Friday, February 28, 2014

SO EXCITING!!!!

OMG THERE MIGHT BE ANOTHER SEWING SHOW IN THE U.S.!!

Do I seem excited enough?!??!!  There's apparently a version of Project Runway, but specifically for amateur sewers (not fashion designers), called The Great British Sewing Bee, over in the UK.  And they are looking to make a United States version of it!  I love Project Runway, and I would love to see another sewing show added to the world.  :)  In fact, I was just sitting down to watch a new episode of Project Runway: Under the Gunn (reference to Tim Gunn, not guns) when I read Ginger's post about the US Sewing Bee.

Go over to Ginger's blog Ginger Makes to see the post about how to be in the show!  She's one of the many crafting blogs I've been following for a long time - she makes beautiful clothes, and seems really quirky.  Her writing is really enjoyable and amusing to read.  I don't just skim her posts for the pictures.  :)  One of these days I should start posting about the various blogs I follow and linking to them in the sidebar...

~Kelly
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More kitten photos for the internet!

This post is mostly just gratuitous pictures of kittens.  I felt that something lighthearted and fun was needed after the last post.  Enjoy the pictures of kittens!

These are a bunch of photos I shot when the kids were really small - between 9 weeks and 13 weeks old (the time span between getting the cats and DeForest going to the hospital), playing on the cat tower I built for them.


These first few photos are of them playing with each other through the holes cut out of the side of the tower.  It's so freaking adorable when they do this.  At first, I would play with one of them through the holes, and then the other one would get interested.  Soon, they would just start playing with each other and I could sit back and watch the cuteness abound.




You can see Gnome's eyes peering through the hole at Kobold.


You can also see how striped Kobold was.  The stripes appear to mostly have faded with time (he seems more solid black now, at almost 2 years old).  They were quite striking under a camera flash when he was a kitten, though.


Curled up together in the box bed... They still sometimes sleep together in here, but more accurately what happens in Gnome is curled up in it (taking up the entire space now, full grown), and then Kobold lays himself on top of her until she decides she's had enough of being sat on (which can take a couple minutes to a several hour-long nap).  



Hanging out together, way up high!  Now only one of them fits up there at a time.


Love my cats!  They still adore the cat tower and use it every day for hours.  So glad I built it for them.  Plus, I think it keeps them active and fit, climbing up and down all the time.  My cats have no problems with weight or agility.  :)
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Thursday, February 27, 2014

What You Said vs. What I Heard: Grieving

Some months ago, I ran across a post about what well-meaning people say to parents of kids with disabilities, and how a lot of those comments are unintentially hurtful.  This is over on the blog No Points for Style, on a post titled Dear People Who Do Not Have a Child With Disabilities...  Having gone through grief (still in it), I know how incredibly hurtful certain phrases are - phrases that completely and utterly come from places of concern and love, but come into my ears and into my wounded brain with a very different message.  I saw this post, which does a marvelous job of pointing out the difference between what you said and what I heard, which can be nigh impossible to understand if you've not been there.  I know - because I would have said a lot of these same things before I experienced grief, not understanding the anguish they cause.  Knowing how strong the misunderstanding was in myself (a person whom I consider to be thoughtful and caring, if somewhat tactless still), I want to write a similar post here.

For those of you reading who might not know me well, my boyfriend, DeForest, passed away from a ruptured appendix in July of 2012.  Even though he had been sick for most of his life (chronically ill with several auto-immune diseases [including Lupus and Crohn's]) and had outlived his projected life expectancy by a decade, it was still a real shock.  The night before he died, the nurses and doctors were saying he was fine and not to worry.  They had already placed the order to have a nurse come to our house and change his bandages every day once he came home in a few days.  No one knows why he died that night.  Anyway, that's why I'm grieving.

This post might not map to everyone who is grieving, but these are phrases that resonate with me.  I will also be sharing some of the things that do help, too.

*****

What you say:  Don't cry!

What I hear:  I don't want to see your pain.  Hide it.  Crying is shameful.  You're awful for making me see your pain and tears.  You're causing me pain with your pain.

Hey, you - crying helps.  All of the experienced people at this - the therapists, the other widows, etc - talk about how bottling up emotions is bad.  And I am especially bad at bottling up my emotions, which actually has helped me a ton throughout this horrible experience of grief, because I'm able to let it out.  Bottling it up hurts, and the pressure to cry just builds and builds.  Please don't tell me not to cry.

