In Praise of Ice Cleats

I think my worst fear is falling on ice.

The weather around has been up and down. We’ve had subzero days followed by days when the thermometer climbs above zero. Ice hidden under snow melts and then freezes again, creating ice rinks on driveways, streets, parking lots and walking paths.

If you don’t want to break your bones, you get a pair of ice cleats for your winter boots.

The pair I have is super ugly. They’re black rubber with bright rusted yellow steel studs all over the bottom. They look a lot like the cleats below but they’re not the same brand:

Ultra IceCleat OA8100-Btm
Korkers ice cleats

Stretching them over winter boots can be an adventure. If you don’t align them right or center them as you’re placing them, they spring back on you, like an elastic. Once they’re on though, and you get outside, they work surprisingly well. Walking on ice is no problem.

The only drawback I find about wearing them is if you walk into a store, you make a clack, clack sound as you walk across floors. I fear they’ll get caught in a carpet but so far that’s never happened.

Every year I misplace them. I have a backup pair that doesn’t work quite as well.  While I wish I never had to use them, I do feel relieved when I find these ugly old friends again.


A better litter box?

A while back I wrote about a rotten experience we had with the Luuup litter box. I didn’t plan that review. I was curious about the Luuup when I heard about it but didn’t order it when it came out on Indigegogo and Kickstarter.

But when someone posted a brand-new Luuup on VarageSale, I grabbed it. I thought it would be wonderful. After all, it was supposed to make litter box cleaning a joy and I was curious about how that was even possible. I was happy to see a Canadian company making big waves with a new innovation for cats.

I had problems with litter sticking to the sides of the Luuup whenever one of our cats peed there and soiled litter got stuck in the slots of the interlocking trays. If you turned a tray the wrong way, you ended up with a mess of soiled litter all over the floor. We tried using the litter brands recommended by the folks behind Luuup, but things did not get any better. I wanted to like the Luuup and one of our cats still uses it, but for me it was a huge disappointment. These days we clean the Luuup the way you would clean any regular litter box.

So this being a small blog, I was very surprised to receive an email from James Leech, the creator of Boxscoop, a relatively new player on the litter box innovation scene and like the folks behind the Luuup, he’s Canadian.

I can’t tell you much about the Boxscoop 2.0 litter box because I don’t yet have one to test. As I write this, the Kickstarter campaign still has 32 days to go. When I suggested he send me a litter box so I can do an honest review, Leech promised to send me one as soon as they’re available.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far, based on their press release and Kickstarter campaign and the email Leech sent me:

Source: Boxscoop
  • Last November Boxscoop 2.0 was launched on Kickstarter in January. Leech says the first model received amazing feedback and they’re working on launching a better, 2.0 version.
  • According to their press release, Boxscoop has no seams, corners or crevices, making  it a cinch to keep sanitized and clean.
  • The litter box’s container is round and vertical and does not look like your typical flat, square pan-shaped box. As cats enter or leave the litter box from the top (in pretty much the same way cats jump in and out of cardboard boxes), they walk across a built-in litter mat that emulates the feel of a favourite cat texture, corrugated cardboard, and because they walk across the mat, they don’t track litter around your home.  The entry hole is 11.5 inches wide, and the whole container is 15.5 inches high and 19.5 inches wide at the base. Leech designed the container to work with the “natural circular movement of cats, so they have equal distance in all directions to turn. The top cover is designed with openness so cats can feel unconstrained while providing superior litter tracking reduction than typical enclosed systems.”
Source: Boxscoop
  • When you take the top cover off (the top and bottom interlock, with no clips whatsoever), it looks a bit like a bucket with a large, metal scoop attached at the top. You simply use the scoop to clean the litter and voilà, you’re done. Cleaning the litter box apparently takes only six seconds.
  • The marketing materials suggest this litter box is better than the Litter Robot, an automated litter box, since it costs much less, isn’t noisy and you don’t get the smell that you have when litter accumulates in a litter box.
  • Boxscoop is made from 100 per cent recyclable materials and so is the packaging it’s shipped in.
  • You can use practically any type of clumping litter with this litter box. You can also use non-clumping litter such as crystals and pretty litter. According to their Kickstarter campaign, “Boxscoop is 30-70% more litter efficient that a standard box, depending how much litter you decide to use.”
  • While the original Boxscoop came in white only, if the Kickstarter reaches $110,000  Canadian (it was nearing $75,000 U.S. the last time I checked), plans are to add more colours, for instance, modern matte gray and charcoal black.
  • In the future, when they have the means, the plan is offer a special add-on ramp for arthritic or disabled cats.
Will it work in our three-cat environment? Will it live up to all these promises? I have no idea. I do look forward to testing this cat litter box and offering a truthful assessment of how it works with our cats. One of our cats is a bully male cat who tries to ambush whichever female cat is leaving a litter box. I wonder if he’d do that with the Boxscoop.
Source: Boxscoop

A favourite “healthy” recipe

We sometimes get batches of basil with the vegetables we order from Lufa Farms. Tasty pesto is the result.

