Sunday, November 24, 2013

How To Build A Cat Box

We've been adopted.

About a week and a half ago, a very sweet stray kitty saw the giant "SUCKER" written on my forehead in ink only visible to animals, and latched on.

A few problems, though: 1) We already have two cats, one of whom has severe vaccine reactions and cannot be vaccinated, so little kitty can't come in our house with her possible diseases. 2) Every no-kill shelter in the area--every single one--is buried in cats. 3) It's very, very cold outside. And...

4) I have a sneaking suspicion she's pregnant.

Right now, she's been living under our deck, and she seems fairly comfortable and warm there. However, with temperatures going down into the teens this weekend, my husband and I wanted her to have another option. Seizing opportunity, this is how you build an insulated cat box for around $20:

Step One: Bins

Sadly, I didn't have any of these lying around, but these two were fairly cheap at Kmart; the two together were only $17. If you're really hard up on cash, though, you can achieve a similar result with two cardboard boxes, wrapped with a garbage bag for water resistance. The requirements are that one must nest comfortably inside the other with both lids on and closed. Make sure there's a little wiggle room; remember, we'll be adding insulation.

Step Two: You cut a hole in that box

Both boxes, actually. This is the most labor-intensive and frustrating step. I suggest scoring the cut lines several times with an Exacto knife, punching through, and then using a serrated kitchen knife to actually cut through the plastic. Be patient, young Padawan, or you're going to crack the shit out of those bins and make them unusable. The openings should be cut so they'll match up when the boxes are nested inside each other.

Step Three: Add Insulation

Starting with the outer box, line the bottom with newspaper. Believe it or not, newspaper is actually a pretty decent insulator.

Then put a layer of straw at the bottom. Straw is also a very good insulator. I got a small bale for $3 at Michael's craft store. If you live in the country, though, I'm sure you can beg some off your neighbors. If not, you can find some at pet stores. Sawdust will work, too.

Place the smaller bin inside the larger, with the holes aligned. Line the bottom with straw...

 Then put newspaper on top. We did it this way so it wouldn't be so prickly.

The towel is optional; if you have an old one lying around, though, your stray will surely appreciate it!

Stuff as much straw between the sides of the two boxes as you can fit. Again, if you don't have straw, sawdust or even crumpled newspaper will do for this step.

 Before placing the lid of the outer box, add another layer of newspaper on top. Remember, heat rises!

Admire your finished box! I know the edges look a little jagged around the hole, but kitty's smart enough not to hurt herself on them. If you're worried, though, you can file them, or put a little duct tape over the points. We also added a belt of duct tape, as the box is stuffed pretty tight, and we don't want the lid popping off.
Place the box near the area where your stray has been taking shelter, but don't block her out of her current hiding place or try to force her into the box. We want kitty to feel safe and comfortable, and not frighten her away into an unsafe environment. This is her, by the way. She's cute, right? Right?You want her? ;-)


This box cost $20 and took us about twenty minutes to make. It's a small investment of time and money that could save an animal's life, so please, bookmark this post, so if you do find yourself adopted by a stray, you'll have these instructions handy. Thanks for reading!

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Friday, November 8, 2013

Free Fiction Friday: Isabel, Part Four

Here are parts one, two, and three, if you missed them.

At first, Isabel didn’t think she’d be able to obey his instructions; her whole body had frozen in shock and fear, her skin gone so cold she could feel the warmth of her own sweat beaded across her flesh.  Slowly, though, her arms rose, seemingly under her own volition, above her head. A hand grasped her filthy hair roughly, knocking her hat off, and she couldn’t stifle a cry of pain as he pulled her to her feet and spun her around by the roots of her hair.

Three other men stood watching her, their dark brown faces crinkled into expressions of menace or amusement. She knew those faces; they’d been haunting the few dreams she’d had since leaving the bodies of her guides days before. The poachers.

Isabel swallowed; a useless gesture, since any moisture which had been in her mouth had dried up the minute the gun had been pressed against her neck. “I think there’s been a mistake,” she began, nervously. “I’m just trying to get to the village—I’m a scientist, I’m here to study the plants—”

The man holding her laughed sharply. “A scientist, eh? And you don’t hire any guides?” The malicious mockery in his voice sent an unexpected surge of rage up through her chest. “Do not play the fool. We know you are with the men we killed.”