Furthermore, I am incredibly sensitive to causing others anguish with my grief.  Grief causes a lot of bad emotions to have power over you, and the guilt and shame spiral is one of them.  Grief means having to show pain and ask for help all the time, and when others make me feel like I am causing them pain, it just adds to all the pain I'm already feeling.  The last thing I want to do is cause others pain.  So this just makes me want to curl up and cry even more.

*****

What you say:  It's hard to see you in so much pain.  I want to help.

What I hear:  You're causing me pain with your pain.  I want this problem fixed so I don't have to feel your pain anymore.

Frankly, I'm supposed to be in pain now, and I'm doing what I should be doing, because this situation is awful and that's just how it is. The only way through this is to feel it and get through it, and that means lots of pain right now.  You can't fix it, or rush it.  And see the above paragraph about how this idea adds to my pain, and makes me feel like I need to hide away in a corner and like my wounds in private like a kicked dog.

*****

What you say:  He wouldn't want you to be upset.  He would want you to be happy.

What I hear:  You're wrong for feeling what you feel.

Long term, I completely agree with you. Short term (the first year or two of the grieving process, and then periodically thereafter for forever), though, I know he would absolutely understand what I'm going through.  He would support me if he were here and I was feeling this pain for someone else and tell me that it's natural and what I should be feeling. To me, this statement just feels like another way of saying "you're wrong for feeling what you're feeling," though I recognize this isn't what people mean when they say it.  I'm having a really hard time being sad for so long, and this just adds to the internal pressure I keep putting on myself to be happier, which doesn't help at all - my support network keeps telling me that I'm not crazy and that I have to let myself be sad, and DeForest would have said the exact same thing.  He understood pain and loss far more than I do (I've been learning fast over the past 1.5 years), and he understood that you have to give yourself time to heal and that beating yourself up for being upset and telling yourself not to be doesn't make the healing process go any faster. So please don't tell me that's how he would want me to feel.

*****

What you say:  He's in a better place.  God will get you through this.

What I hear:  ...  *crickets*

I'm not even sure what to say to this.  First, this assumes a lot of knowledge about something that no one actually can know anything about.  Second, you're assuming a lot about my belief system, and pushing your belief system on me.  Maybe this works for someone you know holds similar religious views, but it sure doesn't work for me, and I just generally find it offensive.  Please reserve these statements for people you know are religious.  (Hint: I'm agnostic.)  Third, even if an afterlife exists that is better than this one here, this sounds like another rendition of the above "don't be sad" and "you're wrong for feeling bad about this."  After all, he's someplace better!  You should be feeling joy for him!  Or something.  Just... ugh.

*****

What you say:  Have you found a counselor or a support group?  Have you considered medication?  I'm really concerned about you.  I feel like grieving is holding you back from living your life, and it doesn't have to be that way.

What I hear:  The way you are doing this is wrong.  Even though you have thought through this, and made your decisions for your own reasons, your reasons are wrong and you are clearly a giant mess - more of a mess than you should be.  You're lying to me when you say you are improving.  The small improvements you see are unacceptable, and you're a big liar, or, at best, deluding yourself.  I don't want to see your pain.  I want to fix your pain and make it disappear so I don't have to deal with it.

My reaction to this section (and what I would prefer you to do instead) really needs to broken up into two sections or stages.  This is much more complicated than the phrases before this, as it was far more frequent and involved for me.  Please bear with me through all of this, as this was (and still is) a large source of pain and anger for me, in a situation that is already awful.

First stage of this problem: when a person asks this the first time.  This is a question I got from every.  single.  person.  as I was going through this.  (Some people kept on asking, over and over again - I'll get to that in a minute.)  And every time that someone asked, I felt panic like I was doing things incorrectly, and that I needed to defend my choices.  I was forced to mentally review why I was doing things the way I was, and justify it again to myself.  This caused way more doubt and pain, on top of a wound filled with doubt and pain.  I had a problem with people even bringing it up once, because every person felt the need to ask me these questions. The first few times I heard it, it wasn't a big deal, but by the 5th time, and then the 30th time, and then some more... It's important for you to understand this, if you're dealing with someone who is grieving: you need to assume everyone else has already asked this. It really, really annoyed the crap out of me, because people wouldn't just accept a "no," either - they would start to try to convince me that those things were really worthwhile, and I'd have to have this giant conversation *again* with every single person, convincing them of why I didn't want those things.  It was exhausting and made me panic a lot.

