Friday, July 30, 2010


This really funny thing happened when I was getting ready to go out the other night. Somehow I managed to forget that I had purchased every type of mascara created in 2009. I was desperately trying to find the mascara that I like (L'Oreal Beauty Tubes – see post 1/15/10), when it occurred to me that there were 2 other products that I had yet to try. One was L’Oreal Volume Shocking Mascara, the topic of this review, and the other was Maybelline Pulse Perfection. I didn’t have it in me that night to put a vibrator on my eyelids, so I went with the volume shocker. I wasn’t shocked.

The concept of L’Oreal Volume Shocking Mascara is the same as that of L'Oreal Beauty Tubes: application is a 2-step process. Apparently, L’Oreal likes adding steps to the mascara application process. The difference however, between Volume Shocking and Beauty Tubes is that Volume Shocking also has the added shock value of having a comb as the “top coat” application device and not a brush.

If I had paid attention to the packaging, I would have noticed the Volume Constructing Top Coat applicator comb. However, I didn’t pay attention to the packaging and was shocked, not quite appalled, but definitely shocked to notice the strange applicator. I for one did not enjoy using the Volume Constructing Top Coat applicator comb. Maybe if used with any sort of frequency, one would get used to it, but I have to say, I didn’t much care for it. For one thing, because a brush is round it doesn’t’ really matter how you grasp the applicator. However you grasp it, whatever the angle, you can successfully apply. With the comb, this is not the case. You have to pick the comb applicator up at the correct angle or there is no applicating. You can’t apply mascara with the flat side of the Volume Constructing Top Coat applicator comb any more than you can comb your hair with the flat side of a regular comb. It’s just not going to happen. Add that to the fact that the applicator comb is very small (as it would have to be to be used on eyelashes). So to get the comb at the proper angle to apply without getting mascara all over your eye lids, sticking it in your eye, or creating really nasty clumps is no easy feat. Add that to the rather odd shape of the applicator bottle and you have yourself a small pre-party disaster.

I didn’t take the mascara off and reapply, because well, I just didn’t have that kind of commitment to my aesthetic that day. That said, I did moisten a washcloth to try to rid the side of my eye of the clumps of black goop that found their way there via the end of the Volume Constructing Top Coat applicator comb. I wasn’t entirely disappointed with the results, but the 12x the volume claim is just a crock of hooey. The extent of the dual process-comb-application is that my lashes were brown and more easily visible through my glasses. They were definitely not 12x the volume. Had they been, they wouldn’t have fit under my glasses without scraping the frames and I would have had to wear contacts instead. Since that was not the case, I can only conclude that the 12x the volume claim is at best a slight exaggeration and at worst and outright lie.

Upon mascara removal, I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t turn instantly into a nocturnal rodent. The product came off easier than many mascaras I’ve tried, but no where near as easily or as gracefully as L'Oreal Beauty Tubes. (Sorry L'Oreal, but you broke the mold with that one.) With only a little rubbing, my eyelashes were clean and my eyes were not completely red and puffy from the pressure. I was expecting a cleansing process more dramatic than that, but was pretty happy at the results.

Since I now have the product in my cabinet with only one use missing, I figure I’ll keep it around until it gets old and clumpy or I misplace it behind the vanity. Would I ever buy it again? To that question I give a resounding “no”. Although in all honestly, I don’t think it will be on the market for very long. I can’t imagine the market research people have found that the applicator-comb is a great fit for women on the go. It’s too much hassle for not enough result. And really, now, who needs more of that?

Friday, July 23, 2010


At about 2 pm every day, Bobo decides that it’s a good idea to flip out. As she has aged, this tendency of hers has become slightly less abrasive, but unfortunately it has not extinguished completely. Since 2 pm is prime time to meetings and other business related activities, I am constantly trying out ways to distract psycho-puppy during that timeframe. In yet another attempt to find something that would entertain her and that she couldn’t completely destroy in less than a minute, I purchased the Bob-A-Lot. It’s a completely stupid name, but is it really any worse than “Slap-Chop?” For only $19.95, my young dog could be quiet for an hour or so, entertaining herself with a device that distributes tasty treats at untimed intervals and my old dog could potentially be persuaded to eat more without bribery.

