Kitty Litter – reviews of a necessary evil for cat owners. UPDATED

I had both a cat and dog growing up, but after the dog passed away, we only ever had cats.  Dogs are great and I may own one again, but they don’t make sense for me right now.  I would feel terrible leaving a dog alone for a full-time workday.  I don’t want to walk a dog in the cold, early morning hours of winter before work.  I don’t want to travel with plastic poop bags everywhere we go.  Speaking of poop, my cat poops.  A lot.  He’s laid turds that appear to be half the length of his body.  I only feed him all natural canned cat foods without grains and additives because he’s an old man now and has gnarly digestive issues if I feed him “McDonald’s” cat food brands.  He also pees about a gallon a day.

Over the years, I have searched and tested and tried out many brands and types of kitty litter looking for the perfect formula.  I scoop his box on average 3 times a day and need something that can keep the stink down to a dull roar, isn’t too dusty, has no perfume (who wants to smell poo + flowers?), and will clump well to remove all the urine.  As a bonus, I would love a litter that doesn’t “track” out of the box, but I have come to realize that kind of kitty litter is a unicorn, despite claims on packages to the contrary.  Anyone who says cats are clean animals has clearly never owned a cat.

 

In addition, I prefer not to use a pan liner.  I find that my cat tends to tear holes in it, allowing litter and urine to seep under, making it very challenging when it’s time to clean out the box.  I have never found a liner that doesn’t have this issue.

On to the reviews…

 

arm and hammer

Arm & Hammer Multi-Cat Unscented

If you want to go with a clay-based litter, this is a very good one.  Medium-dusty and clumps pretty darn well.  It is VERY heavy to carry when you buy in bulk.  Odor control is good.  I found Tidy Cats and  Fresh Step were about as good, so I just went by the price and which was available without perfume.

yesterday's news

Yesterday’s News –

Kudos for trying to be eco-friendly but not a great product.  It doesn’t clump at all so you have to change it more frequently, and it really does nothing to keep down smells.  I read a ton of great reviews on Chewy but I can’t believe these are real because I’ve tried it and it just doesn’t cut it for two cats.  Granted, it doesn’t track as much out of the box, but my real issue is the cat kicking it out when he tries to bury his business.

 

proplan renewnaturesearth-felinepinePurina ProPlan Renew, Feline Pine, and other wood-based litters –

Lower dust than clay, lighter weight, environmentally better, have a smell which reminds me of a hamster cage.  These didn’t seem to clump as tightly so when I’d remove the urine, the clumps would break up and stay in the pan.  Also, my cat seems to kick/track this stuff out even more than the clay.  I really liked that ProPlan was sold in recyclable post-consumer waste cardboard “bottles” but if left in the trunk of one’s car unsecured, the lid pops open spilling its contents which are crazy hard to vacuum out of a trunk liner.

blue buffalo

Blue Buffalo Naturally Fresh Quick Clumping –

I recently started using this and I really like it so far.  It’s made from walnut shells (eco-friendly), seems lower dust than the clay, and it doesn’t have a strong odor (some reviewers say it does, but maybe they weren’t using the “unscented” formula).  It clumps up very tight and dry so it’s pretty easy to scoop out.   It tends to track/get kicked out about as much as the clay litter.  One thing I don’t like is that it has a very dark brown color which could hide the presence of blood in the urine or feces if your cat is ill.  Right now it’s my litter of choice.

kitty litter

Swheat Scoop – current champion

Non-toxic, environmentally friendly, clumps well, keeps down odors pretty well (though I scoop often so nothing sits and stinks too long), and it’s light in color so if there’s blood in the urine or feces you will know.  It’s good but a bit dusty (haven’t found a litter that isn’t), it’s expensive and I use a ton of it with two gatos, so I have it shipped on a schedule from Chewy along with their food.  It works out to be a little cheaper than Petsmart.

Adventures in Self-Taught Window Glazing

window glazing

(Photo courtesy of http://www.PopularMechanics.com)

As loyal readers know, I live in an old house.  It was originally a two-room summer bungalow that was sold several times, expanded over the years and eventually became a permanent residence.  One of the benefits of having an older home is that many of the rooms possess the beautiful, original double-hung, six over one, true-divided light wood windows.  Problem is that the storm windows were never installed properly over them to protect them (they were caulked all around without any weep holes) and allowed moisture to work its way in and the glazing and paint are shot on the exterior faces of these windows.  Every time I vacuum inside the sills, chunks of glazing chip off and rain down.  Nevertheless, there was no way in hell I was going rip them out and replace them with those soul-less vinyls with “grilles between the glass.”  I could never be happy looking at or through windows like that for the rest of my life.