Instead of asking about specific things that you think I need, perhaps ask this instead, and really listen to the answer:  Are you getting the help you need?  (For me, the answer is yes, I am.)  What kind of support do you think would help you?  (Mostly, just listen.  More tips are near the bottom of this post.)  And, if you really mean it and will follow through:  How can I help?  The answer is most likely going to be something along these lines:  just listen to me when I'm sad.  Let me talk and reassure me that everything will be okay, and that I'm okay.  Let me cry.  Please feed my cats and do my dishes and clean my bathroom.

Second stage of this problem: when a person asks this more than once, it's even worse.  This is important, as I'm still getting this question repeated to me now.  Now, it just makes me very, very angry, because I feel that those asking haven't been listening to a thing I've said over the past 1.5 years.

Being concerned whenever I reach out for help, especially if you are in infrequent contact with me, does not help me in the slightest.  I do understand that the concern comes from a place of caring, but I don't need concern, I need support and reassurance.  Your concern makes me feel like I'm causing you anguish.  It makes me feel like you are calling me a liar when I say, no, really, I'm getting better, I just need reassurance today.

Try Soothing Your Own Concern: Look for the good signs.  If your friend is seeing a counselor, ask what the counselor says about how they are doing, and trust the answer.  Find contact information for the people who are around your grieving friend all the time (the people actively helping them day by day, week by week), and ask them what they think, and trust their answers.  Look to the lengthening time between posts asking for help, and see hope there.  This situation is far more burdensome for the person grieving than it is for you - please do some of your own detective work, instead of further burdening the grieving person with your feelings about their pain.

To help you understand why I made the decisions I made about the help I found and accepted, here are my views on counselors/support groups/medication (as it pertains to me and my grieving).  I'm also putting this up here, once and for all, because I am still getting these questions from people.  My answers have not changed, and now this just enrages me, because it means that you're not listening to or respecting my choices.  If you insist on continuing to ask me this question or say you're concerned about me when I reach out for help, I will cut you off from anything to do with me grieving for my own mental health, as this causes me a fair amount of anger and anguish.  I don't want to have to do this, so I'm trying one last time to explain my choices clearly.

Counseling:

For me, counseling wasn't at all useful for the first year.  I was in so much anguish that it was just a matter of trying to survive, minute-by-minute, then hour-by-hour, then minute-by-minute again.  I, luckily, had a couple widows to talk to in real life, whom I could call at any time and get some reassurance from.  The first year is just a wash of pain and getting through the pain, and distracting yourself from the pain, and feeling the pain, and more pain pain pain.  For someone who is isolated and doesn't have an extended support network of friends to talk to who have felt loss, counseling might be a great thing at first, just to hear someone tell you that you're not crazy.  Because experiencing grief is about total loss of control, and you will never realize just how many layers of emotional control you have until you lose ALL of them.  I felt like I was going crazy and out of my mind.  But I had a couple people I knew to talk to, and all I needed that first year was to be told that what I'm feeling is normal, and that I'm not crazy, and to just keep going.  A counselor - someone who didn't know me at all, and whom I had to talk to on a schedule, when my emotions were not at all about being on a schedule - did not help me at all.  I tried to talk to a counselor twice.  It was useless.

I did seek counseling help starting last August, 13 months after DeForest died.  And you know what my counselor said, the first time we met?  That counseling is often useless for the first year after grief, because it's just all about putting one foot in front of the other and continuing to exist.  Counseling, in his opinion (and I agree, at least in my case), is much more useful starting the second year, when the psychological issues start to come out, and I have enough emotional energy and control to try and deal with those issues.  I finally sought counseling when it was clear that I was beating up on myself over and over again - when the negative voices in my head had gotten so loud that it was hard to hear other voices.  But another key part of my decision to seek counseling then?  The most important part?  I was ready for it.  Until then, I wasn't ready to tackle the emotional issues, and the idea of seeing a counselor was just too much pressure for my complete lack of emotional energy.  I just needed to survive it.  When I decided I was ready to do more than survive, I found my counselor.  And he is amazing and incredibly helpful now.  But not then, he wouldn't have been, because I wasn't ready.

The phrase that pushed me into seeking counseling wasn't someone asking me if I needed a counselor, by the way.  It was a friend saying "wow, you're being really, really mean to yourself," and me recognizing that this was a problem that I was ready to tackle with help.

Support Groups:

All the support groups I could find were at places like retirement homes.  I really did not want to go to one of those - I felt like I would've been wildly out of place.  I looked.  Please just believe me when I say that I am not interested, and let it be.

