Failure is An Option: A Confession

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I was a bad ferret mom, and sometimes the regret over that breaks my heart.

But let me start at the beginning. My first ferret was a rescue from a lonely deplorable state at a pet store. This was back in 1992 when ferrets were not common pets as they are today. They were mainly raised for laboratory use here in the states. Not much was mainstream knowledge about their care and feeding other than that they use a litter box and eat cat food. Cat food at that time was pretty much the worst of the worst because pet nutrition wasn’t like it is today. It’s getting better, but we still have a long long way to go.

Couple the lack of knowledge with my OCD and a bad marriage, and well, you get bad pet mom. The foundation of my pet care knowledge came from childhood:

  1. You fed the dog whatever crap you could get at the grocery store.
  2. You disciplined it with an iron fist when it was bad, i.e. keeping it in the cellar or the garage when you weren’t at home, or worse, keeping it in a crate; hitting it with newspaper; screaming at it, etc. All the things my parents did to discipline us back then.

My OCD presents as an obsessive, albeit unattainable, need for perfection, coupled with the rigid control of my schedule and environment, then slathered in a constant dripping anxiety due to persistent thoughts of being inadequate. Grocery shopping had to be done on Fridays. House cleaning on Saturdays. Nothing could ever be out of place. I could never be late to anything.

Add to that, seven ferrets (over twenty years.)

Ferrets are unadulterated chaos, which was basically me throwing jet fuel on a house fire. The bad marriage didn’t help. I cried. I screamed at their little faces. I crated them for time-outs. I punished them with hysterical meanness. I’m probably over exaggerating, but that’s what it feels like when I look back on it.

There is an upside though. Many OCD people have a relentless need for knowledge. When we tackle a project or a hobby, we apply all that learning and skillage into a meticulous work ethic. We keep doing it, and we keep learning until we get it right, knowing full well that right doesn’t mean perfect. If you channel the Obsessive part of the OCD into something constructive, you can learn how to mitigate the anxiety and you can do some pretty awesome things. Once you understand what perfect really means, it doesn’t have to cripple you, and Divorce was the first step in the process of gaining real control of my life. Not the illusory control I thought I had. Once I got that churning pile of shit out of the picture, I could refocus my energies on something else. I could focus on the truest joy in my life: animals and nature. I’ve been a tree-hugger since I was a very small child who could stare at a duck until it got dark, causing her parents an undue amount of anger and worry.

So I joined ferret clubs. I read every scientific paper on nutrition that was published. I read a ferret veterinary manual cover to cover, several times. I talked to behaviorists and naturalists who understood how these creatures lived in the wild, and I focused all my energy on how to live with them versus being just a pet owner. There is a difference, and it worked: For me, and for the ferrets. I was even interviewed for Ferrets USA magazine for a “Living with Free Range” article. My ferrets were not caged or sequestered. My last ferret, Baldrick, lived to be almost 9 years old. Never sick a day in his life, aside from being deaf from birth.

My ferrets were loved and pampered and adored beyond measure. I eventually learned to live in chaos. I learned to let things go in order to stay calm through parvo, through various cancers, and eventually, through Baldrick’s old age.

 

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Lightly Orchestrated Chaos

 

I applied that same obsessive knowledge seeking into my garden, which has become a twenty-year compromise with Mother Nature. Failure is an option because it’s an opportunity to learn and to try something else. Even if it’s cat litter, or in this picture, some new Rudbeckia.

I also wrote five novellas and hundreds of published flash fiction stories with that same obsessive delight. Probably because writers control their fictional worlds, though it never seems like it when we are actually in the throes of the writing. It always seems like more chaos and obsessive thoughts, but in a good way, I guess.

And lastly, for twenty years I have had the privilege of living alongside a myriad of wild creatures, including feral cats.

My need to know expert-level shit has allowed me to appreciate all of them from the skunks to the snakes, and it has given me the opportunity to care for two of the most beautiful creatures in the world.

It hasn’t been easy with Moon and Rupert, even after seven ferrets. It’s been frustrating and tiring with setback after setback, just to get to this point. And this point is still tenuous, but we’ve come a long way from two scared creatures who had never felt love or comfort. I like to think that the small successes are because I’ve come a long way too in that I have come to appreciate that true perfection lies in the cracks, scratches, chips, nicks, pits, dents, blemishes, stains, spots, and frailties.

A poop on the floor is just an accident.

Sweeping up cat litter 10 times a day is good exercise.

A 4×4 Wood Post in the middle of the living room is modern art.

