Category: tutorial



Just to clarify – this is a recipe to make Jell-o for snails and other bottom-feeding aquatic creatures, not Jell-o made out of snails. That said, it will probably only be useful to a handful of people but when I first started making snail Jell-o I had trouble locating a good recipe so I’m going to share mine in case someone wants it. I’ve thought about modifying the recipe to make cat treats, but haven’t actually done it yet.

INGREDIENTS AND SUPPLIES

  • vegetable baby food – I use peas most of the time, but I’ve also used squash and other vegetables
  • gelatin – 1 envelope or about 2 tablespoons
  • plastic bag
  • cup to hold plastic bag
  • ten kelp tablets (found in the vitamin & supplement section)
  • ten alfalfa tablets (ditto)
  • spoon
  • knife
  • a small amount of water

Cup, bag, baby food, bulk gelatin and measuring spoons

Kelp tablets on the left, alfalfa tablets on the right.

The vegetable baby food is because snails primarily eat vegetation, if you were making treats for a dog, cat, or ferret you could use meat baby food or a combination of the two. The gelatin works as a binding agent and provides a source of protein while the supplements offer calcium, iodine, and other trace minerals. If I were making these for the cats I would probably add glucosamine or vitamins instead.

The procedure itself is pretty easy. First, put the bag inside the cup and fold down the top as shown in the above picture. This will make clean-up easier later. Empty the baby food into the bag. Put the kelp and alfalfa tablets into the now-empty baby food container and add hot water to dissolve them. The alfalfa tablets dissolve very quickly, but the kelp usually needs a little help. Add the resulting slurry to the baby food, along with the gelatin. Mix thoroughly and microwave for about thirty seconds. Stir again to ensure gelatin is completely dissolved. Remove the bag from the cup – it will be hot! – and seal, pressing the air out. Place the sealed bag on a flat surface, like a plate or cutting board, and smooth it until the mixture is evenly distributed.

The cup got a little too hot and melted the bag a bit, normally it would be smooth.

Place bag and cutting board/plate into the freezer for about thirty minutes, it’s so thin it doesn’t take long to set.

Mine came out all wonky because of the bag (It also froze because I was watching TV)

Carefully remove slab of mixture from the bag, it will be very flexible and rubbery, and cut into small pieces. Stored in the freezer, it will keep several months.

The consistency is like that of an eraser.

The snails enjoy their treats. I usually put a few small pieces in rather than one big one to prevent the bigger snails from hogging everything.

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I’m sure I’m not the only person who likes bubble tea, (A.K.A pearl tea or boba tea) but doesn’t like paying three to four bucks for a drink. If you don’t know what bubble tea is, it’s a drink – tea, coffee, fruit smoothie, etc. –  but with large tapioca pearls (bubbles) in the bottom.

The black things at the bottom of the cup.

The drink part is easy, you can use anything, but the bubbles aren’t the sort of thing you normally find laying around the house. But if I can make them, anyone can – I’m surprised I don’t set coffee on fire.

First, you need large tapioca pearls.

These were a birthday gift from GhostSister.

You can find them in white, black, or multicolored, in Asian markets and most large supermarkets in either the Asian foods section or where the pudding and custard mixes are, make sure it’s not the instant or minute tapioca. It will end badly. (You will probably have to go to the Asian market to get the special giant straws required to drink them, or you can just fish them out of the glass with a spoon.)

You also need a large pot of water, at least seven cups to each cup of pearls. It sounds like a lot but they need lots of room to move to keep from sticking together. Bring the water to a rolling boil and pour the pearls in.

They will float almost instantly.

Let boil for fifteen minutes with the lid on, stirring to prevent them from sticking to each other or the pot. (It happens.) They will look different after fifteen minutes.

They will look like frog spawn.

Put the lid on the pot, remove from heat, and let them sit for about twenty minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. The pearls will eventually sink.

After twenty minutes drain the pearls, rinsing well in cold water. You can put you hand in and swirl them around, but be warned – it will feel like a bowl full of tiny eyeballs. Warm eyeballs.

Now they look like pastel frog spawn.

To keep the pearls from clumping up, put them in a syrup solution. You can use any syrup from a simple sugar syrup (boil together one part water and one part sugar) or honey or a mixture of anything. For this batch I used one cup of water with one-third cup sugar and one-third cup honey.