Medication:

Grieving is a natural part of life.  It is something that we are equipped to handle, though none of us handle it with perfect grace.  I completely understand that there is nothing shameful about taking medication.  I thought very hard about this, and this was my criteria for when I would consider going on depression medication:
  • When there was no signs of improvement in over a month, with no clear reasons for the lack of improvement (anniversaries, etc).
  • If I ever became suicidal.
  • If my livelihood depended on it, and I was in danger of not being able to pay my bills or afford food, and I needed to be able to function at a much higher level, sooner than nature intended me to.
None of these things have come to pass - not even close.  Furthermore, my therapist sees none of the warning signs he looks for when thinking about recommending medication, such as "not feeling the full range of emotions."  He actually told me that my anger at still getting this question shows that I don't need the medication.

There are also real side effects to depression medication - ones that can very much add to depression (such as interfering with libido and body image issues).  I'm not trying to convince anyone here that they shouldn't seek medication if that's what they feel they want, but there are other ways of doing this that are also legitimate.  It is my choice that I want to do this the slow way, the feeling-all-my-feelings way, the way we have been doing this for our entire history until the last few decades.  I would like that choice to be respected.

To anyone who is reading this and grieving right now and wants medication, I want to add this: you are in NO WAY weak for wanting medication or wanting help to get the pain to stop.  This is an awful process, and however you decide to get yourself through it - that is the right way to do this, for you.  That wasn't the way that I wanted to do it, is all.  You make whatever choices you feel you need.  And hugs.  And email me, if you need someone to talk to who has been there.


*****

Things That DO Help
  • Just acknowledge my pain and let it be there.  A hug and a "I know" or "I'm so sorry" works well.  I know my pain is scary.  That's okay.  Just don't leave alone with my pain.
  • Grief is repetitive.  Just listen.  I have said "I miss him" over and over again.  All I need is a nod and a "I know."  I need to say it.  I need to know others know.
  • If I need to go off and be away from lots of people (I had anxiety attacks about being around lots of people for many months), it can sometimes help to have just one or two people there to be with me as I freak out and cry, so ask if I would like company. It's really hard for me to ask for things (I've been asking for help all the time, and it's exhausting), so offers are good, especially when I know that either a yes or a no will be accepted equally.
  • If I'm freaking out and crying, assure me that things will be okay and that I'll get through this. In my better moments I know all of this, but when it gets bad it feels hopeless and so painful and feels like it will never go away and it's really scary. Assurances are good.
  • Don't try to fix my pain.  There's nothing here to fix.  I'm doing exactly as well as I should be doing.
  • Just act natural and let me talk about things.
  • The last thing I want to do is ruin someone else's day.  Reassure me that you do really want to see me, and that it's okay to feel the way I feel, and that I'm not a burden.  
  • Ask me if I need help with cooking or cleaning or anything else, and follow through if I say yes.
  • Send me a note or a message, saying you're thinking of me or about something you've been doing lately.  Grieving can be very hectic and scatter-brained.  Even if I don't respond, I notice, and it warms my heart that you want to stay connected.
  • As No Points for Style ends, so shall I: "Keep listening. Just show up and listen. There’s nothing any person in pain needs more."
Helpful Resources:
  • 10 Ways to Show Love to Someone With Depression:  This article is amazing.  Seeing this article posted recently reminded me to write this post.  Do all the things in this.
  • The Young Widows Bulletin Board:  This is a great resource.  It has forums for the different stages of grieving (the first few months vs. years later), and lots of posts from people who have made it through.  It helps to read the experiences of others and their advice, because they are going through (and made it through) much the same thing.  It can be hard to find young widows in our culture.  It's also great because you can talk to people immediately and at any time of the day, right when you need help.
  • If you know other people who have been widowed or gone through close grief, contact them and ask if they would be willing to talk to your friend who is grieving.  I am lucky to have the tight-knit community of the SCA, because I was put in contact with several other widows.  One in particular ended up speaking to me the way I needed, and she was (and still is) simple invaluable.  There were times when I called her three times a day, and she was able to reassure me that I wasn't crazy.  Having another widow to talk to was so much more useful than a counselor would've been in the first year, for me.  She was available when I needed her, not once a week on a schedule, when I may or may not have been in crisis mode or felt like talking.  I cannot state how vital this can be.  I still call her every month or two when I'm having a particularly bad day, and she helps me through it, every time.  Amazing.
That's what I have, for now.  I know that what I hear and what you said don't match up, and that all of the questions/comments come from places of love.  All I'm asking from you is to believe that these phrases cause me pain and/or anger, and to respect my wishes not to use them.  Just listen when I'm having a rough day, and continue being my awesome friends/family and including me in your lives like normal.  Thank you!
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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

One Normal Day

I just wanted to say this, so I can remember it later.

