his Deadspin letter and subsequent blog posts for the Pioneer Press, I enjoy following him on Twitter (until the talk turns to gaming), so I figured I would see what he has to say in a long format. turns out, it's a collection of 2-5 page essays on... pretty much whatever he wants. lots of science-fiction-heavy rants about the future, a little football talk, a self-written eulogy, it's pretty much all over the place. I like that the publishers gave him free reign, even if a lot of it isn't my jam. it was a fun jaunt!

October 4, 2013


love him or hate him, you have to admit some of his pieces are genius. these 2 pieces are new to me but my favorites from this slide show, and you can see a ton more on his website.

August 22, 2013


did you like Eat, Pray, Love? did you hate it? did you, like me, love the book, hate the movie, and then realize that everything you hated about the movie was kinda in the book too?

regardless of how you felt about EPL, you will like Wild. it is the book EPL should have been. very similar "Woman in Crisis Abandons Life to go on a Physical/Spiritual/Mental Quest" story, but this crisis is a little more genuine (poverty, abusive/absent father, mother dies early from cancer) and the quest is a little more respectable (hiking the punishing Pacific Crest Trail solo), not that the two ladies' experiences should even be compared, that's kind of a shitty thing to do. oh well.

I've never stepped foot on the PCT, but I have hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail, its East Coast counterpart, so I was already a little familiar with the culture- trail registers, trail names, re-stocking at small towns along the way, etc. I was a little wary of an entire memoir about hiking solo, but Strayed did a great job of weaving the stories from her broken past into the trail narrative. and not only that, the trail writing was really good. vivid, suspenseful, funny. I found myself wanting to Google her route as I read, to see what she saw and further explore her surroundings.

as with EPL, Strayed embarked on the journey to Heal Herself- from her past and more pressingly, from her mother's death. it does happen, but not in the epic "tears on mountaintops" way she imagined, of course. it's a subtle transformation that she weaves into the story with a couple cathartic moments at the end, making me tear up just like this NY Times reviewer. overall, a great read. highly recommend.

August 8, 2013

2013 Drink of the Summer

I know what you're thinking.... it's well into August and she's just now declaring her drink of the summer?? think of all those hot nights suffered without a signature drink to keep one happy and cool. never fear, the DoTS was established as soon as the snow stopped falling- so, May- it's just taken a while to make it internet official. but first, a re-cap:

Drinks of the Summer
2010- whiskey sour
2011- gin & tonic
2012- red wine sangria

and this year's distinct claim goes to the deliciously spicy Dark & Stormy. I first had one last July at a friend's wedding, but it wasn't until this year that I decided to start mixing them at home. i'm super lazy, so it's just Gosling's dark spiced rum, Gosling's ginger beer, 3 ice cubes, and a squeeze of lime. perfect for hammock laying and book reading, or whatever lazy summer activity you're prone to indulge in.

August 2, 2013

Sky Art

that is some seriously impressive use of negative space. these are by French artist Thomas Lamadieu, seen here. his website is here.

July 31, 2013


why did it take me so long to read this book? I've been aware of it since it came out in 2011; there was much praise and gushing over it, inclusion in almost every "best of 2011" reading list, and a hold queue at the library that was months long. honestly, I think it was the subject matter... I often a hard time with books/movies that portray Southern poverty. it can very easily veer into unrealistic romanticism that feels unauthentic at best, and exploitation at worst. (Beasts of the Southern Wild gave me a similar icky feeling.) but after seeing so many recommendations over the years, I finally decided to give it a try, and i'm so glad I did- this book is amazing. the setting is a swampy Florida that seems effortlessly conjured up, but it's obvious there were hours upon hours of research and familiarity with the land (and the government's disastrous mismanagement of it) and the culture. and yes, ultimately it's a sad story about the downfall of a poor family's business and livelihood, but Karen Russell's writing is so rich, and each member of the Bigtree family is so dynamic, you really just get swept up into the story. it accomplishes the very rare feat of being a total page turner- each family member's fate hangs in the balance of each chapter, and also being quite deep- metaphors abound if you care to take the time to unpack them. all in all, a really great modern Southern Gothic story that should have won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. (seriously, A Visit from the Goon Squad wins the year before, and this year you'd rather not give out a prize than award it to Karen Russell? so wrong.)

July 12, 2013

Easy summer reads

after realizing that I've hardly read any fiction recently, I decided to dive into the novels pictured above in my latest library haul. first up, The Keep by Jennifer Egan.