Their appearance is a bit … odd. Honestly, if I hadn’t tried them and thought they were delicious, I’d take one look at this bowl of gummy testicles and laugh.

Doesn't that look yummy?

Truthfully they have very little taste on their own, but once you put them in syrup they will absorb the flavor of what they are sitting in.

You can keep them in the syrup for a couple of days in the fridge but they are really best when used fresh, within a day or so. The texture is soft and squishy like thick jam, once they’ve sat in the syrup solution they get a bit harder and closer in texture to a gummy bear. They will absorb the syrup, making them less like flavorless starch balls and more like tasty bits of awesome, but they do get much harder and more opaque.

You can remedy this by scooping out a portion (about one third to one half of a cup) syrup and all and microwaving it for about a minute or so. You’ll know they are done when they take on that frog-spawn look again. They will be softer than a straight-from-the-fridge pearl, but not as soft as a fresh batch. Since it is a bit of a hassle to make a batch up every time you want some, I usually freeze half the batch in a plastic bag. To use you just microwave a portion in the syrup.

The sugar syrup keeps them from freezing solid.

Recently thawed pearls, looking like frog spawn again. I didn't add enough syrup so they were harder than they should have been.

For size comparisons, here’s a couple of raw pearls and a couple of freshly boiled ones. They go from about the size of a pea to the size of a garbanzo bean, and will get slightly bigger after absorbing some of the syrup.

Ye gods, are my hands really that pink?


I’ve actually had the time to put together a tutorial/review for you folks! Aren’t you excited?

As most of you know, I loves me some eBay and often scour the $0.99 selections of different sections looking for interesting things. This time I’ve found something from the “Nail Art” listings.

The largest flower is approx. 3/8ths of an inch across.

For about a dollar (with free shipping) I got this tiny silicone mold – there are dozens (perhaps even hundreds) of styles available, mine just happens to be flowers. Some of the more intricate styles cost more, but most can be found for around $2.50. Most are what I would consider “girly” – little flowers, fruit, animals, and lacy patterns. Food is oddly popular, with different breads, cakes, cookies, and candies available.

These are just some of the styles available.

Their original use is for making embellishments for women’s nails – hence the graduated sizes – using a two-part acrylic paste.

I don’t have any of the acrylic powders or liquid, although I’d like to get some, so I’ve been experimenting with different clays and Sculpey. Model Magic works pretty good, it’s not too sticky that it won’t come out in one piece, but it doesn’t really hold detail all that well.

That’s when I ran into a problem – the acrylic paste hardens quickly and can be popped out fairly soon after putting in in the mold, the air-dry clays take a bit longer so I couldn’t make a lot at once and Sculpey has to be baked but that would cause the mold to melt.

Enter my little friend Mr. Tape!

If you can't see it, that's because it's invisible.

I squish the tiny bits of clay into the mold and then press a strip of tape over it.

Like so.

After pressing firmly, first with my fingers and then by pressing the mold against the table,  I very carefully peel the tape off so that the tiny flowers are stuck to it.

Like this, but less blurry.

I make the tape strips long enough that I can fold over the ends and handle them without them sticking to my fingers. If I’m using air-dry clay I just sit them aside and let them dry – the pieces are less that an eighth of an inch thick so they dry pretty quickly – and peel them off the tape after about an hour and flip them over so the backs can dry.

Cute!

I have attempted to make some using Sculpey – it holds detail better but once baked the tiny pieces are fragile and crumble easily because they are so thin.

The top set is Model Magic, the bottom is Sculpey. None of the bottom pieces survived baking, though.

They look pretty boring in white, but can easily be done with colored compounds or painted. I’ve used both Sharpies and nail polish with good results – the easiest way to paint them is to cut a square out of the center of a stiff piece of paper (like an index card or a paint sample chip) and then put a piece of tape across the opening, flip it over, and adhere the little design to the adhesive side.

I’m going to order some of the acrylic that the molds are designed for, but I’m still going to play around with other stuff. I’m curious to see how plaster would work in them, or a bit of melted chocolate.

As I mentioned, these are designed for nail art, but the little designs could be used for lots of things. I’ve incorporated several into various art projects. I have plans to buy more molds, they are fairly cheap and fun to mess around with.

I guess I could always do my nails more. And you know I want those kitties.

The Mystery Project


We all know I’m crazy, right?