 

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An Orchestrated and Tenuous Calm

 

It’s not compromise so much as it is understanding the need and nature of a thing. Like Moon in this picture. He still gets very tense over his perception that Rupert is trying to usurp his territory. Moon is very bonded to me, probably because he has a little OCD as well, and he’s lying on one of my sweaty workout shirts. For some reason it pacifies him when I give him something special, especially if it smells of me. This allows him to share the bed with Rupert like there is some sort of invisible safe space boundary in my stinky shirt. Moon will smack or chase Rupert about something else later on today, but this is a start, and a start is better than fussing over one’s own obsessive thoughts and fears. Moon still succumbs to his anxiety now and then, but it’s much better than it was when we first brought him in.

I can’t say that I always have “it” under control either. When things get really tough, like when Moon and Rupert were in the hospital, or when it was time to let each ferret go, I’ll still reach for a cigarette even though I quit smoking full time a long time ago. Those are the really rough times when I can’t control something, can’t get out of my own negative headspace, and I guess a cigarette is no worse than some of the other alternatives, that is, when I can’t hug a kitty.

I’d always prefer to hug a kitty. Or even a possum if the opportunity presented itself. That’s just how I roll.

Note: There is a lot more to OCD than most people think. Not everyone exhibits the same symptoms, and for obvious personal reasons, I did not go into some of the really serious manifestations that can develop during overly stressful situations. If you think you have OCD, you should seek a proper diagnosis and help to mitigate it.  

A Happy Butthole makes for a Happy Feral Cat

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Yes, I said butthole, and I said it because, the morning, afternoon, or evening constitutional is more important in the cat world than we think.

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to watch feral cats for any length of time, then you know that biological functions are also territorial marking functions. Strategic placement of urine and feces does a fascinating number of things, including the delineation of territorial boundaries.

When we first brought Moon inside, we gave him 3 litterboxes strategically placed around the house to form a triangle so that he would feel like he was properly identifying and protecting the “house” territory. This made him happy. Happy butthole, happy cat.

Feral cats outside never ever pee and poop in the same spot at the same time. Moon has been in the house for 5 years now and hasn’t lost the feral desire to separate his business, which is why Rupert’s appearance in the “house” territory has caused so much litterbox chaos.

I’ve said before that it seems like the act of purging has become a competitive event. I’ve even got the recommended number of boxes for a 2 cat household. 1 for each cat, plus a spare, yet I am forever scooping.

Sweep, scoop, wipe down. Walk away for 5 minutes, then do it all over again.

Seriously. I’ve got a pinched nerve in one knee.

So, since I was replacing the old malfunctioning boxes anyway, I purchased an extra extra of the new NVR Miss box. SmartCat

I also switched from the dusty-assed walnut litter to the Smartcat grass litter (mixed with the Okocat softstep wood) and wow! I think the grass litter is my new favorite. The cats approved as well. Moon found the new extra box last night and was so thrilled that  he now has his own 1 box for pee and 1 box for poo so he doesn’t have to compete with Rupert anymore that he thoroughly christened both.

4 litterboxes for 2 cats. Yes, I’m insane. But anyone whose integrated feral cats into the household knows that any time you can eliminate a source of conflict, you do it.

It’s all about happy buttholes.

Litter Changeover Process

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fe069f97-ce79-494f-bce2-f355de77f20b_1.3cda1b25bac6d104f539b361187ca55eWell, we have finally eliminated all the clay litter. We’d been holding out for the right mix that wasn’t too light and fluffy and also wasn’t too dusty. I’d been using the Walnut litter for a while mixed with a bit of clay, but the walnut can also be very dusty, and I did say that I wanted to try a wood litter. I settled on the Okocat Soft Step. This litter is featherweight, so it does track quite a bit, but since my guys have always been messy, I’ve not found a litter that doesn’t track. I am just destined to sweep. I also think the Okocat is too light on it’s own, so at this point I’ve been mixing it about a 4:1 ratio with the walnut. The Okocat seems to knock down some of the walnut dust, and the guys really really like it. It smells nice, clumps and scoops very well too, though I do add zeolite for odor control. These litters track like crazy, but I think they last longer.

41tqwc7c7ilI also decided to try a new litterbox. I had switched to these Natures Miracle high-sided boxes a year ago with the hope that Moon would stop overshooting the sides with his pee, or what I like to call turd-shelfing.

He doesn’t turd-shelf anymore, but wouldn’t you know that he found a way to overshoot in these boxes. That nice little pouring spout added to the opening there to help the owner dump the litter, well, it’s actually a pee-ramp when Moon is involved. When he hits it, it just shoots the pee all over. Guess the designers didn’t see that coming. Neither did I.