She wrote A Visit from the Goon Squad, so i'm guessing that's why I put this one on my list so many moons ago. after a traumatic episode in their childhood, two cousins reconnect as adults to renovate a castle in Eastern Europe. but the castle, and cousin Howard's plans, both prove to be more than they seem.... it was a great summer read, not super challenging but definitely enjoyable, with a ramped-up ending that delivers a nice plot twist and unexpected ending. 2 thumbs up.

next is a classic example of what my mother calls a "dead body book." the main character kills a man and buries him in his backyard. a year later, a yard service crew unearths 2 bodies on his property... neither of which are the man he killed. pretty good premise, right? it was a decent read, a solid effort for a first novel.

next up, Swamplandia!

July 1, 2013

Brussels sprouts and eggs

this is less of a recipe and more of a public service announcement. i just want everyone to know that fried eggs taste delicious on top of roasted brussels sprouts. 

directions, if you need them:

preheat oven to 400.
Halve brussels sprouts (or quarter if they're really big) and toss with olive oil.
lay them out in casserole dish and add salt and pepper. and maybe a little paprika.
roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, turning them once after about 10 minutes.
while that's goin' down, fry your egg(s) however you like 'em.
dump the roasted sprouts in a bowl, top with eggs. sprinkle a little pepper and grated parmesan on top. 

PS- i was making this sometime last fall, and this happened:

2 sets of twins in one carton. what are the odds?

June 27, 2013

Greycoats Hideaway-ing

Greycoats performed one of their new songs in a St. Paul skyway, as a little extra to their MN Original episode.

for some reason I can't help but think of this:

I think it's Titus' head.

June 25, 2013

catching up on books i have read

despite my reading drought this winter, I did manage to finish a few books, and then plowed through a couple more while on vacation last week. here's a quick re-cap of what I have read over the past few months...

This was so good. a detailed, insightful biography on L Ron Hubbard and how Scientology even came to exist, its Hollywood influence (not as much dirt as I would've liked, but a decent amount) and crazy dysfunction/abuses (members locked away for years in what is basically indentured servant hood). it's long but well worth it. and there are photos here and there, this one was obviously my favorite:

oh yes.

next was Pulphead, by John Jeremiah Sullivan. it's a collection of various essays he's had published in magazines, on the most random and enjoyable of subjects. Axl Rose. prehistoric cave drawings in the Southeastern United States. an outsider's portrayal of Christian music festivals. securing an interview with Bunny Wailer, the last surviving member of Bob Marley's band, in Jamaica. each one stands on its own but you'll want to read them all. (even the one on the 18th/19th century naturalist)

this was one of two books i read on our cruise. There are many Dogtowns, but this one happens to be an abandoned 18th century settlement on Massachusetts' Cape Ann. the author was drawn to it by seeing paintings of the unusually boulder-y landscape, but then discovered that the history of the area was even more intriguing. it got its name from the Revolutionary War widows who got dogs as protection after their soldier husbands failed to return home. its always melancholy aura was punctuated by a random murder in the 80's that   split the town on what to do with the land whose last owners had been dead 200 years. the author injects a little too much of herself into the story, but the book is compelling enough to overlook that misstep.

wow, is this the only fiction i've read recently? i guess so. book #2 of the cruise. a quick, easy read about small town conflict and the dysfunctional characters perpetrating it. the quickly growing Fundamentalist church disapproves of the high school's sex ed teacher and seeks to oust her. one of the churches' members happens to be the teacher's daughter's soccer coach, and a post-game confrontation leads to growing conflict and attraction between the two. a decent summer read. and hopefully there will be more to come....

June 24, 2013

backyard garden update

so far this year, working on the backyard has been in spurts. winter lasted forever, with snow still on the ground well into May. as a result, everything we planted last year was realllllly slow to come up and i worried that i had lost a lot of plants. turns out, the only casualties were the global arborvitae, a rhododendron, and one of the 6 ostrich ferns. i had a couple days off in May that happened to have glorious weather, so i took full advantage and spent most of my time getting the yard up to par and adding some new perennials. these pictures were taken yesterday, after cleaning up after a few really bad storms.

in the back you can see the ferns and hostas from last year, with a new rhododendron that the squirrels keep eating. we plan to plant some annuals in the 2 pots.