Here’s just one example – NaNoWriMo started on November 1st. About a week before NaNoWriMo started I was cruising through the swaps over on Swap-Bot – just looking – when I noticed an unusual swap called “Geeky Crafts!”

So of course I clicked on it to read the description.

The swap was this – we had to send a handmade item to our partner that reflected one of their geeky passions. I wasn’t really planning on signing up for a swap, but as I was really intrigued by it, I signed up.

For a major project.

Six days before NaNoWriMo started.

Again, crazy.

After partners were assigned I scrolled through my partner’s profile looking for ideas, and discovered that my partner Shadowspun likes Batman.

Who doesn't?

Among the many crafts listed on her profile, my partner mentioned that while she does appliqué she has never understood patchwork. So I got to thinking about patchwork, and Batman, and crafting, and doing doodles, until I thought of something interesting.

I did a pixel drawing of the Batman logo and thought – Hey, I could make that out of fabric and turn it into a tote bag!

So I sat down and figured out how big I needed the squares to be, how much fabric I would need of each color, that sort of thing.

Bring forth the math!

I wanted it to look like a charm quilt, with a lot of different shades, so I bought four shades of black and three yellows.

Ooh, fancy.

I had settled on 1-inch squares, with added seam allowance each one was 1 1/2 inches. The piece was 17 X 19 so I had to cut out 323 tiny little squares.

That's a lot of tiny little squares.

And you just know anytime I try to do something like this, I end up with lots of “help”.

The very helpful Simon.

The extremely helpful Firefly.

And my ever-vigilant sewing buddy, Fearless.

Pretty much every other step was “Remove cat(s) from crafting surface.” This was especially fun when it came to laying out all the pieces – Fearless with her mile-long feathery tail was lots of fun.

Hence the reason for the spray bottle at the top right.

The basic idea is simple – sew together in pairs, then quartets, then groups of eight, etc … larger and larger until all the tiny little pieces are sewn together in the right order.

PB050112.JPG

Progress halfway through, it's already much smaller than when all the blocks were laid out individually.

One of the cut squares on top of the finished piece.

Voila! The finished logo.

Of course, once the logo was finished, I still had to make the tote bag. That part was pretty fast, since I’ve made dozens of tote bags, but it still took a while.

It looked much better once the border was on. You can't really tell because the colors are a bit washed out, but the yellow is made of patchwork pieces of the yellow.

I did a bit of quilting to the logo so it would be stable if it got washed – all the seam allowances made it pretty stiff so I just used a piece of plain white muslin instead of using any batting –  and sewed a bag and liner.

For the lining I used a sparkly bat Halloween print.

The finished bag, modeled by Mother Dearest.

SOme of the seams didn’t line up perfectly and if I had more time I would have torn the stitching out a couple of times and redone it, but I was on a tight schedule and didn’t really have time for do-overs. It galls me to send out something that is less than perfect, but my partner left me a wonderful note that she loves the bag, all the more so because she doesn’t do any patchwork so it isn’t something she would ever have done, so I guess it was okay. I can still see every wonky line though.

It was a hell of a lot of work, and if I had known how long it would take I might have chosen something else to make, but it turned out so good I didn’t want to send it. I have plans to make another for myself once NaNoWriMo is over.

Tutorial – Hair Spray


This is not a hairspray like the “Ultra-Mega Hold” styling lacquer that glues your hair together. It is more like a leave-in conditioner. It makes my normally dry hair soft and helps tame my frizzy curls somewhat, and also helps keep my dry scalp from itching.

I wanted a nice, light leave-in conditioner that wouldn’t make my head itch – most conditioners use silicone oil to coat the hair shaft but it coats everything else (like your scalp) as well. I couldn’t find one that suited my needs, no matter how hard I looked.

So I came up with my own.

And here’s how you make it.

First you will need;

  • A spray bottle – mine holds about two cups, so that’s what this recipe makes
  • Aloe Vera gel – I have a tube of this organic stuff, it’s lasted for years. The regular sunburn aloe will work as well, as long as it’s aloe vera gel and not a lotion.
  • Glycerin – you can find this in the health and beauty aisles of most stores. This big bottle has lasted me years.
  • Water – you can use tap water or distilled, it’s completely up to you. Some tap water will develop an unpleasant smell after sitting for a while.
  • Essential Oil (optional) – I like to use lavender, but sometimes I use rosemary. The aloe has a scent of its own that’s quite nice.
  • Optional – Alcohol (optional) – If you use essential oil, you will need about half a teaspoon of high-test alcohol, either drinking booze or rubbing alcohol.

