Saturday, December 31, 2011

History of Cages

Like many misinformed guinea pig owners, I let my first pair of guinea pigs live in an aquarium.  I was told that drafts were bad for guinea pigs and the aquarium kept them from getting a chill.  It was tiny and I had to clean it often.  What a cramped, boring life for those pigs!

Years later, when I got guinea pigs as an adult, I bought a plastic bottomed cage with a wire top.  It was still unbelievably tiny.  I am embarrassed to even post the dimensions of that cage and two pigs lived in it for a few years.

The evolution of the guinea pig cage
I eventually realized that guinea pigs required more space to be happy and active and splurged on the biggest guinea pig/rabbit cage I could find.  It cost me nearly $100 and it was (as I discovered later) still too small for a pair of guinea pigs.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Remembering Athena and Victoria

I adopted Victoria and Athena in December 2003.  They were the first guinea pigs I ever adopted from a shelter.  I bought a car about the same time and I was honestly more excited about the pigs than the brand new car.

The two of them were very funny together.  Vicky would do her best to utterly harass Athena, until Athena would show her teeth and hiss at Vicky.  Vicky would literally piss off Athena (and then get pissed on).  But right after all this hassling and apparent bickering, they'd stuff themselves into their hidey house together and take a nap.  I have not witnessed another pair of guinea pigs as deeply bonded as these two.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Stitch Night Sampler

(or How I Got Into Quilting)

My mom gave me an old Singer student sewing machine for my 14th birthday. The thing is a tank.  I love it.  Mom then taught me how to sew with it and I still use it, after all these years.  When I was young, I mostly made clothing for myself.  Nowadays I mostly quilt and make non-clothing items.

I didn't try my hand at quilting until late 2001.  Stitch Night Sampler was my first quilt.  What an insane first project - it's a queen sized quilt.  A friend of mine organized a stitch-and-bitch at her house once a week; we called it Stitch Night.  One evening she invited a new member who taught us about quilting. The light-blue/pink/black nine-patch to the left of center on the quilt was my very first square. I was hooked. I decided to make a bunch of blocks with variations of nine-patch patterns. The other gals helped me with colors and placement; I did the research and the stitching.  After making several blocks, I wanted to make something with them.  This quilt is the final result (and thus the name of the quilt).

I had everyone sign their names and I embroidered the signatures onto the friendship star at the bottom of the quilt.  Pretty cool!

I have not done another quilt quite as large as my first one.  But I have enjoyed quilting.  The blocks appeal to my mathematical side.  It's the piecing that I really like.  I can spend hours picking colors and designing what I want to do.  I keep the actual quilting to a minimum; I never got the knack of hand quilting and my machine works best in straight lines.  I've tried stippling a few times on that machine and I haven't quite got the hang of it.  My first attempt turned out the best.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

We Interrupt This Broadcast

To those of you who follow my blog:  Thank you!  I hope you have been suitably entertained.

I started this blog as an experiment.  Turns out I've really enjoyed writing it.  The format works a lot better than my old web site.  So I'm taking some time to rewrite a chunk of the old site's content into this blog in preparation of taking down the old web site.  It seemed like a fitting way to end the year.

That means you'll be seeing some of my old projects and pigs of the past float by your feeds for the next several days.  Think of it as TV reruns over the holidays.  I will return you to my regular sporadic programming in a week or so.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Building A Third Level

One of the fun things with a C&C cage is that there are endless ways to configure it.  I built my first C&C cage in 2003. (You can find a great set of instructions on how to build a C&C cage on  Over the years I've rearranged my cage several times.  The original base still exists, but the rest of it morphs.

Many of my YouTube videos feature Bertie, Pinni and Willow frolicking around in their cage and people want to build a cage like it.  These are instructions for the third level I have in my cage.  The design is dependent on having another floor that is only a half-grid below it.  You can get the directions for that in No-Ramp Loft.