the side bed, with the hydrangea in the foreground, followed by new stuff- an astilbe, 2 ligularia, and 3 more hostas, one of which is flowering

the flowering hosta, attempting to protect the rhododendron with a little fence, my empress wu hosta, then the hostas and bleeding hearts from last year 

last year's hostas and some new additions- a purple thing whose name i've already forgotten, and 2 versions of Jacob's Ladder (one of which isn't looking so good all of a sudden)

we replaced the burning bush with some basil and cilantro, and the lilac is growing strong! she bloomed purple AND white blooms this year, although i can't seem to find a picture of it.

the empress wu in her new home!

a better shot of what's blooming in the side bed. the ligularias replaced the arborvitae- the lady at the garden store suggested trying some "woodland" perennials, as they are used to the acidity and crampedness of tree root systems. so far so good...

the biggest rubber ducky in the entire world currently floating in a harbor in Hong Kong.


or at least it was in May, when I first saw photos of this amazing sculpture. the artist is Florentijn Hofman, and according to his website, "The Rubber Duck knows no frontiers, it doesn't discriminate people and doesn't have a political connotation. The friendly, floating Rubber Duck has healing properties: it can relieve mondial tensions as well as define them." he also commented that "the duck represents the union of people, saying 'we're one family and all the waters in the world is our global bathtub'". so far the ducky has been to Japan, France, Brazil, New Zealand, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Belgium. I think it would look quite in any of our harbors... Duluth perhaps?

(the artist's website is full of other really cool large scale projects... worth a look)

June 21, 2013

Crawly things


the title of the link was "Donald Trump's hair discovered crawling in Amazon" so naturally I had to click through. it's actually a flannel moth caterpillar discovered in a Peru rain forest. and apparently it's poisonous, just like its namesake.  

and check out this beauty! he can be found in Australia, on Mount Kaputar. apparently it's an isolated area that houses several "quirks of evolution" like the Kaputar hairy snail and the Kaputar cannibal snail. I think he and the Donald Trump caterpillar would make a cute couple.

June 18, 2013

Summer plans 2013

the view from my office window

it's been a long, cold, snowy winter... and summer events & fun are FINALLY commencing in Minneapolis, so i figured it was time to make my list for 2013. my 2012 list was really helpful in helping me keep track of what i was interested in attending, even if i didn't end up making it to a lot of stuff. so here's to summer fun- may the temps continue to rise!

June 1-30: Romeo and Juliet in various parks

June 1: vintage sidewalk sale at Forage Modern Workshop
June 7: Ferris Bueller at Lake Harriet (full list of music & movies here)
June 9-16: family cruise to Bermuda (so we will be missing Northern Spark and the Summer Solstice performance at the Stone Arch Bridge, boo)
June 18: Celebrate NE Parade
June 19: mewithoutYou at the Triple Rock
June 22: Secret City festival in Minneapolis
June 24: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at Beltrami Park
June 30: MN Food Truck Fair, Pride Parade downtown, and Chris Kluwe reading at the Loft @ 6pm

July 2: Jurassic Park at Father Hennepin Bluffs
July 3: Top Gun at Nicollet Island Amphitheater
July 4: Fireworks downtown (go early and take a picnic?)
July 8: Spaceballs at Bossen Field Park
July 11: Haley Bonar at Mears Park
July 13: Midtown Global Market Music Festival 2-8pm, River Rats water ski show 3 & 7pm
July 14: Bastille Day Block Party at Barbette (Leagues, John Mark Nelson)
July 17: Torchlight Parade at 8:30pm
July 18: Back to the Future at Pearl Park, Lights at the Sculpture Garden, 9-11:30pm
July 19: Ghostbusters at Lake Harriet
July 20: Art Car Parade around Lake Harriet, 6pm, Aquatennial fireworks at 10pm
July 25: Lights at the Sculpture Garden, 9-11:30pm
July 27-28: Red Hot Art in Stevens Square

August 1: Rogue Valley at Mears Park
August 2: John Mark Nelson (Goonies showing afterwards) at Lake Harriet Bandshell
August 3-4: Powderhorn, Uptown, and Loring Art Fairs
August 8: Dark Dark Dark at Mears Park
August 9: Adventures in Babysitting at Lake Harriet
August 11: Open Streets- Minnehaha Ave.
August 12: Cory Chisel at 7th St Entry
August 17: Grease at Windom South
August 19: Pee Wee's Big Adventure at Loring Park (with Zoo Animal)
August 21: Home Alone at Waite Park
August 22: Chastity Brown at Mears Park
August 28: MN State Fair and Internet Cat Video Festival