The Bob-A-Lot is a pear shaped item with a hole in the top to put food and treats and a hole in the bottom to distribute them. The premise is quite clever really, the shape and the location of the lower hole make it so the dog needs to bat the item around for awhile to get the food inside into the proper configuration and angle to come out of the lower hole. It is a great concept, but the burning questions are: is it fun enough to keep Bobo interested and is it tough enough to be Bobo-proof?

At first Bobo had no interest in it, but Nugget the cat thought it was good fun. The problem was that the Bob-A-Lot is about as big as he is so he didn’t have much luck getting it to move. I had to push it around a little bit to get some of the snacks to come out before either of the dogs became even remotely interested in its presence in the universe. When Bobo did actually take notice, the first thing she did was what she always does. She tried to chew through it. She picked up the Bob-A-Lot by its little yellow cap and started carrying it around the house. She quickly discovered that her usual destructive mode of operations was not going to be effective and put it back down. Then she lost interest again. The critical take away from this is that even after she chewed on the cap and carried it all over the house, she wasn’t able to chew through and destroy it. Score 1.

She slowly began to gain interest back in the Bob-A-Lot after I put better treats in it. Apparently just her food wasn’t good enough. She needed the prize to be peppered with cookies. Go figure. I suppose if you are going to work that hard for a snack, it only seems fair that you should get a cookie or two at the end.

Zac on the other hand had no interest in playing with the thing, and only followed me around when I was on the floor batting it around because I knew the trick to making the food and cookies come out. I smacked that thing and out came a smattering of tasty treats.
For days, this is how it went. I played with the toy and the dogs followed me around eating the mess I left behind. When I was done playing, I left the Bob-A-Lot on the floor in the hopes that one of the canines would follow my lead and bat it around themselves.

At about day four, I had successfully taught the dogs what to do. Play with the Bob-A-Lot until something came out and then eat what comes out. The thing I hadn’t counted on was that the game would turn into a team sport. Bobo had no interest in the food and Zac had no interest in making the food appear. So Bobo ended up playing with the Bob-A-Lot, smacking it around and entertaining herself for (I can’t really say hours…) some indeterminate amount of time, happily keeping to herself and neither bothering me to take her out nor pulling the pillows off the bed (Score 2), and Zac followed her around eating anything that came out of the lower hole (Score 3).

All in all if you have the time to teach your dog(s) how the game works, it really is quite effective. All of my goals were achieved. The Bob-A-Lot is durable enough for Bobo, and both dogs were entertained and fed. The added bonus is that the activity even made the pups tired, and a tired dog is a good dog. All in all the Bob-A-Lot is effective and makes for an entertaining, tiring afternoon for a dog and a calm afternoon for a person.

Friday, July 16, 2010


We made the mistake of going away for a few days. Actually it wasn’t a mistake and it wasn’t even fun. We had to go out of town for a few days for work. Because we were driving, we took the dogs. Because we were staying with a friend with 3 dogs of her own, we left the cats. We thought it best to not stick the cats in a car for 8 hours only to have them live with 5 dogs for 5 days and stick them back in the car for another 8 hours. Somehow that just seemed cruel.

We hired a pet sitter to come over for 45 minutes twice a day to hang out with the cats, feed them, clean their box and throw little paper balls around for them to chase. When we returned we realized that she had actually spent an average of 2 hours per visit, spending a total of almost four hours per day with our felines for the duration of the 5 day absence.

Apparently, this was not enough time for our kids and they got pissed. So they did. Upon our return, we discovered that the cats had decided to pee on the carpet by the front door. Now mind you, this behavior had nothing to do with illness or a dirty box as is often the case. No this was simply because Muffin is a little bit of a brat and Nugget jumped on the pissing bandwagon, because apparently peeing where you aren’t supposed to is good fun.

