Outdoor Cat Shelters

It’s beginning to get cold around here – temperatures are now below 0 degrees celsius most days and even colder at night. Almost two years ago, a family of feral cats ~ mother cat and her three kittens ~ showed up around here. You can read more about the “Kittens” here.
Now we’ve adopted two of the feral ‘outside’ cats: brother Mandu and his sister Mochi (mother of our kittens). We managed to capture Mochi and get her spayed along with all her kittens last year. Even though the kittens have become inside cats, Mochi and Mandu remain our ‘outside’ cats. It was clear that they needed a better shelter arrangement so Nellie and I created two shelters for them last fall.
We chose plastic Rubbermaid containers to keep them dry and warm: 2 large and 2 smaller ones which fit inside the bigger ones.

First, we laid a piece of leftover hard styrofoam insulation on the bottom to add increased thermal factor on cold winter days.

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Then we lined the inside with environmentally friendly Roxul insulation.

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We carefully slipped the small Rubbermaid container inside the larger insulated one trying to keep the insulation along the inside intact.

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Then we placed the lids on both inner and outer containers. Nellie drew a circle on one end, big enough for our outside cats to fit through without letting in any unnecessary cold. Then she cut out the hole of the outside container with a box cutter, removed the circle of insulation, then cut the same size hole on the inside container.

 

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We used Tuck Tape to seal up the entrance hole area between the two buckets to keep the insulation intact and dry.   It may not be pretty but it’s effective!

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We removed the lids and proceeded to use old polyester pillow stuffing to line the insides and bottom. In one, we used some old foam insulation we had lying around.

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We tacked the lids back on with caulking (which we scraped off later because it was ineffective) and placed them where Mochi and Mandu liked to sit on the deck and look inside through the sliding glass door (and we could watch them 😉 ). Within hours, both cats tried out their new abode! Later, after the snow fell, I ‘wrapped’ the back and sides of both shelters with an old shower curtain to add to their warmth and dryness.

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Both Mochi and Mandu used their outside shelters all last winter, keeping safe and warm and often sleeping together in one bed on the coldest nights. We continue to feed them and even warm them up some homemade chicken broth every morning to help take the chill off and get something warm inside them.
Late this summer, we took off the lids and replaced the inside lining with fresh pillow stuffing.
Nellie and I feel comforted knowing that we are doing the best we can to take care of these two innocent creatures who have become our outside pets. Mandu has always remained quite feral and untouchable while Mochi has ‘allowed’ us to get close and even touch her. This fall, Nellie patiently kept feeding both of them yummy wet cat food and leftover chicken inside the mudroom every day (while the door was propped open for them to leave if they felt uncomfortable). Finally after almost two months, she was able to pet (briefly) BOTH Mochi and Mandu! And I eventually had the privilege of stroking them too.
Some day, we hope that they will feel comfortable spending the night inside the mudroom with the door closed but it’s too much for them now. We tried it one night and Mandu quickly panicked so we had to let them outside again. WE will just have to be patient……

 

If you’re interested in donating to a Kitten Rescue Fund please click on this link.

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Kittens

When our kids were growing up, we seemed to have kittens around every few years. It all started because our neighbour Ed’s cat had kittens and we obligingly said we’d take the cute furry, white one who we named Princess (as in Princess Leia from Star Wars > she also had a brother named Chewy, who my other neighbour Nicky adopted).
Princess was a lovely, cuddly, furry lap cat. Soon, she became a mother to Obi and Rainbow, both pure white, furry male kittens. We became a family. Before we could get Princess spayed, she gave birth to 4 more pure white, furry kittens! Sadly, Princess got hit by a car when the kittens were 4 weeks old so we started them on softened kitten food. We found homes for three of the kittens but decided to keep the ‘runt’ called Dali, who had a rough start. Life went on and soon some of our white cats began to disappear and we were left with just Obi who lived until he was 12.