As far as I can tell, Sunday was the first day I've had that was what life was like before DeForest died.  After I got past the first couple hours of "ugh, I have a cold" (until the meds kicked in and I felt okay), I had a great day, by myself, happy without effort.  I got a ton done.  My living room is clean, I mended a few things, and I wrote five blog posts (others scheduled to come out over the next couple weeks).  But more importantly than how much I got done (I've had other productive days), was that I didn't have to convince myself to do these things, once the day got started.  I was effortlessly happy and content.

I've had plenty of decent days since DeForest passed.  But throughout each one of them, I have had to do internal coaching to get things done, and to push myself into activities that I enjoyed and had fun doing.  I had to convince myself to do things, telling myself "just do this one thing, it'll make you feel better later," or "you feel sad and lost, so distract yourself with this task - you feel like doing that task now, so treat yourself and do that; listen to this podcast while doing it - you'll manage to ignore over the ache and the lonely feeling for a while."

There was no coaching, once the day got going.  There wasn't a aching, lonely feeling waiting when I had a moment when I wasn't distracted, or coasting alone underneath everything.  I was just happy.  Like I used to be.

One day.  Sunday, February 23rd, 2014.  One year, seven months, and eight days later.  

The last couple days have been more low-energy again, more feeling listless and uncertain again, more lonely again.  It might take weeks or months until I have another day like this.  

Still love you, dear heart of mine.  Still miss you.  But I've had one day.  This is awesome.  ~Kelly
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First use of rivets! Repairing a gorget and knife.

I got another cold this weekend.  It's number three or four this winter, which is strange - I usually only get one cold each winter.  It meant that I stayed home from rapier practice on Sunday (and missed a dinner with some other friends), as I didn't want to infect others.  I did have a nice, leisurely day puttering around the house, cleaning and tidying up, though, as the cold meds kicked in enough to let me feel not horrible.

For me, cleaning always takes longer, because it means taking breaks to finish lots of little craft jobs.  Mending jobs never cease, most of which will end up being thrown onto a horizontal surface (the living room table, the craft table, etc...) with the idea of "I should do this soon!"  Well, "soon" doesn't happen.  Then it comes time to clean, and I decide I have to get the projects done now or else they will just get thrown in a tub and not done for many many months, until I decide to organize all my various craft corners of the house.

Today, that meant that I used rivets for the first time!  Assuming I did it correctly, they really are easy - literally just put the two ends together and hit with a mallet a few times.

First Rivet Set Ever: Fixing the Pocket Knife

DeForest always carried a little pocket knife with him on his keychain.  Sometime last year, I took it off his keychain and added it to mine.  It's a useful little thing, and I love using more of his things.  Makes me feel connected to him, and that more of him goes on being awesome.  A couple months ago, the rivet holding the blade onto the knife (that the knife swivels on) came out of the knife.  Thankfully I noticed before losing the blade!


In last year's huge end-of-year Tandy sale, they were selling packs of 1000 rivets for about 1/4 price, in four sizes.  I got all four sizes (4000 rivets) for something like $60-70, if I remember correctly.  The biggest size fit through the hole in the knife.


I put the rivet through the hole and put the cap on.  The knife was placed on top of my hard plastic tooling block, which was on top of a mousepad (to protect my table).  I hit the rivet head with my rawhide mallet a lot.


The knife swivels wonderfully, and it doesn't seem like the rivet is going anywhere!


The rivet isn't quite snug, and swivels around when I move the knife.  I couldn't get it snug, no matter how much I hit it - perhaps because the surface is slightly curved, and the rivet might've been slightly too large.  You can see that it's slightly off the surface of the knife.  Still, it appears to work just fine.  Anyone know if this is normal for rivets?