This recipe isn’t mine but taken from a number of recipes I’ve found online.


Homemade Basil Pesto

2-4 cups fresh basil leaves

3 cloves of garlic

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil


1/3 cup pine nuts (I’ve used almonds or walnuts instead)

1/2 cup parmesan or romano cheese 

I’ve thrown everything together in a blender and my pesto turns out just fine. But some recipes (this one, for instance) suggest that you put the basil and nuts (if you’re adding them) in the blender or food processor first, then after blending or pulsing them, add the garlic and cheese (if you’re using it) and keep blending or pulsing. Then with the blender or food processor going, add the olive oil slowly,  and every so often use a spatula or a wooden spoon to push the mixture away from the sides.

When the pesto looks done, add salt and pepper and maybe a little lemon juice and transfer the mixture into a glass jar. It should keep in the fridge for two weeks or so. Use it on pizza, pasta, on sandwiches, put it on crackers, decorate your potatoes with it. Or eat it out of the jar. It’s delicious!





Car shopping

Our dream car??

I don’t have my driver’s licence so it’s kind of funny that I’m writing about buying a car.

We found ourselves needing a new car because my partner was in an accident a little over two weeks ago. He was on the way to his parents’ house on the West Island and was travelling at maybe 40 km an hour when he hit black ice. He braked but could not stop the car from ploughing into the vehicle ahead of him, which hit the vehicle ahead of it. So three cars were damaged in a matter of seconds. My partner’s 2004 Honda Civic suffered the brunt of the impact. A good part of the bumper on one side is all broken or has broken off and the hood no longer comes down. Because of the age of the car and the mileage (270,000 km) it’s probably best that we replace it. We’re planning to give it to the Kidney Foundation of Canada in exchange for a tax receipt.

It is incredibly difficult to get around our part of the world without a car. We have public transportation during the day and a little bit in the evening but unless you spend an hour walking to the train station/bus mall hub near the train station you are nowhere near any public transportation on weekends. A car is a necessity if you live in Vaudreuil-Dorion, especially in winter.

We borrowed my partners’ parents’ vehicle and a week after the accident headed to a local dealership to check out a used car that fit our lowish budget of $10,000 to $14,000. The experience at that dealership was the worst we saw in our search for a replacement.

They texted us to say the car was ready but when we got there, no salesperson was assigned to us and they had to find plates for the car, clean the snow and ice off it before we could drive it.

The grey 2015 Yaris looked great on paper. It was a lease return maintained at the dealership and it only had 33,000 km on it. But whoever leased that car must have smoked all the time they drove it because it reeked of smoke. The sales rep let us take it on a test drive without even checking my partner’s driver’s licence or accompanying us when we drove it. As we headed out he told us that if the cigarette smell bothered us they had some ionizing technology or something that would get the smell out. What on earth?

If you can smell cigarette smoke in a car when it’s winter, just imagine  what it would be in the summer. My son has asthma and I react to smoke. I don’t think car dealerships should ever expose potential buyers to secondhand smoke. I don’t know why we were ever allowed to drive that car. They should have cleaned it first.

My partner found the Yaris’ steering really tight and the trunk space was incredibly small so that elimated that car from our maybe list. The next car the salesperson showed us was really nice. It was some sort of luxury version of a  2015 Toyota Corolla and had leather features and heated seats and plenty of technology.  I think the mileage for that one was also in the 30,000 km range. The problem was it was out of our budget. He never asked us what our budget was. We really liked that car but the price he set was about $1,000 above what we could afford.