This stuff.

Now the terribly complicated method of making it.

Step 1 – Put a small amount of warm water in the spray bottle. Add about two teaspoons of aloe vera gel and shake it around so it will dissolve. This can take a minute.

Step 2 – Add ten drops of glycerin to the warm water. Swirl it around a few times, it will dissolve quickly.

Optional step – if you are adding essential oil, first pour about half a teaspoon of alcohol into a separate small container and then drop between 5 – 10 drops of essential oil into the alcohol. Stir to disperse the oil in the alcohol and then pour it into the spray bottle. You can also use a squirt of perfume, if you are a perfume person.

The alcohol & oil mixture makes it cloudy.

Step 3 – Top off spray bottle with water and put the top on. Shake again.

And that's it.

 

If you don’t choose to use alcohol & oil, it will be much less cloudy but it will be slightly clouded.

To use –

Spray lightly over whole head and massage in from crown to tips with fingers or a large-toothed comb, making sure to get down to the scalp. It will help detangle hair to some degree. Can be applied directly to scalp if very dry. Wet hair is best, but can be applied to dry hair as well. (I keep a bottle at work for touch-ups) Dry and style as you normally would.

Aloe and glycerin are both moisturizers and skin protectants, they help keep the hair shaft from drying out so it will take slightly longer for your hair to dry. You can also wait until your hair is dry and mist it with the solution. It also has the added benefit of acting as a light moisturizer for your skin. (Very nice on thirsty legs in the wintertime when it gets so dry indoors.) If you use too much, you hair can become sticky, so it’s best to start light and add more later.

You may need to adjust this recipe to your own tastes, you may need less or more aloe or glycerin depending on how dry your hair is.

Brrrr…


It’s Monday again, a day most people (including myself) head back to work and are not terribly thrilled about it. For many (again, also including myself) this means coffee.

Ahhh...coffee! The nectar of the gods.

Or, if you really need a jump-start – espresso.

Ahhh...espresso! Nectar of the twitchy gods.

The only problem with this is that in the summer, when it’s so blasted hot, drinking hot coffee will just make you hotter.

“But Ghostie!” You cry; “Coffee is always served hot!” Not always, my dear deluded reader. In recent years there has been a rise in cold coffee drinks made available at various fast food and gourmet coffee shops. The coffee is still brewed in the traditional manner, but is poured over ice and tarted up with cream and sugar. All that fat (from the cream) and sugar adds a lot of calories, making your daily dose of caffeine into something closely resembling a milkshake. All that ice also dilutes the coffee once it melts, which affects the taste.

Now, you can do this at home (brew your coffee as you normally would and pour it over ice) which is a perfectly acceptable solution. You could even make your own coffee ice cubes if you don’t want to dilute your brew with water ice. If you are especially good at planning, you can brew your coffee the night before, adulterate it as you see fit, and then store it in the fridge overnight so it will be icy cold in the morning.

There is also another option, one that doesn’t use a coffeemaker at all. You can cold-brew your coffee. You may have never heard of this method, it is not widely used because of the time involved, but it makes a tasty cup of coffee that is actually less bitter and a bit stronger than a hot-brewed cup. All you need is a clean container, coffee grounds, water, and some method of straining out the grounds. (I use a sieve lined with a coffee filter, but anything that will get the grounds out will work fine. If you have a French Press, you can use that.)

I'm using a clear jar, but any container with a lid will work. Large yogurt containers are good; they can be stacked easily if you want more than one batch going at the same time.

Here’s what you do;

Step 1:

Add your grounds to your container.

Like so.

I’m using two scoops (about four tablespoons) each of Folgers Black Silk roast and Cafe Bustelo espresso roast in a quart jar. This sounds like a lot, and it is, but there is a reason for this. The end result will be a concentrate that you mix with cold water or milk to make the final beverage. You could use less to make a weaker brew, but instead of being able to make a half-gallon of cold coffee drinks, you would only have a quart for all your troubles. You could also add more grounds if you wanted it stronger, but the more you add the more water they will absorb and the less actual coffee you end up with. It’s a fine line, really, and I’ve found this amount works best for me.

