How We Made That: “Hobbit Hole” Cat Shelter Tutorial

In every aspect of our life, my husband and I are very “If you give a mouse a cookie”. A small idea snowballs really quickly, basically… “If we’re going to do X, we should probably go ahead and do Y… and Z… and OMG wouldn’t it be cool if ….?”

That’s basically my explanation for this tutorial, and the project that spawned it. A little background…

Back in 2011, the tornado smashed out one of our garage windows. It’s right by the ground, and totally useless – there’s a weirdly placed fireplace behind it, so no human is getting in or out of it – so it’s been pretty low on our priority list of things to fix. We’d see a cat or two go in and out of it, not a huge deal.

Then last year, my husband heard some noises in the wall when he was in the garage… and discovered a litter of kittens! We socialized them and their mama, and found homes for each of them. Shortly after that, Mama (now “Artemis”, per her new family!)’s sister also had a litter of kittens in there. We were able to hold the kittens once, before she hid them away from us. They all became feral, and lived in and around our garage/yard.

Flash forward to now. We have about 10 ferals living in our yard. They’ve all been named – Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Fili, Kili, Galadriel, Arwen, Celeborn, Beorn – and have their own Facebook fan page: The Feral fellowship. We’ve trapped, neutered, and released MOST of them so far, and are currently raising a small litter of kittens from them (Celebrian, Elladan, and Elrohir) in my husband’s office, and will soon adopt them out.

ANYWAY.

In the course of trapping, neutering, and releasing, we decided that we should clean up a part of the backyard, near the window they use, and put a small crate out there as a shelter. Maybe we’d plant some catnip. Actually, maybe that crate should be one of these homemade ones that are insulated? If we’re going to go to THAT trouble, why not build one from scratch? What if we make it look like a Hobbit hole? With cat grass growing on top!

… If we’re going to do THAT, maybe we should make a little “patio” of mulch around it – with a little border – so that we don’t have to use the lawnmower up against it. Actually, if we make that area a little bigger, we can surround the little apple tree so that we don’t have to mow around that. A little bigger yet, and we can do the same with the compost bins. Hell, at this point, that whole section of yard may as well be done in mulch, there’s no point bothering to mow the thin little strip that’ll be left… that’s a lot of mulch. Maybe we can sink some pots of catnip into the ground, to look like bushes in their little shire? And add some stepping stones! You know, we may as well add a little pond, so they have a constant source of drinking water…

… and here we are. Proud caretakers of a little feral “Shire”. Here is how we did it:

Materials

– 1 round egress Well with matching cover. Ours was about 36″ diameter, and 2′ deep.
– 6′ plank of solid composite decking, in brown. Don’t use the hollow kind!
– Large tube of construction adhesive. (We used Loctite PL 3X Premium Construction Adhesive)
– Outdoor latex paints, tinted yellow and green
– “Cedar” coloured silicone caulking
– Pipe hanging strap
– Screws, bolts, etc
– Soil
– Cat grass seed

How We Did it

Being careful to line up / center everything, I used a sharpie and a couple of plates to trace circles onto the egress cover for the openings

Then, I drew a rough guide for the “brickwork” around each. I wanted to get an idea of how many bricks I’d need, and what sizes. I ended up needing 24 1.5″ x 2″ bricks for the main door, and 40 1″ x 1.5″ smaller bricks for the two windows.

I had my husband cut the bricks from the plank of decking, using his table saw. He used his jigsaw to cut the holes out of the egress cover. He was careful to get the door out in one solid piece, as I’d be using it.

As he presented me his perfectly cut bricks, he informed me:

“You know what you need to put between each of the brick pieces? MORDOR. I mean MORTAR.”

… what a dork 🙂

Once the holes were all cut, I slathered the whole front facade with a thick layer of construction adhesive. I used a painting sponge to spread and texture it, kind of smacking and pulling it upwards to resemble stucco.

As I finished spreading and texturing around a window, I carefully placed the appropriate sized “bricks” into place around the edge, pushing in to secure in the adhesive.

Once the whole thing was coated, textured, and had all of the bricks placed, I let it dry (cure?) for a couple days.

In the meantime, I spread the door piece with more adhesive, using the sponge and an old paintbrush to streak it into more of a “wooden door” texture.

Once everything was dried/cured, I painted the “stucco” yellow, and the door green.


