Monday, December 21, 2009

a peaceful Solstice to all

Today marks the Winter Solstice, which is the shortest day of the year (ergo, the longest night). From here on out, the days will be getting longer as we welcome the light back to the Earth.

There are as many ways to celebrate the Solstice as there are Pagans, so I have put together a little set of ways to celebrate, some personal and some with my family, that feel meaningful and productive to me.

* Helping Someone Else. I found a stack of knitted squares in my grandpa's attic, and crocheted them together to be blankies for the homeless kitty shelter. Maggie helped me take them to the donation bin and drop them in.

* Going Green. Pagans love their Mother Earth and work to protect and honor Her. My theme for this year's holidays was "reduce, reuse, recycle". I am giving mostly handmade gifts. I participated in two "white elephant" exchanges (which means that I traded "useless" things with someone else rather than purchase new "useless" things). I wrapped all my gifts in wrapping paper rescued from Grandpa's, and even used a couple of vintage maps of Chicago as wrapping paper. I made little gifties for my office mates and my knitting friends using wooden cutouts, pin backs, and vintage findings that I already had in my collection.

* Feast. Feasting on veggies, due to the fact that I have overdone it on starchy processed goodies the past few days (not to mention a tussle with my friend Jim Beam).

* Welcoming Back the Sun. Tonight I light a candle and meditate on the turning of the Wheel and the return of our blessed sun. It's such an act of faith to me, because this is the time of year when it seems that the sun will never return, yet we know it will.

Blessings, all!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

More Free

This year, I managed to wrap ALL of our holiday gifts for free. Here's how! My grandpa used to donate to a lot of charities and received a lot of flatfold wrapping paper assortments as "thanks" for his donation. Sure, they're a lot of unusual designs, but I don't mind. I took them and hung on to them.

In the interest of eco consciousness, I only boxed gifts when it was absolutely necessary. Boxes create waste, and you need more tissue paper and more paper on the outside, plus more tape! Because I was wrapping mostly small packages, all those smallish pieces of paper were just right.

I did have to wrap a few large boxes. Instead of tissue paper, which would have just been filler, I used newspaper. Okay, the newspaper wasn't entirely free, but heck, I had already used it for its intended purpose!

Some gifts needed a pretty piece of tissue paper. At Maggie's birthday this summer, a couple of friends went way overboard with beautiful tissue paper. I flattened out these pieces and saved them, so I used them for the gifts.

And for those few really large boxes that the wrapping paper didn't fit, I used.....vintage maps! I had snagged a couple of maps from Grandpa's for curiosity's sake. They made for perfect wrapping paper, and they definitely have a neat look that's different from the norm.

I feel all ecoconcious!


Everyone needs those few little office gifties and things. Our office pretty much exchanges small pretties; we have no official policy. For the guys I bring in treats, and for the ladies I made cute little wooden pins. I had a bag of wooden star cutouts, some paint, a bag of pin backs, and a handful of vintage buttons and other things. I made about 20 cute little pins; covering my knit group and my office ladies, and while they are tiny little gifts, they are useable and cute and didn't cost me anything (and won't be anything they have to figure out how to get rid of!).


My new kitten needed a collar, but she literally has a 5 inch neck. The VERY smallest collar I could find was 6 inches, and $8.99 to boot! For that fun custom tag engraving machine, they wanted $8 for the least expensive tag. HELLO? I had a little buckle that I had saved from something, and so I crocheted a cute little collar from washable sock yarn. It's stretchy enough so she can escape if she's caught but not so she can just take it off. And the pet store had DIY pet tags--a little plastic charm with a piece of paper in it that you could fill out and then place a waterproof sticker over. $3.50. When Miao outgrows her little collar, I can cut the current one off the buckle and create a new one--it only took me 15 minutes to make! And I saved myself around $14.