Step 2 –

Add water to your container.

Like so.

The grounds will float at first; you can either put the lid on, if you are using a container with a tight-fitting lid, and give it a few vigorous shakes, or you can just stir it throughly.

Oooh ... swirly.

There’s a tuft of cat hair on my knuckle because Fearless kept jumping up on the counter to see what Momma was doing and I kept having to get her down until she got bored and wandered off to take another nap.

I dream of ... cheese balls and ponies.

(The cat hair is an optional ingredient.)

Once the grounds have been stirred or shaken in, they will absorb some of the water. You can add additional water if you like.

Like this.

Step 3 –

Put the lid on and wait. You can leave it out at room temperature or stick it in the fridge, I do a little of both. I’ll make the coffee in the morning, after I’ve used the last of the previous batch and cleaned out the jar, and leave it on the counter while I’m at work. Before I go to bed I stick it in the fridge so that when I strain it in the morning it will already be cold. The time you leave it can depend on your schedule, I would recommend at least eight to twelve hours, twenty four is ideal. You can leave it longer than that but it won’t really make any appreciable difference. There’s only so much coffee you can get out of the grounds. Giving it the occasional shake, if your container will allow vigorous shaking, will help. If you are using a French Press to brew in, I recommend removing the inner plunger workings when you put it in the fridge, just as a space saver.

Step 4 –

Using the straining method of your choice, strain the grounds out of the coffee concentrate. As I’ve said, I use a sieve lined with a coffee filter resting over a mixing bowl. The sieve alone would catch most of the regular grounds but the finer espresso grind would go right through and leave a thick sludge in the bowl. If you have a French Press – just pour everything in, depress the plunger, and pour.

A word of caution – most of the grounds will be on the top of the container, forming a thick plug. Either shake the container or use a utensil to break up this plug before pouring or when you try to pour out the coffee (maybe, let’s say, while trying to take pictures for your blog) the plug will be forced out all at once and grounds will go everywhere.

Before straining. You can see the plug in the neck of the jar - the slightly lighter, bubbly-looking band of brown.

During straining. It's best to do a little at the time.

Almost finished straining.

Once as much of the liquid has strained through as you can get to, gather the edges of the filter and twist into a pouch, GENTLY squeeze the remaining liquid out of the grounds as if it were a tea bag. Discard grounds and filter as you normally would.

Once most of the grounds are in the filter you may notice that the volume of the stream dripping out the bottom is reduced. I’ve found that tapping the edge of the sieve or shaking it slightly will help the liquid strain easier. While it’s dripping, clean the container you plan on keeping the concentrate in, either by washing the container you made it in or getting out the container you plan on storing it in.

Step 5 –

Pour your concentrate into the storage container and place in the fridge. You can keep the concentrate for at least a week, but I usually drink all mine in two or three days.

The final product. Notice the level of liquid is lower than before it was strained, this is the amount of liquid absorbed by the grounds. (and some that spilled out when I forgot to break up the plug)

Using this volume of grounds and water produces almost a quart of brew that is stronger than regular coffee, closer to espresso, but with a less bitter taste. If you wanted it very, very strong you could add more grounds after the straining process and leave it for another day. I’ve never done it, but it would be an interesting experiment to try.

The concentrate can be used full strength like an espresso shot, or diluted with water, milk, or creamer. I would not use the powdered non-dairy creamer (or coffee whitener if you live in America’s Hat) in this because the fine powder doesn’t dissolve readily in the cold liquid. If I run out of regular milk or liquid creamer I’ll use the powdered NDC but I’ll dissolve it in warm or hot water ahead of time and let it cool. The same goes for sugar; it will dissolve in cold liquid but it doesn’t like to so it’s a good idea to dissolve it ahead of time. My personal favorite serving method is to mix the concentrate half and half with chocolate milk, it has a nice mocha flavor.

Mmmmm...

Like most things you can do yourself, making cold-brew coffee at home versus buying it elsewhere will save you a lot of money. Even if you use only premium beans you can still make gallons of of coffee for the price of a few cups from a coffee shop.

You can buy fancy cold-brewing apparatus, but the idea is the same; mix grounds and water, wait, strain.

Some set-ups are fancier than others.

