Catification: Climbing Wall

climbing wall_2016-02-19Raise your hand if you’ve heard the term, ‘Catification’. No? Catification is a term coined by Jackson Galaxy (of My Cat From Hell fame) that means making a feline-friendly environment in your home.

For instance, since Willow literally spends more time in my (our) flat than I do, she ought to have some ‘say’ in the decor. This flat is her home, too.

One of my first catification projects was to build a climbing wall for her. Only one wall of my flat was suitable for it, and she would have to share with my research bookcases. My goal for catification is that it meets both Willow’s and my needs.

Benefits of having a climbing wall for your cat(s):

  • It expands your cat’s territory vertically, thus maximizing space.
  • Higher territory gives your cat(s) a place to escape from other pets, small children, or vacuum cleaners.
  • Destructive cats are bored cats: a climbing wall adds interest to your home for your cat.
  • Climbing the tree and jumping between (or across) levels keeps her fit and healthy.
  • The tree and sisal rope provide plenty of places for your cat to scratch her claws.
  • It looks nicer than a pre-built carpeted cat tree.
  • You can integrate your own furniture, such as bookshelves, so that the wall serves a double purpose.

The climbing wall is made up of a few shelves, a tree, and a branch. The mirrors are cosmetic. In the end, this climbing wall cost less to put together than it would have been to buy a short, pre-built, carpeted cat tree.

Wait — a real tree?

Willow’s climbing wall features not only one, but two real trees. I had originally planned to wrap a length of PVC pipe with sisal rope, but when I mentioned the cost of buying enough sisal rope to do so to my parents, they offered to bring Willow a tree from their tree farm in South Carolina.

Fun fact: Climbing trees is not instinctual for cats. I had to teach Willow how to climb the tree! Once she grasped the concept, she was climbing like a pro. Now she races up the tree in a flash.

The tree is not itself affixed to the ceiling or floor. Each end is capped with a bit of PVC pipe attached to a thin board, and it is the board that is attached to the ceiling. Friction and tension keep the bottom of the tree in place. The ends of the PVC pipe are wrapped with sisal rope.

In addition to the tree, Willow also has a ‘lounging shelf’, which is pictured above. This shelf is different from the others because it is covered from carpet squares I chose from the carpet samples at Home Depot. The lounging shelf is one of her favorite places in the flat. She sometimes slept in the basket until she grew too big for it; then it became a useful place to hold her toys.

After about a year, I started thinking of ways to modify the climbing wall and make it more interesting again. When visiting my sister for Thanksgiving, she showed me a branch that had fallen off the big ash trees in their garden during an ice storm. She had kept it because she thought I might like it for Willow’s wall. I did!

The current version of the climbing wall features more tree than shelves, which makes getting to the high shelves more of a challenge for my clever and energetic cat. Because the ash tree is very hard and the bark isn’t very deep, I wrapped parts of it with sisal rope to provide more grip. I also used the sisal rope to attach the branches to hooks I put in the wall, and the base of the tree is in a dark-stained, wooden bucket full of rocks.

We also use the wall when we play with Go Cat’s Da Bird toy: I’ll make the ‘bird’ fly up to the high shelves and flit away just as she catches up to it. When she has her nightly ‘crazy time’, she literally runs up the walls! Willow sometimes leaps from one high shelf to the other, nimbly slipping through the space between the top right branch and the wall to land on her lounging shelf. She also leaps from the sofa onto the middle of the right branch. Soon I will need to wrap more sisal rope around it as she wears away the bark with her climbing.

If you have the room for it, I recommend getting a branch or two of real trees for your cat(s). Willow has never scratched any of my furniture because she has plenty of her ‘furniture’ to scratch instead. Cats scratch to mark their territory, sharpen their claws, and to stretch their backs, and they’re likely to prefer scratching something natural like tree bark over fabric. Although both of my trees came from family sources, you could ask a local tree and lawn service if they have any particularly large branches you could use. That’s what I was going to do before my sister offered the branch that fell off of her tree.