In my desire to be environmentally conscious, preserve beautiful, well made windows, and save money, I decided to attempt reglazing them myself.  To give you an idea of the reality of cost, I recently replaced four (4) windows in the dining room.  They were 56×36 aluminum framed jalousie windows that let in tons of light but were very cold even with interior glass storms.  We replaced them with wood interior/vinyl exterior double hung insulated Andersen’s with simulated divided light (about 56×32).  The cost for the windows alone was $4000 even with installing them ourselves.  That doesn’t include the cost of the staining and wood trim I have to do to match them to the others in the house.  Hence, the attempt at d.i.y. reglazing.  By the way, don’t buy the custom Andersen wood trim.  You’ll save a ridiculous amount of money if you just pick up trim pieces at your local lumber yard.

I am a fairly handy person and can follow directions so I felt that with enough reading and watching of videos that glazing a window should be something I could handle.  After having completed one window (upper and lower sash) I am ready to give my thoughts about the process.

This is not a hugely difficult process overall but it requires the right tools, materials, tons of prep work, and time to get the hang of working with the glazing materials.  My first sashes don’t look so hot, but I think as I go, I will get better. Who knows, when I’m done, maybe I’ll be good enough to have a little side hustle reglazing wood windows and make some bank.

In my quest to keep it non-toxic and natural, I chose to use Allback natural linseed oil glazing compound and linseed oil paint.  To strip the old paint and what was left of the putty I purchased a Speedheater (similar to the Silent Paint Remover they tout on the Allback website but had better reviews and quality control according to many online comments).  I also purchased all the paint scraper tools and putty chaser, shellac flakes, linseed oil, linseed soap, chalk etc. that they suggest using.  i wanted to follow their instructional videos to a T.  I’ve included links to the videos I followed. (Opens in new tab.)

http://youtu.be/OXIauqrMCWU

http://youtu.be/zpJhVnc9zTE

Paint and putty removal:

The Speedheater works great but you really want to do this outdoors or in a super-well ventilated workshop away from your living space.That shit smells when it gets hot.  It also works better on a hot day so that the heating time isn’t being extended by lower external temperatures.  The technique issue I had was in using the scrapers.  Those blades are hella sharp and I unfortunately found myself gouging the wood several times.  Definitely a learning curve.

Removing glazing points:

This was very easy and I didn’t crack a single pane,  Be super careful in handling this glass as the edges are sharp, and part of the old window’s beauty is contained in the antique, wavy glass that you can’t get if you break a pane and have to replace it with new glass.

Preparing the rabbits to receive new putty:

I cleaned these with steel wool as they suggested but this was a mistake and I only did a few passes before realizing that bits of wool lodge in the wood and will fuck up the finish.  Don’t use steel wool.  Keep scraping (gently!) and use a scour pad and microfiber cloth instead that won’t leave particles embedded in the sashes.  I wiped the whole shebang down with the linseed oil and let it sit and soak in.  I came back days later and shellaced the rabbits and let them dry overnight.  Easy peasy.

Backbedding and laying new glazing putty around the panes:

This shit was hard to get right.  I had to heat the putty in the microwave as suggested to get it to a workable level.  It was gooey, sticky and oily.  Very hard to work with and get it smooth.  It would drip everywhere and stick to everything despite letting it sit on wallboard to soak up some of the oil.  Also hard to get off your hands so I suggest working with tight fitting latex gloves.  I probably laid the putty and scraped it back out 3 or so times for each of the panes trying to get it just right.  Still looked like the dogs dinner on some of them but at a certain point, I was over it and needed to finish.  I may try working with a different brand of putty for the next window (thinking of Sarco M glaze).