June 1- September 8: Artists in Storefronts (June 1 opening night) in the Whittier neighborhood
throughout August: Mill City Live at Mill City museum
through September 21: Walker Art Center is free

September 5: St. Paul Chamber Orchestra at Mears Park
September 7: MN Opera (5:30) and Halloween, Alaska (8:30) at Mears Park
September 14 &15: Mill City Museum's 10th birthday- free admission all weekend, and Electric Fetus garage sale and festival 10am-5pm
September 15: free MN Orchestra concert at Lake Harriet
September 18: Iron & Wine at First Avenue

Japanese gardens at Normandale College
Monday nights: Cactus Blossoms at the Turf Club
Foshay Tower observation deck
hike the bluffs in Red Wing
Afton State Park
Franconia Sculpture Park with burgers & beer at Al's Saloon

visit the new gorillas at Como Zoo

May 24, 2013

Have a practice.

The strategy is to have a practice, and what it means to have a practice is to regularly and reliably do the work in a habitual way.

The notion that I do my work here, now, like this, even when I do not feel like it, and especially when i do not feel like it, is very important. Because lots and lots of people are creative when they feel like it, but you are only going to become a professional if you do it when you don't feel like it. And that emotional waiver is why this is your work and not your hobby.

Seth Godin (found via my buddy Dan)

I harbor no illusions about ever becoming a professional creative, but I would like to devote more time to being creative. And I'm totally guilty of only pursuing it when I feel like it, or when the other "more important" items on my to-do list are all crossed off (which rarely happens). This is a good push for me to make it more of a priority. Thanks Seth (and Dan).

April 23, 2013

Judgmental Minneapolis

seen here

this gave me some much needed LOLs this morning.... behold, Judgmental Minneapolis. (click the image for a larger/readable map) it's spot on for my neighborhood- i live in "drug deals," just north of "unsupervised children playing in the street." and i love that the f*cking Kmart gets its own shout out. we're trying to get rid of it, honest!

March 28, 2013

us from space!

 in case you're not aware, the astronauts currently aboard the International Space Station are awesome. due to magical internet connections, they are tweeting, Facebooking, conducting reddit AMA's, making music with Earth... all from the ISS. i follow Col. Chris Hadfield on Facebook, and he posts the most beautiful pictures of Earth along with interesting tidbits about life in space (you swallow your toothpaste after brushing, clothes are worn until too dirty and then thrown away, you don't want to know how they get their water, etc).

anyway, another astronaut on board finally posted a picture of the Twin Cities as they floated overhead a couple days ago (seen above). aren't we lovely from a distance? if you're having trouble making sense of the photo, Bob Collins labeled some of the major landmarks on a Newscut post. 

March 6, 2013

Midwest horns

the top half of a SXSW poster, original can be seen here

March 5, 2013


i don't know why it took me so long to read this one. i have a lot of friends who read graphic novels and have seen this one laying around their houses/apartments for years. historically, comics/graphic novels have not been my thing, so i guess i just needed a nudge to try one out. our roommate last summer is a big fan of both, and while she was living with us i was able to peek at her library choices. which means, yes, this has been on my list to read since last summer and am only now getting to it. sigh.
i really didn't know anything about Blankets, so i was surprised to discover that it's a fairly autobiographical coming of age story set in 1990's evangelical Christian culture in rural Wisconsin. there was so much that was familiar- church camp-y type trips, suspicion of the arts, long winters with never ending blankets of snow, grunge fashion, Kurt Cobain posters on the wall, etc etc. the story is a really intimate, vulnerable portrayal of Thompson's adolescence and crisis of faith, with back story of his relationship with his younger brother Phil. he tries to reconcile his faith with his love of drawing and his new found infatuation with Raina, a girl he meets at church camp. it sounds pretty standard, but it's such a delicate, beautiful story, with the theme of blankets woven throughout all the scenes and stages of Thompson's life. i was surprised by the depth and layers of the story, and his illustrations are so smart and beautiful too. no wonder everyone loves this book. it's 600 pages but i read it in 2 sittings, and i am certain i will read it again.

March 3, 2013

doughnuts to the rescue

Scene: driving down Nicollet Avenue, 12:45am, post-gig.