The third level in my cage is almost the same size and shape as the second level, just with one extra grid that works as a ramp.  Before you build this addition, you need to know that your guinea pigs are not leapers.  The third level I designed is rather open, and if my pigs were determined, the could leap out of the cage entirely.  It would be a long and possibly fatal drop.  If you are unsure about your pigs' penchant for jumping, you may want to replace the half-grids on the balcony with full grids.

No-Ramp Loft

People like the loft in my guinea pigs' cage.  It is only 6" off of the main floor, so it doesn't require a steep ramp that is common in most second level designs.  In fact, it doesn't require a ramp at all!  Guinea pigs can just hop up or jump down from it.

I've had several people ask for instructions how to build one.  It's not complicated, especially if you've made a C&C cage before.  The loft is made out of 10 grids, a bit of coroplast and a bunch of 50lb zip ties.  If you are adding this onto an existing cage, you will need to modify the base on the side you are adding the level. It requires a half-grid wall instead of the full grids.

I cut a single grid into two pieces (removing the middle row of grid-holes), so that I end up with two 4x9 hole grids.  I used a pair of heavy-duty wire cutters for the inner wires, but I needed a hacksaw to get through the thicker edge wire.  The two half-grids are the same height as the coroplast on the base. This is to help support the second level on the base of the cage.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Working with Scupley

I have been making ornaments for many years. I picked up the craft in the early 1980s "apprenticing" for a woman who made salt-dough ornaments she sold at local shops.  She made dozens of them at a time.  I learned how to make the dough, seal the ornaments and paint on some of the details.  Occasionally I got to watch her create the ornaments.  She made it look so easy!

Typical work area
I started making salt-dough ornaments for Christmas presents for my extended family.  Some of the oldest pieces still survive (which is impressive, because of the seal breaks, salt-dough ornaments turn into mush).  In the mid-1990s I switched from home-made salt-dough to Fimo and Sculpey, at which point my ornaments became smaller and more detailed.  I can see the improvements over the years, as my ornaments become more 3D and my people look a bit more realistic.

I often work in the living room.  I try to keep my area somewhat mobile, so I can stash it all away in a moment's notice.  However, it doesn't take much before clay and tools are all over the place. I sometimes have multiple pieces under varying stages of construction all at the same time.  It can be a mess!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Not A Creature Was Stirring

...not even the bad squirrels in the attic.

The stockings were hung on the cage grids with care... in hopes that they were good pigs and will get carrots instead of coal.  If it was up to me, I'm not sure.  Bertie and Pinni were causing such a ruckus last night I feared Bertie was going to take a flying leap from the balcony to get away from Pinni.  Bad pigs.  Pinni needed wuzzes.

A friend of mine knitted the stockings for me as a present.  Aren't they cute? One for each guinea pig.  I think the blue and grey one is my favorite.  The pigs think they are the perfect size for a big fat carrot.  I may have to agree.

So they're keeping their paws crossed and being good pigs tonight.  Don't they look like good little girls?

Merry Christmas from Pinni, Berie and Willow

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Creepy-Crawly Connoisseur

My boyfriend is the bestest.  But he has this thing about plastic creepy-crawlies.  The first time he purchased a handful of plastic snakes and spiders, he assured me they would go in a friend's backpack, or in someone's shoe bag at a contra dance.  I innocently believed him.  However, after the cockroach appeared in my shower, a snake in my utensil drawer and various ants and bugs under my pillow and in my  purse, I began to doubt the truthfulness of his intended victim(s).

I must admit, this Halloween he offered a number of contra dancers their choice of spiders.  People's reactions were entertaining, ranging from disgust to unexpected delight.  But I still wonder if the majority of these critters will ever leave the confines of this house.  And the collection continues to grow.  I brace myself any time we walk into a toys store or a nature center; he makes an uncanny bee-line to the plastic bugs section of the store.

I seem to be facing a real pest problem
For example, he found another wonderful selection of bugs just last week at A2Z in Northampton.  There were even a pair of banana slugs!  Who could resist them?  He's a little disappointed that he has not yet found a good house centipede.  But was content with his other purchases.  The spider (which I have not come across yet) and the over-sized ant are impressively realistic.

