My attempt to move from Southern California and create a happy and sustainable urban homestead in North Dakota, with some musings on life with deaf dogs, a gluten free spouse, and the occasional mischievous garden gnome. Thank you for visiting and I hope you enjoy.



Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I Hate Northwest Airlines

I hate Northwest Airlines. With a passion, with a vengeance, with an almost incomprehensible ire that rises from my very soul. Normally I consider myself above such petty venting, but I feel compelled to share my story with others so that we may all speak with our pocketbooks and rid the world of the scourge of this terrible airline.

My girlfriend is from a small town in North Dakota, and the only feasible way to get there is to fly from sunny San Diego to Minneapolis, then take a connecting flight to Grand Forks, North Dakota. Mind you it's still an hour and a half drive from Grand Forks to her town, and though her parents come to pick us up at the airport, it still makes for a long day of travel. Realistically though, it's the only place to fly into. We could fly into Winnppeg, Canada, which is about the same distance away, but suddenly that's an international flight, more expensive, and troublesome for my girlfriend to bring her dog along in the plane. Fargo is a three hour drive from her small town, which is doable, but a bit unrealistic.
We flew from San Diego early on the day after Christmas and were checking our bags at the Northwest counter in San Diego(we had e-ticketed the flight) when the gate attendant casually asked what was in one of our bags. We had four total bags between two people, each of us had a piece of luggage and a snowboard bag. We were planning on doing some snowboarding at the Frostfire Resort in Wallhalla, ND since it got us out of the house and out into the great frozen wilderness of North Dakota.

We'd almost finished checking the luggage when the gate attendant casually asked "what's in the bags?"

We replied honestly that they had snowboards. Little did I know that this was a big mistake

"Well that's going to be an extra charge" she said, and after looking it up said, "it's an additional $80 per bag".

My girlfriend and looked at each other dumbfounded. She'd flown this same route four years in a row with her snowboard, always on Northwest Airlines, around the holidays and had never been charged and additional fee for a snowboard bag. I'd flown before with my snowboard or golf clubs dozens of times and had never been charged an additional fee on any airline, ever. We each gently explained this to the gate attendant, but when it was obvious she didn't understand this, I began making an angry face and told her "no, we're not paying that".

I asked for her supervisor, but since it was 5:00am, she was the only person on duty at the time, and there was no one else to help, and certainly no one else with any authority. We were left with no choice, having been dropped off at the airport, there was no way to leave the bags and not take them on the trip. After several more minutes of arguing and her calling "someone" on the phone who mysteriously confirmed the additional charge. I angrily and begrudgingly gave her my credit card and asked for the number of customer service so I could complain and hopefully get a refund.

Once we arrived in North Dakota we made three calls to Northwest encompassing a total of almost four hours with still no resolution. We learned that indeed the charge had been incorrect, and we should not have been assessed the additional fee. Vindication was fairly easy, refund of the money though, was a bit more difficult. It was only upon leaving from the airport in Grand Forks that a helpful (and competent – it is very rare to find competence in the ranks of Northwest employees) person finally started the refund process and gave me a follow up number for the refund department to call.

When I called the refund department today (a month after it was allegedly "processed"), they had no record of my refund claim. I was instructed to fax my refund claim information to their office in Minnesota where it would only take "a day or so" to process it. If it can happen that quickly, then why doesn't it? Northwest seems to thrive on poor customer relations, bad policies, inadequately trained staff, and poor customer service.

To top it all off, both the trip there and return trip, including each leg (flight to Minneapolis and connection to Grand Forks on the way there, and to Minneapolis and connection to San Diego) of the trip was delayed at least an hour and half, for every conceivable reason, but surprisingly enough, not weather. On the flight to Grand Forks we sat at the gate for over two and a half hours because they couldn't find the crew to load the baggage. Yup, bags were sitting right there beside t plane, but they couldn't find someone to load them. Inconceivable incompetence across the board.

I will never, ever fly Northwest again, and will advise friends, family, and anyone who will listen to do the same. If the proposed merger with Delta goes through, I will boycott them as well. As for future trips to North Dakota, I'll be flying into Minneapolis (on a different airline) and driving the 6 hours to get to my destination. It's cheaper and ultimately faster.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

More Gluten Free Adventures

In sticking with the comic book theme from the previous gluten free post, once the introductions are made, the superhero has been gifted their new powers, perhaps even tested their new found powers or fought their first villain. It is then we see them return to ordinary life, take a job, and assume his alter ego, usually an unassuming, even boring occupation. In my case, I have assumed the identity of a non-mild mannered, opinionated, somewhat slackery accounting consultant. Be warned that the next accountant you meet, perhaps even the one doing your taxes this year, could in fact be a superhero's sidekick in disguise.

With 8 months or so of gluten free kitchen experimentation under my belt I now feel as though I have a wealth of wisdom, though surely that barely scratches the surface for people who have had gluten free diets for many years. Interestingly enough, diagnoses of Celiac Disease have only been brought to the forefront in the past few years. Whether doctors are better at understanding the complex and various manifestations of the disease, or simply the word has gotten out, incresing numbers of people are requiring gluten free diets. It is estimated that 1 in 133 people in the US have Celiac Disease, with higher concentrations in certain ethnic backgrounds (especially Irish).

