Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014 Cat of the Year, Voting is Open!

It is that time of the year again, to step away from the garden, from birding, and from re-purposing projects to focus on our family. More importantly, to recognize the contributions of some exceptional individuals.

2014 has seen a change in personnel in the Marler- Schmetterling household. Natalie, our once big and faithful cat, passed away in July. However, Natalie, the (undeserving) 2012 Cat of the Year did complete more than the requisite .5 of the year, so she (according to the official rules) is eligible this year for competition. Our newest acquisition, Winston, a re-purposed, recycled Persian, will not be eligible for the title this year, but we included his statistics below for consideration for 2015.
After the voting in 2013, it was brought to our attention, that Miles, our wire-haired chihuahua is not a cat.  Following some research, careful observation and consideration, we concurred.  Therefore, miles will not be eligible for the title of the 2014 Cat of the Year.
Don't feel too bad for Miles, he had a good year.  He has explored a lot of mountain lakes and even met the governor.
In addition to adopting Winston, in 2013 we were the high bidders at the Missoula County Fair's livestock auction for these three chickens. Not just any chickens, but the grand champion layers! All three are Rhode Island Reds, and they are named Winnie, and the other two.
Verdict: not cats
So the 2014 Cat of the Year title comes down to a classic showdown between two former champions, two heavyweights: Alex vs Natalie for the crown.


He is hard to photograph.
Alex is the defending 2013 Cat of the Year and also winner  by a landslide in 2009, defeating not only Natalie, but Squeak and Junebug (a two time champion herself).  The prestige and glory of his victory never changed how he goes about his day.  He has retained his unassuming nature, almost as if he was unaware of his victory.
Since Natalie’s passing, Alex, the once aloof weird cat we adopted, has become affectionate and cuddly. It has been quite a transformation. In a strange turn of events, he is the most normal pet we have now. I never would have guessed it. We have long sought a playmate for Alex, especially since Squeak, his only friend, died in 2010. Alex enjoys playing the classic games like "Hit," "Bite" and "Chase."  Since Squeak left, no one plays with him. We looked for months for a young male cat with whom he could play and bond. So we got him Winston. (Whoops. More on that later.) But, being his Alex self, he doesn't mind. He is completely unflappable.  He has seen worse, he was hoarded.

Age: 15+

Weight: 6 lbs 12 oz, holding steady (down 1 oz in a year).

Background: Innocent victim of a hoarder. A Bitterrooter, he was at Bitterroot Humane Association's Hamilton shelter for 2 years because no one wanted to adopt an adult black cat. We adopted him in summer of 2007 as a friend for Natalie.  Until her last breath she thought of him as her mortal enemy and nemesis.  Alex loved her.  We are not very good at match making.
Health: chronic warts (cancer), good health otherwise, no signs of pain and has never complained.

On a recent trip to the vet (the amazing Dr. Z at Animal Blessings) his diagnosis was “Aging.”

Accomplishments in 2014: Sits on my chest while I am reading. Improved cuddly-ness.


Natalie's one true friend, the mountain lion rug.
Oh Natalie, our once big and faithful cat withered in 2014. Whereas she once possessed great stomp and vigor, her age betrayed her.

Age:  19

Weight:  She was big boned.  In her heyday, she was well over 18 lbs.  Through some dieting and excercise (read: mandatory lifestyle change) she maintained her weight around 13 lbs.  Sadly, toward the end, she was below 6 lbs.

Accomplishments: Retained her mighty purr until her final day. Also retained her ill will toward Alex and disdain for Dr. Z, her mortal enemy, yet savior.  They have a complicated relationship. Good sleeper.  Liked to help with crafts, but not new for 2014.
Though not a new skill in 2014, Natalie liked to help with sewing projects.


Good lord. We thought we had seen it all. He is a nice guy, but something is wrong with this cat.
Thanks to inbreeding, his face is too small for his tongue.
Winston spends all day sleeping on the northwest corner of our bed. That is, until he RUNS into the kitchen and drinks approximately one gallon of water and sits there for about an hour. Then he RUNS to the bathroom, where he, wait for it… pees and poops in the bathtub. Yep. That is how he rolls. 

All things considered, this "litterbox" strategy is pretty good and if nothing else, consistent.  We have had to deal with worse (Junebug, the 2010 and 2011 Cat of the Year). It could be he is very environmentally conscience and eschews clay based cat litter. Kudos to him for that. However, we use a wheat based cat litter and provided him with two boxes for his exclusive use..

He snores.  Loud.  Obviously.