I don’t think salespeople make much of a commission on used cars and I guess some salespeople don’t want to put too much time into people who are shopping around and taking their time to find a car. The next thing he did was show us a really basic 2015 Toyota Corolla CE. I can’t remember the mileage, just that it was a white car and wasn’t super attractive inside and had visible scraping on the bottom of the car doors. When I asked about that, the salesperson told us that it was from stones hitting the car. He kept saying that unlike black cars, white cars don’t show dirt. I had a hard time keeping my composure. We see dirty white cars all over the place in our area. If a white car looks clean, it’s probably because their owners just visited a car wash.  Otherwise it looks worse than most other cars on the road.

When we wrapped things up, that salesperson did not look like he cared if he ever got our business. I phoned the dealership a few days later when I noticed on their website that the price had come down on the car we really liked. He never called us back.

It doesn’t matter now.  After meeting some very pleasant and sympathetic young salespeople at other dealerships, we found our car. It’s another Honda Civic and like the old one, it’s blue. But it’s within our budget, its history looks good, the mileage isn’t too bad and it even has the heated seats and rear-view camera we weren’t looking for. Our must-have list was short: a car in great condition, air conditioning  and Bluetooth.

This newish car is ticking all the boxes. Now we just have to refuse the nearly $4,000 in add-ons the woman in the financing department pitched us. We spent an hour and a half listening to a spiel about our need for an extended warranty, “Platinum” rust protection, V.I.N. engraving and disability and life insurance. We said we would think about it but in truth were left that dealership feeling hangry. If she had fed us, who knows, she might have had a sale!

R.I.P. Lucia Kowaluk

I learned this morning that Montreal activist Lucia Kowaluk passed away on Friday. She was 84.

I first crossed paths with Lucia when I wrote for Montreal’s Hour Magazine, a weekly alternative newspaper. I wrote a lot about housing and homelessness and I remember her writing at least one congratulatory letter about something I’d reported on.

In 2008 we met in real life when she hired me as a part-time community development worker, organizing social events for a social housing project in NDG. She was on the board of that organization and was the main spokesperson for the hiring committee.

I learned later that she took pity on me and hired me because she felt I needed a job, not necessarily for my abilities. I’m proud and stubborn and felt pretty insulted when she told me that. An American by birth, she was always a straight talker.

We didn’t always get along. She couldn’t understand why I felt it was important to seek tenant permission before publicly posting photos from a tenant Christmas party. She didn’t like it when I failed to fill out paperwork detailing each and every encounter I had with tenants.

I only worked 16 hours a week and I found it impossible to visit the tenants in apartment buildings located all over NDG, deal with the office, meet with Lucia, field phone calls, write reports and attend board meetings, supervise McGill social work students who hosted a seniors’ lunch in the tenant centre etc. I found the job very trying because there were politics between staff in the office of the social housing non-profit organization and its board of directors. I was caught in the crossfire and I needed her help to cut through all sorts of frustrations. I couldn’t get into the 35 buildings I was supposed to serve because no one would give me keys. The office initially refused to tell tenants I was working for the organization and tenants didn’t know who I was. I had no credibility and door knocking in the apartment buildings didn’t work at first.

She listened to my complaints but I think she found me whiny. A trained social worker (I believe she taught social work at McGill), Lucia faced down developers when the La Cité project threatened heritage buildings in Montreal’s Milton-Park neighbourhood in the 1970s. The co-op she co-founded, the Milton-Park Housing Co-op, is now the largest housing co-op in North America. To name just a few of her many accomplishments in 50+ years of community involvement and activism: she campaigned for nuclear disarmament, managed homeless shelters, helped found Heritage Montreal, co-founded Montreal’s Urban Ecology Centre, founded alternative publishing house Black Rose Books with her partner, Dimitri Roussopoulos, and just plain got involved with every life she ever touched.

It’s no surprise to discover she was awarded the Order of Canada and the Order of Quebec in 2014. While we lost touch in 2010, I kept seeing her in the news. For instance, Lucia spoke out when Montreal Allouettes football games disrupted the peace and quiet of her neighbourhood. She recently fought to keep a developer from wrecking the Notman House Garden and asked the City of Montreal to turn sites such as the old Hôtel-Dieu hospital and its buildings into co-op and community housing.

She had strong opinions. I remember her expressing annoyance when the Urban Ecology Centre replaced native plants she’d lovingly procured with other, non-native plant species. If she didn’t like my attitude or the way I was doing something, she’d tell me. She told me to get a Kanuk winter coat and buy it in July when they have a sale. When I knew her she wore a purple men’s winter coat. She didn’t care about fashion, she wanted to be warm.