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Daddy reading Nellie and Rainbow a story 1994

 

Fast forward to this past January. A feral cat who has lived in our neighbourhood for a number of years showed up in our backyard……. with 3 kittens in tow. I figured the kitties were about 6 weeks old. They were SO cute and it was SO cold outside (January!)…….. so I couldn’t resist feeding them to give them sustenance in order to survive a brutal winter. Wouldn’t you? I couldn’t be so heartless as to turn my back on them.
Nellie gave them all names: Mother Cat, Mochi (a cute ginger cat), Mandu (striped tabby), and Dimsum (striped/slightly mottled tabby) – we called the latter two, the twins. They remained alive and feral all winter.
One day in the spring, I made a discovery: Mother Cat was a mother again to a litter of 4 more kittens who lived in the woodpile at the side of the garage! These kittens seem to be about 4-6 weeks old.  That very same day, I accidentally left the garage door open and found out the Mochi was a mother to newborn kittens when I caught her bringing several kittens into the garage! She was real fast and had two of them behind all the junk before I could stop her. I left the door open that night as she’d never been inside before and I didn’t want her freaking out – and I didn’t know how many kittens there were. But I had my car parked in there and I had to figure out another plan for her.

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Our ‘little sausages’

 

The wood shed. I wasn’t using the wood shed at this time of year so I hoped she would move them there (she was moving them from place to place in the garage). I opened up the back doors to the wood shed and left them open, giving her a chance to bring them inside – I even put down a little piece of foam and tiny hunk of carpet. I wasn’t disappointed because the next morning after I fed the ‘outside cats’ I snuck into the wood shed and found 4 little baby kittens who looked like sausages all lined up in a row: 2 ginger and two blackish coloured.

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Mother Cat’s kittens remained beside the garage and were spooked every time we went over there to try to civilize them. They remained ‘untouchable’ and feral. But we didn’t want that to happen to these new kittens. We knew we had to get them used to humans in order to catch them to get them all spayed/neutered when the time comes. So every time Mochi was eating, we’d go into the woodshed and ‘handle’ them, getting them used to us. And, of course, we gave them names: the two ginger males are Haru and Gogooma; and the two mottled black females and Jin and Min. Slowly, they became friendly and were unafraid of us. When they began to venture outside, they would come up to us for petting. But Mochi was still staying far away from us. Mandu ran like hell any time we went outside and Dimsum had gone to live somewhere else (we’ve only seen him once since the spring). Mother Cat must have figured it was getting crowded around here so one evening she led her 4 new kittens trotting down the driveway and left! She’d come around to eat every day at first but hasn’t shown up lately.

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The worse thing is that Mochi brings home dead moles for the kittens to snack on almost every morinng! They are getting plenty of cat food but she insists on providing for her young with fresh kill. It’s disgusting to have to pick up these dead rodents with a plastic bag over my hand, put them in another plastic bag, and take them across the road and throw them into the forest. I don’t want them to eat them because it will likely give them worms or something else.
Now that we’re on the other side of summer, we knew that we’d have to make inside accommodations for these ‘outside’ kittens especially if we’re going to get them fixed in a few months. We already have an inside cat, Dante, and I’m not interested in a houseful of new cats. But they are welcome to stay in the mudroom where they will be safe from winter storms and predators. We began this week leaving the back screen door propped open and moved their food inside. They spent one day going in but mostly out and since then are quite comfortable with being indoors. Nellie even bought them a couple of kitty beds and a litter box – which they now know how to use (important for their post surgery recovery). They’ve even spent the past few nights in there quite comfortably! Even Mochi! We tease her inside with kitty-treats because we know she would freak out and rip the screen door to shreds if she was separated and left outside.

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And this morning I found scaredy-cat Mandu inside the mudroom eating too.
So now we have a whole bunch of kitties! We love watching them play and wrestle with each other then suddenly flop down for a nap. They especially love to play ‘jungle kitty’ around my spider plants out on the deck.

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Nellie has claimed responsibility for their care, food, and vet bills.
They ARE adorable though 😉

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Woodstove Surprise

Yesterday, I did my mid-winter cleaning out of my wood cookstove. I had planned it for then because the outside temperatures were predicted to be about +5C (41F). The stove and ashes need to be cold when I clean it out – the last log went in around 4 p.m. the night before. This mid-winter cleaning means that I scrape off the soot and ash that has accumulates under the burner plates and around the oven box inside the stove. Let me explain how a wood cookstove works: when the stove damper is open, the smoke goes out of the firebox straight up the chimney. When I close the damper, the smoke circulates around the oven box, which sits below the cast iron burners ,and exits the stove at the bottom/back and up the chimney thereby warming the oven and in fact the entire stove.
All this burning season, I’ve had trouble with smoke escaping through the loading door when the damper was closed. I’ve had to resolve this problem by only half closing the damper. I had planned on replacing the door gasket to hopefully tighten the seal. Everything began normally: I was dressed in my ‘work’ clothes ready for this usual black sooty chore. This time I decided to wear vinyl gloves to help keep my hands from getting black.