In another year I will change the wall up again. Best to keep Miss Adventure Paws on her toes!

DIY fail: Operation Cool(er) Catio

Usually my DIY projects mostly turn out how I expect them to. But not always.

The Problem

It gets hot in Texas; no surprise there. My patio has high walls and is shaded inside, but the outside walls get direct sunlight all day. There are also some air conditioning units next to one wall and occasionally I can feel the hot air they are expelling blow in through the slats in the fence on that side. I’ve put in a lot of work to make the patio/catio one for both Willow and myself to enjoy, and I want to be able to! But it’s too darn hot.

The Hypothesis

So I had an idea: What if I could line the walls with something that would reflect the heat outwards, away from my patio? I ordered some emergency blankets from Amazon, the kind that have a reflective side that is supposed to reflect 90% of heat. Several of the reviews mentioned using the blankets for the purpose I had in mind. Why I bought these particular blankets was because of the color on the reverse side: I didn’t want my patio walls to be bright orange or green. My theory was that the emergency blankets would reflect enough of the heat outwards to make the patio noticeably cooler.

The Experiment

Before I put up the blankets, I monitored the temperature on the patio for a week using an outdoor thermometer. Because my patio fence gets direct sunlight all day, and also faces the car park and the heat that is reflected off of the asphalt, I suspected that it might be hotter on my patio than the temperature reported on my Wunderground Weather app. To my surprise, the temperature on the patio was consistently one to two degrees cooler (Fahrenheit) than the temperature reported by my app. That the interior of my patio is shaded has an effect after all.

patio emergency blanket wall

It isn’t pretty, but I’d put up with it if it worked.*

We had a heat advisory forecast for this weekend and I wanted to put the emergency blankets to the test. I put the blankets up on two of the three exterior walls (only two, because I ran out of staples for my staple gun), and frequently compared the patio thermometer with my weather app.

The Result

Well, my theory proved to be false:

Since putting up the emergency blankets, the temperature on the patio has been consistently a few degrees higher than the temperature reported by my weather app. I will be taking the blankets down once it gets cooler later in the evening.

The Conclusion

One reason the experiment failed, I think, is that it reduced the air flow in the patio. Although the patio is fenced in on three sides, it’s a wood fence with small gaps between the slats that can get a good cross breeze depending on the direction the wind is blowing. I had hoped to counteract the blankets’ reduction of air flow by opening up the bottom of the fence (it had been closed off with bricks, which I replaced with a lattice**) in order to have the convection effect from allowing air flow below and above the fence. I don’t know if the effect actually occurred (as it was too hot for personal observation), but even if it did, it wasn’t enough to cool the patio.

Obviously, this wasn’t a very scientific experiment. I didn’t explore or account for all the variables. But at least it was empirical, right?

Now I’m back to the drawing board for Operation Cool(er) Catio. I’d really like to be able to make the patio a bit cooler for the sake of myself, my cat, and my plants! I already have a few plants that have succumbed to the Texas heat and would prefer to not lose any more of them.

Do you have any suggestions? Leave a note in the comments if you do!

*  You’re getting a sneak peek of one part of the catio. I’ll write more about the catio in a later post!
** Else Miss Adventure Paws, a.k.a. Willow, would escape.

Blood Rose Rebellion

Opening line: I did not set out to ruin my sister’s debut.

Eves - Blood Rose Rebellion coverAfter Anna’s peculiar talent to unmake spells results in the disaster of her sister’s debut into London’s Luminate society, Anna is sent away to live with relatives in Hungary until the gossip about the scandal blows over. From London to Vienna to Budapest are signs of growing unrest in the working classes. In Hungary, even the local Luminate, the upper class, chafe against Hapsburg rule. When some of the Hungarian revolutionaries learn of Anna’s unusual talent, they attempt to recruit her to their cause. Her job? To break the Binding, the powerful spell that restricts access to magic for only the upper class. However, there are those among the Luminate who do not want magic made available to everyone, and will protect the Binding at any cost. Anna has only ever wanted to fit in Luminate society; will she risk everything for a revolution in a country she’s come to love?

Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves is the first of a trilogy set in an alternate nineteenth-century Europe, where the differences between the upper and working classes are intensified by strict regulation of magic through the Binding. Only the upper class has access to magic, and yet there is inequality even among the Luminate class: each individual Luminate has their access to magic determined by the Circle, and a family that crosses the Circle might find that their children are given only nominal access to magic. The setting and its exploration of class and magic were one of the elements I enjoyed about Blood Rose Rebellion. The second element I enjoyed was the use of Hungarian folklore and alternative use of magic by the Romani.

Although Blood Rose Rebellion is the first of a trilogy, it read more like a later book in a series. The premise and setting of the book caught my attention, but overall the world lacked depth. There is too much ‘telling’ instead of ‘showing’: we have Anna saying in her first-person narration that she has always wanted to fit in her society, rather than seeing Anna respond. The pacing of the narrative was off: the middle of the book dragged on, when in other places, the narrative progressed too quickly, problems solved too easily: how did Noemi know about the underground tunnels? No sooner had Noemi suggested it did she and Anna find an entrance. At times, I lost track of which of the revolutionaries was speaking because they all sounded the same. I am also a very visual reader and there was not enough description in the narration for me to ‘see’ many of the places Anna went to. Finally, the magic of the world was inconsistent: the Binding was more than a spell, but a place or realm one could enter; and what was the extent of the Binding — did it limit all magic around the world? Did only Europeans have magic? And Anna’s ability didn’t break all spells, but only some of them. At first I thought she only broke spells that were cast in her presence, but then how could she break the binding if it was cast centuries ago? I’m not too much of a stickler that all magic must have rules and be consistent (it’s magic after all, not science), but there were enough irregularities that even I was bothered by them.

Many of these problems I can forgive because this is Eves’s first published novel. Building a world that has depth takes experience. I will probably read the next book in the trilogy, both to see what happens next in this world and to see how Eves grows as a writer. I would recommend this book to those who want a fun, quick fantasy read and to those who are interested in Central and Eastern European folklore.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

Savage Worlds: Askha

My Tuesday-night RPG group has changed ‘seasons’. Now we are playing Savage Worlds: The Last Parsec.

TLP Askha mini

Askha’s mini with my first set of polyhedral dice. The mini was made by Hero Forge.

Askha bel Sayid Zadasi


Art by Bryan Syme for The Last Parsec. Askha has tortoiseshell coloring.

Askha grew up in Odezza, the capital city of Tazan on Rakhat, in the heart of what outsiders call the Tazanian Empire. The Great Empire counts non-habitable planets and planetoids among its holdings; many of these are mined for their resources even if they have not been completely terraformed to sustain rakashan life. Rakashans are often thought to exaggerate the size of their empire because the name of their empire (in Tazanian) translates literally into Common as ‘The Empire of a Thousand Worlds’, even if the actual tally (including planetoids) is closer to two hundred. This is because of a quirk in translation: the word meaning ‘great’ or ‘exceedingly numerous’ also translates as the word for the number ‘thousand’. Sometimes the name for the empire is translated as The Great Empire; however, as a rule, Tazanian rakashans are proud of their empire and prefer the hyperbolic translation.

Askha and her twin, Nikith, are middle children. (Nearly all rakashans are fraternal twins.) Her older sisters are fierce, disciplined, and rule-abiding, perfect daughters of their retired Marine mother. Following them, Askha and Nikith both were misfits: Nikith, an introvert in a large and social extended family, and Askha, resentful of her older sisters and protective of her brother. From an early age, Askha chafed at being told what to do, especially by her bossy sisters. Manasa and Akasis dominated the cubs in their family, but Askha habitually ignored them, only increasing the tension between them. Where her mother was pleased at Manasa and Akasis’ leadership skills, she also despaired at her youngest daughter’s lack of discipline.


Art by Bryan Syme for The Last Parsec.