Matt: the sucky thing about these late night gigs, is that you're just so hungry afterwards...
me: I know, i was thinking the same exact thing. actually, I was thinking "what am i going to eat when i get home...?"
Matt: hey, there's that new doughnut place...
me: oh yeah, Glam Doll. they're supposed to be really good- WAITAMINUTE. I think they are open.
Matt: really?
me: yesiremembernowtheyarealatenightdoughnutplaceturnthecararoundturnthecararound

one u-turn later and about $7.00 later, we were the proud owners of a huge apple bourbon fritter (with bacon on top), a peanut butter sriracha* doughnut, and an old fashioned cake doughnut with chocolate icing. probably not the best idea to load up on sugary sugar sugarness right before bed, but last night they really hit the spot. 

*Blogger spell-check doesn't know what sriracha is.... poor Blogger.

February 28, 2013

The Book of Mormon Girl

That's when i realized that through all the years of searching, from the time I was a small girl kneeling at the bedside on her orange prayer rug, I had learned what the voice of God sounded like. I knew what the voice of God felt like, and it did not feel like rocks against the side of the house. It did not leave a sting of shame burning across my temples and in the pit of my stomach. The voice of God I knew was gentle, kind, and deliberate. And that voice was not forbidding me to write or speak, as long as I did so honestly and without malice. Even if I made mistakes from time to time, as a write or as a Mormon, that voice would not condemn me. It would guide me firmly and gently through.

I have been in such a reading slump this winter. It seems that most people's reading habits ramp up in the colder months; I appear to be the opposite. Although it might have to do with the series of books I've attempted over the last few months. I'd like to blame The Casual Vacancy (zzzzzzzzzzzz) for beginning this streak of books I've started and not finished. Even Tim Gunn's new book couldn't save me from my slump. And as excited as I was to get Wolf Hall from the library, one look at the 5 pages of family trees and list of characters and I knew I wasn't going to make it through.

So here's to The Book of Mormon Girl, the first book I've managed to finish since..... November? (sooo embarrassing) It's a super fast, super easy memoir about growing up Mormon, falling away, and figuring out how to come back on one's own terms. I appreciate memoirs about spirituality, especially those whose faiths are different from my own. There is always common ground and I enjoy finding it- in this case, the paragraph quoted above about the voice of God being gentle and kind. And how it's okay to make mistakes. 'cause it is.

February 25, 2013

Church mural


if you are in Washington, DC, please find this and bask in its awesomeness for me. according to the artist Hense's website, it's in Ward 6, and is across the street from where a new art museum will be built. there are more pictures on his website of this commission, some of other murals, and a little of his graffiti past.

so cool. i love to see art reclaim and enhance urban environments. there are a lot of really cool murals here in Minneapolis, but nothing of this size and scale and impact.

i want to go to church here. or live here. or just live on the same block, so everyday when i leave my house i get to see it. 

February 22, 2013

Sworn Virgins

i found out about this from Kottke, of course. Photographer Jill Peters traveled to Albania to capture the "Sworn Virgins", women who assume a male identity fot the rest of the their lives in order to secure their basic rights and privilages. Peters explains it best on her website:

"Sworn Virgin" is the term given to a biological female in the Balkans who has chosen, usually at an early age, to take on the social identity of a man for life. As a tradition dating back hundreds of years, this was necessary in societies that lived within tribal clans, followed the Kanun, an archaic code of law, and maintained an oppressive rule over the female gender.The Kanun states that women are considered to be the property of their husbands. The freedom to vote, drive, conduct business, earn money, drink, smoke, swear, own a gun or wear pants was traditionally the exclusive province of men. Young girls were commonly forced into arranged marriages, often with much older men in distant villages.

As an alternative, becoming a  Sworn Virgin, or 'burnesha" elevated a woman to the status of a man and granted her all the rights and privileges of the male population. In order to manifest the transition such a woman cut her hair, donned male clothing and sometimes even changed her name.  Male gestures and swaggers were practiced until they became second nature. Most importantly of all, she took a vow of celibacy to remain chaste for life. She became a "he". This practice continues today but as modernization inches toward the small villages nestled in the Albanian Alps , this archaic tradition is increasingly seen as obsolete. Only a few aging Sworn Virgins remain. The number of new cases are scant and tend to be considered less authentic by younger generations.

we live in such a fascinating world. Check out Peters' site for more photos of these intriguing women.

February 14, 2013

best valentines ever.

aaaah, how amazing are these? found here. the top right is my favorite.

