Best Cat Litter Box

best litter box

I decided to do a few posts about some of the random things in my house, or that I use, that I just love. This was the first thing that came to mind. I think that’s a pretty sad statement on my life.

*Disclaimer: This is my own opinion. There is an affiliate link below to Amazon, but this is by far the most favorite cat accessory in my house. One of our best purchases this year (top 3), hands down.

If you are a cat owner, unless you own outdoor cats, you have to deal with litter. I’ll be perfectly honest, I hate cat litter. I’ve never been good at keeping the littler box as clean as it should be either. Before my cat Sam died this spring, I had him pretty well trained to do most of his business outside. He was an indoor/outdoor cat, so it worked fairly well. I kept the litter box in a closet with sliding door. When I was going to be gone long periods of time, I’d open the door for him. But as a general rule, it stayed closed and he’d let me know if he wanted to go outside. Before that, I tried the potty training method. [Read more…]

1950s Themed Cookout Party

oscar mayerAs mentioned in my previous post about spiral cut hot dogs, I recently held  a 1950s themed cookout as my birthday party. First off, yes, I still have birthday parties, despite turning 34 this year (2012). It’s a tradition. I think only once have I forgone having a birthday party of some sort. The reason for this is that it’s in the summer and growing up as a kid, it was a nice mid-way point between getting out of school and going back to school for me to see my friends, and everyone just to get together. As for adulthood, well, everyone likes parties in the summer and I frequently default to some sort of cookout or BBQ. Now that all that is out of the way, let’s get to the specifics of how we pulled this off.

The Idea

It’s seems that retro or throwback stuff is kind of popular right now. I think I’ve always liked old stuff regardless, but all the same, I have this Coca-Cola shirt that is faded to look much older than it is. As I was thinking about what to do this year for a party, I had decided I wanted to do something slightly different than the standard BBQ at my house; something a bit more creative. During all my thinking, I was changing out of my PJs and into street clothes. I grab my Coca-Cola shirt to wear and it just kind of came to me. I was going to do an old-school birthday party cookout.

The Details

Here is a list of things I eventually settled on that I wanted to do for this party:

  • Cookout
  • Glass bottled Coke
  • Photo Strips (like in those Photo Booths)
  • Milkshake Bar
  • Drive-In Movie
  • 1950s Music

The Food

diner style ketchup and mustard bottles

The food was the easy part. Cookout food hasn’t changed too much since the 1950s, so we threw on some hamburgers and hot dogs.

We did put the spiral cut on the hot dogs, which may or may not be a new thing, I have no idea. It was just cool and everyone seemed to

like eating them. I did find some diner style ketchup and mustard bottles that looked like the ones here (minus the mayo).

mexican cokeI found glass bottle Coke at Costco. It’s actually Mexican Coke (make with real sugar versus canned Coke now with corn syrup), however I have seen US Coke for sell in smaller glass bottles. I like Mexican Coke better, so we went that route. I’m not sure if you can get it everywhere, but in California, it’s pretty popular. If you’ve not had the real sugar stuff recently (all Coke used to be made this way), I’d run out and find some if you enjoy Coke as much as I do.

For the rest of the food, we just did traditional sides: Potato Salad, Pasta Salad, Baked Beans, Chips, etc….

Patriotic-Berries

We also had plenty of desserts in the form of banana pudding, strawberry cake, and red, white and blue strawberries. Here is a recipe to make those. Those weren’t exactly 1950s, but my birthday is near the 4th of July, so it seemed fitting enough.

Milkshake Bar

This was relatively easy to set up as well. We bought a few containers of vanilla ice cream and jugs of milk, as well as chocolate syrup, malt mix, caramel syrup, strawberry syrup, bananas and strawberries. I wanted to find some old fashioned milkshake glasses but ran out of time and had to settle on plastic cups. We used our blender and two others and set it up on the bar in our kitchen, with the toppings nearby. We obviously left the milk and ice cream in the fridge and freezer.

Music

pocketbooth photostrip

We hooked in the speakers to my computer and streamed Pandora’s 1950s Rock-n-Roll station. The music seemed to be a hit.

Photo Strips

This went over really well too. There is an app for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices called PocketBooth. It has 4 pictures of someone a few seconds apart like in a photobooth. They then give you 4 different filters you can apply to it. We used the black and white one. The app worked great. It think it was $0.99 for iPhone/iPad and $1.99 for Android. I bought it for my phone as well as our iPad.  The photo to the right is my husband, but that was a test photo and we weren’t using the black and white filter there, however, I highly recommend the app. You can also have it actually mail the photo strips to you or someone else for an added in-app cost.