But I used a couple of those dollars to buy food for the shelter donation :-)

Friday, December 04, 2009


I wanted to make Princess Snowball's Kitty Bed from the Stitch & Bitch book. Before I purchased yarn, I remembered a friend of mine had a huge box of yarn that she wasn't using because she overbought. I asked her for some and she gave it to me. I'm going to buy her tea at knit group next week in thanks, but this was essentially free (and helped a friend destash!). Plus I have an adorable kitty bed now! Money Saved: $23.

While at knit group, I browsed through a magazine with a LOVELY purple sweater in it. I decided I wanted to make the sweater, but really only wanted that ONE pattern from the magazine. It didn't seem worth buying the issue for. Lo and behold my inbox had an invitation today to get a free trial issue of the magazine! So I'll get that issue for free and then cancel the subscription, which is perfectly within the bounds of the agreement. Money Saved: $7.

I wanted a new Christmas tree. The one we have is way too big. I mentioned it to a friend and she said they had a tree that they weren't going to use this year because they had a new tree also. I asked if I could borrow her tree for this year. She decided that I could just keep it, so I have a brand new tree. Bonus, the tree is prelit, which is awesome because almost every string of lights I own died this year. So I didn't even have to buy new lights. I bought my friend lunch however :-) Money Saved: $30.

I'm doing a lot better at this frugality thing! I always focused before on Getting The Best Price, but what I really need to consider is Whether I Need To Spend Money At All. Sharing and bartering are such wonderful things. Especially when we all have too much stuff and not enough money.

Animal Shelters, or, Why I Bought a Kitten

Maggie just got a new kitten! And I have received several comments/questions about why I bought said kitten from a pet store instead of a shelter. I want to say that, no, I didn't just buy a kitten on a whim from a pet store, and I don't really have any prejudice about the cats themselves in shelters.

I have a problem with the shelters themselves. And I'm going to tell you why.

To me, the whole goal of a shelter should be to rehome as many animals as possible into decent homes where they can be loved. Unfortunately, the goal of the shelters I seem to run into seems to be "keep animals from being adopted, ever". A mix of overly stringent rules, criticism, and inconvenience is making it so that GOOD people who want to give animals GOOD homes are being lured away from shelters or from having animals at all.

First of all, many, if not most, shelters refuse to adopt animals to families with children under five. While I understand that children can be rough with animals, that cuts out a very large segment of the population, and denies animals otherwise loving homes (with a week or so of potential rough handling in the interim). I don't know about you, but I would rather have a week of growing pains than live the rest of my life in a cage. On top of that, the age of 5 is totally arbitrary; children under the age of 5 can be taught to be gentle and some kids over the age of 5 can be overly rough as well, especially if they have no experience with animals.

Next, shelters have an overwhelming amount of rules based on their personal ideals for animal care. Since they are private, not for profit organizations that are not "selling" animals but rather "adopting them out", they are able to create whatever rules they like and refuse adoption on any basis they choose.
For example, declawing is a very controversial issue among cat owners. Some liken the procedure to a human having their fingers removed at the first knuckle, or just plain abject torture, valuing furniture over an animal's well-being. Some shelters use this perspective to completely forbid declawing. If you say you plan to declaw your cat, or would even consider it, they won't let you adopt, or will force you to adopt an already-declawed animal. First of all, cats and humans have totally separate physiology. Second, spaying or neutering a cat causes the same, if not more pain to the animal, and poses a higher risk to their life than declawing. Third, again, wouldn't it be better, in the long run, for a cat to have a good home (following a week of discomfort), than to live out its life, intact, in the shelter?

On top of that, a few phone calls to a local shelter revealed the price of adopting a single kitten to be $250! Economically speaking, even a person who would be willing to pay a BIT more to adopt a shelter animal is likely not going to cough up $250 for an animal that can be purchased for much much less from a friend or a pet store. Of course I think "backyard breeding" is bad. I think responsible people should spay and neuter their animals. But frankly, the shelter kitten may very well be a "backyard bred" kitten to begin with also. The shelters are setting themselves up for failure--they are making the purchase of "backyard" kittens and pet store kittens MORE ATTRACTIVE than shelter kittens.

