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!

flowers in my window

My flat only has one window, but Willow loves to sit by it nonetheless and watch my neighbors come and go. She also loves birds and I’ve hung up a bird feeder outside for Willow’s entertainment. Except, the birds will only feed at the feeder when Willow isn’t sitting on the windowsill, somewhat defeating the purpose of putting it there.

img_20170304_150852_011Q: How could I make it so that she could see the birds without them seeing her?

A: Put plants in front of the window, enough to screen her somewhat from the birds but without completely blocking the view — and, it would add some color and charm to my flat’s exterior.

Buying a window box large enough for my window (4 ft.) was outside of my budget and building one outside my resources of time, energy, and tools (I don’t have a saw). But I do have a number of flower pots and a bit of ingenuity. My parents visited this week, and my dad put up a shelf under my window when I was having a bad RA day. My mom and I went to the plant nursery and selected part-shade or part-sun suitable flowers, since the window only gets some direct sunlight in the afternoons.

Because I live in a ground-floor flat in a complex, I took some precautions to deter thieves from walking off with my flower pots. All of the pots I used for the window display have drainage holes in the bottom, through which I looped a string of chain around a stick. The ends of the chains go through holes I drilled into the shelf and are then connected to the other chains. Each pot has its own piece of chain so that I can remove the pots as needed without having to break the chain, the shelf, or a pot. Sure, a determined thief can figure out how to undo the chains to take a pot, but the average thief wants an easy steal and isn’t likely to have the tools on hand or the time to take a pot that’s been chained down.

I’ve never had much luck at keeping flowers alive for any length of time. I hope this time is an exception!

here, now: the new yorker

New Yorker Breakfast

Upon moving to North Texas, I soon learned that a perk of having a PhD is that I get offered reduced subscription to certain magazines, such as The New Yorker. One of my housemates subscribed to The New Yorker when I was in university and I enjoyed reading them when she was finished, though I couldn’t afford to subscribe to it myself once we had parted ways. A couple of months ago, however, I received an offer from The New Yorker addressed to “Dr. Chera ——” with a note saying:

“In order to guarantee that we reach the audience we are meant to serve, the Publisher has authorized us to offer The New Yorker to selected professionals at a special rate.”

I was initially hesitant to subscribe, knowing it to be a weekly magazine, but I haven’t regretted the $25.00 I paid for a six-month subscription. On mornings I don’t have to rush off to teach, I take a leisurely breakfast and read an article or book review, sometimes letting my tea go cold. The issues have piled up and I am “behind” with reading them, but even so, The New Yorker offers well-written and sophisticated reading material that keeps me up to date with current events and culture when otherwise I mostly read first-year university essays.

I’ve since received similar offers from The New York Review of Books and The Economist, and I am sorely tempted by both. And yet the latter is another weekly magazine, and because it is about politics and international news, I would hate not to keep up with reading it each week. I would love to have a schedule with which I could spend the mornings reading The New Yorker, the evenings reading The Economist, and the weekends perusing The New York Review of Books (as well as time for research and creative writing!), but I don’t. I might just stick with The New Yorker for now.

Photo: The New Yorker at breakfast.

WIP Wednesday

I’ve decided to start posting ‘Works in Progress’ (or WIPs) on Wednesdays. I do like alliteration. These may be sporadic and also, sometimes, by the time I post the picture the project in question may have progressed even further.

Today’s feature is: My Office.

The front room of my parents’ house used to be my bedroom. Since moving out to go to college, etc. quite a while ago, it became Jewely’s room (even if it did still house half of my library). Needless to say, when we started work on turning it into my library/office/sitting room, Jewely had to inspect and supervise.

IMG_9991Jewely giving her approval of the colour chosen for the accent wall.

Unfortunately, my RA kept me from contributing as much to the painting process as I wanted, so I am very grateful to my parents for taking on the task of painting the room. I managed to paint the bookcases. I also helped with the trim and assisted Jewely with ‘supervising’.

IMG_0041Jewely ‘helping’ by holding down the contact paper.
She also ‘killed’ a wayward strip that was going to attack me. So she said.

I put clear contact paper on the book shelves to reduce shelf-wear on the books, as the shelves are solid wood. Already the shelves are beginning to be populated with books, there is a nice reading chair and equally nice lamp in a corner, and the desk is set with a nice view out the window. The rest of my library from the UK should arrive on Friday. In the meantime, I think I’ll keep settling in. ‘Completed’ pictures will come in due course.

A rant about cleaning

My parents came to visit for the last few weeks, both to spend time with me and to share their spoons so I could work without having to come take care of the house and cook, too. They did a great job and did a lot of deep cleaning that I’ve been meaning to do but just never had the energy or time. Removing mould off of windowsills, de-icing the freezer, airing out different rooms, etc. Now that the house is in a pretty good state to maintain, I looked up suggestions for ‘cleaning schedules’ which advertised keeping up your house for only 15 min a day.

…and I am flabbergasted by the types of schedules I find. Laundry every morning? Heck no, that only makes sense if you have a tumble dryer to go with it — and how am I supposed to do that before I go to work? And no, I’m not going to clean the baseboards of my house every week. If you think a thorough hoover (vacuum) of the whole house only takes 30 min, you haven’t tried hoovering my house. And I love how one popular cleaning schedule (popularity evidenced by how often it was pinned on Pinterest) claims that this schedule works “even if you work outside the home! Just do your chore at night” and even promises that if you do the chores at night, “your spouse will be home to help you”.