Drive-In Movie*

beach blanket bingoOkay, it really wasn’t a “drive-in” movie. It was more like a “sit-in” movie, but it was outdoors. This is something that may be a bit harder to pull off for everyone. I am fortunate that I live where I work. That means I had access to our spare projector. I was also able to hang the projector screen on a wall outside by our patio. If you have a big enough TV, I imagine you could set it up outside and pull off something similar without having to have a projector or screen. For our movie, we choose Beach Blanket Bingoa Frankie and Annette movie. I made my projector screen last summer with white black out cloth fabric. I put some grommets in it (metal holes for hanging) to hang it on the wall and secured it down with string attached to the bottom grommets and stakes in the ground. We hooked up my computer to the projector and the computer sound into the speakers we used for the music during the evening. Everyone pulled their chairs around, covered up with blankets (it’s rather cold in Monterey during the summer), and sat back for the movie. If we hadn’t had so much food already, popcorn would have been a nice treat for that. We had to wait until dark at about 8:30pm or so, but all in all, it worked out well.

Spiral Cut Hot Dogs

spiral cut hot dog

This past weekend we had a birthday party at our apartment for yours truly. It was an epic event, featuring a lot of goodies from the 1950s that I’ll write more about later this week. However, the star of the evening had to be the spiral cut hot dogs we served. If you’ve been on the internet at all during the past couple of weeks, the chances of you having seen these already are pretty high. I don’t think they are a 1950s thing, but we decided they were cool enough to do anyway.

The night before, we tried them out to see if we could even master the spiral cut. With just a little practice, it was surprisingly easy to do, although ours didn’t turn out quite like the professional looking ones in the photo above. They did taste wonderful though. Before you start in with the “it’s just a hot dog” stuff, let me stop you. First, we just bought plain hot dogs; nothing fancy at all. I believe we purchased them at Costco, but I’m pretty sure the brand and where we got them were not a factor in this. These hot dogs were amazing. The spiral cut really does cook them better, and gives them a bit more crunch on the edges. The added bonus is that the condiments don’t fall off. Every single person that had a hot dog commented on how good they were. It’s easy enough that it’s definitely worth trying if you even half way like hot dogs.

So here’s what you do (I’ll also link a video tutorial).

  1. Put a wooden skewer down the middle of the hot dog, all the way through, long ways.
  2. Get a pretty sharp knife and cut at an angle, all the way to the end. You shouldn’t have to lift the blade for this, just roll the hot dog away from you.
  3. Pull out the skewer, stretch out, and grill.

That easy. Try it and let me know what you thought. Here’s a picture of how ours turned out and a video tutorial embedded below.

spiral cut hotdogs

Worm Compost Bin: Do-It-Yourself

Worm Bin Composting

A little over a month ago I decided I was going to start composting. I had been considering the idea for a while actually, but finally decided I was going to try it. After about a week of research, I figured the best bet for me would be worm composting. I looked at the tumblers (non-worm type) and figured if I had to remember to go and tumble this thing around, I may not do it and then I’d have a bin just full of food scraps that wasn’t composting at all. I even looked at the automatic composters you can keep under your sink, but they were rather expensive, so I passed on those as well and settled on worm composting.

To get started, I used tips from Red Worm Composting and from Garden Girl TV. Those links provide some videos with step-by-step instructions on getting started, and if you’re really into learning more about the worms, etc… the Red Worm Composting is a great site.

Here’s how I did it and what I used:

  • 2 Bins (I think they were either 10 or 14 Gallon, but you can see the size in the pictures) @ $7.50/each
  • Electric screwdriver or drill (if you don’t already have one, you could use a box cutter, knife, or something to puncture the plastic)
  • Shredded cardboard to get started
  • food scraps
  • red worms (I got some from a co-worker)
Worm Bin Supplies

Supplies needed (Click for larger image)

First. Drill some holes in the bottom of ONE of the bins. I drilled about 9 holes, but at this point, would suggest more holes. These holes will allow water to drain out of the inner bin into the outer bin so that you don’t have a swamp in the bottom of your inner bin.