As I was being artsy in the comfort of our house, my husband slaved out in the yard to clean debris, strip the sod, and level the whole thing. Getting the ground level where the Hobbit Whole would go was important, so it would be stable and fit snuggly against the garage.

I piped the cedar toned silicone caulking around the edge of the windows/door, and in between each brick.

Once it was all piped, I used a wet finger to smooth it all down

Once everything was all cured and dried, it was time to assemble it all.

First, Porter fit the egress cover to the egress well, and marked spots on the egress cover to indicate where the holes on the well would line up. He then drilled these holes, so he could bolt the cover on.

Next, with the cover on to hold the well into the correct curve, he attached two 2×4 planks across what would become the bottom of the structure, to hold it all into place. (Not pictured)

Next, he attached the door. He took the facade off the well to do this. Due to the ridges going on in the back of the facade / door, he had to get creative. He ended up … ah, let me just quote him…

“I used pipe hanging strap (like this ), which is easily bendable and has holes for screwing into things. I used one piece near the center of the door and one strap near the top. It’s just bolted on, I drilled holes in the support strips to mount it.”

He then replaced the facade onto the well, and attached it with 3 or 4 small bolts.
Finally! Time to install the Hobbit Hole into our little feral shire!

We had already completely landscaped the “Shire” by this point – covered the entire area in landscape fabric, installed a small pond, dug holes and sunk 5 little pots for catnip “shrubs”, spread mulch, and laid stepping stones.

We had left a small spot of unmulched area on the fabric, right about where the Hobbit hole would be going. We placed it where we wanted it, then packed some more mulch down into it as a bit of a floor, and to hide the beams underneath.

Then, we mounded a bunch of dirt over it. You really want to pack it in well, and it’ll want to slide a bit. Take your time!

Then, plant a ton of cat grass seeds. I think we ended up using 8 packets, over a few weeks, just getting ridiculous with it. They tend to grow in small clumps, rather than an all-over sod like consistency.

Didn’t manage to get a close up of the soil covered structure, so here’s a view of the whole Feral Shire..


… and then we waited, keeping the soil moist while we let nature take its course. MADDENING!

Once the grass started sprouting, the ferals started to indicate their approval 🙂

Pippin got up there and caused a bit of sliding, which we later repaired:

I think Frodo may have been a little jealous…

… and then Sam wanted to know what was up…

.. and the Kili decided to come hang out with them all…

A patched dirt slide, a few more seeds and a couple weeks later, and voila … one proper feral shelter Hobbit Hole! It was a lot of work, but totally worth it!


It’s been nice to see them hang out in the back yard, fairly carefree. They get along well, have access to fresh water and food, and seem to know thay’re safe here, and free to be cats:




(Bonus: There’s video of Arwen enjoying that catnip.. SO cute! Click here to view it on their Facebook page!)

Be sure to follow The Feral Fellowship on Facebook for tons of cat photos and updates on their lives out back!

By the way, if you’re here because you’re a big fan of Middle Earth… I highly recommend checking out Tol-Con, a Middle Earth themed fan convention coming to Minneapolis in 2016. My husband and I are both involved with it, along with a great team – it’s a fan run convention, and featured themed BANQUETS as part of the ticket! Here is the Facebook page for it. Won’t you join us on our adventure?

Caturday: Tolkien Edition

So, we’re just a few days away from OneRing.Net‘s “One Last Party – There and Back Again”, and our little fellowship that’s going is SO excited. Adventure!

It’s been a LONG time since I’ve posted a Caturday blog, so… let’s do one, and make it Tolkien themed.

First, meet my baby Gandalf.

She was born in our garage, to a feral cat that had gotten in and decided to call it home. My husband heard a noise one day when he was working out there, and was surprised to see kittens in a wall. We spent the next month and a half or so socializing them (kitten snuggles!), and found homes for all of them – Mama included… but I HAD to keep Gandalf. From the first time I held her, she snuggled into my chest and just passed out. Every time.

The cloak (not shown here), hat, and staff were my evil plan to convince hubby to let me keep her. It worked.

Recently, we introduced her to a couple of Funko! figurines.. and the pics were too cute to NOT share. Enjoy!

Gandalf was just annoyed by Sauron..



… but took more of an interest when Symmie got involved…


Gandalf wanted to eat Smaug, though.


As a bonus, a couple crappy cell phone photos of Panthro deciding to eat both Sauron AND Smaug..