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Soot under the burner plate

 

I scraped the backsides of each burner as I removed them and placed them on newspaper on the table. Then I began the ritual of scraping off the oven accessible via the burner holes. When I got to the side, I thought something was amiss. I scraped dutifully and began to remove the soot through the clean-out ‘nameplate’ access but not as much was coming out as I thought there should be. I grabbed my flashlight and took a look – it looked like soot as far as my poor vision could see and I couldn’t understand why. It was time for an investigation! I placed my portable barbaque light to see down the 2 inch side of the oven. This BBQ light is awesome! I keep it on top of the warming oven of my cookstove – it has a magnetic bottom so it sticks to the steel and cast iron surfaces of my stove. The light is connected to a flexible neck that I can position however I like. I often use it to quickly check how something is cooking on the stove. Anyway, when I had it positioned to shine down the side of the oven box, I took a look through the bottom clean-out expecting to see light shining through – but only darkness. Hmmm, it’s plugged. I wasn’t sure why but I was determined to find out. It certainly explained all the smoke leaking out of the loading door when the damper was closed. For the next hour, I scraped and stabbed at the soot at the bottom side of the oven box. I even went out to the garage to get reinforcements: a giant screwdriver that was about 30 inches long! Thanks Chris.

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I discovered that rock-hard ash and soot had compressed to form solid chunks all along the bottom of this side of the oven box. It was an impossible (almost) space to work in but I kept at it until finally a chunk broke loose! I used the scraper to carefully pull it up to where I could reach it, dropping in many times before I could grab it and force it out through the burner hole. I had to use the giant screwdriver to break them into smaller pieces that would fit up the side to be removed. It was extremely hard. I used the shopvac to suck up some of the stoney soot too. After 2 hours, I was done!

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Soot chunks

I put the burners back in and wiped them down with olive oil on a cloth. To give it one final sparkle, I washed the rest of the cookstove and dried it. Voila! It looked like new. Unlike myself, who was black from head to toe! It’s a good thing I have two tanks of solar-heated hot water. I vacuumed up the floor and washed the four feel around it until tomorrow when I can wash the pine floors in the whole room.
Heating with wood is not for the faint of heart. Oh sure, visions of a nice, warm, cozy fire dance through your head. But you need to know that any wood stove requires regular, messy maintenance to burn efficiently and safely. Wood heat might be for tree-hugging (carbon neutral) lovers of the environment …….. ah, like me I guess.

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Clean and ready to burn

Christmas Baking Recipes

It’s that time of year again for Christmas baking.  Even though Christmas is less than two weeks away, I still haven’t started any of my baking yet and I blame it all on global warming.  Yes, that’s right, global warming a.k.a. climate change.  IT’S +10C OUTSIDE these days and the temperature doesn’t go below zero overnight!   Two all-time record high temperatures were shattered in the last two days.  There has been no snow (this time last year we had 25 cms of snow) and the grass is still emerald green and growing!  How’s a person supposed to get into the Christmas mood?  I’ve tried by getting out my Christmas village and decorating the house to raise my Christmas spirit…..  I usually do most of my Christmas baking a few weeks before Christmas and freeze the baked goods in tins in my garage but since it’s unusually warm, my garage isn’t cold inside.  This year, I’ll be baking the day before Christmas unless we get a sudden cold snap.

I want to share my favourite Christmas recipes including Hello Dollies, Chocolate Chow Mein Clusters, and Rice Krispy Squares.  You’ll find my other Christmas recipes I previously posted for Cherry Cheesecake, Chocolate Cocoanut Macaroons, and Peanut Brittle by clicking on their names.

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Chocolate Cocoanut Macaroons

 

Hello Dolly Recipe

I have no idea where this name came from!  I got this recipe from Karen Sibbett almost 45 years ago.  My son Darin really, really likes these.

