Cats… cats everywhere!

I was on my break during the Tuesday morning shift at Shropshire Cat Rescue last week when a lady brought in a tiny black kitten. Roughly 8 weeks old, he’d been found abandoned in Bridgnorth, a nearby town.

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Now, despite evidence to the contrary (a growing menagerie!) volunteering at the cat rescue has hardened my resistance to the “omg cute kitty” fever I was once plagued with. Nonetheless, I saw this little kitten’s tiny sad eyes and almost entirely melted then and there. Perhaps it’s a soft spot for black cats thanks to the late great King of Cats, my beautiful Hex?

black male

Who knows, but I *wanted this kitty*.

I did however manage to exercise some good judgement, and after a brief fussin’, put him down for someone else to tend to. Shortly after, he was joined by another kitten, roughly 12 weeks old, who’d been found somewhere else:

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They immediately took to one another and so I left them to it.

Until Thursday. On Thursday I was back at the rescue with Gaz for a meeting about the rescue’s new website, which we’re working on (complete with a spangly new WordPress theme design from Pretty Content) together, and Gaz is an even bigger “crazy cat person” than I am. Within minutes of walking into the staff room he declared that we should have them.

Now let me remind you that at that exact moment we had 4 cats, 6 guinea pigs, 2 rabbits and a recent baby tarantula addition waiting for us at home.

But we “had to have them”.

I stood firm. I said no. I pointed out that within the next 12 months we’re hoping to move to a bigger home, which is going to require clearing some debts and being sensible with money and generally not spending more than we can afford. Ozzy has been at the vets this week, the house still stinks of cat pee from when we had Pixel. It was a Bad Idea. We left that evening without the kitties.

And then I started my shift on Tuesday. I didn’t look the kitties in the eye, I knew I was in dangerous emotional territory after some recent bad news. I IGNORED THEM. I tootled off to do my usual jobs. I fed the village cats, I medicated the oldies. I swept and I cleaned. But then it was break time again…

It took less than a minute in the break room for me to cave, reserve the tiny kittens and make a coffee.

I am a bloody sucker.

End of an Era, Goodbye Fudge

Things have been a bit shit in the jemjabella zoo/household recently.

Firstly, we had to make the decision to re-home Pixel, the aggressive stray whom I’d hoped to integrate and ‘tame’. Ultimately she was not getting on with Fudge, and as low level dislike turned to full on fur-flying fighting and her cowering under the sofa more often than not, we had no choice.

Then, a couple of weeks ago one of our guinea pigs — Tango — died unexpectedly.

(The one on the right)

Shortly after, within days of each other, Pixel (on the day she was supposed to leave!) and Fudge both disappeared. Hoping it was spring fever and they were out catching mice and birds we posted on facebook, got in touch with local vets, scoured the streets, put up posters etc… but I remained hopeful that they would turn up on the doorstep one morning looking fat, fed and happy with themselves.

Unfortunately it was not to be, and on the way back from Shrewsbury 10k road race yesterday I had a few missed calls from a guy living at the end of the road. His sister had found a cat dead in her garden one street over the back from ours. I knew it was Fudge before I even saw the body. It felt like a massive kick in the gut.

Pixel is nowhere to be seen, but given the length of her disappearance and the spate of dead cats appearing locally recently I suspect she has gone the same way.

After losing Hex almost exactly a year ago I was determined that the last of my original “babies” would have to live until at least 20. Fudge wasn’t allowed to die. Apparently, though, it doesn’t matter how hard you want something to be true, it’s not a guarantee.

I don’t regret letting him outside. It brought him well and truly out of his shell and he had been happier in the past few years than I ever saw him prior. It might have been a shorter life than he should have had, but I’d rather it short and happy than prolonged and constantly wanting something more.

And so here we are… 3 cats. It doesn’t seem anywhere near enough.

AMA: Comprehensive list of animals (cat pics yay)

So, the first (proper) question in my recent ‘AMA’ was from Melissa, who asked:

Can you provide a comprehensive list of all your animals with names + types + breeds? And also how you manage your litter box organization! ^_^

Now, there should be a page for this, but every time I work on my ‘pets’ page, something dies or someone new comes along. 2016 has been particularly chaotic, in fact! Anyway, hopefully this post — dated and timestamped and all that jazz — will give you a rough run down of my animal population right now.