Painting the exterior:

Since the interiors of my windows are stained, I only had to paint the exterior.  Allback linseed oil paints are a bit tricky to work with if you’re only used to latex paint, though I really believe from all I’ve read and everyone I’ve spoken to that oil paints are the way to go for keeping the sashes protected.  Make sure you have mineral spirits/paint thinner to clean up your hands and brushes because this crap ain’t washing off with their dinky linseed oil soap, Dawn detergent, Lava soap or anything else you had planned to use.  Better yet, don your latex gloves again and make your life happier.  One major benefit to using this putty and natural paint combination is that the smell is tolerable and you don’t have to wait for the putty to “skin over.”  As soon as it’s in, you paint over it and an 1/8th of an inch onto the glass to make a seal.  Folks, take the time to do the prep work and mask off the glass with blue painter’s tape so you won’t be doing the scraping and cleaning later.  Cutting back the paint was a huge pain in the ass and didn’t go as smoothly as they made it look in the videos.

Huge note – drying time for oil paint is waaaaay longer than you’d think.  It actually doesn’t “dry” because it doesn’t contain water.  Instead, the oil oxidizes slowly and it “cures.”   I made a huge mistake of placing the sashes outside temporarily while I cleaned up inside a bit.  Dozens of tiny black gnats were attracted to the paint and stuck themselves to it.  Not fun picking them out when the painted hardened.  All told, I think it was a good ten weeks before the sashes were no longer tacky to the touch and the paint wouldn’t mar when I handled them.  I’ve been told that heating the wood can speed curing time but I don’t have the set up for that and I worried trying to gently heat it with the Speedheater would instead loosen the paint bond.

Do not attempt this if you’re impatient, clumsy, or have trouble following directions.

Halloween movie reviews…

John Dies at the End

John-Dies-at-the-End_10

So I took a little longer to write this because I wanted to finish reading the book before I gave my opinion of the movie.  I know they’re not the same thing, but sometimes reading the book helps put the movie in better perspective.  If you like surrealistic humor mixed with horror told in a sort of stream of consciousness style, this is your jam, homes.  I love how the movie followed the book pretty much verbatim for the first half but then I felt that the climax of the movie was all wrong and totally not a climax.  When I read the book, it became clear that there was a megaton of action, characters, and incidents that had to be combined (sometimes unsuccessfully) and cut to make it film-length.  This hurt the movie as it didn’t have the right pacing and depth.  Still, lots of fun, unpredictable and great acting all around.  Look for the cameo by Doug Jones!

 

pumpkin

pumpkinpumpkin

Halloween movies continued…

You’re Next

 

you're next

A great little horror from graduate of Ithaca College, Adam Wingard who gave himself a nifty cameo in the film where we get to watch him get his shit ruined.  This movie is part home invasion, part whodunit.  This didn’t do so well in the theaters but that may have been attributed to being released in late August (vacation time) and having followed after The Purge (which I have not seen) so maybe people were “horror-ed out” by then.  Reviewer Ryan Turek has a very good breakdown as to possibilities:

 http://www.shocktillyoudrop.com/news/175763-4-reasons-why-youre-next-whimpered-at-the-box-office/

Synopsis – a family and their significant others gather at the lovely if somewhat rundown Tudor-style vacation estate out in the woods to celebrate the parents’ anniversary and dad’s retirement.  An attack begins shortly thereafter and chaos ensues and the killers assure us, “You’re next.”

It’s not terribly hard to figure out who and why this is happening, but that doesn’t detract from the story at all.  Waiting to see how it plays out is still worth it.  There is enough gore to fulfill the bloodhounds, and enough tension and decent acting and script so as to not devolve into a mere gratuitous bloodbath.  Adding  just the right touch of comedy relief makes for a very scary, fun and watchable movie.
pumpkinpumpkinpumpkinpumpkin

 

Halloween Movie Round Up

The first in a short series of reviews for recommended Halloween horror films.

