Advent Calendar 23 Dec: It's beginning to look a lot like RAT-mas...

I decorate the rat cage for Christmas every year. I don't have the space or the budget to decorate my own home, and also I'm somewhat insane. I spend far too much time and effort on this, especially considering that the critters demolish my adorable holiday tableau within minutes of being re-inserted into their house. This year, I drafted my roommate, Jazmin, into the process, on the grounds that she was home, she likes my critters, and her phone has a less crap camera than mine.

Photos of our joint madness below the fold.

We started -- well, I started -- by extracting the rats from their box. Two of them were easy. Eddie loves people. If we're being strictly accurate here, Eddie loves attention, and cuddling up to people is how you get that, so all I have to do is walk up to the cage and she climbs right onto my shirt. Then right under my hair, to warm her many very cold toes on the back of my neck. Binky is fine in her house and out of her house, she's just not keen on the picking-up part, so you have to sort of catch her and get your hands under her feet, so she can't grab anything.

Yuki, the fat one, has very little regard for human life, or at least human fingers. I have never been able to break her of being kind of randomly bitey, and she does not like being removed from her comfortable home. It took several tries, and carrying the cage out to the living room, before I finally just scooped her up in a towel and unrolled her unceremoniously into the storage bin, where her sisters were wriggling around in an old blanket.

While I scrubbed out das Rathaus, Jazmin shredded their normal newspaper bedding into the base, stuck their nest box (wrapped up in gold and silver!) into the corner, and covered it all with shredded wrapping tissue -- white, because it looks like snow, and also because I buy the stuff at the dollar store and God only knows what they use to dye the other colors.

Halfway through assembly, with the hammocks installed. The long one down the front is indeed attached to the cage door at the bottom. I don't bother to close the rats in. They don't go anywhere, other than the roof, and there mainly to nap. Doors are far less interesting if they're already open, and all their cool stuff is inside their house anyway. They're great at getting up, but their best plan for getting back inside is to point their wee little noses straight down the wall and hope that this climbing thing works the same the other way. It doesn't, so in the interest of not having rats constantly losing their grip and going splut! on my floor, I've given them a safety net. They learn very quickly which corner it's on.

Standing in the back corner is their "tree". I ruffled up a bunch of green scraps I had lying around and stitched it to a paper cone. I thought of beading it for ornaments first, but then I realized that was a silly idea. You can't eat beads, or at least you probably shouldn't, even if you are a rodent. Instead, it's been decorated with a spiral of Cheerios that Jazmin converted into a garland for me while I was at work.

Cage fitted back together now and sitting on our ottoman. You can see the shredded 'snow' in the bottom. The middle hammock is underneath the gap in the top floor, because rats have all the grace and majesty of a furry Idaho potato, and they would otherwise just fall down go boom. This doesn't really bother rats, but it makes a loud banging noise, because my rats are fat and the cage is enameled steel, and I don't need to give them any more reasons to wake me up at five in the morning. Jazmin has also thoughtfully hung one of her crocheted stars in the corner, like a tree topper, only one that the rats can't immediately knock off and throw out of their house onto the floor.

Their second snoozing box, also wrapped in gold and silver, is in the corner under the snoozing hammock, which I expect them to fight over any minute now. The rest of the Cheerios garlands have been tied to the cage in swags.

Also featured in this photo is their Christmas dinner. This is far more food than any three rats will ever eat, and I expect to have to clear it out of the cage in the morning, but what the hell, that's what Christmas is for. Food Day is their favorite holiday of the year, no matter how often it comes around! The bowl to the left is a candy-cane stripe ramekin I picked up at the craft store to match their hammocks (side note: Small animal dishes are like $5 at the pet store. Ramekins are about $1 each if you catch them on sale. They are 100% food safe, as they are made for baking. I am buying all of their damn dishes at the craft store from now on.) and is full of 'turkey dinner'-flavored baby food, garnished with frozen peas. On the right of the tree are two gold-and-silver gift boxes with their salad (i.e., a handful of parsley) and bread (i.e., stale French bread crusts).

For after dinner, they each got a Maria cookie larger than their entire head, and for Christmas pudding, the pièce de résistance, a small caramel flán, which I unmolded onto a small plate made out of aluminum foil in what was probably a vain effort to keep them from getting caramel all over themselves and each other and their cage and anything else they could reach. That would be less inconvenient if they didn't only lick it off of the first two things on the list.

They also got a new cage cover -- blankets on sale 3/$10 at Walgreens; for that price, they can eat holes in as many flannels as they want -- which I stitched (tacked) to the cage as per usual, so I didn't have to pick it up off my floor every morning. As soon as they were reintroduced to their house, with all of the usual darks in place, Yuki sulked in the corner, and Eddie and Binky went exploring. Pictured is Edelweiß, who made a beeline for dessert and immediately gnawed the entire back edge off of their flán. Not pictured is Binky, who discovered the Cheerios hung on the ground floor, and quickly worked out how to bite them off the string one by one. Yuki is still grumpy about being moved, but I expect her to get over it when she realizes how much food is in her house.

Merry Rat-mas, gang!