Once you get past the foundation that just about everything has wheat in it, and many vegetarian and fake meat options (Morningstar fake chicken nuggets, Boca Burgers) all have gluten in them, you don't have a ton of choices of prepackaged prepared food. I still love the Morningstar fake chicken nuggets, patties, breakfast sausage links, and fake corn dogs, damn good the whole lot of them, but unfortunately Super Gluten Free Gal can't have them anymore. What you end up doing is preparing a lot of things from scratch or purchasing specialty gluten free items from Whole Foods or an equivalent specialty grocer. This unfortunately can get quite spendy. Whole Foods has a delicious gluten free herb bread that costs $9. Yeah, that's right $9 for an average sized loaf of bread. It's damn tasty bread, almost worth the price, but unfortunately with the dual handicap of girlfriend being a grad student and me having a bad attitude about working, it just ain't gonna happen on a regular basis. On the plus side, it makes great stocking stuffers. Many a gluten free food item was given on Christmas to rave reviews.

The two most difficult ingredients to deal with are probably soy sauce and malted barley, both of which are a no-no for a Celiac. Soy sauce is in literally everything, just about every Asian, Vietnamese, or Thai dish with a sauce component has soy sauce in it somewhere. This makes going out to eat at these types of restaurants difficult, not only because so many menu items are off limits, but also because communicating special dietary needs to servers is, well let's just call it "problematic". And malted barley is in almost every mainstream cereal and packaged baked good. So far the only cold breakfast cereal that we've been able to find are puffed rice (uggh) and gluten free corn flakes from Whole Foods (very tasty). Luckily Soggy Rice Pasta Boy is there most mornings to make a delicious hot breakfast for our superhero, eliminating her longing for those breakfast cereals which she cannot have.

The other big bummer is oatmeal. Oatmeal is intrinsically gluten free but either processed in the same facility as wheat, transported in the same trucks, or even grown in a field near wheat, so conventional oats are not guaranteed to be gluten free. So now due to cross contamination issues you've also eliminated all oats from your diet as well. This did not sit well with Super Gluten Free Gal since her upbringing on the wild North Dakota frontier had taught her to appreciate hot breakfast cereals, and sadly oatmeal was one of the few remaining options. There are a few place that offer certified gluten free oatmeal that has been tested and determined to have zero/insignificant amounts of gluten. http://www.glutenfreeoats.com offers 2 pound, 9 oz bags for $10, plus a few more dollars for shipping and handling, but well worth it so Super Gluten Free Gal can have oatmeal again.

Next on the list donuts.....but you'll have to wait for that.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Beginnings of Gluten Free Fun

All good comic books spend their first few episodes dedicated to detailing how the superhero (and sometimes his arch nemesis) came to be. Spaceship from another planet, radioactive spider, nuclear disaster, scientific experiment gone horribly wrong, or the ever popular gamma rays. Each cause had its inevitable effect and the result guided the direction of the comic book through the years. Well you're about to hear of the beginnings of Super Gluten Free Gal and her faithful sidekick Soggy Rice Pasta Boy.

Mealtimes and cooking have always been a source of enjoyment, relaxation, experimentation, and just plain fun for me for many years, having worked in the food and beverage industry throughout high school and then in the De La Guerra Dining Commons at UC Santa Barbara all throughout college. My girlfriend has also enjoyed those same pursuits having been a vegetarian since her college days, almost eleven years, and together we are quite the team in the kitchen. I tend to take the reins when it comes to tasks involving knives or taking things out of the oven, because though I love her dearly, she is incredibly clumsy in the kitchen.

When we first started dating, I'd go over to her little one bedroom apartment and chat with her while she prepared dinner. Her kitchen was so small that two people literally couldn't occupy it simultaneously, let alone both work in there. So I'd sit at her kitchen table and we'd talk while she would prepare dinner. Inexorably at least a couple of times I'd gasp in horror as she would come millimeters away from slicing her finger, or wince when she would forget that a pan she had just taken out of the oven was still hot and burn her hand. It was physically painful to sit and watch so I slowly started offering my help with the more dangerous tasks, and eventually commandeered any culinary activity that was to scary for me to watch her perform. To her defense, that tiny little kitchen had about a foot and a half of counter space, she had the wrong types of knives, and was using her grandmothers antique cutting board that was more slippery than a freshly caught bass, so the odds were sort of stacked against her.

Holidays and birthdays became opportunities to give her the gift of safety, non-slip cutting boards, manageable knives, etc. Not a day goes by where I don't hear "oops" or hear a bonking or clattering sound multiple times, but I worry less about her losing a digit than I used to, which is nice. The other day during a particularly festive breakfast I decided that I would count the number of "oops" for the whole day. Sadly I ended with a count of four midway through breakfast before I gave up with both of us laughing extremely hard.