I had the whole family over this weekend.  My nephew was enthused about the slug on my keyboard and spent some time with my sister hunting down various bugs in the kitchen.  Hmm... maybe next time they're over, I'll tell my nephew that he can keep any bugs he can find.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Blue and Coco

Meet Coco and Blue
My nephew normally gets storybook characters for his Christmas ornament.  This year I got a special request:  to make an ornament with his two favorite stuffed animals/imaginary friends, Blue and Coco.  I was familiar with the stuffed animals and took some photos of them for reference.  Coco looks a lot like Snoopy.  Blue is somewhat nondescript, with odd-looking floppy ears and a stubby tail.  My nephew is infatuated with Mario Kart, so I thought if I put the two of them driving in a go-kart, it would be a big hit.

I knew the kart would be some work, simply because I've not built one before.  Imagine my surprise when my stumbling block was Blue and Coco.  Blue is relatively two-dimensional, mostly light blue with a large light green patch over one eye and ear.  Two colors. One spot.  How hard could that be?

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Musketeer - 2011

My godson receives an iconic character as his annual Christmas ornament.  It started with a train engineer and over the years I have worked my way through a variety of countries and time periods:  minute man, a cowboy and Indian, a knight, a Roman Centurion, an Eskimo, the Gloucester fisherman.  Many of them were warriors or hunters.  People carrying swords and axes are possibly not the most appropriate thing to gift at Christmas?  There are so many colorful costumes out there and let's face it - some of the most interesting are military uniforms.  I've tried to veer away from the warriors in the last few years, but as I puzzled this summer over what to make, a musketeer popped into my head.  When something sticks in my head like this, I've learned to run with it.

I think it was the blue of the musketeer outfit that had caught my eye.  In doing my research, I discovered that there are many different uniforms for musketeers.  I suspect what I ended up with is probably a mishmash of a few different time periods.

Various stages of progress

This took a while to make.  I worked on it in bits and pieces.  I had the boots and legs done before Thanksgiving, and then it sat for a week.  Baking cookies and a pie and dipping toffee took precedence.  But even when I had time, progress was slow.  I worked on it for several nights, just an hour or two at a time.  I had to rework the boots, because they were too high.  The legs were too skinny.  He was becoming taller than I wanted.  The tabard was difficult to work with; the blue kept smudging on the white shirt and vice versa.  I had to work on hair color for a bit, and hemmed and hawed over facial hair.  Then debated over making a sword, and should he hold it or have it on his hip?  Decisions, decisions!

I finally had him all assembled and ready to bake.  He went in with the vet ornament and got singed as well.  The results were shiny bangs, a tricolor feather and dark blue edges to the tunic.  So no more cooking ornaments in that oven!

All that was left was painting some trim and the blade of the sword.  Painting detail always makes me nervous.  It's tricky getting in and around legs and arms and clothing and not touch something else.  It all worked out in the end.  My musketeer looks splendid.  En garde!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fezziwig's Ball

All gussied up
(photo by Bryan Krauthamer)

In the last several years, I have gone to the Cotillion at the Scout House.  This year we decided to try Fezziwig's Ball up in Salem, MA.  The fliers made it sound similar to the Cotillion: a fancy-dress dance, featuring period costumes and dances.  But there were several things that ended up making it a different experience than what I had expected.

First, there a lot of children and young people.  Much more than at the Cotillions I've attended. It seemed that were more people in costume, too; I was constantly brushing up against one hoop skirt or another during the waltzes. I met several people who said this was their first time, and had no dance experience.  I think the mix of young people, costumes and anticipation helped create the festiveness of the evening.

The dance started with a Grand March, which was very long and involved going up and down the stairs more than once.  This was a bit nerve wracking since I had a very long dress and was wearing heeled shoes (which I do all of 2-4 times a year). I was so relieved not to have stepped on anyone's gown. 