The only different between making one yourself out of a jar and buying one of those expensive cold-brewers is the money you spend. It’s also fairly “green” since you don’t use any electricity for brewing the actual coffee, only chilling it. The granola-licking hippies out there should like that.

If you decide to try cold-brewing, please leave me a comment letting me know how it worked for you.


Today I’m going to talk about something fun and super-easy that I’ve been doing for years – home shoe repair!

No, not really. Today I’m talking about lucky stars.

Ummm ... No.

The stars I’m talking about are made from strips of paper. This is one of the easiest things you can make, it is practically idiot-proof. Japanese schoolgirls make hundreds of these things to fill pretty glass containers to give as gifts to friends and family. Sometimes wishes or prayers are written on the strip before it is folded, hiding the message from prying eyes.

The number of stars given is supposed to correspond to the giver’s feelings;

  • 30 stars = Thinking of you.
  • 99 stars = Thinking of you always.
  • 100 stars = A blessing from the heart.
  • 520 stars = I love you.
  • 1314 stars = I’ll love you forever.

I think it’s a nice sentiment; to show someone how much you care by giving them a gift they know you spent a good deal of time on, specifically for them.

Technically this isn’t origami, it’s strip folding. All you need are strips of paper and the instructions, which are available all over the Internet. You can find some with excellent diagrams here and here. Basically you tie a knot in the end of the strip, wrap the long end tightly around the knot and tuck the loose end in. Just pinch the sides in and you’ve got a star!

Here are some of my half-inch stars, folded from various papers.

It’s a good idea, if you are making a lot of them at once, to alternate which hand you use to pinch in the side. The pressure needed can make your fingertips sore if you overdo it.

Supposedly the ideal ratio is 1:13, but I have found that it depends on the stiffness and thickness of the paper. Newsprint or wrapping paper, like some of the stars in the jar above, are thin papers so the strips have to be a bit longer. Vellum, while thin, is stiffer than newsprint or wrapping paper so you can get away with using shorter strips. If you are making smaller stars, like quarter inch ones, a longer strip of a thin paper works better than a shorter strip of thicker paper.

You can buy lucky stars paper strips online; they come in a rainbow of colors, some glow in the dark or have licensed characters on them like Hello Kitty or SpongeBob, but you will pay. The fancier the paper, like glitter or holographic papers, cost quite a bit.

Some Hello Kitty stars I folded for GhostSister, she bought the paper and I did the folding.

Alternately, if you are a cheapskate like me and you have a good ruler and a razor blade, you can just cut you own strips. Strips cut from catalog pages work nicely for practice, can be pretty in their own right, and they are free.

A cup of folded but unpinched stars. I usually fold up a bunch and then pinch them later.

The stars in the cup above are made mostly of thin scrapbooking paper I bought at the dollar store, the white ones on the very top are vellum that I scribbled on with a silver Sharpie before I cut it up. I like the effect of being able to see the silver streaks of lower layers through the translucent paper.

A folded and pinched star made of comic strip newsprint and an unpinched star of dollar store scrapbooking paper. The star gets slightly smaller when pinched.

At first you will probably ruin quite a few stars, it takes a little practice to get the pinching part down pat, but once you get the hang of making these you can do them almost on autopilot; I’ll do them while I watch TV sometimes, just to keep my hands occupied. (I’m fidgety.)

Some of my tiny quarter inch stars.

I don’t have a lot of “pretty” smaller quarter inch stars, most of the ones I’ve made are made of notepad paper. I just cut along the ruled lines, it’s really easy.

A handful of tiny stars, mostly notepaper and magazine. You can see one is made from a Fossil ad 🙂

Just for fun, here's a tiny alien surrounded by notepaper stars.


I was driving to work one morning, thinking about things as is my habit, when I realized I hadn’t written about my litter boxes.

I may have mentioned that I think of odd things while driving.

I am unusually proud of my litter boxes, because I made them myself. Granted, it wasn’t that hard, but still – I made them.

Back when I just had Simon, I had a standard box you can find at any Sprawlmart or pet store – it resembled a large dishpan. I got one of the “deluxe” models with a cover, to cut down on the smell. (This was back when I was living in my camper.) Then the kittens came along and it was very clear, after cleaning out the box three times a day, that I was going to have to do something else.

But what?