Cats

In order or when they arrived in our zoo…

Fudge

Fudge is a domestic shorthair, is 8 and a half (ish) years old and ‘top cat’ in the household since Hex passed away.

Tiny toes

Fudge in the bath

I ‘rescued’ Fudge in 2008 from a pretty awful situation (although looking back there’s lots I’d change about how I dealt with that).

Fudge went through a period of being incredibly subdued and shy, but having been given access to roam outdoors over the past couple of years he’s really come out of his shell and loves a good fuss.

Crumble

Crumble is a domestic shorthair, approx 6.5 years old and is mostly ‘owned’ by Isabel who considers Crumble her cat. I resisted the urge to adopt Crumble back in 2010 for about 2 weeks before finally caving.

Checking out the baby playmat

Wrestling Fudge

crumble

Crumble is a simple cat, content to spend most of her life curled up in a chair. She likes to sit with us of an evening and chirps like a canary if you fuss her enough.

Ripley

Ripley is a bloody expensive cat, AKA British Shorthair. She’s approx 15 months old. She is Gaz’s cat, bought for him last Christmas, and is easily the biggest pain out of all my animals. She has no tolerance for cheaper cat foods (can you blame her?) which give her the runs, so we had to switch all the cats to a more expensive food last year. She demands attention all day, eats more than any cat I’ve ever met and won’t let you empty the dishwasher without sitting right in the middle of the open door, getting in the way in the process.

ripley-on-jem

ripley-in-sunshine

That said, she is one of the most laid back cats I’ve ever owned, and loves everyone and everything, even the guinea pigs. She’s playing an important role in ‘mothering’ our latest addition, but more on him shortly. She’s fat, furry and incredibly affectionate.

Pixel

Pixel is roughly 18 months – 2 years old. We’re not entirely sure, because she’s a rescued stray, adopted from Shropshire Cat Rescue where I spend my Tuesdays. She’s a domestic shorthair like Fudge and Crumble.

pixel-kisses

Pixel is one of the biggest feline challenges I’ve ever approached. I brought her home because she was ‘red carded’ at the rescue for her aggression and was destined to become a farm cat living out her days on someone’s land. I didn’t think this was necessary, as she’d been incredibly affectionate with me, and offered to try and integrate her here.

pixel-on-me

We’ve had our ups and downs. She hides a lot, and doesn’t really like Fudge (because he’s tried to enforce the existing hierarchy and she doesn’t like that at all) but has on occasion played with Ripley. She has been bitey with both Gaz and I on numerous occasions, usually because she’s scared or over-stimulated. We have to be incredibly careful to watch all her body language for signs that she’s had enough fuss. She’s also the only cat I’ve ever owned who refuses to eat wet cat food.

With all that said, she ‘kisses’ like Hex used to, and can be friendly on her terms. I’m hoping that with time and patience she will fully integrate and be happy here, but I re-assess on a weekly basis.

Montgomery (Monty)

And here we have the latest of the purry bunch: Monty (probable domestic shorthair).

Monty is estimated at approximately 4 weeks old, but weighing just 292g when I brought him home on Monday 21st. He was found abandoned in a hedge in a town near Wales and was brought to a nearby vets who re-homed him with me via a friend of a friend.

monty

Monty is all ‘skin and bones’, and is currently receiving the kind of attention you’d expect to give a newborn baby! He’s on supplemental milk feeds (specialist ‘babycat formula’) and regular small feedings of high quality wet kitten food to boost his weight. He sleeps in a small blue fleece hat, on a fleece blanket, inside the carrier I brought him home, in front of he radiator to keep him warm.

ripley-and-monty-playing

Ripley has taken an instant shine to Monty and plays with him, follows him round, responds to his cries with what seems like concern and sits ‘guard’ overnight while he sleeps. I hope this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship between them.

ripley-and-monty

The cats all eat James Wellbeloved and Wainwrights wet/dry food.