Through the evening they did a mix of couple dances and called line dances.  The woman calling the dances was difficult to hear in the crowded hall.  In addition, the dances were taught without any references to contra or English dance figures.  This was frustrating.  I couldn't understand what she was asking us to do any better than the uninitiated beginner.  Once we successfully did the move, it was fairly obvious what she had called.  Even not knowing the dance, I feel I could have picked up on the root movements quicker and easier had they been in terms I recognized.  However, not understanding her instructions left us unable to assist anyone.   I guess it leveled the playing field?  We were all equally lost.

Grand March
(photo by Bryan Krauthamer)

But it was neat to learn some new old-style dances.  The Cotillion does the same set every year.  I really enjoyed the reels.  Everyone was laughing when we did Gothic Arches.  We all got pretty silly.  You can get a feel for the general controlled chaos from the polka:

All of the dancing was much like this:  full of smiles and people having fun.

I didn't switch dance partners like I do at the Cotillion.  Dance names and order were not posted, so I felt safer sticking with Rob than to venture out and dance with others.  Which was fine!  It was a rare treat to dance the evening away with just one person.  I think many people stuck with whomever they came with for the dances. 

There was a decent amount of down time between dances.  Fezziwig's Ball was as much a social function as a dance.  With the beautiful hall and everyone dressed up as they were, it was easy to imagine what a dance would be like over a century ago.

The food at the break was delicious.  The treats appeared to be from period recipes, too.  There were mini mincemeat pies and ham and cheese.  There were gingerbread and sugar cookies, all stamped.  I don't want to think of the time it took to prepare all those!  Of course there was plum pudding and a variety of other sweets.  It would have been perfect if there had been 21st century hand cleaner available at the tables -- I doubt anyone took the time to wash their hands before heading for the food.

So the Cotillion and the Fezziwig Ball turned out to be similar yet distinct events.  They each have pros and cons.  For me?  I had a delightful time.  We both enjoyed the festive atmosphere and the dances and the people.  Even though it was a long drive up there and back, I expect we will be returning to Fezziwig's Ball in the future.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Vet for My Vet

I am lucky to have a decent exotics vet so close to where I work and live.  Every year for the holidays I give the Windhover Veterinary Center a box of my almond butter crunch and ginger star cookies (along with a goofy guinea pig card).  It's part thank you and part offering to the Pet Gods.  Perhaps if they're appeased, I won't have to make so many visits to the vet in the new year?  So far the goodies are loved by the staff, but the gods have not been placated.  Oh, well.

A rough likeness of my vet, with the mumps?
This year I decided to make an ornament for my vet as well as the usual goodies for the staff.  I thought it would be a fun project.  And it was, although the execution was trickier than I had imagined.

The idea was to have my vet surrounded by a bunch of animals.  The number of animals decreased as I ran into difficulties.  The parrot, which I thought might be complicated, turned out to be the easiest piece of the bunch.  I've sculpted bunnies before, so that wasn't too difficult.  The cat was challenging - I wasn't sure what to do with the legs.  Even the lab coat had issues!  The white stuck to everything.  I had brief thoughts of a guinea pig or a rat, but the rabbit was so small, I didn't want to try anything smaller.

Then I discovered the toaster oven has hot-spots.  This ornament lucked out - one sleeve ended up a little dirty and the grey kitty cat ended up a bit browner than it started out  both the vet and the rabbit have slightly shiny toes.  But the scorching was kept at a minimum.  Given all that white of the lab coat, I was thrilled!

This is the first time I've tried to make an ornament based on a real person.  I've matched the color of her hair... and that's probably about it.  Regardless, I think it's cute.  I hope she likes it.  At least I know the toffee will be a hit!  Do you think the Pet Gods will be satisfied this year?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Girls Next Door

The twin girls that live next door recently discovered that we have three guinea pigs.  A week or two after this discovery I answered the door to find the twins and a friend standing on my porch.  Could they visit with the pigs? 