Fixing the Loaner Gorget

The SCA is an awesome place.  Not only do we teach our love of what we do for free, we often have gear the people can borrow to do it in.  This is true for rapier!  SCA rapier (fencing) is fantastic - it's so different from modern fencing.  We try to make our fighting as close to actual fighting with swords as we can, within safety requirements.  That means we can move around in any direction (not just in a straight line), we can use a variety of weapons and parrying devices - one sword, two swords, daggers, bucklers, cloaks, etc - and you can do fun things like use your free hand to manipulate your opponent's blade.  If you're at all interested in fencing (or even if you're not!  I got into it by accident - was asked to try on gear and try it, and then LOVED IT - you get to hit people with swords omg!!!  Bwahahaha!), you should check it out.  If you're male, you will be asked to provide groin protection.  Besides that one piece of very cheap equipment (they are available for ~$10 at Meijer), you can try rapier fighting for free, as we have tons of loaner equipment.  If you're in Ann Arbor, check out our calendar at Cynnabar.org to find out when we have practice next (I can also tell you where the Lansing and Detroit practices are, and get you in contact from people in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo doing fencing, along with various people in Ohio and Indiana or even further away...).

Anyway, one of pieces of equipment is called a gorget (first syllable like "gore," second syllable pronounced the French way, with a J like the name Jacques followed by "ay" as in "day").  It's a rigid piece that projects the windpipe and upper vertebrae around the neck.  One of of loaner gorgets had the buckle fall off a long time ago, and it's been really awkwardly "fixed" by threading a piece of rope through the hole to awkwardly tie to the other side.  I decided to really fix it.


Here's the other side.  All the buckles I had on hand (I always buy buckles when I find them at thrift stores) were too small, so I picked the one that was close enough and cut down the strap to fit into it.  I tried to center my cuts so that the holes would be in the middle.


I started with the rotary cutter and cutting mat...


Then used my swivel knife to cut deeper along the strap and smooth out the cut.  I braced the gorget on top of a wood block on my knee - this way the metal could sit flat on the wood, and if the blade slipped it would hit the wood and not my leg. 


The resulting edge was very rough.


I took some sand paper and smoothed it out.  It's hard to see in the pictures, but the edge is much smoother now (doesn't look nearly so jagged and crappy).


I put the buckle on it on the tightest setting, and held the gorget completely shut so I could measure the distance from the middle of the bucket to the rivet hole.


The first place I looked was in my bin of random loose leather scraps.  I have tons of leather scraps in my craft room, as I mainly do leatherworking with scraps.  When I finish projects and have loose scraps left or am given small scraps by others, they often end up in my loose scrap bin before I eventually empty it and sort them.  From a recent repair job on a pair of shoes, I found a black strap that was already the exact width I needed with enough length to it.  It was also a fairly sturdy piece of leather, so it would be able to stand up to a fair amount of tugging.  I did not use thick veg-tanned leather (like on the other side of the gorget) because I needed the leather to be fairly thin to fit through the middle of the buckle, while still leaving room for the other side's strap to go through it.


I lengthened the existing hole by cutting a small slit with my swivel knife, so that the tong of the buckle could move back and forth easily.  I folded the strap underneath and sewed it down, securing the buckle to the strap.


The last step was to put a new rivet in the hole and hammer it tight!  I placed the skinny edge of my block of wood underneath the rivet to provide a solid flat surface to hammer against (the curved metal made it impossible to hammer against the table).


And there it is, the finished buckle.  Not a bad repair job for using what I had on hand.  For commissioned work I would've purchased a buckle that fit the original strap better and made sure all the colors of the leather matched, but since this was for a beat up old piece of loaner equipment (very functional, but not pretty), I used what was on hand and easy.


I take leatherworking commissions for repairs or original design work.  Contact me for a discussion of prices!  :)

My living room table is now clear of tiny repair jobs!  I can play board games on it again, yay!
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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Hide Your Litter Box!

I have now made two litter box cabinets - pieces of furniture that hide the litter box.  There are many reasons why these are awesome:
  • Litter boxes are ugly.  Instead of having a container full of grey 'sand' filled with cat dung sitting in the corner of your room, now you have an enclosed wooden cupboard.  It looks much better.
  • You have more vertical space - you can place things on top of the litter box furniture.  You are sacrificing some horizontal floor space (it takes up more floor space than the original litter box), but this makes up for that.
  • The most pressing reason: you no longer have litter EVERYWHERE.  The litter mostly stays in the litter box furniture.  No more daily sweeping and vacuuming and apologizing to guests for getting pieces of litter stuck to the bottoms of their feet as they walk around.  This is the main reason I made these, and the results are fabulous.
I was first inspired by this piece of litter box furniture by Out of Sight Litter Box, a small company that does all of its manufacturing in the US.  If you have the money, purchase from them!  I'm very much in favor of supporting local small businesses (as I am one, haha).  If you're more on a shoestring budget like me, read on to see how I made my own.