At first we tried some grocery store product that didn’t work. Then we went to Petco for the real deal. We got Dumb Cat. I think the initial purchase was based on the name alone, but the reality is that the concept of the product made sense. It is an “enzyme and bacterial spray [that] breaks down stains, [and] permanently removes odors and pheromones.” Theoretically.

We got it home, cut out the carpet pad, dried off the concrete underneath, and gave it a go. The instructions stated that we were supposed saturate the area with the product, block the section off from the cat(s) for a few days to a week while it was drying so that the enzymes could do their thing, and the cat pee smell would be completely eliminated. We followed the first instruction perfectly. We saturated the carpet with the Dumb Cat. The problem was with the second instruction. The space we were living in was 600 sq ft, so to block off the space from the cats we would have eliminated about half of the dining area. Not such a great idea.

Perhaps this is why the cats didn’t understand that they were not supposed to go back to that corner to relieve themselves. Perhaps it is because the enzymes never had a chance to fully perform their enzymatic-magic. Perhaps we just have, as the product states, really dumb cats. Whatever the reason, we couldn’t seem to stop the cats from peeing on that particular spot. We literally did try everything we could think of including putting furniture on top of the pee-spot.

One of the biggest problems, I will readily admit, is the fact that we couldn’t block the space off from use. The size of the apartment and the way the room was configured just didn’t allow for such a thing. Thus there was no way the carpet was going to fully dry out, with or without the Dumb Cat enzymes. The other problem was the absurd humidity in northern VA in June. For anyone who hasn’t spent time there during the early summer months, please take note. It sucks. It sucks less then spending time there in the late summer months, and sucks much less than spending time in SC in the early summer months, but if you are in any way opposed to stifling heat and oppressing humidity, don’t go there at that time of year. You’ll hate it.

The not-blocking of the area, coupled with the humidity, prevented the pee spot from drying which prevented the enzymes from doing their thing which prevented the cats from NOT peeing in the evil pee corner.

We eventually left the apartment for a few days and after reapplying the Dumb Cat and cranking the air conditioning, the area did finally dry. Apparently the enzymes did their thing and upon our return the cats did not immediacy return to their evil peeing ways. I said they didn’t immediately return to their evil ways, which implied that they did return to their ways eventually. It only took about 5 days and they were back in the corner having themselves a little pee party. So does Dumb Cat work? I can’t really say for certain. If you live in a normal sized space (as opposed to one the size of a cedar closet) where you can actually follow the directions properly the first time, it might work. Although, I don’t have 100% confidence in my assessment, but I do have about 70% confidence.

Really, when your cat pees somewhere it’s not supposed to, what harm is there in trying every single product on the market? I suppose there are additional variables that need to be considered, such as how stubborn your cat is, whether it has a bladder infection and what gender it is. I guess there’s a product out there for everyone. Even with the improper application, Dumb Cat worked better than some products and worse than others. If you have a peeing cat, I’d say it’s worth trying, because as I said, what harm is there in trying every single product on the market? Anything is better than feeling like you live in a litter box.

Friday, July 9, 2010


Zac is a little bit of a nervous dog. He’s a little obsessive and a little jittery. He doesn’t have any disorders that can’t be kept in control though. He doesn’t have horrible separation anxiety, but he definitely doesn’t like it when we are away for a long time. He doesn’t do anything destructive, he just licks. And chews. And scratches. And licks. And chews. And scratches. The good part is that he doesn’t chew on furniture or shoes or anything that doesn’t belong to him. The bad news is that he chews on himself. He will fixate on a small spot on one of his legs where there is absolutely nothing wrong and lick and chew at it until there is something wrong. Apparently this is not completely uncommon, because when we brought him to the vet to see if it was really something bad that he was trying to rid himself of, we asked if there was anything we could do to stop him. The answer was no, but he was diagnosed with what we call a “lickanoma”. I’m not entirely certain if that is the real name for the problem or if that was just the name that we heard, decided we liked and started using. Either way it’s kind of catchy in its absurdity.