Ratings as follows –

pumpkindon’t bother, this shit is unwatchable

pumpkinpumpkinsome good points but ultimately failed as a film

pumpkinpumpkinpumpkinsome issues but I was willing to overlook them and overall it was enjoyable

pumpkinpumpkinpumpkinpumpkina solid movie from start to finish and recommended watching

 

the caller

The Caller – Recently divorced Mary moves into a run down super-seventies style apartment and begins receiving calls from what appears to be a either a crank or perhaps the creation of an over-stressed and fragile mind.  When she realizes this is no joke, Mary attempts to end the relationship with dire consequences.  Starring Rachelle Lefevre and Stephen Moyer, a nifty little thriller with some plot holes I’m willing to forgive as there are some truly creepy moments and the underlying premise is a fun one.  Did not like the voice acting for the young girl on the phone (can’t say more because it would be a spoiler).  Good acting overall and a lovely cameo and voice work by Lorna Raver (Drag Me to Hell).  Very dark and atmospheric, would work really well as a play.

pumpkinpumpkinpumpkin

 

Health coverage.

insurance

So, I am in a situation where I am currently without health coverage.  I don’t get too worried because I am generally healthy but it’s not ideal and I would like to be covered.  Unfortunately, I can’t get covered through my current employer and after talking to a representative for my home state, it’s become quite clear that there is no affordable coverage option.  The mid-level “silver” plan would be over$2000 a year with a $2000 deductible and many of the services I would need wouldn’t be part of the amount counted toward meeting the deductible.  On top of that, it would only be health coverage, not vision or dental which I really do need as well.  That would be even more money and not offered through the exchanges.

At that amount, I’m be better off paying out of pocket and eating the fine I’ll get at the end of next tax season because it will be cheaper than paying the premiums and the out-of-pockets toward reaching my deductible.

I truly do believe that public health should be mandatory but the average citizen is being given an “unfunded mandate” much like NCLB.  The tax deduction the government is offering me to offset the monthly premium is a joke.  I don’t see an affordable option with adequate coverage being offered.  Expand Medicare for all and take the for-profit angle out of the health coverage equation to offer a universal and affordable system to cover everyone. 

Complaining complainers who complain.

positivity

I have been working at a new location for a while where on the whole, I am incredibly happy, though there have been some recent changes implemented in the way we have to do our paperwork.  It’s more annoying, more time consuming and results in us taking work home more often/staying late to complete paperwork.  Yes, this is bad, but there’s nothing to be done about it.  The organization’s sentiment is shut up and do it or go somewhere else.  The general feeling among employees is that they wouldn’t mind quite as much if there were regular raises but payroll has been stagnant across the board for at least the past four years.  Not cool.  What I’d like to know is if pay has been held across the board or if the higher-ups have seen any increases.  As it’s a non-profit, the IRS 990 information on their budget, income and some payroll information are public record.  As far as I can tell, no one working for the organization is making six figures, which is comforting to know considering it’s basically charity work.  Honestly though, who goes to work at a non-profit expecting the pay to go up and up and up?  Just not realistic.

 

sarah williams

This brings me to my point: yes things are getting worse for us, but have you seen the job market?  There’s no way to rebel when you have nowhere to go and that’s the sad truth of it.  And yes, you really should stop complaining so much while you’re on the job.   As I often quote from the movie Labyrinth when people say “It’s not fair!”  “No it isn’t, but that’s the way it is.”  And additionally, “You say that so often.  I wonder what your basis for comparison is.”  The fact is, job responsibilities aren’t static, and in our situation the changes being implemented are because of what our government is handing down to us.  Don’t like?  Get more involved in national and local elections.  Write editorials.  Blog about it.  Just don’t sit around at work and force everyone to wallow in your daily gripe-fest because it makes everyone feel even worse about the situation and there still isn’t a solution.  Whenever I find myself trapped in a group of people venting, I do my best to be the subject-changer or person to point out something that can be done.  It helps shut down the negativity or at least gives them an idea of how to make a positive impact in some way.   And don’t think it’s easy because by my nature, I am fairly pessimistic and at times border on existential nihilism (i.e. I don’t believe that life has any inherent meaning.)  Most of the time, shit just happens with no rhyme or reason.  Which for me, equates to the idea that life only has the meaning in it that one creates for oneself.  No matter where you work, you are quite likely to have to deal with some sort of fuckery or another.  If you find you truly can’t stand the current bullshit you’re being dealt, good luck finding another place whose nonsense you can stand.  Truly.  Just don’t make things more miserable than they have to be.  Find solutions for things you can, and find ways to support each other and be thankful you can still cover your bills.  I think I’ll bring in some cinnamon rolls next week to lighten the mood.  Wish me luck friends.

Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon are sustaining me this winter.


buried cars


I don’t know about your neck of the woods, but here we are experiencing a snowpocalypse, as in over a foot and a half of snow in less than 24 hours, a sleet-thunder storm and crap road conditions everywhere.  Hence, I’ve been stuck home and watching tv in between bouts of shoveling.  With so much time on my hands this winter, I have been able to catch up and get started on some series that have been on my list for a while.

orange-is-the-new-black-poster-428x600

Orange is the New Black (Netflix) – I have no true sense of what prison life is like.  I imagine it’s pretty scary, bleak and boring.  This show is probably not an accurate representation but it is a very fun, and engaging show.  The ensemble cast is great and I especially enjoy the little interludes and subplots into back stories of how each woman came to be where she is.  Another winner from Jenji Kohan.

hemlock grove

Hemlock Grove (Netflix) – I saw this book featured in my local library and decided to read it before watching the series.  I have to tell you, it’s a very mediocre book and the series isn’t much better.  I had high hopes because I know good films and tv have been made from terrible books (Forrest Gump anyone?) but no amount of Lili Taylor and Famke Jannsen can save this.  And it’s not the acting.  The cast is just fine.  It’s just a terrible script with weird dialogue (taken from the book itself) and really shitty, boring, two-dimensional female characters in general.  They’ve made them a bit better for tv but still fell short.  At least in the series the two male “heroes” aren’t quite as annoying/boring as they are in the book.  Overall, the book reads like it was written by someone who really doesn’t like or understand women.  Also there are gaping plot holes and events and actions that are never explained at all/make no sense for happening, including the book finale (haven’t finished the series yet so not sure if it will be as lame and confusing).  The best thing about the show is the incredibly visceral scene where Peter sheds his man-face.  Best transformation ever (credit where credit is due: the author basically described it this way in his prose).  The author has collaborated on the series and added some more stuff in to kinda sorta help fill in the holes and fix what was so glaringly wrong, but on the whole, it’s a gigantic miss.

Amy Schumer

Inside Amy Schumer (Amazon Prime)- this is one funny, filthy girl.  Why was I not watching her before?  She has no problems abasing herself for the sake of a good joke and does a wonderful job poking fun at our stupid modern life, social interactions, and gender-based double standards.  Her show is also wonderful in that she shares the spotlight with other great comedians/comediennes.  I even missed her when she was on tour because I didn’t really have her on my radar yet.  I will not make that mistake again.

dracula

Dracula (Hulu Plus) – This is such a fun bit of well-acted pulp.  There is some nice complexity to the characters, a few wonderful plot twists and plenty of gore and sex.  I have always loved Rhys Meyers and hope that he can stay sober and continue the series because he’s fantastic and I adore watching him chewing the beautifully dressed scenery in this gothic costume drama.  Have to say, Jessica De Gouw’s Mina is kind of annoying, but part of it is also how the character is written.  She’s getting a little less annoying now that she’s admitted her love for Dracula.  Welcome to the dark side dear.

The-Mindy-Project-poster

The Mindy Project (Hulu Plus) – Again, where the hell was I?  I loved her on The Office but for some reason it took a while for me to discover this show and how adorable and funny she is in the role.  I hope this show goes on for many years and gets to develop, a la Scrubs.  The writing is sharp with plenty of goofiness, and it’s also good to see Glen Howerton being funny without having to be a douche.  I feel bad for actors who play hateable characters because there’s always that mouth breather who sees them on the street and can’t tell the difference between reality and a character played on tv.

Stupid finance articles that don’t provide an accurate picture of what is really going on in America.

uncle-sam-taxes

I saw this in a Yahoo News article this morning:

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/10-worst-states-taxes-2014-110000784.html

It was talking about the worst states for taxes and of course, New York topped the list.  The figures they quoted were:

Top State Income Tax Rate: 8.82 percent
Sales tax: 4 percent
Property taxes per capita: $2,280

These numbers are completely misleading.  Yes the state sales tax may be 4% but when combined with the city sales tax, it’s significantly higher.  For New York City, there’s a website that breaks it down and talks about how different consumer goods are taxed.

http://www.nyc.gov/html/dof/html/business/nys_sales_tax.shtml

Take a look at these samples of city sales tax:

New York City– 8.875%

Buffalo – 8.75%

Congers – 8.375%

Ithaca – 8%

Liberty – 8%

Lake Placid – 8%

Greenburgh – 7.375%

Saratoga Springs– 7%

From this sampling and looking through lists of sales tax by city at this website, http://www.sale-tax.com it’s plain to see that most of New York State is hovering around 8% sales tax.

http://www.tax.ny.gov/pdf/current_forms/it/it201i_nys_tax_table.pdf

Looking at New York State income tax rates for someone making $40,000 as a single filer, the taxed owed is $2,256.  Assuming all $40K is taxable income, that would give a rate of 5.64%  This seems like an awfully high percentage for someone making a less-than-middleclass salary (and yes, I understand that tax is calculated in brackets and the higher percentage rates only apply to the amount of income over the lower bracket).

lego home

Now on to property taxes.  Oh boy.  As a resident of New York, I know for a fact exactly what some of my neighbors are paying in property taxes.  Most are average middle class people with reasonably sized homes (no McMansions) who are pay between $8000 and $10,000 a year in property taxes for a moderately-sized  family home on 1 acre of land (2-3 bedrooms with parents and two children).  What is even harder to believe is that this amount is considered LOW for the area we live in.  When taking to the local assessor’s office, many of them have been told to suck it up and forget about a tax grievance because “Have you seen what your neighbor with the newly constructed McMansion is paying?!?!?  Stop complaining.”  I’ve heard that new construction in the area is often upwards of $15,000 a year in property taxes.

It really frustrates me that no one is reporting the facts of just how much people are losing from their hard-won salaries to try to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.  What also bothers me is all the reports about the numbers of unemployed.  My parents always told me: whatever the reported percentage of unemployment or number of jobless, DOUBLE that number.  The jobless rates reported are only taken from the people receiving unemployment benefits so it will never capture people who are unemployed but no longer eligible for unemployment benefits, people who were in jobs that didn’t qualify them for unemployment when the job ended, or they are working but so under-employed (a day or two a week, working sporadically) that their income is negligible.

The reality is so much grimmer than is even being discussed and I can’t believe that articles like this pass for factual news.

unemployment

Bad boss.

shitty boss

I had the recent misfortune to work at a place that was not a good fit.  What at first seemed like growing pains and discomfort while adjusting to a new routine revealed itself to be a sisyphian nightmare where no matter the progress and changes I made, I was given no credit, recognition or respect.  I have no problem taking constructive criticism.  I want to know how to be better.  I know I am not done learning and growing at any time in this life.   What I can’t take is when I am getting demonstrably better and still told I’m failing.  She would critique my performance and make comments about what I had done wrong.  When shown irrefutable proof that I had, indeed, done it the exact way she had asked, the response I received was, “Oh, okay.  Whatever.  But what about when you…”  Never was there a time when the word “sorry” passed her lips.  I dawned on me that she had an opinion of me and my abilities and that nothing I did would change the way she saw me.  Every once in a while she would catch herself on her negative rampage and throw me a little crumb of positive criticism, which at our exit interview she said she later regretted because she worried it had given me the impression that I was doing well there and getting better.  Wow.

Needless to say, it was an untenable situation which has thankfully ended, yet it really shook me to my core to have such an experience at this stage in my career and my life in general.  At our parting, my supervisor admitted that she had been unduly harsh in the delivery of many of her comments to me.  Though she has likely forgotten the incident by now, never in my life have I had someone question a letter of recommendation, which she did three months in to my time there.  Saying something like that implies that a) the letter is a forgery, b) the person who wrote it was lying, and/or c) I am unworthy of recommendation.  Even if a person feels that way about an employee, it is one of the most insulting and insensitive things a boss can say.  It took every ounce of my composure and dignity not to react to that statement and keep working there.  This trick even went so far as to make a snide insult/”joke” about me during her annual holiday dinner toast as she went around the table “honoring” each employee for the work they’d done.

In spite of this treatment, I don’t hate her.  I understand that our philosophies and understandings differed and she didn’t value my particular skill set.  I don’t think she’s terrible at her job.  On the contrary, she is very good and that’s precisely why I value the time I spent there and the things I learned in spite of the abuse.  I just think she’s an impatient and unforgiving instructor who wanted me to be her clone, which was simply impossible.  It also gave me a lesson in what type of supervisor I never want to be.