I made both of these by starting with what I could find - similar to how I made the cat tower, in that respect.  I went to the Ann Arbor ReUse Center, a fabulous thrift store that sells old furniture (amongst other things).   Before I went, I measured how big my litter box was, and put my cat in it and measured how high a space they needed to comfortably use the litter box.  I needed a piece of furniture that could have the horizontal space to fit my litter box and a couple steps, and the vertical space to hold the litter box shelf and another shelf, too.  I'll show you what I found and how it worked!

Litter Box Cabinet #1

I forgot to take a photo of this before I made it, but when I started it was a simple four-sided open cabinet.  It didn't have any of the shelves or the door, essentially.  I believe it was originally meant for electronics, because there are two big round holes in the sides near the back (you can see a dark spot in the lower back corner - it's a hole).  


The cats walk in the bottom level, which has a latchhook rug I made to catch all the stray litter.  They then walk up the two little steps I made in the back.


And - tada! - there's a litter box on the top shelf!  This is kept closed, except for when I need to open it to clean the litter box.


To make this, I used spare scrap wood I had to make the shelf the litter box sits on, the two steps, and the door (which is why the door is made from two pieces).  There are two latches holding the door shut.  I used random wood stain I had to try and stain the front piece to be similar in color to the rest of it (it doesn't match exactly, but it's close enough to not look wildly different at a glance).  I also added the little ledge in the front of the bottom shelf, so that the rug can't slide out.

To try and get the cats used to it, I played with them on it for a while.  I left the litter box out and the door open, and used the laser pointer to make them walk up and down between the two levels (the stairway is snug, but they fit just fine).


There are two ways that this makes less litter spray around your home.  First, the litter box is enclosed on all sides, so any litter that sprays when the cats jump out of the litter box stays in the litter box/surrounding enclosure.  Second, the long way over a rug that the cats have to traverse in order to get out makes most of the litter fall off their paws before they reach the floor.

The amount of litter in my living room DRASTICALLY lessened once I had this in place.

Word of warning, though: I thought this was a complete failure for months.  I kid you not about months.  One of my cats used it maybe twice in the first couple days, checking it out.  Then they didn't use it.  At all.  I checked every few days, then couple weeks, for a loooooong time, and nothin'.  I wrote it off as a good experiment, and figured I'd try and sell it on Craigslist or something (maybe someone else's cats were used to tight spaces and would use it).  I didn't get around to doing that, and many months after building it I noticed a funny smell coming from it - it was being used!  For quite a while I only cleaned it once every week or two (unlike every day or two for the other litter boxes) as it wasn't being used as heavily, but it's use has been increasing with time.  The first picture was taken January of 2013, so it's been a little over a year now (wow, time passes), and they use it regularly.  

My advice:  Only change one of your litter boxes to being in litter furniture at first, and give your cats lots of time to adjust.  While they are adjusting, they can still use the other litter boxes in the house.

Cost:  $10 for the cabinet, $4.79 for the door clasps, $16.58 for L-brackets, $3 for nails, $5 for back of latchhook rug = $40 total.

Litter Box Cabinet #2

Having the living room clear of litter was fantastic, but I still was sweeping my kitchen daily to get rid of the litter there.  Last week, I finally built another litter box cabinet for the kitchen litter box.  It took going to the ReUse Center several times (2 or 3?) a few weeks apart to find an appropriate piece of furniture.  Then - bingo!  This beauty was there!



It's a simple cabinet with doors that open and one movable shelf (sitting on top of the cabinet when I remembered to take photos before I changed anything!).   Here's Gnome checking it out.  You can also see a tiny black door-stopper in the middle of the top.  The other one is the black thing on the floor in the back corner - I ended up having to superglue it in, as the screw hole was degraded.  Superglue for the win!


You can see the markings I made on the top and the shelf before I cut them.  They were cut with a handheld jigsaw.  First, I took the biggest bit on my power drill and made a hole with the edge just touching the black line.  That made a hole that I could fit the jigsaw through, and use the jigsaw to cut around the edges I marked out.  Then I sanded everything very smooth.


In this next picture, you can see a bit of the mess I made on the floor when figuring out how to carpet it.  I tried first to use the leftover carpet remnants I had from making the cat tower, but I wasn't satisfied with the raw edges.  I wanted this to look nicer than that.  But I had recently been to the ReStore to pick up a used microwave, and I remembered that they had small carpets for $3 each!  I measured the top of the cabinet and went to find them.