A classic profile.

The good news is that he eats dry food.  And wet food.  And Miles' dog food.  And even rejected dog food.
He doesn't really interact with us or the other pets. He is really lazy and apart from his running to pee, running to drink, and running to eat, all he does is sleep. He only uses the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. He has no interest in visiting the rest of the house, nor greeting us, nor sitting on our lap, nothing. He does spend a lot of time grooming, but I think he is doing it wrong. He gets his fur soaking wet (this is probably where all the water he drinks goes), and then promptly rolls over for a 15 hour nap. A warm, moist, sleep. He is in fact felting his coat.

Age: 9

Weight:7 lbs

Health: treating him for chronic diarrhea. He has some teeth. His tongue sticks out of his mouth all the time. Just plain weird.  Seriously, there has got to be something wrong with him.

Other tidbits:  Nothing fazes him.  He is he afraid of nothing.

UPDATE:  since I started writing this, Winston has switched from sleeping on the northwest corner of the bed, to underneath the bed on top of a backpack.  So basically, what we have now is a cat that lives under our bed and poops in our bathtub.  Awesome.

Vote now!  Voting is open until Dec 31, 5:00 pm!
If you are using a mobile device, scroll to the bottom and select "View web version" and cast your vote on the right hand tool bar.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Trailer Mover

Beyond plants in the garden we have a lot of structure- trellises, outbuildings (greenhouse, tool closet, chicken coop, grill shed) and even our camper.  The camper makes a delightful addition as a little "guest house" in our backyard when we are not in the mountains or prairies camping.  People often ask how we get our camper in the garden tongue-first (as opposed to backing it in, the conventional way).  

That is a good question. After some research, I purchased a "heavy duty" trailer dolly Like the one below (I don't have a picture of mine anymore, because I cut it up for scrap and reused some parts of it).
Not my photo, don't buy one of these.
Not surprisingly these are all made in China, and since I don't buy anything new from China,  (A little sidebar, this reminds me I need to update this buy nothing from China project, it has been almost two years since I began that endeavor, but I digress...) I was able to find one used.  I was a little dubious about the quality, but people swore by them.  The first time I used it I noticed a lot of flexing, so I strengthened it with some welds and bolstered it in a few places with some steel supports.  This seemed to help the rigidity and it seemed to transfer torque and force to the matter at hand.
Nevertheless, I wasn't really satisfied with it.   Those trailer dollies probably work really well on a level compacted surface (like a concrete driveway) but going from our alley into our garden was a two or three person job.

Unfortunately, it was usually me and my wife struggling to move it, which usually lead to the trailer going where it was supposed to, but also involved an argument (probably my fault). So I figured I could find a better way to do this and I could probably build something that would make it a one person job.  After some searching online for dolly plans, I found plans to make a battery powered trailer mover.  The plans came in either heavy duty or light duty plans.  I went with the heavy duty.

It turned out to be a really fun project and very enjoyable, and even a little challenging.  But best of all, it works!  And it looks cool.  And it was fun to build.  And it helped save our marriage.  
The skeleton of the mover.
The mover uses a 12V winch you modify to accept a sprocket. The winch turns a HUGE sprocket on the axle connected to the front wheels (those big lawn tractor tires). From a welding and fabrication standpoint, it was a really fun project.  Did I mention that already?
The completed mover.
It is slow, but it could probably move a house.  In retrospect, I could have probably gotten away with the gearing or the smaller front tires from the lighter duty model. But I would definitely recommend the rear tire configuration of the heavy duty model for traveling over uneven surfaces (the light duty model uses swiveling casters).
Hooked up the the trailer- a thing of beauty.
Here it is hooked up to my trailer before I bring it into the garden through the removable fence panel.
Easily making the 90 degree turn from the alley into our backyard.
Moving the trailer is now a one person job. It is really easy to maneuver over rough ground, and even in mud.  The motor (the winch) is controlled by a remote switch I mounted to the handle, so you can toggle forward and backward with your thumb.  Turning the mover (and trailer) is easily done with the long handle.
Now moving the camper is a one person job.
I was able to get a lot of the components for it from Home ReSource (some steel, wheels, and hardware), and used parts (like the winch) online, and even from cutting up the original dolly! I was able to get a pretty big used (made in the USA) gel battery for it from the Axman, for only $45.  On a single charge I was able to move the trailer back and forth from the garden to the alley all spring, summer and fall.  Since it is a gel battery, I don't have to worry about it in the winter, which is good, because I just wanted to leave it outside.