I suspected that the friend was added in hopes that if I let them play with my guinea pigs, no one would feel neglected:  there would be one little girl per one guinea pig.  And their timing couldn't have been better.  They rang the doorbell just as I was getting ready to clean the cages. 

I invited them in and told them they could hold the pigs for as long as it took me to clean the cages.  They swept through the living room descended on the cages like a force of nature, a whirlwind.  I pig-proofed the kitchen and ushered the girls in.  They sat on the floor, each with their own pig, asked me questions and babbled to each other all at once.  Wow.  The pigs didn't know what to make of it either.  Bertie was terrified; she wouldn't come out of her cozy.  Pinni managed to pee on one of the girls, twice.  Willow, meanwhile, charmed everyone and basked in the attention.  The girls were thrilled - they got play with the pigs and feed them bits of lettuce and cantaloupe while I cleaned the cages.

One of them asked how often I cleaned the cages and was surprised that this was a weekly chore.  Every Saturday?  Oh, joy!  I now listen for the doorbell on Saturday afternoons, when they know I should be cleaning the cages.  The pigs require supervision, right?

Subsequent visits have been calmer, if not quieter.  Even Bertie has relaxed a little.  Pinni still manages to pee on at least one of the girls each time.  None of the pigs are too certain about being bundled up in cozies then cradled, rocked and cooed over like babies.  That may take a bit more adjustment.

I find myself attempting to answer questions asked by two or three kids at once.  Occasionally I'm answering one's question while another is relating some story of family pets.  It's tricky keeping track of pigs, kids, stories and questions all while I'm trying get things done.  It's a lot like juggling.

Pinniped is exhausted after entertaining three little girls.
After an hour or so, I finished cleaning the cages.  The pigs went back into their cages with sighs of relief.  The little girls, for the most part, were sated.  They gave  farewell pats to the pigs, parting questions to me and informed me they'd be back next week for another visit.

My trio were exhausted; I soon found them flopped all over their cages.  I was pretty tired, too.  It's a lot of work to clean two pig cages while supervising kids and pigs to ensure they don't accidentally hurt each other.  I don't think the pigs or I could handle this much excitement more than once a week.  Don't get me wrong - it's a delight to have the little girls for a visit.  They were so excited to have some one-on-one time with my pigs.  I'm just glad I have enough well behaved (non-biting) pigs to go around.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Pinniped Guards Hay

I had separated Willow from the Newbies for a number of reasons.  One major issue was that Pinni was guarding and eating all of the hay and pellets to prevent Willow from eating any.  Pinni became a moose of a pig and Willow kept losing weight.  It was an unacceptable situation.  So I split them, and arranged the cages so they could interact with each other.

I regularly stuff hay between the grids, so that the three guinea pigs can spend some time in close proximity.  It's the guinea pig thing to do:  the best food is always what everyone else is eating.  So the fact that Pinni will eat hay on one side while Willow munches on the other side is not unusual.  But what I witnessed the other day indicated that I have little chance of reconciling these three sows into a single herd.

Pinniped, unnecessarily guarding the leftover hay
I discovered Pinniped curled up around the remaining bits of hay that I had stuffed between the grids.  At first glance it appeared she was sleeping.  I thought it was a little odd, because that's not her normal sleeping spot.  But on closer inspection, I could see her body was in "guard" position.  Sure enough, if Willow came close to the strands of hay, Pinni would suddenly wake up and start eating again.  If Willow walked away, Pinni would drift back to sleep.  Pinni is still trying to assert her dominance, even though there was no possibility Willow could eat the hay that was on Pinni's side of the grids! 

What a bad pig!  Or perhaps just a very foolish pig?  It appears that Pinni still considers Willow a threat to her standing in the pecking order.  Willow hasn't made any attempts to regain control as Boss Pig in well over 18 months.  She would be quite happy as a quiet little subordinate, but Pinniped seems unable to just leave Willow alone.  Poor pigs, caught up in the drama of social status.