I already had the largest litter box available (they just didn’t make litter boxes any bigger) and the lack of space meant I couldn’t just buy another one. I was stumped until I realized that while they didn’t make litter boxes bigger, they did make larger plastic containers.

No, I'm not going to post pictures of my litter boxes. Sicko.

I ventured out to Sprawlmart’s storage section and found the perfect solution – a thirty gallon storage tote. Five (very careful) minutes with a sharp knife and there was a seven inch square hole in one end about eight inches from the bottom. Why seven inches? Because that’s how wide the handles are. I filled it with litter, it took most of a twenty-eight pound bucket, and then popped the lid on, congratulating myself on a job well done.

And now the cost breakdown

  • A regular far-too-small-for-anything-other-than-a-single-kitten  litter box, around ten dollars or so.
  • A fancy “extra-large” covered model, like the one I had, can go for twenty-five or so.
  • The even fancier self-cleaning models cost over a hundred, but that’s really overkill in my opinion.
  • The thirty gallon tote, which can accommodate two cats at the same time, cost me less than nine dollars.

This is quite a savings, in more ways than one.

When I cut the hole in the end, I measured the depth of the old box and added an inch or so, making the tote slightly deeper than a standard litter box. It’s not much and the cats have no trouble getting in and out, but that inch or so spread out over the entire box really increased the volume of litter I’m able to use. Most litter boxes are no more than about six or seven inches deep and you never fill it to the top, that’s just a recipe for getting litter everywhere.

Even the “extra-large” boxes are barely big enough for one cat; Simon had a hard time turning around in his, the small amount of litter in the bottom made it lightweight and prone to rocking back and forth when “in use,” and the top popped off constantly.  The larger footprint and heavier weight of the tote makes it much more stable. This is especially nice, since all three of my furry darlings like to dig during their private time. Sometimes I think they just go in and dig for fun.

Keeping all of this in mind, when it became clear that Simon was going to have to be put in a permanent time-out the protect Nikki, I didn’t buy a regular litter box; I bought a tote. I didn’t need one quite as big as the thirty gallon job, so I got a slightly smaller eighteen gallon one, which is perfect for one cat. It cost me a little over five dollars. I do have one standard litter box, I bought it to use when Simon hurt his shoulder and I had to keep him caged for a month, the tote was too big to fit in the cage. It was very messy, with litter getting everywhere, and I was glad to put it away when Simon’s shoulder healed.

If you’re thinking about getting a cat or currently have a cat or cats and you are fed up with too-small litter boxes, go get yourself a tote. Since they are fairly air-tight, it’s a good idea to leave the lid off from time to time to help the ammonia evaporate. I leave the lids off of mine about once a week and give the litter a good stir every time I clean it out to help things along.

Bonus tip!

While there is very little litter kicked out of the totes since the sides are so high, there will be some as the cats go in and out. Putting a mat down in front of the opening solves this problem nicely.You can buy an expensive one for at least ten dollars, if not more…

Aww... it's kinda cute.

Or you can be smart and get a rubber doormat.

I find the kind with the little pegs works the best.

The doormats I use both came from Family Dollar and cost three bucks a piece. They do both say “WELCOME” instead of being cute little paw shapes, but it’s not like the cats care about that sort of thing. The cats walk over the mat and the little rubber feet knock the litter off their feet, even Fearless’ fuzzy clodhoppers.

Her fuzzy, fuzzy feet.

They reduce the amount of litter getting tracked through the house down to almost nothing and I don’t have to comb litter out of Fearless’ foot-fur every night. (Yes, I’ve done that. It’s not nearly as much fun as it sounds.)


Today on Cooking with Ghostie, I’m going to show you how to make flavor extracts.

Now you might be saying, “But Ghostie, why would I want to make my own extracts?”

Who’s writing this blog, me or you? You’ll damn well learn what I tell you to learn.

Also, it’s a great way to have flavors you would not normally be able to find in a grocery store, as well as the more “normal” flavors like orange, vanilla, lemon, cinnamon, and the like. Love lavender? Crave cumin? Desire dill?  Make some extract. (Technically this process makes an infusion, but I’m calling it an extract because they are used interchangeably with store-bought extracts.)

Here is what you will need;

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This stuff.

– A clean jar

– The herbs and/or spices you wish to make the extract with

– booze

Now here is the labor-intensive* process by which these extracts are made.

Step 1.