Many shelters will only adopt kittens in pairs, which, if a person only has the money to care for one cat, again sets up a situation where a pet store or backyard breeder is a more attractive options. While the shelters usually waive the adoption fee for the second of the pair, you are looking at double the food bill, double the vet bills, and double the litter requirements!

Before the shelters will even allow you to look at their animals, you have to fill out an extremely invasive "survey". If they don't like your answers, they will tell you what they think the answers should be and make you change them, or else you cannot adopt. If your answers are really unacceptable, they won't let you adopt anyway. Now, you might think a "really unacceptable" answer might be "I plan to set the kitten on fire twice weekly" or "I need a bait animal for my fighting dogs". But an answer such as "I work full time out of the house" or "I may move in the near future" or "my last cat got away from me and was hit by a car" can be sufficient to set of the alarms of the agencies.

The shelters dictate the way you should discipline your cats, what room you should keep them in, whether you should let them outside or not, how many you should have, and many even require you to put down the NAME and PHONE NUMBER of a suitable relative or friend who will take care of the cat in the event you go on vacation or cannot take care of it any longer. Others forbid this and require you to sign that you will return the cat to the shelter in that situation, because the new person might not fit their standards. They require a copy of your lease agreement permitting pets and the number permitted. If you plan on moving soon they may not adopt to you because your new place might not allow pets.

One pair of friends tried to adopt a puppy from a shelter and were denied as they worked full time jobs. Who doesn't?
Another friend was denied adoption of a kitten because his girlfriend, who did not live with him, was allergic.
Another pair of friends were denied a rescue adoption because they were TOO OLD. Age discrimination anyone? They were told unless they changed their will to reflect a guardian for the dog in the event he outlived them, forget it. These people were in their sixties.
Another friend, unwilling to drag his sick grandparents out in the winter (he lived with them) was denied adoption because the shelter required a meeting with ALL household members and pets.

Shelters, this is ridiculous. Of course you want to make sure that prospective adopters are not going to abuse, neglect, or abandon their pets. But maybe it's time to give people a bit of the benefit of the doubt. If they are caring enough to choose a shelter over those oh-so-tempting free kittens, maybe they don't need to pass the third degree. Maybe they have proved their caring enough. Besides, a truly determined abuser/neglector/abandoner will be able to foil your survey, give the "right" answers and then do whatever they want anyway. You're setting up your rules to eliminate GOOD people, not BAD people.

It makes me want to scream when I see the shelters repeatedly complain that they are overcrowded and unable to operate, and yet they set up these extensive constraints and turn away GOOD WILLING people with their rules. No wonder you have a surplus. Make it easier, and less stressful, and more convenient to adopt, and you will have more adoptions. Maybe you will have a few returned animals, but that will be a small percentage. It will be worth it to give that larger percentage loving homes.

People are not perfect. I don't let my cat outside, but some of my friends do. I don't think they're bad or irresponsible for doing that. I wouldn't think their animals should be taken away. Some people are willing to give a cat a home but not at the expense of their furniture and their skin. Isn't that okay? Isn't an imperfect home better than a 2x2 foot cage in a shelter? It's okay if people will feed their cat Meow Mix instead of Iams. They're still getting fed. It's okay if they have to close the animal up once in a while. The rest of the time, the animal has space to move around, something he doesn't have in the shelter.

And shelters, when you get overfull, please have an "adoptathon" with lowered fees rather than turning animals away. If you are burdened by the cost of maintaining a large number of animals, letting them go for less than your standard fee will pay for itself in removing the cost of the animal's care. When you beg us "please adopt a furry friend", you need to do your part in making sure that it's reasonable, attractive, and comfortable for someone to do that. Don't push people to adopt, but don't spend the whole time warning them of Terrible Things That Could Happen. It makes people shy away. It makes people like me turn to pet stores, where $75, my name and address, and a promise to care for the little ball of fuzz got me a kitten.