How to make a heavy-duty cat toy

No food tonight, so if you don’t have or don’t like cats, come back in a day or two for an on-topic, food-related post. If you have playful cats that are somewhat destructive, then stick around.

The kittens have a bazillion toys, which is good because they love to play. They are quite capable of amusing themselves, but their favorite game is playing with a human-held toy on a string or stick; usually this is a feather on the end of a string, attached to a stick. They leap around like nuts and are generally extremely amusing. However, they are very hard on their toys and tend to destroy them quickly. They eat through strings, so many toys get tied back together again and again until a string that started out several feet long is suddenly a few inches long. They even break the sticks the strings dangle from. And of course, they destroy any feathers on their toys within seconds. And you don’t usually know if feathers were humanely sourced. So I set out to make a heavy-duty dangle-type toy they would have a harder time destroying.

What you need:

various ribbons
thread
about 1 yard cord elastic

plastic cord/cable cover (for hiding electrical cords along walls), about a yard long

I went to the hardware store and scouted out things to use for my “stick”. I tried several different things and what worked best was this Cordmate Cord Cover:
. I think this is the same thing; it was a little cheaper at Home Depot, where they also had longer lengths you can buy separately and cut to fit, which was even cheaper. I bought the kit with 3 36″ lengths because I wanted 36″ and don’t have a saw. It was $10, but I can make two more toys.

I bought a few different types of red ribbon for the “feather”. They were 55 cents to $3 a yard at the fabric store, although I happened to get 25% off those prices. I chose red because I have a theory that cats see red best, and I know red was definitely Tigger’s favorite color. The color, of course, doesn’t matter, so get what you want. I got one type of ribbon that was lightly wired, to provide a bit of the stiffness you’d find in a feather. I got another one that was more gossamer, like the soft parts of a feather. And I got a heavier velvet one that was strong enough to attach to the string to without tearing. So pick out some ribbons and then cut them into lengths about 6 to 8″ long.

Take two pieces of the sturdiest ribbon you have and line them up, back to back, then sew a buttonhole near the top. (If you don’t have a sewing machine, you can just snip a hole, but sewing a buttonhole will really help reinforce it.)

Put a pin at one end of the buttonhole and use a seam ripper to rip the middle of the hole open. (The pin stops you from ripping too far.)

Arrange the rest of the ribbons in a way that they fan out a bit and then put them between the two you’ve sewn together with the buttonhole. Pin.

Sew all ribbons together just under the buttonhole. I used a zigzag stitch and went back and forth a few times to make it as secure as possible. You can do this by hand if you don’t have a sewing machine.

Cut a length of the elastic. I have found that 30″ the ideal length, so cut 32″ or so. Tie one end through the buttonhole and trim the end. Other than possibly some very sleek, round elastics, most of them will tie a very tight knot that won’t come undone (I had to cut the knots on the prototypes I made that I didn’t like).

The cord cover comes with a self-adhesive strip on it for attaching to a wall. You could leave it on and just not peel the paper off, but eventually it’s going to start coming off as you handle it and get all sticky. So just get rid of it now. It took me about two or three minutes to rub the adhesive off with my thumb. I tried using a razor to scrape it off, but the thumb was a lot faster and easier.

The cord cover is also flat on one side (the side you peeled the adhesive off of), and rounded on the other.

Put the flat side on a table, hanging over by an inch or two, and then drill a hole, about 1/2″ down, through both sides. (I love projects that involve using my grandfather’s drill!)

Push the other end of the elastic through one of the holes, then pull it out through the top of the rod. You may need to use tweezers to pull it up, but I just kept pushing it until it popped up on its own.

Tie the elastic.

And that’s it!

The cats love it! It’s very, very, very hard to take pictures of them playing with it, though. I really need a video camera to properly catch it, and I should, because they can be hilarious. Gomez especially does these bizarre contortions mid-air that are amazing, but I just can’t get them on camera! So these pictures are pretty shoddy, but they’re the best I got at catching them in the air:

Torticia tends to get lazy and starts lying on her back, expecting the toy to come to her, although I always go and pick her back up and make her play properly because she’s getting pudgy!

It’s a bit hard to make Mezzie out in front of the glare on the glass behind him, but here he is leaping from his cat tree.

And doesn’t something look really wrong with the angle of Tort Reform’s head in this one?

Finally, since this is a cat-only post, here is a sequence of pictures I took the other night after giving Gomez catnip. He’s a surly drunk! Mezzie likes the ‘nip, but Tortellini doesn’t do more than just kind of sniff it daintily and look at Mez like he’s crazy for eating it. But just seconds after eating some and rolling around it in, Mezzian always starts beating his poor sister up!

Fortunately, Tort Reform just puts him right back in his place.

Okay, that’s it for tonight – back soon with food, I promise!