“I didn’t see anything,” Isabel lied. “I still…I still haven’t seen anything.” She risked a glance at her captor’s face. “So you can let me go. No one will know about you.”

“That is not my concern,” the poacher said. “I keep the police well-paid. What is my concern…is what you have stolen from me.”


The poacher tightened his grip on her hair, pulling her head close so they were nose-to-nose. “Where is my leopard?”

Not trusting herself to speak, Isabel just widened her eyes and shook her head as much as the poacher’s hold would allow.

“Ah, she plays the fool again,” he said, relaxing his arm so Isabel could take half a step back. “My friend here, Daj—” he pointed with the gun to the man Isabel had seen inspecting the trap earlier “—he is a very talented man. A very talented tracker. He finds your tracks near our trap. He says you are probably nearby, watching. So we pretend to leave, and then follow you when you go. Because we want our leopard.”

“How do you even know there was ever a leopard in the trap?”

“Tracks,” the poacher replied. “And blood. Daj can smell from the blood what animal it comes from. Very talented man.” He paused thoughtfully. “Do you know how much leopard skin costs? Very many dollars, American dollars. So, when we lose leopard, we lose money. We cannot feed our families. And Daj’s wife is pregnant yet again.”

“How can you think that I—”

“No more playing the fool!” Her captor thrust Isabel roughly away, so she went sprawling into the leaves. When she looked up, he had his gun pointed at her, his lips curled in an angry snarl. “You will pay us for the leopard, or—”

But he never got to tell Isabel what her second option was, because a streak of yellow, black and white sailed out of the forest and knocked him to the ground. The gun went off, kicking up a divot of black loam an inch from Isabel’s side. When she looked up, she saw Daj raise his assault rifle and point it at the leopard.

“No!” Isabel screamed, and flung a stick at Daj. It wasn’t a very good throw, or a very big stick, but it hit him in the shoulder and made his attention waver for a split second, long enough for another, smaller streak to leap in from the side and catch him by the throat, throwing him to the ground.

The other two men seemed confused, unsure of what to do. They raised their rifles hesitantly, but both leopards were so entwined with their victims, there was no hope of shooting one without hitting the other.

At last, the man who had been holding Isabel lay still, and the leopard raised its bloodstained muzzle and looked right at Isabel. Their eyes locked in complete understanding.

Out of the corner of her eye, Isabel saw that one of the remaining poachers seemed to have rediscovered his courage, and was raising his rifle yet again. With a low growl, the leopard crossed in front of Isabel—still limping on her front paw—and stood between her and the poachers, head lowered and haunches tensed in a very deliberate gesture.

The poachers looked at the leopard, standing protectively in front of Isabel, its flicking tail actually touching her leg, looked at each other, and turned and ran, sprinting off into the forest.

The leopard grunted to call her cub. It left off viciously shaking Daj’s limp form and rejoined its mother with a soft chirp. Before Isabel could draw another breath, they were both gone.

A week and a half later, Isabel was walking through the markets of Kuching, her eyes passing over the colorful silks and fruits without much interest. She’d spent a lot of time here, killing time between interviews by the police and Embassy investigators. Her caseworker at the Embassy, Amy, had assured Isabel she would be home by the end of the week, but Isabel wasn’t holding her breath.

She passed the ‘animal stall,’ selling terrified exotic animals, with her usual disgust, until something caught her eye. A new cage, right out front, with several interested spectators lined up in front of it. She peered around the sari of one woman, and her heart froze. A tiny, dirty leopard cub was curled in fear in one corner of the cage.

Isabel shouldered through the crowd and squatted down by the cage. The cub had its back wedged so firmly into the back corner of the cage that its skin bulged out between the wire. Its eyes, pupils dilated in fear, landed on Isabel.

Isabel looked up to find a mostly-toothless man in a sarong and button-down shirt staring down at her.

“English?” she asked, and he nodded suspiciously. “How much?” she asked, pointing to the cage with the leopard.

“You cop?”

Isabel sighed. “No, I’m not a cop.”

A small smile began to curl the corners of the man’s lips. “American dollar?”

Isabel nodded.

“Five hundred!” he proclaimed proudly. Isabel snorted.

“One fifty,” she said.

“Four hundred!”


“Two fifty!”

Isabel stood, pulling her travel wallet, which hung around her neck, out from under her shirt. “Done,” she said, counting out the money and handing it to the man. As he recounted it eagerly, Isabel hooked her fingers through the top of the wire and began to lift the cage.