She was incredibly generous and loving as well. She gave tenants tickets to events she thought they’d be interested in. I remember attending a fundraiser for the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign —she was one of their proud “grandmothers.” As I remember, every January she headed to Vancouver to see the son she’d adopted and proudly raised.

Most of all, she was unstoppable. As someone else said, she wouldn’t take no for an answer. She kept her eye on her goals and with steely determination, reached for them. We need more people like her. She will be missed.

Pharmacy weirdness

Wikimedia Commons

My partner went to pick up my son’s prescription the other day. But when he got to the counter, the pharmacist explained that they couldn’t fill the entire prescription because the 25 mg pill of the drug, a generic version, was on backorder. He explained that they might not even be able to fill the prescription the following month. The solution? Accept the brand-name version instead.


We refused because our drug insurance offers 80 per cent coverage for generic drugs only. The brand-name version costs six times more than the generic and we would be on the hook for the difference in cost. The pharmacist suggested that my son’s doctor specify that he should take the brand-name drug only.

The pharmacist charged my partner for the cost of the entire prescription, even though the bottle contained only 18 of the 45 pills expected.

We received the rest of the prescription a few days later. While we waited, I called a pharmacy in Montreal we used before we moved off island.  They had the drug in stock and offered to transfer the prescription. I phoned the Quebec goverment’s Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ), where the man I spoke with advised us to change pharmacies. He said if there truly was a shortage of the drug it would have been on the news and perhaps the backorder issues have to do with the pharmacy’s payments to its supplier? He said that since pharmacies are private businesses, the best thing to do in this situation is switch. He said something along the lines of, “If 25 people do this, maybe the pharmacy will get the message.”

From what I understood after a call to the insurance company, getting the insurance company to do an override so that they paid 80 per cent of the brand-name drug, Cozaar, instead of losartan, was going to be complicated. It sounded as though the pharmacy’s suggestion to have the doctor prescribe “Cozaar only” might not work. For me the idea of replacing the drug listed on the prescription only because the pharmacy was having trouble obtaining the drug, was not workable. To me this is fraud. It would be different if my son had an allergy to losartan or something like that. That’s not what’s happening here.

Researching the generic drug, losartan, I discovered a recent recall of 25 mg losartan in the United States over fears of carcinogenic contamination. Last fall Health Canada tested supplies of losartan sold in Canada when it tested ARB inhibitors (a.k.a. sartans) and based on the test results for 25 mg losartan, they appear to be assuring the public losartan pills sold here are not contaminated. According to the website, which lists Canadian shortages of pharmaceutical drugs, there is no shortage of 25 mg losartan in Canada. But the 25 mg version produced by Apotex has been discontinued. Apotex is just one of a number of companies manufacturing losartan and since other pharmacies around Montreal appear to be able to get the 25 mg pill, I’m confused about what’s going on in my neck of the woods.

I don’t understand why our local pharmacy is telling us they can’t be sure they’ll be able to fill my son’s prescription next month. I don’t know why they’re making it sound like it’s hard for them to obtain this drug. In 15 years of filling prescriptions we’ve never had this problem and since other pharmacies have the medication, we have no choice but to walk away from this pharmacy.

UPDATE February 4, 2019: I checked with another pharmacy in our area and that pharmacy also has losartan 25 mg on backorder. They told me if a pharmacy says they’re not having problems finding this drug, they’re lying. From what they could tell, the issue should resolve in another few weeks but they suggested that my son order his losartan a week or two ahead of picking up his prescription. I checked that drug shortages website again and noticed a reported shortage of Cozaar, the brand-name drug on January 31,2019. I don’t  quite understand the website but from what I can there was a shortage of losartan at one point but it seems to be resolved now. I think the Cozaar situation may be sorted now.



My modified blogging challenge

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

For the month of February I’m adapting a January blogging challenge from Witte’s World.

I could do the February writing challenge but I find the January one suits me more.

For this first day of the challenge I am to state five blogging goals for this month.

Part of the problem I’m having with setting these goals is I don’t blog for money. Earning money from the blog would be great but it’s not why I blog. I like the idea of having some structure though because blogging took a back seat while I was doing other things or dealing with health issues.

So my five blogging goals for February are:

  1. Post every day
  2. Write quickly
  3. Enjoy writing, blog for the sake of blogging
  4. I will not worry if this blog does not fit into any particular niche
  5. This not (usually) a shiny, happy blog, so I will not worry about being critical or expressing unpopular opinions