January 22, 2013

Cat Petting 101

thank you Buzzfeed
as a relatively new cat owner, i did not realize this was quite so universal. (Gordon's more "meh" on the tummy rubs, though)

January 8, 2013

Outdoor cat shelter

still trying to lurch myself into 2013. it's slow going, so here's a little story about how we became obsessed with someone else's cat and i spent a couple weekends on an "addition" in the backyard.

i recently realized that i know more about the social dynamics between the neighborhood cats than i know about my actual human neighbors. there's Bad Cat, the feral who lives under the vacant house next door, Pudge, the orange cat who comes to our front stoop and meows in this disturbing low register, and the one who's stolen our hearts- Caspian.

Caspian isn't a stray- he's owned by some neighbors down the street. i returned him to his house back in the spring when we first started seeing him and thought he was lost, and they were like, "oh yeah, thanks. yeah, we just let him out to roam." which is whatever, a lot of people do that. BUT, it's now the dead of winter and poor Caspian is still "being let out to roam" in sub-freezing temperatures. (fun fact- we once kept him for 6 days during a brutal cold snap when we could not get in touch with his owners and thought they had moved and abandoned him. when we finally got a hold of them and returned Caspian, they had no idea he had been gone for 6 days. so, not winning any awards for pet ownership.) he's also become increasingly skinnier throughout the year, so at some point we also started sneaking him some food in our backyard. which of course now makes him a regular on our property and i realize this actually encourages him to leave his house and not stay put where it's warm... we helped create that problem. but he clearly wasn't getting fed (enough) and if he was going to be outside i wanted enough meat on his bones to survive.

so, fall arrived and the weather started getting colder, and i began to worry about where he was going to hunker down if he found himself outside on some really cold days or nights. i did some Internet research on outdoor cat shelters- ones you can buy and ones you can built yourself. i realized that i had almost all of the supplies for one of the homemade versions, so i set out to make this:

the actual cat shelter portion was really simple. you can see in the photo above that i went over the top and then created a 3-sided wooden lean-to shelter for the shelter... sigh. what can i say, i had roofing supplies burning a hole in my... garage? here's the nuts and bolts of what i did, just in case you've also got a special outdoor kitty who needs a little place to get warm.

large Tupperware container
styrofoam cooler or 1" foamboard insulation (comes in big sheets at Home Depot)
straw (NOT hay. the websites were very adamant about this. animals eat hay, sleep on straw. i was able to buy a bale from a garden center about 9 blocks from my house for what i will politely refer to as "city prices")
duct tape
power drill
sharp knife
a couple bricks or large rocks

1. measure and cut your styrofoam/foamboard into pieces for the bottom, 4 sides, and top of the tupperware container. (the top piece should be big enough to rest on top of everything)
2. cut a 6" hole on one of the wider sides of the container. it should be about 5" from the ground and off to the side.
3. put your styrofoam in the container and trace the hole onto the foam piece. then cut the same hole into the foam.
4. put your bottom & side pieces in the container, and then start stuffing it with straw. fill in any extra spaces between insulation pieces with straw, creating a nice cozy nest for your kitty friend.
5. place the top piece of foam over the nesting area. it should be cut big enough to just sit on top.
6. place the container's top back on, and place the bricks on top to keep it weighted down.
7. duct tape around the hole so the container and foam are connected and your kitty friend doesn't run the risk of getting cut by the rough edge.
8. you can also sprinkle a little catnip inside to entice him/her to check it out, but Caspian immediately crawled right inside like he knew it was just for him. awww.

with the lean to, i bought a 10' 4x4 post and cut it into 4 pieces, totally guessing on the angles. (yes i had to re-cut) then i cut & screwed the plywood roof onto the posts, stapled down that paper stuff that goes under roofing shingles, then secured the shingles with roofing nails. i also had leftover cedar planks in our garage, so i cut and screwed them around the sides to block the wind. i would like to add a floor of some sort, as water tends to pool on our patio in that area. maybe just some paver stones or something? we shall see...

(i should also add that on the really, really, really cold nights, we just scoop Caspian up and bring him inside to sleep in our guest room. he totally sleeps like a human- on the bed nestled up against the pillows. and again.... awww.)

January 2, 2013


it's been a while since a photo caught my eye. a Mongolian herder setting out to collect his animals during a snowstorm, seen here on The Big Picture.


from the always brilliant In Focus
i read somewhere that how you spend New Year's Day is a harbinger of the year to come. for my sake, i hope that isn't true- i spent all of yesterday sick on the couch, minus the hour i was at the doctor's. if when i finally kick this cold, i would like a do-over please.