Seriously? Yes, when I come home from work at 7pm exhausted and hungry, the thing I want to do is clean the bathroom. Or hoover the stairs. No way! You think I have enough spoons to do that after a day of working? I’m going to eat whatever I can cobble together, collapse on the couch with F. and something nice to read or some knitting for an hour, and then climb into my bed to do it all over again the next day. I work six days a week and my one day off is spent mostly in bed recovering. I consider it success if I manage to wash the dishes every day or do laundry once every week and a half.

What frustrates me is the self-righteousness apparent in these cleaning schedules. “Your house can be spotless, too!” And, saying that you’re a stay-at-home mom and you don’t get to do cleaning until after 9pm either doesn’t make me feel any better about not having energy to clean up the house, even though I’m child-free (and spouse-less, so who’s going to help clean?).

No, I’m far more inclined to hire a cleaner, once I can afford it.



An evening at home. Elena left early this morning, F. was at his small group’s Christmas do, and I was left to my own devices. It was nice to have an evening to my self. While the beans for the soup were boiling, I started crafting with leaves F. had brought back from Germany ages ago and which Elena and I had gathered from around Town. (It will take a few stages, so I had to get started sometime!) I forgot how relaxing crafting is — to do a simple task, painting leaves with Modge Podge glue to preserve them.

I also forgot how relaxing singing scales is in our wonderfully echo-y kitchen, which I did while making stone soup. I sang a lot more when Ros was here, though not always when she was around, as we’d be singing over each other. It was nice to be alone in the house and not feel self-conscious about singing such a boring thing as scales…

Then I skyped with Sarah and Isaac while eating dinner, did another stage of leaf-crafting, and knit. Now, to bed early, to work more tomorrow!

(No. I’m not going to post pictures of the completed leaf crafts as they will be Christmas gifts for some people… You’ll just have to wonder what they will be. Maybe in the new year!)

O, wailey wailey wailey!

Alas, and weylawey! Ros has left for her new life in Liverpool, leaving me housemateless until my new housemate arrives next week. Though I’ve already found a few things she (inevitably) left behind, the house is bereft of her presence. I’ve since bought a radio and a toaster to replace those which were hers. Now to motivate myself to clean the house and do other Life Admin things because it is Autumn and the Start of Term, and I’d like to start the next academic year with my life more or less in ‘order’.

But oh! Ros is gone! No more breakfast chats and domestics over the proper way to take the bin out to the road, no more dancing around each other in the kitchen and laughing at the radio presenters, no more listening to Ros practice the cello whilst I read downstairs or write away the dark nights of November. It will be quiet without Ros’s soprano filling its rooms and halls. This house, with the two of us in it for the last two years, has been our home, and it is strange to think she will not be coming back tonight or in a few days.

Instead a new person will be moving in, who is nice and I’m sure we’ll get along. New memories will be made in this quirky house with red carpet and a yellow kitchen…


I haven’t mentioned yet that Ros and I have had to move out of our house. We moved out on Friday, actually. Our house has got mould. I’d wondered if we had for a while now, since my repeated attempts with air purifiers and HEPA-filter vacuums haven’t decreased my sneezing and allergies one bit. I was beginning to suspect that it wasn’t just dust that I was allergic to. And then mushrooms started growing in the bathroom…

Fortunately, unlike the bedbug incident, my landlords this time have been great (surprisingly so) and we’ve been put up in a guest house down the road. I was worried that they would blame the mould on us — that we weren’t airing out the bathroom enough or whatever — but when they tore up the shower the mould was so bad that it was clearly a problem that predated our move into the house. Thank goodness? We don’t know how long it will take to fix, which isn’t something I like to think about very much. Hence you’ve been getting book posts. They’re easy to write.

The good thing is, though, the place where we’re staying has a really lovely garden and a cat. Miss Amber Eyes, I call her, though her name is actually Toffee. She’s very friendly and has already taken to running to me with little chirrups. (Focusing on the silver lining here, as you can tell.)

Isn’t she pretty? And the garden is nice to sit in, too. Continue reading

Our Garden, Part 7

It’s been a long time since I’ve written about the garden. It’s also been a long time since I’ve been in my garden. While Ros was kindly making dinner I went out to reacquaint myself. I am amazed at how things grew in the three weeks I’ve been away. I came back into the house with a marrow and four courgettes (a.k.a. zucchini), two of which Ros promptly added to our dinner.

One of the sunflowers has bloomed en masse: at least six heads, if not more. The other sunflowers are starting to bloom, too. The corn stalks are growing stoutly despite the Scottish climate, and the pumpkins are stretching out their long vines.The rhubarb has recovered from whatever it was suffering from last month and we now have a new supply of rhubarb. Most impressively, the courgettes have turned into a jungle.

Courgettes will now become a staple in our diet. Ros is dreaming of quiche and I’m thinking of zucchini bread. Yum. The blackcurrant bush is ripe and Ros harvested some to make crumble. Soon I will be making chutneys with our courgettes and blackcurrant jam.

At long last

With JuNoWriMo only 10 days away, I decided to finally put my room into order. I know, it’s only taken me nine months to finish moving into my bedroom, but there you have it. Hoovering, dusting, filing, hanging up the clock I bought months ago, posting pictures on the bulletin board – it was a day for being industrious. My room now is the cleanest, most organised it will probably ever be. And the desk – at last – is actually at a point where I can use it.

My folklore books will be at hand; the postcards used as inspiration for the previous two WriMos I’ve done in Scotland are arranged on the board, along with a NaNoWriMo guilt monkey ready to make sure I write.

More on JuNoWriMo as we draw closer to June – I’ll only say now that I’m really excited for it and my mind is bubbling with ideas…