The only one of her siblings that Askha likes is her twin, Nikith. She frequently fought with the others on his behalf, fiercely protecting him when he wanted to be alone and read or keep accounts of their toys or books. When it came time for their military service, however, they were separated and served in different units. Askha trained hard and took naturally to weapons and combat. Like most rakashans, Askha’s blood sings in the heat of battle: once she has drawn blood, she desires nothing else than to bring down her foes, and nothing is as satisfying as feeling her enemy’s flesh give way beneath her claws. (Thus is the brutality that made their empire and puts down any rebellion.) Even so, the strict discipline of the military was too much like being ordered around by her sisters. When her military service was completed, Askha returned to Rakhat.

Both of Askha’s older sisters were already career officers in the Marines, following in their mother’s footsteps, and Askha had no desire to imitate them and continue to compete for their mother’s favor. Instead, she tried various stints as a bodyguard or security officer, but neither saw much action in the heart of the Great Empire. Eventually, her father suggested that Askha leave both Rakhat and the empire for a more satisfying career. It pained him to send one of his children so far away, away from both clan and empire, but he also hated to see her so dissatisfied with her life in Tazan.

The next year, Askha bought passage on a ship that took her to the edge of Tazanian territory, and from there she worked her way across several systems as a mercenary of sorts. Askha accepted a position in JumpCorps’ Security division at a time when she needed a more steady income. After more than a year on Harmonia Station, though, she was beginning to get bored with the work, all of it routine. Then she received a message from the station’s Administrator with a new assignment…


It’s taken a while for me to get a feel for Askha. I purposefully built her to be unlike any of my other characters: Tess is the mad scientist and gentlewoman adventurer and Maya is the privileged and charismatic privateer, but Askha is the bloodthirsty mercenary. She’s a fighter, not a diplomat; noncompliant, rather than rules-abiding. Case in point: During last night’s session, our team ran into a group of thugs in a darkened corridor on a mining station — there were 11 of them and 5 of us. One of our team set off a smoke grenade and in the confusion of the darkness and smoke, Askha slipped forward and efficiently clawed out the throats of four of the thugs. She had to be pulled back from chasing the remaining four that fled. In addition to being an effective killing machine, Askha is also somewhat arrogant, firm in her belief that the Great Empire is the paragon of civilization; a bit aloof, but also loyal to her crew. She does care about them even if it’s sometimes difficult for them to tell that she does.

Askha, obviously, is very different from my own personality; to help me play her, I’ve decided to channel Zoe from Firefly and Carol from The Walking Dead (the TV version). Because she is so different from what I usually play and because the setting is new without much of an established canon, I’ve often felt adrift when playing her. As one player put it, we all have creative imaginations but also don’t want to impinge on anyone else’s world-building. In order to create a shared universe, though, we each need to speak up, step on each other’s toes, and negotiate when ideas clash. So, before returning to The Last Parsec, our GM asked us to do some more backstory- and world-building and we went over these developments as the introduction to our third season. This post is the product of my own world-building and definitely helped me to play her better last night.

Regarding her mini: Sci-fi big cat minis don’t exist, and the existing fantasy big cat minis are ridiculously ill-suited for a sci-fi setting. Luckily, the GM who makes our minis was able to order a mini for Askha from Hero Forge, a company that uses 3D-printing to print out any mini that you design on their website. Of course, the coloring I chose for Askha (tortoiseshell, with forest green and grey clothing) makes her very difficult to take pictures of, but rest assured, she’s pretty awesome.

preservation vs. function

This week I have had the opportunity to view several of the pieces in the Berger-Cloonan Collection of Decorated Papers at the Cushing Memorial Library and Archives at Texas A&M University, and to hear the collectors speak of their journey and about decorated papers. It’s been fascinating.

decorated paper 1

Yes, this is a two-dimensional piece of paper.