Guinea Pigs

We’ve had a recent explosion in our guinea pig population. Earlier on in the year we had 3: Tango and Sprite, a neutered male / female pair, and Spot (my famous guinea pig) the remaining pig from an un-neutered male pair.

spot guinea pig

Long story short, Spot and Sprite had an unintentional pregnancy and we now have 7 guinea pigs: the 3 adults, as well as Mabel (m), Badger (f), George (f) and Pepper (f). Spot has since been neutered and is currently living with Mabel, but once Mabel is old enough to be neutered I hope to reintroduce everypig into a large group.

guinea-pig-family

The guinea pigs have a diet mainly based on hay and readigrass (dried grass) as well as small amounts of veg every day or so and dry nuggets (Supreme Science Selective).

Rabbits

Peanut (tan coloured) and Sagittarius A* are both, oddly, from Shropshire Cat Rescue. I’m not entirely sure of the ages or breeds of either but they make a great pairing, which surprised me as Peanut is a grumpy bugger and their initial introductions weren’t positive.

peanut-and-saggi-rabbits

They live free range in my utility, with a cage as their ‘home base’, and all-day access to the garden on dry days.

The rabbits also have a diet mainly based on hay and readigrass, small amounts of veg every other day and dry nuggets (Supreme Science Selective).

Poops, Pees and Litterbox Fun

With a population of animals this large, poop is obviously a big part of my day to day life.

The cats currently have four litter trays between them, although this may increase with the addition of Monty. We have two covered trays in the bathroom, one uncovered tray in the utility (which the rabbits occasionally use too) and one outside in the sheltered cat run.

However, all is not perfect and we get the occasional cat leaving us a present behind the sofa or outside the tray to express indignation: often with a new arrival, or if I’ve dared leave another poop in the tray for longer than a few hours.

The rabbits mostly poo in a tray in their (always open) cage or all over my utility floor, which is at least concrete and easily cleaned. Despite having managed to perfectly litter train my previous rabbits these two are a little stubborn and would rather have me chase poo nuggets round the place.

Guinea pigs poo wherever they damn well please and their hutches have to be cleaned out regularly.

So boys and girls, there you have it. A comprehensive list of my current animals and details on litter boxes and poop. If you’d like to ask me a question, drop it in a comment on AMA.

Rabbits, half marathons, fitness & weddings

Holy crap, it feels like I basically haven’t stopped doing stuff lately. I’d blame that for my inconsistent blogging but we all know that’s been an issue for many years, so I’ll cut to the chase and get you up to speed on the funky biz that’s happening in my life at the moment…

The wabbit

I brought Peanut home and within 3 days I’d got him eating better food (science selective nuggets – best commercial rabbit food you can buy), more hay, and as I type this he’s on the lawn grazing on grass and clover. He is still nervous about being approached, and isn’t too keen on the resident guinea pigs, but I did manage to get a couple of strokes yesterday before he binky-ed off.

peanut-rabbit

Half marathon

On Wednesday, I completed the “May the 4th Be With You” trail half marathon: 13.1 miles up and down the beautiful hills of Church Stretton in Shropshire. Ascending more than 2000ft, this was perhaps both the most challenging and yet most enjoyable race I’ve ever taken part in. It was a fabulous day (the weather was really on our side) and the company of some fellow Broseley Joggers made it a fantastic experience all in. We finished in 3 hours 21 minutes officially, although had stopped to take pictures and enjoy the snacks at the water station, so actual moving time was more like 3 hours 10.

half-marathon-medal

Fitness bits

I’ve been LOVING going to the gym, having fit in an upper body session this morning (resting my legs after Wednesday / got a 10k on Sunday!) I’ve been visiting twice a week most weeks since the beginning of April now. I’ve not had any issues with dudebros, people are always happy to answer questions and will let you step in without a second thought. Nobody has made me feel unwelcome or inferior because I’m a relative n00b (and female; although this causes the odd double take).

As well as the gym, Gaz and I have recently signed up to ongoing taekwon-do sessions having participated in a cheap trial month. We’re both approaching our first assessment thingymabob to go up a belt, which is strangely intimidating and yet should be fairly easy.

Wedding bells

In less than two weeks time Gaz and I will be married. I’ve finally found a simple wedding ring I like (two, actually.. don’t ask) and everything else is sorted. Not that there was much to sort for the wedding, because it’s literally going to be a case of turn up, say I do, go eat pizza. WINNING.