Place the herbs and/or spices in the jar. I’m using a mix of four teaspoonfuls of peppermint and four teaspoonfuls of spearmint in a pint jar. You can use less, but the flavor will not be as intense.

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Like so.

Step 2.

Fill jar with you booze of choice.

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Like so.

I’m using vodka since it’s “tasteless”, but you can use anything really. Lavender made with brandy, rosemary made with gin, vanilla made with bourbon;depending upon what you are making the extract from, your choice of alcohol can improve the flavor. Mother Dearest has made some vanilla extract using my good bourbon and it’s amazing. You can use the cheap stuff and get very good extract, but if you spring for the higher shelf stuff you can make some wonderful extract.

Step 3.

Put lid on jar.

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Like so.

Step 4.

Label jar with contents and date, and then put somewhere dark for several months.

That’s it.

You can make a stronger extract by straining out the material after a couple of months and adding more, topping off with more booze if desired, and letting it sit for longer.

Once your extract is at the strength you desire, you can use it in the place of store-bought when cooking. Just use your imagination. Substitute lavender for vanilla when making cookies, add a bit of rosemary and lemon when you roast a chicken, put some garlic in your bread dough, anything. I personally like to add a teaspoon of lavender extract to a glass of water; Mother Dearest says it’s like drinking perfume but I think it’s very refreshing when I get tired of plain water. It’s kinda like a homemade version of those flavored waters that are so popular now.

*Not really.

The Castle


When I moved in to my parents’ house, I had no furniture. I had lived for several years in a travel trailer where everything was built-in. Since Mother Dearest has collected furniture for years she already had a bed and a futon and chairs and tables, that sort of thing, and I had … a small fridge and several sets of the wire cubes that you connect with little plastic connectors.

These guys are awesome for small spaces; you can put them together and take them apart as needed without a big hassle and they take up almost no room when broken down.

I had a cat climbing tower as well, a little one that was about four feet tall and worked fine in a small space when the kittens were little, but as they got bigger it became clear that it was not going to work.

There were some structural integrity issues.

So I decided to build a new one. It would have to modular, made from reasonably priced materials, accommodate around forty-five pounds of assorted cats, and be something I could do with my limited woodworking skills. It would also have to fit in a wide but shallow space in front of a window and beside a closet door.

To the Habitat Store!

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This served as the base for the castle. It's a kitchen cabinet and cost fifteen dollars.

For those who are wondering how that thing could possibly be a kitchen cabinet, you should know that it’s upside down. It was originally mounted over a sink and the tall part on the right would be on the left of the sink. It had the primary requirement of being narrow, the castle had to fit against a wall and still allow a closet door to open.

We snagged a few loose drawers as well, one for two dollars and one for three, and headed home to modify my new purchases.

Thank goodness for Mother Dearest and her power tools.

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Mother Dearest has forbidden me from posting any more pictures of her on Facebook. But we're not on Facebook, are we?

There was much figuring done and then the sawing of holes and scrap lumber was found to make legs that would raise the whole thing to window height.

complete

Fast forward to the final fitting to make sure all the holes are in the right place and everything fits. Mother Dearest is being gracious as always.

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Backside view with all the pieces in place. Mother Dearest got fed up with me taking her picture; she flipped me the bird and retreated to the front steps.

The whole thing was brought inside to be painted; bright turquoise on the outside and deep teal that looks almost black with yellow stars on the inside. I originally painted the inside yellow, ironed on butcher paper stars, painted around them, and took the paper stars off. it looked horrible so I had to go back and paint over the yellow areas with the dark teal. Instead I cut even more stars out of yellow paper and decoupaged them to the inside.

Trying to paint something this big in a house full of cats who live to find new and interesting places to sleep proved to be quite a challenge. At least I knew they would actually use it.
I covered the ramp leading from the bottom to what became the middle tier with burlap so it could be used as a scratching board as well. I made the decision to leave the legs unpainted and rubbed them with catnip oil. The rear ones have become Simon’s favorite scratching posts.

100_2851.jpg  I had lots of “help”.

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They were absolutely thrilled when it was moved to its final place.

The final pieces, the two drawers and a little landing on the left by the portal leading from the bottom to the middle, were added about a week later.

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They were thrilled all over again. It was like it was a new castle.

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Thank you for spending so much time and energy making a nice high place for us. Now go away.