“No, no!” the man said. “Cage extra fifty.”

“You suck,” Isabel muttered under her breath, as she searched for the latch. As she opened the top of the cage, the cub pushed itself even more firmly against the wire, hissing menacingly.

“You’re all right, you’re all right,” she murmured, getting her hand close enough to stroke the top of the leopard’s head with one finger. The poor thing couldn’t have been more than six weeks old. She gently grasped it by the scruff of the neck and lifted it out of the cage, settling it against her chest. The cub’s nostrils flared as it took in her scent.

“You going to freak on me?” she murmured. The leopard seemed to take a few more moments to decide before burying its head under her armpit.

“Okay,” she said, smiling. “Still more baby than tough guy.”

The taxi waited for her as she asked outside the Kuching Wildlife Rescue, named for the city despite the fact that it was two hours outside the city limits. The taxi was comparatively expensive, but Isabel couldn’t imagine having made that trip on a bus…not with a squirmy leopard cub determined to hide under her shirt or in her pants. She pushed through the rusty front gate and down a wide dirt track, toward a series of enclosures and squat bamboo huts.

“May I help you?” A smiling woman, dressed in a sari, with a long, dark braid trailing over her shoulder to her waist, stood next to a tree, hands folded.

“Um, yes,” Isabel said, trying to wrestle the reluctant cub out from under her now irreversibly stretched out shirt. “Do you accept refugees?”

The woman’s eyes widened as the leopard cub appeared, growling at the loss of his hiding place. “Why don’t you come into the office?” she said, gesturing to a hut behind her.

The woman introduced herself as May; Isabel thought she had probably anglicized it from something less pronounceable. She made Isabel a cup of strong, hot tea and listened to her story without comment.

When Isabel was finished speaking, May took a sip of tea.

“That is quite an experience,” May said. “And this is why you…?” She gestured to the leopard cub’s tail, the only visible part of the animal, since it had re-ensconced itself safely under Isabel’s shirt.

“Yes,” Isabel said. “I know you’re not supposed to buy the animals like that, it just makes the poachers go out and hunt more, but…”

May nodded. “In the wider sense, yes, it is not good to do. However, in the smaller sense…the cub most likely would have been bought by someone who would have kept it in a small cage until it grew large enough to produce a profitable pelt. For this animal, it was the right thing to do.”

“Can you take him?”

May smiled. “We never turn any animals away. Of course, we could unfortunately not reimburse you your investment…”

“No, of course not. And,” Isabel pulled her wallet out of her shirt again, evoking a growl from the cub. She pulled out two more one hundred dollar bills and laid them on the table. “I’m sure he’ll have a pretty big appetite.”

May eyed the money with a look of relief. “I cannot even begin to thank you for your kindness.”

“Not at all.” Isabel pulled the cub out of her shirt and held him up to her face. “Good luck, buddy,” she said. She made to hand the cub to May, but caught a glimpse of a Polaroid camera on a small table nearby. “Would you mind taking a picture? I could pay you for the film.”

May waved her hand dismissively and got up to get the camera. “Not at all,” she said. Isabel held the cub up to her face and smiled while May took the picture. When the film came out, she handed it to Isabel. “Thank you again.”

Isabel took the picture, handed over the cub, and walked slowly back to the cab, feeling light and fulfilled, as though she’d discharged at least a part of her debt.

I hope you enjoyed this little story of mine! Come back next Friday, and I'll tell you another. And don't can always click on the links to the right to buy my book, Blind Study. See you next week!

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

For The Love Of Characters

I don't usually do posts about writing. Personally, I feel that writing is like's an experience and a craft individual to parent and child, or writer and project, as it were. There are some basic rules, but overall it's up to you to figure out how to do it.

However, I'm watching this show right now, Sleepy Hollow, and it's got me thinking quite a bit about storytelling. See, Sleepy Hollow's got quite a few problems. Plot holes you could fly a 747 through, a major arc which has been presented but for the most part ignored...I could go on. Honestly, if it were any other show, I'd have turned it off by now.

But Sleepy Hollow isn't any other show. It's got Lieutenant Abbie Mills, possibly the strongest female lead on TV right now. She's tough, she kicks butt, and yet she's also got past demons and vulnerability which don't compromise any of the former.