The wedding party was slightly more complex to organise but even then: food, booze, people, music. Bob’s your uncle, etc. I’ll tell you more about that after the event, of course.

Of course, I genuinely can’t believe that this is actually happening. I thought Gaz would have got bored / fed up with me long before this point. He’s clearly mad.

But then… aren’t we all?

I just can’t help myself

After the recent loss of Hex, and prior to that both one of my older male guinea pigs and Bramble AKA MEGABUN, I decided that I was fed up of things dying on me (melodramatic, much?) and that was it for pets and me: no more animals.

Considering that at various points I’ve had up to 12 animals at any one time, this would be a massive personal change. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) I just can’t seem to help myself.

I started volunteering with Shropshire Cat Rescue on Tuesday of this week — stage 2 of Get My Arse Into Gear — and having convinced myself that I absolutely must not come home with another cat, I somehow instead agreed to bring home a rabbit.

I couldn’t help myself: when I heard the story of his beginnings, and saw how his selective feeding of a muesli diet was affecting his poos (poos are a huge indicator of state of health in rabbits! see more info) As with many of the animals that end up here, I just feel the need to ‘fix it’. Thank you, empathy.

I pick him up next Tuesday, after my next sesson at the rescue. If you can’t wait til then for proper pictures, here he was yesterday, checking me out:

peanut

Looking forward to having the little floofball home :3

In which my cat makes me go to the gym

I did something yesterday that I’ve been working up to since August last year. I called a local free weights gym to see if they could give me advice, check my form, and generally just introduce me to the gym environment so that I can progress with my lifting (which has unfortunately plateaued again).

My oldest cat Hex — my first ‘baby’, long before I knew I decided I wanted actual babies — passed away in the early hours of Saturday morning, leaving me feeling bereft. I’ve been up and down a lot lately struggling with work and life throwing lemons at me, but this was the final nail in the coffin that pushed me to rock bottom. I did nothing but cry and watch Harry Potter (my favourite ‘self pity’ TV) for about 3 days, before finally giving myself a massive kick up the butt.

This has to be a catalyst for change. I can’t go on full of woe, achieving nothing. I realised (not for the first time) that I have to start making the changes I promised myself last year when I went back to working for myself. I KNOW I need to get out of the house and do something that doesn’t include staring at a screen all day. If I don’t, I’m only letting myself down.

And so… like I said, I rang the gym. And the guy invited me down for an intro session, which I went to this morning. We went over my standard lifts: the squats, deadlifts and overhead press which I do at home. Then he introduced me to lat pulldowns, and other back/shoulder exercises to help me reach my goal of doing a pull-up. I was thrilled to discover that my squat was immediately stronger when not having to overhead press the bar first! I was complimented on my depth, too. ;)

It wasn’t a sausage-fest den of huge dudes groaning over their dumbbell curls, although apparently it’s generally quiet first thing. And, even better, I didn’t feel hugely out of place or self-concious like I thought I would.

It’s not that working out at home isn’t doing the job any more; I still use youtube for perfecting lift form, NerdFitness and the Stronglifts 5×5 for workout inspiration, Maxinutrition has some great advice on how to build muscle (their pro-fat approach is right up my street, I eat everything spread with butter or mayonnaise). Working out in my undies with my barbell (don’t do that at the gym) still kicks my ass, helps me maintain my weight and makes me feel like a badass superhero, but I’m limited by my lack of equipment and — especially recently — lack of space.

I don’t know if adding the gym to my already busy timetable is The Answer, but it sure as hell is a positive step forwards.

Monthly post to confirm not-deadness (and other exciting news)

Not sure I made that blog title long enough?

Anyway.. hi, here I am. Not dead. Which you probably already know because you all follow me on social media. Don’t you?

Things have been a bit hectic lately. Last time I spoke to you I was just starting my new drugs. Which … oops, haven’t taken them yet today —interlude— …which seem to be working fine. I mean, I guess they are because after the weird zombie-no-feelings period I just felt normal. And normal is good, I like feeling “normal”. I can function, take care of my kids, not shout at everyone / everything, and generally just get on with life.