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Mexican Breakfast

I really need to get to the grocery store today. I’ve been complaining for two days that there is no food in the house. Of course, that’s a ridiculous statement. There is a ton of food in the house. But, in a way that annoys a lot of people – in particular Mark and Fortinbras – all of my food takes the form of ingredients. I rarely have pre-packaged foods around. So if you are hungry, you actually have to make something. From scratch. Sometimes it even annoys me, honestly, though not usually. Anyway, I always have a ton of grains, tinned tomatoes, flour, dried beans, etc. You would not actually starve if trapped in my house for a month or two with no access to a grocery store. But it’s when I have no fresh vegetables around that I start saying I have no food. I’m kind of at a loss at what to do without fresh vegetables as a starting point. Mark kindly went out and got us some dinner from the Whole Foods salad bars last night as I was going out later and didn’t have time to contemplate how to deal with this situation, or just solve it by doing the shopping.

But this morning I was again confronted with the problem. What I did have on hand, though, was a bunch of leftover ingredients from meals earlier in the week. I had some pinto beans, nutritional yeast “cheese”, and half a tin of tomatoes. I got excited thinking, “tofu scramble!”, but alas, no tofu. So I started wondering what I could fry up in a skillet with those things instead of tofu. And concluded “rice”. So I put some rice in the rice cooker and started prepping. What resulted probably wasn’t anything most Americans would consider a very breakfasty food, but I’ve called it breakfast because I ate it as breakfast. It would really be appropriate and tasty any time of day. And anyway, the time of day I ate it was noon, so I guess it was more lunch or brunch. Whatever. I called it breakfast, I photographed it, I ate it, it was good, Mark liked it, I’m sharing it.

Mexican Breakfast

1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
1 or 2 pickled jalapenos, chopped
1 cup diced or crushed tomatoes
1 cup cooked pinto beans (black beans would also be good)
1 cup broth
1/2 – 1 cup Yeast Cheeze
3 or 4 cups cooked rice

diced avocado, optional
fresco sauce (this was some cilantro and serrano pepper sauce I got at Whole Foods), optional
Tabasco sauce, optional

In a large, preferably cast iron, skillet, heat some oil, then add the onions and fry for a few minutes, then add the bell pepper and fry another few minutes. Add the tomatoes, jalapenos, and pinto beans and saute a minute. Add the broth and cheeze, stirring to incorporate the two until they are smooth. Let the mixture become bubbly and thicken slightly. Stir in the rice. Top with avocado if you have it, and serve with fresco and/or Tabasco sauce.

In prior food news, I celebrated the new Vegan Pizza Day holiday on January 29 by making a new kind of pizza dough. I’m going to do a post on this crust very soon because it was gooooood.

Mark is sitting near me watching Mitch Hedberg videos and it’s making it very hard for me to concentrate on this post because I keep laughing. I will try to soldier on to bring you some kitten photos, though.

Gomez has a lot of nicknames. He’s Mez, Mezzie, Mezzikins, Mexicans. I mention this progression of names just because this post was about Mexican Breakfast. So here is Mexicans being extremely adorable.

His eyes are still both green and gold. I thought maybe the green would disappear as he got older, but he’s 11 months now and they still have the same depth of gorgeous colours as they did when he was a baby. They are really quite MEZmerizing. (I hilariate myself.)

Also, Torticia is often called Tortilla or Tortilla Chip. (As well as the more Italian-sounding Tortellini.)

And finally, my mother wanted me to share a picture of her tortoiseshell, commonly referred to as “the most beautiful cat in the world”. This is Casey, from 1995. Mom lost Casey a few years ago and hasn’t been able to replace her. Other than their colouring, Casey and Tortilla Chip have very little in common; their personalities were very different. But Casey was a big, soft, very sweet, quiet, and yes, very, very beautiful girl.

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Barbecued Tempeh Sandwich, with Pickled Carrots recipe

Who else is snowed in? We got a mess yesterday, beginning with rain and sleet all afternoon, a slushy mess that washed away all the salt that had been put down to pre-treat the roads, which then turned to a heavy snow, pretty much at the minute they predicted it would – 4 p.m., just in time for the afternoon rush hour – dumping about 5 inches. We’ve still been fortunate so far this year compared to the rest of the East Coast (even to the south!), so I shouldn’t complain, though I probably will because I hate this stuff! I have even less right to complain because from what I’m hearing, I think much of our county is without power right now, and though our lights flickered several times last night, they stayed on.

PLUS, working from home enabled me to bake bread, a treat I don’t usually get mid-week! My lunch today was the Barbecued Tempeh Sandwich Filling from Peter Berley’s The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen on fresh-from-the-oven multi-grain bread, smeared with Berley’s Spicy Sun-Dried Tomato Spread, topped with pickled carrots and a squirt of sriracha. Served with broccoli slaw.