Then there's Ichabod Crane, a guy as impossible as his name. Redcoat-turned-revolutionary, Rip-van-Winkled by his witchy wife and resurrected in the 21st century. He's passionate and stubborn and fiercely loyal, and I could probably continue watching Sleepy Hollow if it was a show only about Ichabod investigating the wonders of the modern world.

This is how you get me to pay attention. This is how I can be persuaded to overlook history rewritten and the realm of probability stretched thin enough to see daylight through. (And yes, I'm aware it's a show about a headless horseman of the Apocalypse. I'm not asking that the story be written within this world; I'm asking that the writers make rules for their world and then follow them. A topic for another day, possibly.)

This is how you get me to care what happens next. Create a character I fall in love with. Make them flawed. Give them demons. Have them make crappy decisions. Wound them and leave them dying on the floor. Because every time Abbie's doe eyes fill with tears or Ichabod is once again gasping his last, I want to jump in that story and fix it for them. I've been made to love them. Now it doesn't matter how many other rules the writers break. I'll notice, and I'll roll my eyes, but I won't change the channel. I won't leave them.

That's the crucial difference between a story that's okay or good or a story that OMG I LOVE SO MUCH HAVE YOU READ THIS YOU HAVE TO READ THIS HERE I BOUGHT AN EXTRA COPY READ IT READ IT NOW. Without characters you care about just as much as real people, a story's just...a story. A fable, a parable, a dry paragraph on the page of a history book. It'll pass through you without making an impression. A real story leaves claw marks on your heart.

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Friday, November 1, 2013

Free Fiction Fridays: Isabel, Part Three

If you need to catch up, click through for Part One and Part Two.

As soon as it was light enough to see, Isabel checked her snares. She’d had luck again, as she’d caught two more moonrats out of four traps. Both leopards were just as happy to see these as the other two. They chomped busily away, Isabel eating a durian fruit, when a gunshot rang out, startling the jungle into a symphony of discordant shrieks, whistles and howls. Isabel dropped her fruit; both leopards sprang to their feet, the mother leopard with her trapped paw extended from her body, so she didn’t put any weight on it.

“They’re coming,” Isabel whispered. The shot they’d just heard was probably the poachers finishing off another trapped animal a mile or two down the road. Isabel scrambled across the stream, just as the mother leopard grunted softly to her cub. With several backward glances at its mother and Isabel, it slunk off into the creepers.

Isabel knelt down just outside what she thought of as the ‘leopard’s circle’. Heart pounding, she looked at the leopard, whose eyes were still focused in the direction of the gunshot.

“I know you don’t trust me,” Isabel said. “I know I’m one of them. But you have to let me help you. You know that, don’t you?” The leopard turned and looked at Isabel, her yellow eyes inscrutable.

The leopard stood about a foot and a half away from the edge of her six-foot across circle, which meant that Isabel had to come well inside the animal’s strike range. She crawled slowly, on hands and knees, to the point where she could just reach the release plate of the jaw-hold trap. Bit by bit, she extended her arm, her eyes never leaving the cat’s face.

Up until this point, the leopard had remained perfectly still except for the white tip of her tail, which twitched as she watched Isabel’s approach. Now, as Isabel’s hand came close to her foot, the leopard pulled back slightly and swiped at Isabel’s arm with her good paw, lip curled in a warning snarl. Isabel snatched her arm back to her chest, but luckily the swipe had been a statement, not a true attack.

Another gunshot.

“Please,” Isabel said, meeting the leopard’s eyes. “Please.” They stayed there for almost a full minute, Isabel on her knees, the leopard a few feet away in a half-crouch, their eyes locked.

It was the leopard who broke eye contact first. With a grunt, she lay down, her trapped paw extended, her other paw tucked beneath her chest. A peace gesture. Or so Isabel hoped.

She edged forward again, extending her arm once more, watching the cat for any sign of a reaction. There was none. After what seemed like an eternity, her fingers touched the release pad. Isabel took a deep breath and pressed.

The trap didn’t budge. It was old, dirt-and blood-caked, left outdoors in several monsoon seasons, and the parts simply weren’t gliding against each other like they used to. Isabel pressed with her fingers until she thought her knuckles would crack, but the pad didn’t give an inch.

With a shaky gulp, Isabel inched closer, until she was kneeling right next to the trap. The leopard’s whiskers were mere inches from her arm; she could feel warm breath tickling the hairs below her elbow. Isabel straightened up, placed her hands one atop the other on the pad, fingers interlaced, and pushed down with all her weight.