Caturday – Tweak and Turbo Snuggling

I love how much these two love each other!

Was actually on the phone with a friend when they started cuddling like this, had to get off the call to photograph it! Cell phone pics, so please excuse the quality – I figure it’s a good dose of cute, anyway!







Caturday, Halloween Edition (We are Horrible People!)

It’s been a while since we’ve posted a Caturday entry. What better time to restart, than the present?

Of course, with it being Halloween season, the answer to “What theme should we go for?” came pretty easily. Pose them with pumpkins? Nah… dig out the costumes we bought for them a few years ago!

Oh, we are awful people.

I had originally planned to get get a good portrait or two of each of our four babies (Turbo, Tweak, Jame and Rat)… but there was just too much cuteness to not share. Tweakie worming his way out of his bumblebee costume, then later coming to the rescue when Rat was subjected to the same… and trying to help her out of it with the help of Turbo! Awwww…

Contrary to what the looks on their faces say, no cats – or humans – were harmed in the production of this blog entry. Also, no one peed in our bed or otherwise sought revenge for the costume humiliation.















Caturday & Tornado Update

Just a quick post here today, because today is a BIG DAY here in the Porter House!

Remember back when the 100+ year old black walnut tree that we had – that we LOVED – was uprooted and destroyed our house in the tornado? As you may recall, by day # 2 of being Tornado Victims*, we made the decision to have that gorgeous tree milled down and dried, with the plans to rebuild the kitchen with it.

Well, yesterday afternoon I found out that today is the day that we will be getting all of the wood back. Every last little bit of what remains of the tree that not only destroyed our house, but uprooted our entire life for the past 14 months (and counting!). The tree that I spent probably 7 months stressing out about, racing the clock to get it hauled and processed. The biggest, most irreplaceable loss we had in the tornado.

It was an emotional afternoon for me. Lots of crying and listening to 2 Unlimited videos ensued.

Today, I’m far more composed, and ready to take the next step. This morning, I’ll be renting a truck and driving an hour to the mill to pick it all up, while my husband clears room in the basement to store it all… then, the fun begins!

For us, it’s been a bizarre mix of being thrifty (It didn’t cost much more to get it processed, than it would have to have it removed… and we’d be needing to buy wood to rebuild the kitchen anyway!), not wasting (The idea of it being mulched along with so many other downed trees was heartbreaking), sentimentality (We’ll forever have a reminder of what happened, and feel like we were “Doing right” by the tree… however “hippie” that may sound!)… and spite.

Yep, for us…. it feels a bit like giving a resounding “Fuck you TOO!” to mother nature. Also a bit like displaying the head of an enemy up on a post, as a warning to other would-be invaders.

Yes… it’s going to feel great to have the kitchen finished, for so many reasons.

I digress – CATURDAY!

So, one of my friends / tweeps sent me a link this week: An article about a cat video festival, which just so happens to be going on only a few short miles from us.

Yes. This. Exists.

So, I felt the need to submit a few videos of our babies. I have no idea if I’m biased or not, but I love these videos… hope you enjoy them as well!

* Though we have at least 5-6 months to go in repairs, we’re not Tornado Victims anymore… we’re Tornado BADASSES.

On the afternoon of May 22, 2011, North Minneapolis was devastated by a tornado. Twisted recounts the Porters’ first 11 months, post disaster. Rebuilding their house, working around the challenges presented by inadequate insurance coverage. Frustration at repeated bouts of incompetence and greed from their city officials. Dealing with issues such as loss of control, logistics, change, and over-stimulation, as an Aspergian woman.

Subjects covered include: Opportunistic “Vultures”, gawkers, new friendships, a bizarre gingerbread house, unique decisions made with the rebuild – including an internet-famous kitchen backsplash, “Tornado Claus”, contractor drama, water balloons, DIY design and work, music, sensory overload, and details on how to cook jambalaya for almost 300 people, in the parking lot of a funeral home… should you ever find yourself in the position to do so. Order your hard copy here, or digital edition here.

Caturday – Tweak in a Wedding Cake

If you attended the Twin City Bridal Association Wedding Fair.. oh, early 2008, if I recall correctly… you might remember our ridiculous 10 foot tall cake!