¼ cup butter

1 cup graham wafer crumbs

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup shredded, unsweetened cocoanut

1 cup of chocolate chips

1 can sweetened condensed milk

Melt butter in a 9X13” pan and spread around including sides.   Add graham wafer crumbs, spreading evenly around.  Add the walnuts, cocoanut, and chocolate chips sprinkling evenly.  Top with sweetened condensed milk.

Bake at 325F for 20 minutes on the oven rack that is place one slot higher.

Cool completely and then cut into one inch, bite-size squares.  These freeze very well.

 

Chocolate Chow Mein Clusters Recipe

I believe that my son Taylor prefers these.

In the top of a double boiler, combine:

½ cup butter

1 ½ cups chocolate chips

½ cup butterscotch chips

¼ cup peanut butter

Stir often until melted.

In a bowl, mix:

2 cups dry chow mein noodles

1 cup peanuts

Add to melted mixture, stirring well to combine all the ingredients.  Spoon blobs on a cookie sheet.  Cool then store in a container with a well-fitting lid.  Freezes well.  Serve at room temperature.

 

Rice Krispie Squares Recipe

Of course, who wouldn’t love these anytime – my grandchildren sure do!

In a large pot, melt:

¼ cup butter

1 package of marshmallows

Add and quickly mix:

½ teaspoon vanilla

5 cups Rice Krispies

Press into a buttered 9X13” pan.  Cool.  Cut into bite-size squares…… or bigger.

Enjoy!

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Cherry Cheesecake

I Love a Real Christmas Tree!

There’s a lot of debate about Christmas trees.  Some people like an artificial tree for many reasons.  They feel that it’s less messy because there are no pine tree needles from a real Christmas tree falling all over the floor when they put up a fake Christmas tree.  Some say it’s more environmentally sound because no real tree is cut down and they reuse the same Christmas tree year after year.  Others feel that an artificial tree is easier to assemble and take down every year.  I appreciate all those reasons that fit other people’s lives.  BUT I LOVE A REAL LIVE CHRISTMAS TREE!

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Searching for the Perfect Tree

Tradition.  I’ve always had a real Christmas tree for as long as I can remember.  When I was growing up, we used to buy a Pine tree for Christmas – they are the ones with the short needles.  I went with my Dad to the Woolco plaza parking lot and we picked out the perfect tree to bring home.  Later, after I got married, I always bought a Scotch Pine with the longer needles which didn’t seem to fall off as much.   We usually went out to a Christmas Tree Farm to cut our own tree but occasionally we bought one from a lot.  When Marty worked at a garden center once, we picked a gorgeous Balsam Fir from their selection – we hadn’t intended to buy one already cut but we couldn’t resist the urge.   One year when I was 9 months pregnant, we went out to a tree farm and picked the closest tree because I couldn’t walk too far – my poor husband was worried I’d give birth right there in the field!  Hahaha – I waited until 6 days before Christmas.  Some years, we went to a nearby Christmas tree farm where they had horse-drawn wagon rides and hot chocolate, but the commercialism of the entire operation began to nauseate me.  The whole spirit of Christmas was becoming depressing from the beginning of cutting a tree!

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Timber!

So I scouted out another Tree farm that just sold Christmas trees (and homemade wreaths) – cut and cut-yourself – at a reasonable price.  THIS is what I was searching for – driving into the tree farm fields, walking around (sometimes for a LONG time) to find that perfect tree, and sawing it down ourselves.  Some years, there is no snow while other times, there’s lots of snow to trudge through.  One year it was unusually mild around 0C degrees and another time it was -20C!  You just have to dress for the weather to stay comfortable.  There is plenty of room for everyone and the farm is never crowded like some other ‘wagon rides and hot chocolate’ Christmas tree farms.

I feel that Christmas Tree farms are very ecologically responsible.  The farmers who grow these trees use hands-on, labour-intensive practices to grown and prune their trees –  I remember my oldest son Robin working for a Christmas Tree farmer one summer, when he was a teenager, to prune them by hand.  The farmer’s livelihood depends on the seasonal sales of Christmas trees.  I support Farmers and I try to practice local consumption – Christmas trees are no exception.  After Christmas is over, I take my tree outside for the birds to land on or find shelter in for the rest of the winter.  Then in the spring, I cut off the branches and spread them around my blueberry plants.  I’d say that’s environmentally sustainable.