When I sat down to begin this post, I was going to apologize for not having a recipe for you in this post. I have one coming later today, but because it might be photo-heavy, I thought I’d get some other pictures out of the way first. But then I realized I could tell you how I made the carrots and call that a recipe, so I’d feel better about making you look at a bunch of pictures. Berley suggested shredded carrots as a topping for the sandwich, but I’d read Jes‘s Spicy Noodles with Tofu recipe earlier in the day and had been intrigued by the quick pickled carrots it included. I’m looking forward to making that entire dish very soon, but for my sandwich, I decided to make slightly more involved pickled carrots, though they were nearly as quick. So here you go:

Quick Pickled Carrots

2 large carrots, shaved, shredded, julienned, spiralized, or very thinly sliced
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2-3 cloves garlic, pressed

Whisk together all ingredients except the carrots, then mix in the carrots, cover, and refrigerate for at least half an hour. I put mine in a pickle press just because I have one, but that’s completely unnecessary. I shaved my carrots into long, thin peels using a vegetable peeler, but since I was using them as a sandwich topping, I wish I had used the spiralizer, which would have made them easier to eat on the sandwich. The shavings are good for using as a little side pickle, though. These were even better the next day.

So. Snow. We’re trapped:

Okay, the Canadians are probably politely trying to refrain from laughing. After seeing Zoa‘s pictures of the snow at her house, it does feel a little pathetic to post that one and whine about it. But there’s a thick layer of ice under that snow that’s making it impossible for this Miata driver to even attempt to leave, especially considering I slid into a ditch after hitting an unexpected patch of ice a couple of weeks ago. (Mark, who was drugged up from his root canals, the Miata, and I were all fine; it was mostly just surprising.) I’m fortunate to have the ability to work from home when necessary, so there’s no point in joining the traffic fracas, with downed power lines and trees, unplowed streets, and numerous non-working traffic lights.

I’m not such a curmudgeon I won’t even go outside, though, and the light was nice when I finished breakfast, so I grabbed my camera and looked for photo ops. My favorite was this tiny icicle dangling from a thin tree branch.

It’s shaped like a music note, which I found appropriate because all around me was a symphony of dripping, melting icicles, and weighty snow plopping to the ground from bowed trees. The music note icicle was only about an inch long. It can be difficult to photograph such small things when you are shooting into the air and it is blindingly bright all around you. I was using auto-focus, but a slight breeze was causing that tiny branch to sway, and at the huge aperture I using in order to blur the background, the tiniest movement by either the branch or the camera would cause the lens to focus at a drastically different distance. Would you believe that icicle is actually right smack in the middle of this photograph? It is that blurriness you can almost make out.

Moving on around the house, here is the patio, where you can also see the outside of my sunroom/library.

Here I am peeping into the sunroom from the backdoor. I’m meant to be in that chair, working!

Whilst I was peeping in, Torticia was peeping out:

Gomez has been looking out a lot, too. This is him watching the sleet yesterday:

And no, they aren’t always so placid. They’re actually quite bad. And they wrestle a lot.

In other news, I know I haven’t been posting much, even though I’ve been home quite a bit. The reason is I’ve been doing this really bizarre thing called sewing. If you’ve read the few craft posts I have sprinkled throughout this blog, you know that I hate and am terrible at sewing (although for some reason, I keep doing it). I think I mentioned a few posts ago that I finally broke down and bought a new sewing machine in December after almost having a meltdown while making gift bags this year. It turns out that I hate sewing much less when I have a machine that works. I’m still pretty terrible at it, but I am becoming more confident.

This is a common view from my seat at the sewing table:

He attacks and chews on the thread at the top. He’s very bad! (Both he and Torticia also try attacking the rotary blade when I’m cutting fabric and are thus banned from the sewing room whenever it’s out.) Anyway, my big project was making my mom a rag quilt for her birthday. She just received it in the mail yesterday, so I can post these pictures now. The kittens were very fond of the quilt.

Here’s what the quilt looked like; I couldn’t get any photos that didn’t involve a kitten.

Would you believe I actually free-motion quilted it? I barely can (believe it). I did tell Mom not to look at the quilting too closely, though, since I’m even worse at that than I am sewing in a straight line. It’s a very weird sensation at first, but it’s kind of fun. If there is any interest, I may be talked into writing up a tutorial on making rag quilts. You don’t have to free-motion quilt them, in fact, I haven’t seen any instructions that even recommend that you do (usually you just sew an X through each quilt sandwich). I’m just insane.


This is what happened when I tried to pack the quilt up to mail it. Sigh.

That’s it for now. Stayed tuned for a post with a real recipe later today. I promise no more snow pictures. I can’t promise no more kitten photos, though.

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