It was actually a fake cake, and it was retired immediately after the show. I mean, what further use would we have for a 10 foot tall, neon green fake cake, right? So, we brought it home (NO room for it in our commercial kitchen!) and stuck it in the corner of our home office till we could figure out a use for it, or repurpose the foam.

It been sitting there for month, completely ignored… until one of our cats “adopted” it. Our adorable then-kitten, Tweak, had decided that the 10 foot tall (!!!) fake wedding cake was about the coolest bed he could ever have. Once he made this discovery, we repeatedly found him up in one of the separators, taking a nap.

Too cute not to share pics! Great timing, too – we’ll be helping our friends Carrie and Otha celebrate their wedding tomorrow!

Checking In, Updates.

So, I’ve been quiet with the blog lately. I have a good reason, I swear!

First and foremost, my reason for being lame with this blog: I’m in the home stretch with the final touches on “Twisted: A Minneapolis Tornado Memoir“. 1 week til it goes to print, so it’s taken up pretty much all of my time and attention lately.

Secondly, an announcement: As you may have known, I’ve constantly been asked to develop a gluten free cookbook over the past few years, and resisted for a long time – I had no interest in using the non-gluten flours, as everything I’ve ever tasted that used them was awful.

Well, after recent gluten free baking successes, including a RIDICULOUSLY great gluten free deep dish pizza recipe, I decided to go ahead and write that gluten free cookbook. AFTER I get all of my current and pending projects finished with, or about 2 years from now.

Last night, I was talked into stepping up the priority on that, so I’m happy to announce that I’ll be releasing a gluten free cookbook sometime in 2013, providing I don’t first go crazy. SO… if you have anything that you’ve been dying to see translated into a tasty gluten-free version: speak now or forever hold your peace!

I leave you with an adorable photo of our cats. Will be back in a week or so!

Caturday – Jumping Tweak

I may have mentioned this before, but Tweak is a bit of a weird cat. Usually, it’s a good thing – he has a LOT of personality!

This photo set isn’t super high quality, as we grabbed our camera to try and get some photos of what he was doing, no time to mess with the settings or anything. He’d seen a bug or something on the outside of the windows of “his” 3 season porch… and was repeatedly launching himself in the air to get at it.

Now, Tweak is not a small cat. Looking back at these pictures now, I’m still amazed at how much air he got!

At the end of the photoset, I’ve included a video we took of him climbing a screen door. What you can’t tell from the video is that he wedged himself in between the screen door, and the glass door behind it! Weird cat.

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Caturday: Douchebag Cat

This morning, Tweak was a bigger jerk than usual. I had to eject him from the bed over a dozen times, each time being quickly followed up with him jumping RIGHT back up, yelling in my face, and/or chewing on my hair. This started about 6am – particularly nasty, as we hadn’t gotten to bed til at least 2:30am!

Turbo watched the whole thing from her perch in the cat tree – until Tweak jumped up, wrestled her, and knocked her off the structure, backwards. What a JERK!

So, because I’m already a day late on Caturday, and because I’m REALLY annoyed with Tweak right now, let’s look back on some of the times he’s been he’s been photographed while being various degrees of obnoxious! 🙂

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Caturday: Brew Day!

In late May, we had a “brew day” scheduled… I think it was for May 29th. On brew days, we rack our wines, bottling if needed, and generally take care of the many carboys we have brewing. Wine making involves a bit of “babysitting”.

Well, it’s now September 18th. Not only did the May 29th Brew day not happen – we haven’t had a brew day since. We DID check the carboys right after the May 22nd tornado – they survived, even if the kitchen IMMEDIATELY above them did not! – so we know that much at least.

Anyway, in the interest of NOT losing all that hard work – and as a result of the rainy forecast today – we’re having our first post-tornado homebrew day!

Yes, it’s partly to get to work on cleaning out & organizing the basement – which needs to be done before my husband can start building the kitchen cabinets. Yes, with the amount of wine that was left THAT long, it’ll be a lot of work. (We have a TON of small 1 gallon batches in different flavors!). You know what though? I’m going to consider it a “day off”. Yesterday was a long day of exterior work. Porter worked on caulking all of the small cracks in the stucco and bricks, also re-laying a handful of bricks, while I started painting the garage. It’s pretty! Anyway, I digress – I think that convincing ourselves that this brew day is some sort of a vacation would be a good thing.

What does this have to do with Caturday (Catunday!)?

Well, I think it inspires a great Caturday theme!


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