So I decided to try this NVR Miss Litterbox, which is supposed to make them reorient themselves to prevent entry-peeing. It has nice high sides too, for that turd-shelfing thing. product_info_1

I only bought one ($$$$) because I wanted to make sure they would use it first. Turns out, they love it, and surprisingly, Moon has been reorienting himself to pee. The opening is similar to the old boxes, but notice that there is no spout/pee-ramp. SmartCat

The other added bonus is that Rupert has this habit of clawing the top edges of the boxes. The boxes I’ve only had for a year are mangled. This new box doesn’t have a molded ledge, just a slight lip, so it’s curtailed his clawing.

Next in the rotation, I am going to try the Smart Cat grass litter with the Okocat in place of the walnut. So I’ll let you know how that goes next month when I run out of the walnut. My only concern is that with Moon’s seasonal allergies, his itchiness might return. It is grass, though still worth a try if it’s less dusty than the others. That walnut is some dusty-assed shit, no matter what the manufacturer says.

That Whisker Fatigue Article I was Interviewed for…

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Cat’s are silly, and maybe that helps stoke my passion for understanding their behavior and their often special needs. I wrote about the Catsby bowl here when I was trying to figure out Moon’s weird eating problems. We solved those problems, and I wrote a review for the bowls on Amazon, which led a very nice reporter from the New York Times straight to my door. She was doing an article on whisker fatigue, and you know me, I love to talk about my passion projects, and I am always willing to share what I’ve learned to help others. Cats, writing, gardening, doesn’t matter the subject.

So, on to the article. Enjoy.

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A Post Not About Cats – No Shit!

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I write a lot about relationships. Not Harlequin, daytime TV type stuff, but the other stuff. The subcutaneous if you will, or rather, I write about the sinew after the smile has been scraped off of it. Enjoy.

Hiatus Concretion

We roll up top-down-crumpled-clothes-empty to the motor court. It’s a relief. By cygk - Enjoy the sunny Midway Country Motel, CC BY 2.0We’d been screaming highway days long forgotten, and we both stunk of sweaty vinyl, cigarettes, and licorice. There’s so much desert on my teeth that my lips are permanently stuck smiling to them. You wipe yours on your shirtsleeve; smile back at me; tell me I have bugs in mine. I get out of the car, bones creaking in the shifting earth beneath my feet.

Shifting Memories.

Shifting Sand.

A parking lot of sand stretches beyond us, a lone tree clinging to it in the shadow of a snowy mountain range that overshoots the distance so far into the future it seems we might even get there someday. There’s a plaid lounge chair next to the tree, a shipping pallet, and a dog tied up, miserable barking in front of the office door, a rot wood screen door, whitewashed, hanging from one rusty hinge. “Like home,” you say, then you forty-four the dog in the face. The motel owner doesn’t mind. Says he didn’t have the heart for it, and the damn dog was an asshole.

The sickness is coming.

I can already see it in you, your hand shaking when you pay the man with a hundred dollar bill. You don’t want to let it go, and he isn’t sure. Two gnarled hands clasped through sunset over chipped Formica.

I ask him if he has a shovel.

I’ve never been good at running from things. I let a woman seduce me once at a discotheque. There was something about the way she moved across the dance floor, all quicksilver in crimson, nipples pressed tight against silky fabric. We had a few drinks. She flirted with the bartender, not me, so I told her I liked the way her skin looked against the lights and colored glass. Sparkling. Like she was covered in rhinestones. She wasn’t a she though. She was something like me, but more dangerous. She held out her arm. There was barely any flesh on it. Tattooed Bone. Black Market Ivory. The way she looked at me, kissed me in the alley. My Luciana.

It’s getting harder to breathe alms in this vortex.

It’s getting harder to breathe near you.

“It’ll only be a few days,” you say, but I know that’s a lie. The carpet smells of stale whiskey, and the shower drips chlorinated rust onto the floor. The TV is only black and white, but the bed vibrates — for a quarter. We do that a couple of times, pretend we aren’t who we are and giggle until we fall asleep to the coyotes snarling over and tearing at the dog carcass I forgot to bury.

I want to love you.

But I can’t.

Hiatus Concretion was previously published at Metazen, June 2014, and is included in the short fiction collection Kitsch.