He also has an unpleasant tendency to scratch the fur off of his ears. He has pretty bad allergies, so that could be part of the reason for the scratching, but usually he does it just because he’s uncomfortable about something completely unrelated to allergies. Usually that something is more that he doesn’t like the temperature of the room or the softness of the sheets. He’s nervous, but he’s also spoiled.

To try to combat some of the nervous behavior, I purchased some items I thought might be helpful. I got on line and ordered the “Calming Treat Capsule”. This item looks like a multi-colored, elongated egg. One side has holes in it, and the other side has little bumps on it. Coming out of one end are three short ribbons. Presumably the bumps are to massage and calm the canine whilst chewing. I’m not entirely certain what the holes are for, and the ribbons just seem dangerous since if they detach and are eaten they can get stuck in a dog’s colon and cause a variety of problems.

As I have always said, I will try anything if I think it will make my pets happier, healthier and more well adjusted. This particular product did none of those things. What it did do, is give Bobo about 13 seconds of entertainment as she chewed a hole through the hole-side, and it was very interesting to Nugget who is always looking for the next best thing.

All this said, I can’t definitively state that the product is ineffective. For all I know in situations other than mine, it might be perfectly calming. I never got an opportunity to make a real judgment since Zac never got a chance to chew on it. He did give it a sniff or two, but that had neither a calming nor any other effect. I suppose if someone held a gun to my head, I could say it was relaxing because after Zac got up to sniff it, he went back to bed. But that’s really no different than any other day. At 11, if he’s not chewing on his leg or scratching his ears, he’s pretty much maxed out asleep. So all in all this would have to be a “who can really tell” report. It was entertaining to Bobo for that 13 seconds, but for $5.99 it should last longer than 13 seconds. I wouldn’t recommend it, and I certainly would buy one again for my dog, but the cat does seem to like it.

Friday, July 2, 2010


This one is easy. It doesn’t work.

OK, I’ll give you some background and a little story to go with it all. We were driving from DC to SC, it was hot when we left, we were on a deadline, the dogs were in the car, we were 6 hours into the drive somewhere in NC where it was even hotter, and Kath was driving. We pulled over at a gas station, which appeared to be the only one for 100 miles, given how busy it was and the desertion factor of the rest of the road. I was handed the dogs after taking my pee break, and Kath went into the store for her pee break and to procure some beverages. When she returned she had one of my favorites for me, and some unknown oddity in a large blue and purple bottle for her.

NOs, which I assume is come sort of supposedly clever contraction for No Doze, is chock full of all the things that should keep one awake for years. This particular NOs product, the energy drink in Grape flavor, contains 130 mg of caffeine, 1000 mg of Taurine, 100 mg of Inositol and 200 mg of L-Carnitine per 8 oz serving. The large blue and purple bottle contained 22 ozs of beverage.

Caffeine, as we all know, is a well loved stimulant. Taurine, Inositol and L-Carnitine are somehow involved in energy production or metabolization. They are not stimulants like caffeine, but nonetheless are, I suppose, useful in jump-starting one’s day.

All that said, the average cup of coffee contains between 90 and 150 mg of caffeine. A whole bottle of NOs contains about 550 mg of caffeine, which, if we do some basic math (which is about all I’m capable of), is the equivalent of between 3.5 and 6 cups of coffee. That’s sort of a lot, and should be enough, to keep the average human awake for at least a few hours. Certainly a few minutes. No such luck.

I for one, am not all that interested in caffeinated beverages other than coffee. They just make me jittery and a little nauseous so NOs wasn’t even on my list, and when offered, I wouldn’t even take a sip. Kathryn on the other hand is a big advocate of all “energy” products. Red Bull, Monster, NOs, and five-hour energy (which neither of us has tried yet, but is actually on my list for later this year) regularly come up in conversation surrounded by phases like “I love…” and “I used to drink a case a week of…”. It must be the years of working 18 hour days with no sleep.