What are decorated papers? In the very basic sense, it is paper that has been decorated in some way, and in the case of the Berger-Cloonan Collection, papers that have been decorated by hand. Berger and Cloonan have travelled the world to find papers to add to the collection, often directly from the artists themselves. The Blue Batik Zig Zags paper I used to cover my gaming binder is an example of commercial decorated paper.

decorated paper 3One thing Sid Berger said during the talk has been turning in my mind: he wants complete sheets of paper and abhors the thought of cutting any of the papers into smaller pieces.

But what are decorated papers for? In book production, these types of papers are often used for the nice end papers inside the cover of hardcopy books and special editions. To be used for this purpose, the papers must be cut to size.

As an archivist-in-training, with a touch of a hoarding impulse, I recognize the desire to keep beautiful pieces intact. But also as an archivist-in-training and historian, with a dose of pragmatism, I see the importance of letting these papers fulfill their functions: to be used, to be appreciated in the way they bring beauty to an object that brings together a variety of specialized trades. A book that has decorated paper inside, or even outside, the cover lets us know that not only was this book considered special enough to warrant beautiful paper in its binding, but also that such artisanship was valued by its makers and audience. And that is just the beginning of the insights we could learn from such an object.

decorated paper 4

An example of a piece that has been ‘marbled’ twice using a mask.

In some ways it comes down to the intention or purpose behind the object. Some of these pieces truly are works of art. Some of the artists made these papers specifically to be included in the Berger-Cloonan collection. Some of these pieces were not made to be used as end papers in books, but are intended to be kept whole. These pieces can be framed and appreciated as the works of art they clearly are.

Therein lies the distinction. The truly singular pieces, made with the intent to be viewed as a whole, intact piece, should be kept so; but the inclusion of an entire ream (hundreds of pages) of a similar, repetitive design that was made commercially perhaps would serve its purpose better by being used. Of course, I was not privy to the appraisal process and may be unaware of the reasons why reams of material were included in the collection. Nor am I an art historian nor a decorated paper aficionado. I am, however, someone who appreciates craftsmanship and the practical and the mundane made beautiful.

We have the tendency to hide away our beautiful and finely crafted things, wrapped carefully and kept safe, hidden from view. How often do we actually use that special china, or knit something from that beautiful and hand-dyed yarn, or drink that unique tea? But how well can we enjoy those things if we do not see them or use them? Yes, using them poses some risk — we might break the china, the project for the yarn might not work out, the tea will be consumed — but this risk is part of living life. Let us use the beautiful things meant to be used and enjoyed in their use.

What do you think? How do you decide what is ‘too special’ to use and what isn’t?

All images in this post are of papers included in the Berger-Cloonan Collection of Decorated Papers in the Cushing Memorial Library and Archives at Texas A&M University. This post will be updated with the names of the individual artists once I have that information.

DIY clipboard binder

After nearly a year of use, my (second) gaming folder was looking like this:

This paper folder was fine when I had only a few character sheets to keep, but not when I had several, plus notebooks and other ephemera. It was time to upgrade. One of my fellow gamers uses an Officemate Slim Clipboard Storage Box, but after looking at it, I found that the clip was too stiff to open easily with my arthritic hands. I decided that I wanted a binder so that I could keep my system of keeping each character’s papers together in a plastic protector. I didn’t want just any binder though: I wanted one with a clipboard. I was always asking our hosts where the clipboards were and wanted one of my own, without having another item to keep up with or weigh down my game bag even further. Surely I could buy a binder with a clip on it, right?

Wrong. The few that I could find online were out of stock or had the clip on the inside of the front cover, rather than on the outside. Well, attaching a clip to the front of a binder shouldn’t be too hard, I thought, and decided to make one myself. Since I couldn’t find a binder that had the cover/design I wanted, I also decided to take a plain binder and re-cover it as well.

To put a new cover on the binder, I used this DIY tutorial from Thrift Diving. These were my supplies:

One of the issues pointed out on the Thrift Diving tutorial is that the paper isn’t sealed to be water proof. Having had one gaming folder damaged by water already, and knowing that we often have drinks on the table, I wanted to protect the paper from getting wet by accident. My solution was to line the paper with a self-seal laminating sheet before gluing it onto the binder. The type that I used allows one laminate a single side.