Worm Bin Upper Bin

Holes in bottom of inner bin (Click for larger image)

Second. In the same bin you just drilled your holes, drill some holes in the top sides of the bins, all the way around. This allows your worms to have some air to breath. I drilled about 7 on each long side and about 2 on the short sides. I’d recommend at least that many. The only other suggestion to make is drill the holes high enough on the side so that when you put the inner bin into the outer bin, the holes do not get covered by the outer/bottom bin.

Worm Bin side holes

(Click for larger image)

Worm Bin side holes

(Click for larger image)

Third. Drill some holes in one of your lids. Again, this allows the worms to breath. I drilled about 13 holes here.

Worm Bin lid holes

(Click for larger image)

Fourth. Fill the bin you drilled the holes in with your shredded cardboard. This makes the bedding.

Worm Bin bedding

(Click for larger image)

Fifth. Grab the outer bin (the one you haven’t drilled any holes in) and put a small box or ice cream containers in the bottom of it. This forces the top bin to sit on the box and not fall all the way down. This is important because if the bottom bin gets too much water in it, if the top bin isn’t far enough from the bottom, the water will come back up in the top bin. Keep in mind, with the water going through, unless you have something more sturdy than my waffle box, you’ll have to change it frequently.

Worm Bin

(Click for larger image)

Sixth. Add some food and yard waste (if you have some) on top of the bedding. You’ll see some orange peels in mine. You’ll generally only want to use citrus peelings in moderation (like I have).

Worm Bin food scraps

(Click for larger image)

That’s basically it! Put the lid on and you’re ready to go.

 

But, Where Are The Worms?

Good question. The folks over at Red Worm Composting suggest to let the food sit for a week or so (or longer) before adding the worms. This allows the food to begin to break down and makes it easier for the worms to get started on the composting. So unless you’ve had your food already collecting for a week or so, just wait it out. I waited about a week and a half on mine. A co-worker provided some worms from his compost bin.

Here are some other tips I’ve learned on my own or read along the way:

  • Chop the food up into small pieces. It makes it easier for the worms (I’m not great at doing this).
  • If you already have some compost, or access to some, put some in the bottom. My co-worker did this for mine when we put the worms in. He says it’s good for them to have that in there. I haven’t read that anywhere, but he’s been doing this longer than me and I figured it definitely wouldn’t hurt.
  • If you wondered why there is no dirt in there, it’s because red worms aren’t really deep soil dwelling worms. They don’t actually need it, but if you want to throw in a handful of soil (not a lot), it can help speed up the composting process.
  • Keep a good balance of greens (food scraps/yard waste) and browns (cardboard, paper towels, paper, etc…). That’s really the science behind making it work.
  • For every little bit of food layer I add, I add in some shredded paper to cover it up. This keeps the smell and flies away.
  • Keep it wet. Water it down every few days. One tip is to take the inner bin out (let it drain first), pick up the outer bin and pour the water (and any worms that may have fallen through your holes) back into the bin.
  • Don’t put any meats, fats or grease in it. It’ll make it smell and attract animals. You don’t want that.

I’m no expert by any means. I’ve probably even done a few things wrong here and there, but I’m learning along the way. It’s only been about a month since started and I’ve only had about 3 weeks with my worms, but I can tell it’s starting to break down. Hopefully in a few months, I’ll have some good compost to use in my tomato and cucumber plants.

Best Free Software

Support Open Source. Use Firefox.

On nearly a daily basis I get asked about different computer software. What’s the best anti-virus? How can I get rid of this spyware? What should I use to organize my picture? A few years ago I came across this website, bookmarked it and it has hands-down been the best site I ever saved. It’s Gizmo’s Freeware Reviews. You may have seen it, but if not, stop what you are doing and bookmark it now. You’ll save yourself (and me) a lot of time.

Essentially the site reviews different free software for all sorts of things and then gives reviews and recommendations on the best software for different needs. Seriously, any type of software you could need for your computer is probably here. It’s not an old list either. It gets updated frequently and sometimes changes if something better comes along. It’ll lay out the pros and cons and give you safe links to download the software from. It’s not all open-source, but it is free. But if you have a choice, choose open-source.

If you’re not a “computer person” do yourself and your friends and relatives a favorite and bookmark this site.

For the record, some of my personal favorites I’ve found here are:

Anti-Virus: Avast!

Spyware Remover: Super AntiSpyware

Image Editor: GIMP

FTP Client: FileZilla

Parental Filter: K9 Web

Uninstaller: MyUninstaller

Photo Organizing: Picasa

Media Player: VLC