Kathryn, for those of you who don’t know her, is 100 lbs. She drank the whole bottle of NOs with no(s) result. I will definitely grant you that her body is a little different than most, but still 6 cups of coffee in a 100 lb person? It was nothing sort of odd that she was nodding off in the seat next to me (by this time I was driving, no worries). Nonetheless there she was. I kept waiting for her to shoot out of her chair or start chewing off her fingers or something, but literally, nothing happened. It was just plan wrong if you ask me. And extremely disappointing if you ask her.

I can’t explain if it was the day’s body chemistry or a flawed product. I suppose this one should go on the “try-it-twice-to-be-sure” list, but, that much of a colossal failure does not make me want to run right out and spend more money. I can’t, in good conscious tell you that this product is worth trying, but if you do give it a shot and it does keep you awake, please let me know. I would hate to provide misinformation based on the excessive tolerance of someone who used to drink a case a week of Red Bull.

Friday, June 25, 2010


If you are one of those at-home workout people, you will appreciate this one. As I’m sure you have figured out by now, I live in a part of the country that does not have the conveniences of a city. I can’t say that I live in the middle of nowhere, because I don’t really believe that to be true. I actually think that my town has a lot going on, it’s just not a lot of the type of going-on that city-dwellers are used to. If you crave the outdoors, where I live has it all. If you are looking for fine cuisine and high culture, the pickings are a little slim. They are not completely absent, but you have to really search, be willing to drive a distance, and wait around for the Central NH stop on the performing arts tour. There are, interestingly enough, about 8 different Chinese restaurants in about a 15 mile radius, but other than that one is hard pressed to find anything other than Italian or bar food. There are no upscale pet stores, no fancy restaurants, no spontaneous “hey let’s go to the theatre” nights and no running down to the store for some milk without getting into your car. There’s a university and a hospital 7 miles south, a Staples 15 miles north, and a smattering of bars within spitting distance in any direction. There’s a lot of fresh air and clean water and a few moose. There is no good gym. There are several gyms, but all the ones that are within 20 miles, pretty much suck.

I spend a decent amount of time travelling to various larger cities for work, and so I get my fill of “culture” such as it is. I get to experience the crushing throng of humanity, the litany of restaurants and ethnic cuisines and the convenience of city living. I get to sit in the traffic and have the distinct luxury of periodically being flipped off for crossing the street. I also get to use a “real” gym which is usually within walking distance of where I am temporarily located, or at least under five miles away. At these times I am grateful for my city experience. In a gym, people are usually happy, not flipping anyone off and pretty much keeping to themselves. Just the way I like people.

All that said, since I don’t always have the convenience of a fully functional, large fitness facility with decent hours nearby, I am often left to my own devices. To assure that I can get a good workout no matter where I am, I have multiple at-home fitness products and one of them is the SelectTech 552.

You may have seen the infomercial for these babies. The SelectTech is a Bowflex product. They are the dumbbells that give you the flexibility to adjust the weight to what you desire. There are 2 SelectTech products. The 552 and the 1090. As the name implies, the 552 can be adjusted to weights ranging from 5 to 52.5 lbs per dumbbell. Using the same logic, the 1090 can be adjusted to weights ranging from 10 to 90 lbs per dumbbell. Because I am not that strong, I have the 552s, which I might add are plenty heavy enough for your average at-home weight lifter. BowFlex claims that the SelectTech product line replaces 15 sets and 17 sets of weights respectively. This could be a true claim if you were to purchase every set of dumbbells out there from 5 to 52.5 lbs in 2.5 lb increments (or from 10 to 90 lbs in 10 lb increments), but most people don’t actually do that. I suppose you could, but unless you are opening a gym, of your own, you probably wouldn’t.

The SelectTech weights (weight plates, actually) and bar sit in a cradle. The ends of the bar spin and are marked with the different potential weights. The weight plates are notched so that as you spin the end of the bar to a particular weight, the notches on the bar engage with the notches on the plates and you end up with an adjustable dumbbell.

Its’ quite ingenious actually. It means that you don’t have to buy multiple sets of dumbbells to have decent workout. If you have limited space, don’t want to look at a full weight tower or don’t have a plethora of doors to prop open, it may be the answer to all your ills.