The trap groaned open, and before Isabel could even turn her head, the leopard was gone, a spotted flank and white-tipped tail disappearing into the green.

Isabel stayed in her position, kneeling by the trap, her eyes focused on the place she’d seen the leopard disappear, not even aware she was smiling, before the sound of a not-so-faraway human voice snapped her out of her reverie. She crossed the stream and grabbed her pack, then jogged several hundred meters back in the jungle and threw herself down under a curtain of creepers, still grinning.

There was a soft rustling in the distance which grew louder as the minutes passed. At last, four men stepped into Isabel’s vision, whom she immediately recognized as the four who’d killed her guides.

Three of the men gave angry shouts at the sight of the sprung trap, but the fourth simply went quietly to the steel jaws and squatted down, brows knit in concentration. He ran his forefinger on the inside of the closed trap, then held his hand up to his face, rubbing his thumb and finger together.

The other three men had stopped talking, and were intently watching this fourth man as he directed his attention away from the trap and toward the ground. His dark eyes scanned the disturbed leaves of the forest floor. Suddenly, he reached out and gingerly traced a shape in the dirt with his pinky. He looked up at his companions and said a few quiet words in Luru.

A subdued tension fell over the group. One of the men still standing snapped a question at the man who still squatted on the forest floor. The first part of his response was phrased seriously, then a slow smile spread over his face for the second.

Two of the men still standing laughed, and the third just smiled and shrugged. The fourth man stood, and they walked back the way they came, disappearing into the forest.

As the jungle noises slowly trickled back on after the men’s departure, Isabel let out a harsh breath and let her forehead fall onto her folded hands. Even though her fear of the poachers was still making her heart race, a thrill of rebelliousness prickled under her skin. They’d taken something from her; she’d taken something from them. They still weren’t anywhere near even, but it was still a victory, something to keep her going on her grueling journey back to civilization. She wriggled out from under the bushes, brushed herself off, and set off the way she’d been going, the opposite direction from the poachers.

Around mid-afternoon, Isabel found another small stream and dropped her pack for a short break. She mixed some iodine tablets with a fresh bottle of water, drank the whole thing down, and then made up a new one, putting it into the side pocket of her backpack. She took off her hat so she could fix her ponytail, grimacing at the film of sweat and dirt soaked into every strand of her light brown hair. Civilized women took things like clean hair and toilet paper for granted. She worked her fingers experimentally through a snarl, realized all she was accomplishing was ripping her hair out by the roots, and twisted the whole tangled mess into a wild bun at the back of her neck. She would have to soak her head in a bucket of detangler for three days to get this mess out.

Isabel looked around her and spied a durian tree. Her stomach cramped. A diet heavy in fruit was wreaking havoc on her digestive system; most of the vegetables she was finding now required cooking. She could happily kill someone for a steak and a baked potato. With a sigh, Isabel gathered three of the fruits to put in her pack, knelt quickly by the stream to freshen her protective layer of mud, and set off once more.

She’d just stepped over the stream, though, when a prickling sensation on the back of her neck made her whirl around and peer into the forest. She squinted into the thick, leafy green, trying to discern a flash of movement, a patch of color that didn’t belong.

She saw nothing.

You know, Isabel thought, your parents spent about a hundred thousand dollars of college tuition on your mind. They’ll probably be pretty annoyed if you lose it in the middle of the Bornean jungle.

Shaking her head, she turned and was on her way.

By her estimate, Isabel had about two more days of walking before she reached the small village she and her guides had set out from. Someone there could probably arrange transport for her back to the city, and once there the Embassy could get in contact with her university, get Professor Keegan on the phone so she could explain everything that had happened. Keegan was in charge of several field biologists, and had been for years; she often thought of him personally, and not the university itself, as base camp. He’d be able to sort everything out. After all, it wasn’t as though she only had to worry about getting out of Borneo a month early; there was the investigation of three murders which had occurred in the presence of a foreigner to think about. She’d probably need a lawyer.

Her stomach growled, and Isabel stopped, kneeling and swinging her pack off her shoulders to dig for the fruit she’d gathered earlier. She should probably think about setting up camp for the night soon…

Isabel was so lost in thought, she didn’t hear the man approaching until the steel barrel of his gun was pressed to the base of her neck.

“Take your hands off the pack,” said a heavily accented male voice. “Move very slowly.”

Tune in next week for the conclusion!

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