They haven’t been the miracle cure for my motivation that I was hoping for. I still seem to have issues with lack of coding mojo, and have to force myself to work, but we can’t have everything. This was especially problematic in February when I was ill and the kids were ill and everything went disastrously wrong and I did about 10 hours billable work, but I am vaguely back on track now so as long as I can do two months work in March, I’ll be fine HAHAHA BYE SAVINGS.

To add to the risk factor of my currently complicated catch up lifestyle, I’ve ‘invested’ in (that sounds way posher than the reality) a new project which will add to my current site portfolio expanding my passive income earning potential in the long term. Hopefully. If I can get the work it needs done. You can probably see the flaw in this plan…

Boring work stuff aside, I’m approximately 2 months off getting married and haven’t planned anything. I’ve lost 3 pets in as many months (predator, illness and old age respectively). And, the house stinks because the kitten I got for Gaz for Christmas keeps shitting everywhere.

But at least I feel normal now.

De-stressing / chillaxing / “me” time [insert other clich├ęs here]

You’ve probably been able to tell from my moaning on twitter and facebook that I’ve been a bit stressed lately. What with Isabel starting school last week (and the tantrums started by day #2), lots of stuff going on at work, money issues (a bloody great big tax bill) and general life chaos I feel like I just haven’t stopped and sat down.

Now things are settling into a new routine and I seem to have a handle on what the heck I’m doing day to day (honestly, I stress about stuff far too much) I can start to unwind. This coincides nicely with some candles sent to me by House of Fraser recently, with the intention being for me to “relax and have some ‘me’ time”.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never been one for scented candles and all that jazz, and my ‘me’ time is spent minus children with a certain gentleman (at which point, candles are the last thing on my mind) but nonetheless I thought I’d give them a whirl.

candle-packaging

I used the first one with company here (which incidentally, is one of my favourite ways to have ‘me’ time… albeit not just with me, obviously) to make my guests think I’m posh and because I figured that Plum & Black Amber would smell better than the musty I-don’t-clean-enough smell which usually pervades my house ;)

The general consensus was that the packaging was fabulous and the candles themselves would make a fantastic gift (I can think of a couple of people I’d buy these for), but I’ll be honest: I just couldn’t smell the candle despite everyone else protesting that it smelled lovely! Certainly I think the candle contributed less to my enjoyment and relaxation than the 11 bottles of Smirnoff Ice I consumed that night, but I probably shouldn’t admit that publically.

I had much more luck with the second candle, scented with Rose Blossom & Cassis (as pictured above). Not to help me relax at all, that’s what vodka was invented for, but it did make my living room smell lovely… at least until Fudge vommed his wet food all over the floor.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I don’t really do ‘me’ time, and if I do I wouldn’t generally be lighting candles to help me enjoy it, but the candles ARE very pretty and at least one of them smells nicer than hairy cats and half-potty trained toddlers.

How to care for 11 animals and not go crazy

After Stephanie asked how we manage all the animals with everything else we’ve got on, and we recently doubled our guinea pig population, I thought it was probably a good time to write about how the hell we care for all these animals without going crazy.

We have a routine

Back when we only had a few pets we’d clean them out when it seemed like a good idea, scoop poop when we remembered etc. It’s not good – so easy to accidentally miss a scooping and wake up to cat shit all over your floor because the highly clean moggies have got peed off at the poop mound in the corner of their tray. These days we have a specific daily routine:

DAILY AM:
– Karl feeds cats & scoops poop while I’m sorting the children’s breakfast
– After Karl has gone to work & Izz to nursery (when applicable) I go outside to check on the bunnies & piggies, top up hay and do any necessary spot-cleans of hutches and trays. If I’m going to be at home all day I let the rabbits out too.

DAILY PM:
– After the kids have gone to bed it’s fresh veg prep for the bunnies & piggies, another round of spot-cleans on hutches and trays (the rabbits are “litter” trained), fresh hay & water all round etc
– Once the outdoor animals are sorted it’s another round of cat food & poop scooping indoors

WEEKLY:
– Litter trays are emptied & scrubbed
– Hutches are emptied & scrubbed
– Water bowls and bottles are scrubbed

We keep on top of cleaning

See above: spot-cleans on hutches etc. It seems like it takes up a lot of time when you explain it, but when you do it twice a day it helps stop poop mounds building up and spreading. It takes a few minutes and is much more hygienic for the animals.