The width was perfect!  The length was about 4 inches too short.  My solution: I got three of the rugs that matched (I picked them out for the shaggiest carpet - the longer threads will pick up the stray litter better) and cut them so they fit together into two rugs of the right size.  I cut the end off one of them, and then cut the end off another one with another 4 inches on it, and put them together.  I held them together with duct tape.  I didn't bother getting special carpeting tape, since the carpet pieces were going to be glued and stapled to the wood cabinet anyway.

To cut the holes out of them, I laid the carpet pieces over the top on their shelf and traced the hole with a marker from beneath and cut with big scissors.  After pulling at the edges to clean them off loose threads, I smeared wood glue over the back of the carpet and then used my staple gun to adhere them to the surface.

The green piece is the one that had been in front of the litter box in the kitchen.  I just threw in on the bottom shelf just in case it would be useful in catching litter.  No one will see this layer, so it doesn't matter how pretty it is.


My kitchen with the old litter box!  It's between the shelving unit and the fridge, on the floor.  Ugly green box full of litter and cat dung, sitting in the kitchen.


And the kitchen with the new litter box cabinet!  It looks so much prettier!  The extra litter bin and the Litter Champ (think diaper pail, but for litter) fit on top of it (Litter Champ not pictured there).


The cats are very curious as to what has been done to their litter box.  So far, they've used it a few times in the past few days.  Their use of this litter box (which was their favorite) has gone down, but I expect it will probably rebound with time.  I'll let you know if it somehow fails.  The only concern I have is that I've never caught Kobold using the first litter box cabinet in the living room (though I've seen Gnome use it a handful of times - it's been used far more times than I've seen them use it), so I'm wondering how much he'll like this one.  He has already been in it a couple times, though, so I'm hopeful.


Cost: $15 for the used cabinet, $9 for the three small carpets, ~$2 in sales tax and staples and wood glue, etc.  So about $26.

My kitchen is so much cleaner now.  The floor has a tiny amount of litter on it, but nothing that's really noticeable so far.  It's amazing.  And it looks so, so, so much better without the open litter box. Wow.  Now all that is left is the litter box in the bedroom, if this one continues to work well in a couple months.
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Friday, February 21, 2014

New bookshelf (shelving unit?) and a microwave!

I made a bookshelf!  Well, it's not for books.  A shelving unit?  English doesn't appear to have a good word for this...

Anyway!  Since I can no longer use printing at school (I went on leave from graduate school to focus on healing from bereavement and learning how to enjoy life again), my printer has come out of storage and has been sitting on my living room table for a couple months.  It takes up tons of space.  Solution: I used to have a little table in the kitchen (same place as the new bookshelf) that I would use for extra counter space - I replaced it with this shelf that I built!


On top of being able to house my printer, knife block, fruit/onions bowl, cloth napkins, and kitchen "rags" (I don't use paper towels but some terrycloth washcloths that I made), it also holds a microwave.  

I haven't owned a microwave in over 2.5 years, since moving into this apartment with DeForest.  I was nudged into getting one by Matt - he has been graciously helping me with dishes (I still find them especially emotionally exhausting to do, as it is both one of my most disliked chores and the chore that was explicitly DeForest's), and he really wanted one to cut down on dishes.  The microwave was $20 from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.  I love the ReStore - they have all sorts of furniture and building materials for really cheap.  Apparently they also have used appliances!

So far, the microwave has been working great.  It's also quite drastic how much it cuts down on the dishes, since I used pots and pans to heat up leftovers on a regular basis.  Something I didn't expect, though, when coming home with the microwave: it was another hard reminder that DeForest is gone.  The decision to not have a microwave was one we made together - he very much wanted to have more counter space, and since he was the dishwasher, it was mostly his decision.  Ultimately, I know that it's very minor, and if I had really wanted a microwave, it wouldn't have been an issue.  Still, it was a bit of a knife to the heart again for a while.  It's been here for about a week now, and I'm getting used to it slowly.  All the little changes...  I keep running into them.

Here's a picture of most of my kitchen, with the new shelves in it.


Fruit bowl and cloth napkins and rags!


The bookshelf was made from several 10' pine boards from Lowe's.  It's three boards deep - it's essentially three separate bookcases that I then nailed together with boards that span all three underneath the bottom and top shelves (pictures not taken of this detail).

Cost: $30 for the wood; ~$10 for the stain and screws.  So about $40 for a custom shelving unit that fits my needs exactly.  :)  Not bad!  The staining job isn't perfect (some areas are darker than others, especially near corners, and I didn't bother correcting it), but overall, I think it looks pretty great.
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