My Other Passion…

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Besides writing and cats and chemistry, gardening is my favorite thing to do when the weather warms. In the 21 years I’ve had a garden, I can say that I’ve never stopped learning, but one thing I know above all else is that you DO NOT try to control mother nature. Our garden is very wild and wooly. We’ve always been an IPM garden; we are registered as a wildlife habitat with NWF.org; and we do use mostly natives, except for the occasional specimen plants, some of which are pictured here. We have a lot of wildlife and that’s not always pleasant, especially when the raccoons tear up your container pond, annihilate nest boxes, and shit on your roof. Yes, they did all that over the weekend. It’s a struggle, but we persist. I should have bought stock in hot pepper sauce for the amount I use in the garden.

 

We Have a Winner …

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And I even managed to convert the husband to the new laundry soap. I found that the addition of the little bit of enzyme worked wonderfully. We’ll still use the Bronner’s Sal Suds to clean the shop towels because who wants to waste the good stuff on shop towels?

Here’s the final Recipe (Though I do think I will eventually make my own laundry soap bar by modifying my regular soap recipe to use only Coconut oil and a 1 or 2 % lye discount. My current formula is for skin, so it’s way superfatted.)

  1. 2 Cups Borax
  2. 2 Cups Washing Soda
  3. 1 grated bar of soap (castile, zote, fels Naptha, or homemade)
  4. 1/2 Cup of Citric Acid
  5. 1/3 cup of Biokleen Premium Plus (with enzymes) Laundry Powder

Use 2-4 tablespoons per load depending on the size of the load, and vinegar in the rinse. I’ve found that 2-3 tablespoons works the best without over-sudsing. If you are leaving out the biokleen, then 1/3 cup is generally needed to get enough soap in the mix.

Done and Done and onto the new…

Experiment that is: Cat Litter box deodorizer. Now, I scoop 2 to 3 times a day, but you 71YS2fR8JhL._SL1024_know and I know, the stink still happens.

I used to buy Richard’s Organics because it worked and it’s unscented for Moon’s allergies, but it’s often hard to find locally, so I have to get it from Amazon, and for 25 ounces, it’s like $10.00 for Zeolite, baking soda, and enzymes. I’ve used Zeolite, during my fish keeping days. I am very familiar with it, so I went in search of a 100% zeolite product that I could add my own baking soda to in order to make an effective and safe odor control product at a fraction of the cost.

That’s when I found Ecotraction: 7.7 lbs for $12.00. It’s so safe even your kids and pets can accidentally eat it, and it’s good for the garden too, so between the walnut litter and this, my compost pile will love it.

I so hope it works. .25 cents per ounce (including the baking soda) is way cheaper than .40 cents an ounce for the Richard’s. Zeolite works like activated carbon only better, so I am hoping that it will work even without the enzymes. Nature’s Miracle has one that comes to .29 cents an ounce, and I found a Chicken Coop one by PDZ that’s even cheaper  and comes in a 10 lb. bag at 0.11 cents per ounce, so I’ll keep you posted.  If it doesn’t, I can use it in the flower beds for improving the soil. I try not to use things that don’t have a secondary application, just in case Plan A goes tits up. It happens. A lot.

The Look of Love

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If you ask my husband how we came to take in a feral cat (we being ferret people not cat people) he’ll probably tell you that somebody fell in love. I did, of course, but I think the feeling was mutual between me and the Moon kitty.

Moon

It’s been 11 years since he came into our lives, and he still looks at me like that.

Cuppa Cuppa: Chemistry and Kitchen Witchery

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Yeah, there are tons of homemade laundry powder recipes on the internet (a dizzying amount) and some work and some do not, especially in hard water. Back in the day, my first front load washer (new on the market then) did not have a soak cycle, and it didn’t mix the water very well, so hot or warm water wasn’t really all that hot or warm. Powder detergent did not dissolve and caused all sorts of residue issues, especially in my hard water. So I stuck to Tide, Whisk, Woolite, and then when I started having sensitivity issues, I switched to the greener companies like Method, Sun & Earth, Seventh Gen, etc. But to be honest, green detergents suck. They do not get the clothes clean without adding shit like Borax, or Washing Soda, or Bleach, so I’ve wanted to make my own for a long time now, but liquid washing soap is a PITA to get right so that you use enough to clean but not enough to star in one of those sudsy-basement sitcom scenarios, which is why I didn’t even bother, until now.

front-load-washerI got a new Speed Queen front loader last year. I cannot rave enough about these machines, but aside from that, it has a nice long soak cycle, not to mention, better water temperature mixing. I’ve also discovered from my ‘simple is best’ homemade organic cleaner experiments that my cleaners tend to work better, so I thought now might be the time to try a homemade washing soap again. I am also a chemistry geek, understanding how things work is my thing.