We work together

I sort food bowls while Karl sweeps or vice versa. I sort the kids while Karl sorts the cats. And so on… it’s all about team work. Although the division of labour in this house is definitely not 50/50, it’s certainly heading that way. I absolutely cannot abide the notion that women should be the ones doing all the housework and that applies to animal/pet related chores too. (Don’t get me started!)

We avoid ‘messy’ products

Last but not least, we try and avoid products that make our lives harder. For example, we use a great clumping litter which is a little pricier than most but means that we can scoop a pee out of the tray leaving just clean litter behind (and it doesn’t flick about the place as much as some litters).

For the outdoor animals, we’ve recently switched to ‘vet bed’ instead of woodshavings. Now we can sweep out the pigpig poos using a dustpan and brush, wee is absorbed through to an under layer of paper based litter and the guinea pigs stay clean and tray (same principle for the rabbit litter tray). It turns out that woodshavings are associated with respiratory issues too, so this was a good decision all round.

All that said, it really is just a case of getting off your arse and getting on with it. Actual pet-maintenance doesn’t take more than an hour a day which leaves lots more for cuddling the little furry buggers. :D

Cat run & the all weather drying solution

Last year we built a cat run. The original plan was to have one built for us by a guy who specialises in bespoke wooden runs but after 2 visits he went quiet and despite numerous calls and emails we’ve never heard anything back.

Anyway, we did some searching and found some metal run panels designed for commercial kennels etc on doghealth.co.uk & and figured they’d be the perfect self-assembly solution. Not quite as attractive as a wooden run but some outside space for the cats at last.

Crumble cat in outdoor run
Crumble surveying ‘her’ space

(more…)

Mewp

I can’t decide if Crumble is one of the stupidest cats I’ve ever owned, or one of the smartest… acting like an idiot to gain sympathy for being so simple.

Oh Bugger

Why is it that when I’m away from the computer I can formulate hundreds of blog entries in my head but the second I sit down to write anything, it all pours away? Buggery. I guess with the lack of anything inspirational or witty to say I should probably update you all on what’s going on around here…

Things are finally starting to calm down. My course module is finished, and I’m waiting on the results. I have a feeling that due to ‘external pressure’ (i.e. juggling work work, home work and a baby) I’ll have failed this one, but I’m hoping that I’ve scraped enough to qualify for the free re-sit.

Isabel is growing in so many ways, but it’s so subtle it’s hard to describe it. For example, the other day she was waving a book at me so I said “bring me the book” … and she did! And that sounds so mundane and ordinary written down, but it means she’s taking in and understanding more and more. I hadn’t given it much thought when I said the sentence… normally I’d just pick her and the book up in those situations so it was very spur of the moment. Anyway, she recognises so many things now. She identifies body parts, knows certain words like ‘car’, ‘cat’ etc. She will “blow” her nose if you offer a tissue or muslin and say ‘nose’. She walks if she’s not thinking about it, but as soon as she realises what she’s doing she sits down or starts crawling. I’m missing out so many things here but there’s only so much time in the day and I can’t gush about her all night :)

No work until Tues 4th Jan now, which is a nice break, albeit just building up to a big deadline when I go back. I’d been working on a big big WordPress project which has introduced me to plugin building (I’ve only ever done basic widgety stuff before). This of course is endearing me to WordPress, which is never a good thing… it’s only ever lead to trouble before and I do love Habari. Sigh.

The cats are mostly a pain in my ass for one reason or another, but that’s not entirely their fault. Isabel loves them, though. I shall get around to taking pictures of them at some point. Crumble has grown, although I couldn’t really see it until I started looking at some of the pictures from mid-year.

I guess at some point I should considering writing a “things that happened this year” post, but thinking back it was fairly quiet and uneventful compared to previous. We didn’t move. Nobody killed anyone. We gained a cat. The baby grew some. I think that’s about it? Oops, guess there’s no need to write that post now then. I wonder what 2011 will bring…