After I laminated the paper, re-covering the binder was pretty straightforward. The tutorial covers each step, so I just followed along. When it came to putting the clipboard clip on, however, things started to get a bit tricky.

I used a hammer and nail to make holes for the rivets that would attach the clip to the binder. It seemed like a simple job: make the holes, put the clip into place, and set the rivets. Only, the rivets wouldn’t set. I went out and bought a rivet setter, since part of the problem was not having the right tool on hand, but neither the rivets that came with the clips nor the ones that came with the setting tool would stay fastened.

gaming binder 8

In the end, I admit to using superglue. I used the setting tool and anvil to squash the two sides of the rivet together for the glue to adhere.

For a finishing touch, I used washing tape to make a border on the inside of the binder, covering the edges of the paper.

gaming binder 9

The inside, featuring a washi-tape border. I splurged and bought new mechanical pencils.

gaming binder 10

It only looks full already because of the notebooks I keep for our campaigns.

gaming binder 11

The binder in situ, with spell cards, notebook, and dice bag (which I also made).

I’m quite pleased with the final product! I have used it several times since making the binder and it is holding up well.

Now that I know what I’m doing, and have extra binder clips and rivets, I might make more clipboard binders as gifts in case any of my gamer friends decide they want one for themselves.

how do we treat the sick?

There’s been quite the flurry of noise on the Internet about the American Health Care Act that was passed in the House of Representatives today. Something that caught my attention is an interview with Mo Brooks (R, Rep. AL), in which he said:

‘People who lead good lives, they’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy. And right now, those are the people — who’ve done things the right way — that are seeing their costs skyrocketing.’

Source: CNN Interview with Mo Brooks by Jake Tapper (around 3.20 of the clip)

His statements imply that people who lead healthy (‘good’) lifestyles don’t have pre-existing conditions, which also implies that people who do get sick or have pre-existing conditions somehow did something to deserve their poor health.

Brooks does immediately add, ‘Now, in fairness, many of the people who have pre-existing conditions have those conditions through no fault of their own.’

It’s the earlier statement that is getting the headlines and the attention, and for good reason. The problem here is in placing a moral value on a person’s lifestyle — whether they exercise regularly or diet or eat well — which is what the first statement does: people who lead ‘good lives’, who have done things ‘the right way.’ How, then, do you reconcile the second statement, that those with pre-existing conditions are not at fault for having them, with the first? You have already established the premise that ‘good people’ don’t have pre-existing conditions. So how can someone have a pre-existing condition and not have done something to deserve his or her condition?

This is not a new question. I am reminded of the disciples asking Jesus when they see a man blind from birth: ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ (John 9.2) We might not express it as outright as that, but we still sometimes have that sentiment that if something bad happens to someone, then they probably deserved it: this idea of, ‘Well, they had it coming.’

But we need to remember Jesus’s answer: ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’ (John 9.3)

Granted, in the gospel, the work of God is Jesus restoring the man’s sight, which isn’t exactly something we can expect to happen today (it wasn’t common then, either). That doesn’t mean we can write off Jesus’s answer, though.

Neither this man nor his parents sinned; but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

Often I see the focus of this passage placed in the following sentence or in the events after the miraculous healing, to the point that this sentence is overlooked. If this sentence is evoked, it’s usually done after some misfortune or tragedy, along with the platitude, ‘All things happen for a reason’ (with which I politely disagree, but that is another subject).

What are the works of God and how might they be displayed? What does that look like today? Right now, in the wake of the AHCA passing the House, this is what I hear from that passage:

The works of God are displayed in how we treat the sick, the poor, and the needy.

Our words, our thoughts, and our actions: what are they when we encounter someone who is ill? What are they when we encounter someone who is chronically ill or differently abled? Not just how we treat that person as an individual; but how do we treat them as a group when we shape our ideas about health care and when we vote? Are we treating the sick, the poor, and the needy in such a way that it displays the work of God?

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