All my grown children and their families who live around here will drive out to the tree farm this year:  Nellie, Melvin, Sarah, Kristi, Mike, J, Josh, Taylor, Darin, Amanda, Kalia, Livi, Janet, and Frank.  After a fun afternoon searching for our perfect trees, we’ll come back home for a nice warm supper beside the toasty, wood-burning cookstove.  Our tree will have to wait till after supper to be brought into the house.  I just love the pine smell from a freshly cut Christmas tree!  Then we’ll let it warm up overnight before we decorate it.  And again, it will be the best Christmas tree ever!

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Winter – Extended Edition

 

This week we celebrated the end of winter and the arrival of spring – officially anyway.  It’s hard to believe that ‘spring has sprung’ though.  This morning at 7 a.m., my outdoor thermometer read -20C degrees and the weatherman said it was going to reach a high of -8C.  Whoopie…..not.

Dripping Icicle

Dripping Icicle

There is still about 30-40 cms of snow in many spots around the property and 4 foot drifts.  We had finally been experiencing warmer, near normal, temperatures last week after the record-breaking coldest winter ever.  The snow began melting off the roof with 2 foot long dripping icicles hanging down.  The temperature was above zero during the day and below zero degrees celsius at night – perfect for maple sap running.  So last week, I tapped my maple trees to collect the sap for making maple syrup.  Now the little brother of the Polar Vortex has come calling and the sap has stopped running and the maple sap in frozen in the bottom of my jugs hanging on the trees!
My sister Betty shared photos over a month ago of temperate Vancouver Island, British Columbia where she lives: cherry tree blossoms, crocuses blooming, lush green grass.  The seasons here in Ontario seem to becoming 2+ weeks later.  What used to happen 30 years ago at this time of year, like the ice on the river breaking up, is later now.  The cold temperatures of January and February are now the bitter, unrelenting cold temperatures of February and March.

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The only thing to do is embrace the sunny albiet cold days with the promise that warmer days are just ahead. Soon we’ll be living with hot, humid weather and lots of mosquitoes!
The one thing that remains the same is that we celebrate my sister Betty’s birthday on the first full day of spring.  Happy Birthday Bet!

Ice Lights

It’s been extremely cold lately with Frostbite Advisories issued every day for nearly two weeks. I thought I’d share a fun activity that you could do yourself or with your family that requires cold weather – Ice Lights for the outdoors.
You would think that ice and fire don’t go together but as many opposites, these two components work pretty good together in the right conditions. During many cold winters, I’ve made Ice Lights which are basically frozen ice candle holders for outdoors. Here’s how:

1.  I use a 5 gallon bucket for a big ice light but you can use any type of plastic bucket or even a tin can. Make sure it has straight sides for the ice to slide out when frozen. Place the bucket outside in the shade on a flat surface – you will not move it until this project is complete.

2.  First, I put a layer of water several inches deep in the bottom and let it freeze overnight. This layer is where the candle will eventually sit when the project is complete.

WaterBottom

 

3.  Wash out empty tin cans – tall pasta cans work well. Fill the can with rocks to weigh it down. After the first layer has frozen, place the empty tin can in the middle of the bucket on top of the frozen layer.

4.  Carefully and slowly add enough water to fill the bucket up to 1/2 inch from the rim of the tin can. Make sure that NO water enters the tin can. Do NOT move. You may need to place a flat rock on top of the tin can to keep it in place.

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5.  Let the water freeze for at least 24-48 hours. Cover if snow is expected.

6.  Bring the frozen bucket into the house. Let it sit in the kitchen or laundry sink for a few hours to let it warm up.

7.  Take the rocks out of the inside tin can, if you are able. Add hot water to the inside of the tin can. Wiggle and turn it until the ice around it melts enough to release it. Take it out.

8.  Put a towel in the sink and turn the frozen bucket of water upside down. When it warms up enough, it will release itself from the bucket. You can speed up the process a bit by streaming hot water over the bucket – not on the ice inside.

9.  Once the ice has been released from the bucket, take your Ice Light outside and put it where you want to create mood lighting. As always, keep clear of combustibles. Add a candle and light it when it’s dark outside. Voila! You will have a beautiful glowing light.

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Once we made these Ice Lights and placed them along the driveway for our skating party. They lit the way for our guests beautifully against the snow.

 

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