 

2 Cups of Borax
2 Cups of Washing Soda (Sodium Carbonate)
1 Bar of finely grated soap
1/2 cup of Citric Acid

1/3 Cup of Enzyme Detergent (biokleen) (optional)

So why do I use this particular combination of ingredients? Well, it’s very similar to the Speed Queen approved DIY from their blog. Voiding a warranty is something I like to avoid.

1. Borax. A mineral salt that comes from the earth. Now, I am not afraid of borax just like I am not afraid of Lye. Used correctly and handled with care, Borax does wondrous things. It makes water very slippery by way of its buffering properties, which keeps soap and dirt suspended so that nothing settles back on your clothes. It also releases hydrogen peroxide, which has antiseptic and whitening properties. Many of us old time soap makers add it to our soap recipes for those same reasons. Also, it’s cheap.

2. Washing Soda. Sodium Carbonate is a water softener in a way different from Borax. It competes with the magnesium and calcium ions in hard water, prevents them from bonding with the detergent being used. Sodium carbonate is also used to remove grease, oil, and wine stains = Bonus. And it’s cheap.

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3. Grated Soap. You need a surfactant to remove dirt, but you do not want a ton of suds. Even synthetic, naturally-derived surfactants can overproduce suds, which is why I prefer a Castile or Coconut/veggie based soap. I use Dr. Bronner’s because it does not have the synthetic ingredients some soaps have. I hear Zote is good too, but I am not familiar with the ingredients. I cannot use my own homemade soap because I superfat for moisturizing and you do not want excess unsaponified oil in the wash for obvious reasons, plus, as a company Dr. Bronner’s just rocks it when it comes to being socially and environmentally conscious.

4. Citric Acid. This is in just about every cleaning product out there and the reason why is that it is a chelating agent. It makes metals soluble, like the iron in hard water that turns your whites yellow. It removes limescale, and it improves the effectiveness of soap. Chelating the metals in hard water lets the surfactant produce foam and work better. This is why Lemi-Shine and most machine cleaners are simply citric acid. Try it in a homemade dishwasher detergent and you will never have film or water spotting again. You won’t need to waste your money on a rinse aid either. Sadly though, this is the one ingredient missing in most DIY laundry detergent recipes and it’s really really important. You typically want a 4-1 ratio of Washing Soda to Citric Acid.

5. An Enzyme Cleaner or a Detergent. This is optional, but some stains like sweaty gardening stains need a bit of extra help. Blood is notoriously difficult. Right now, I add a dime-sized dollop of Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds to the difficult loads, but I am planning to experiment with adding a cup of biokleen to the dry mix to see if it works as well as the Sal-Suds. We’ll see. Sal-Suds has SLS, so some might be averse to using it despite conflicting information. If the biokleen can tackle the sweaty gardening soil, then I’ll replace the Sal-Suds.

6. Lastly, I use vinegar in the rinse cycle, also Speed Queen approved. About ¼ cup just to get rid of any residual soap.

So far, I am very happy with this mix. 1/3 cup of dry per normal load. If it’s whites, I add a cup of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide to the wash cycle as well for extra bleaching. I get it by the gallon for $6.99.

Is DIY cheaper? Maybe. I don’t know. Don’t care. My only reason for doing this, well, two reasons, are that, 1. I want my clothes clean and have been sorely disappointed in the commercial offerings, and 2. I want to stop giving money to companies that test on animals. You do not have to pay Dial and Arm & Hammer. You can order Borax and Soda Ash and Citric Acid in bulk from places like The Chemistry Store and Bulk Apothecary. They are only distributors.

I still like Method and Ecover and all the other green companies, but if I have to use additives to help them clean better, then why continue to use them if I can make something that works just as well on its own or even better with ingredients I already have at home and with the minimal use of an additive like Sal-Suds or biokleen?

Why indeed.

Note: You’ll see most DIY recipes call for 1 to 2 tablespoons per load, but seriously, this IS NOT enough soap or anything to actually clean your clothes. Commercial products are concentrated. DIY is not, so let’s not get ridiculous, otherwise in a few months you will be complaining about dingy grey clothes that smell like crap and probably a gross washing machine to boot.

Also, I do not know anything about cloth diapers, so, can’t help anyone there, but for the cat linens, I do sometimes add some Nature’s Miracle or Bac Out to the wash cycle. Baking Soda does fuck all, so I don’t even bother with it outside of a soft scrub situation.