The only issue I found with the SelectTech dumbbells, is that they are a little large. The bars are a good size for an adult hand, but the plates themselves are a little large. This is not a huge problem with most exercises, but I find that I need to do bicep curls with one hand at a time because the two dumbbells together force my curls apart, causing bad form. The other element to be aware of with the SelectTech is that if the plates are sitting backwards in the cradle, the weight adjuster-spinner on the end of the bar won’t spin. I actually had this problem once and it took a good 30 minutes to figure out what the issue was. I thought the spinning mechanism was broken, but instead it was the stupidity of someone who wasn’t supposed to be in my house using my things.

All in all this is a durable, quality product that makes getting a good workout at home pretty easy. Completely utilitarian, fabulously compact and completely adjustable for a complete upper body workout, SelectTech is worth the price tag ($399 for the 552, $599 for the 1090). Given how little in this world can actually be relied on, this is a product that won’t let you down.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Bobo spends a lot of time running. She runs through fields. She runs around the yard. She used to run through the streets. And she runs in the woods. When she runs, she runs very far and very fast. When we hike, she goes 15 miles to our 3. She runs because she loves it, she’s good at it, and she can. She’s a German Shorthaired Pointer after all, she runs because it’s in her blood. She was bred to be the perfect hunter’s assistant and can run all day every day. It’s in her nature, there’s no stopping it. The best we could hope for is to make her running safe for her and less frightening for us.

Bobo knew the “come” command,” but being the sophisticated problem solver that she is, she often chose to ignore it. When she didn’t choose to ignore it, she was often far enough away from us that when she did head back our way, it was a good five or ten minutes before she arrived, making us think that she was ignoring us even when she wasn’t. Although we knew that she enjoyed the running and would almost always return to us at some point, our little Bobo also had a tendency to hurt herself. Running that far, that fast through the woods has its downside which includes cuts, scrapes and the occasional puncture wound. Our biggest fear was not that she would get lost, but that she would get hurt and disoriented and we’d never be able to find her. So after one scare, we decided to bite the bullet, spend the money and get her a GPS collar. After much research and $599, we ended up with the Garmin Astro DC 30 GPS Dog Tracking System.

This system has a hand held GPS unit and a receiver on a dog collar. The collar has a giant rubbery antenna which is always humorous when attached to a dog, bobbing through the woods. The system is designed for hunting, so it’s waterproof, extremely durable and good for a range of up to 5 miles. The handheld GPS unit can be used while not attached to a dog which is helpful for those who like to do things apart from their canine companions. The handheld unit can also track up to 10 dogs. You would need to purchase 10 collars in order to do that, but you don’t need 10 different handheld units. Because the system is designed for hunting the handheld provides information for a number of hunting-related elements such as, best hunting times, sun rise and sun set. In addition the handheld unit provides information not only on your dog’s whereabouts but also their actual physical position. It will tell you whether your dog is pointing, treeing, sitting or running. It doesn’t have signifier for swimming, but other than that it’s been pretty accurate thus far.

The most interesting thing about the GPS is that upon receiving and using it, we quickly discovered that Bobo was rarely further than 80 yards from us. Apparently she’s more stealth than we give her credit for. Her coloring is great camouflage, but we figured since she is anything but graceful, we would have heard her if she were close by. Apparently we were wrong.

Notice I said that she was rarely further than 80 yards from us. Not never more than 80 yards from us. One day we were out hiking and we turned one way and Bobo turned the other way. In the 2 minutes it took to figure out she was not with us, she had already run almost a mile in the other direction. Without the GPS we never would have found her. When we did find her, she was far off trail, at the bottom of a hill on the banks of a rapidly flowing river. She was hurt, disoriented and scared. She couldn’t tell where our voices were coming from as evidenced by the fact that as I climbed down to her, I saw her running in circles trying to figure out where my voice was coming from. The sound of the water in the valley did something to the sound waves making the direction my voice was coming from nearly impossible to decipher.

After a little bit of both canine and human stress, the pack ended up back together with no major losses or injuries. And that you just can’t put a price tag on.