In Spring 2007 my girlfriend was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disease that is essentially an allergy to all wheat, rye, barley, and gluten containing products. She was diagnosed after several years of gastrointestinal issues and two bouts of pancreatitis within 18 months. Considering that she is not the likely candidate for pancreatitis, one of her doctors finally realized that something else might be at work and ordered the test for Celiac Disease. We were simultaneously relieved (glad it wasn't something more serious) and confused, "what the heck is gluten?". Well gluten is in just about everything as it turns out and we've had to rethink how we do just about everything, from ingredient label reading, food storage, meal selection and preparation, it's been an interesting process, and we've had some fun along the way. She often thanks me for being willing to experiment with new foods, and try new things, and above all cook her delicious gluten free foods, but she's wonderful and deserves it. Besides, I have my stash of regular wheat bread out in the garage where she'll never find it.....

Monday, January 21, 2008

Woof Woof What???

As previously mentioned, I am the proud owner of two dogs who also just happen to be quite deaf. Actually owner is probably inaccurate as I am more the pack leader than an owner, since both dogs recognize and respect my authority as pack leader. Tito the Wonder Puppy has been with my girlfriend for almost six years and Shaak Ti has been part of the family unit for six months.

When my girlfriend moved in last Spring, we had long discussed getting another dog, both for us and as a companion for Tito. I had been browsing the local Humane Society, ASPCA, and Helen Woodward Animal Center Websites for dogs of appropriate age and size, and were aiming for a dog in the 20 to 30 pound range since a dog any bigger would probably not get along well with Tito. It was during a random search on Craigslist that I saw an ad for a "Very Sweet and Loving, but Deaf Dog". Thinking to myself "ha, wouldn't it be a hoot to have two deaf dogs", I forwarded the link to my girlfriend as kind of a joke, who immediately thought it was a wonderful idea. D'oh. In all honesty the picture of the dog was pretty cute and she seemed to be about the right size, so in retrospect it wasn't that silly of an idea. Though if you had gone to Vegas a year ago, the odds of me becoming the proud pack leader of two deaf dogs would have been about 160,000 to 1.

I sent an e-mail to the Craigslist ad and got a very nice response from a woman named Katie who runs a dog training and boarding service (http://www.collared-scholar.com/) and rescues deaf dogs from Southern California shelters on the side. Katie was fostering the dog and was impressed that we already had a deaf dog of our own. We arranged a chance for all of us to meet (including Tito) Shaak Ti - whose name was Elsie at the time. The rest is the typical "love at first sight" that happens with awesome dogs. She was a great little dog, affectionate, but not needy, and not only got along well with Tito, but spent a lot of time just quietly playing around with a toy, giving the impression that she was good at keeping herself entertained, which turned out to be kinda true.

Katie explained that she had trouble adopting her out because many people incorrectly assumed deafness to be an immense handicap that would never allow a dog to be happy or enjoy its life. She also had people who balked at the nominal $50 adoption fee and had assumed that "she'd be free since she's disabled" or something to that affect. People seem to have very strange misconceptions about deaf dogs. First of all, unless people are told, almost no one knows that the dogs are deaf. Once told, I get a lot of "Wow, they seem really well adjusted" and "You can't even tell they're handicapped", which strikes me as odd since dog, person, or canary, I wouldn't consider deafness a handicap.

The drawbacks of having a deaf dog are pretty obvious, they can't hear when you call to them, but most dogs, Tito especially, but Shaak Ti as well, make up for this by maintaining eye contact with you as much as possible. We take both dogs to the beach and dog park and as they scamper around having fun, regularly look up and check in with us. If we want them to return we give them the hand command and they (usually) return. Teaching deaf dogs is really no different than hearing dogs, positive reinforcement, a few treats, and pets when the command is performed. The only difference is that the commands are hand signals instead of auditory signals. Of course when the dog is misbehaving, like getting into the trash can, well they obviously aren't too keen on making eye contact, and this is probably the biggest change from a hearing dog. Instead of sitting on the couch and yelling "No!! Bad Dog!!" I actually have to get up off my ass, and go over to correct her behavior. For 95% of Americans though, being able to overcome this inherent laziness is akin to asking them to fly.

The benefits if having a deaf dog? Almost too many to count. Fire engines, neighborhood dogs howling, loud music, thunderstorms, doesn't faze them for a second. My brother was helping me with some house renovations, cutting through wood, drywall, and stucco with a reciprocating saw, screeching and cutting and Shaak Ti was snuggling on my lap ten feet away, totally oblivious to it all. And when we're on our daily walk, if they don't see the dog barking from the backyard fence, they won't even look over, prompting more than person to remark "what well trained dogs you have". Rather than spoil their nice compliment with the truth, I simply say "thanks".

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Synchronize This

A previous post about my childhood trauma with grapefruit was so much fun (and quite cathartic) that I thought I'd wander down the path of fuzzy memories yet again.

For those who have never been lucky enough to come into close contact with synchronized swimming, there are a couple of things you need to know. First of all, it strikes me as a somewhat difficult sport. There’s a lot of extended durations of holding ones breath, or being underwater upside down, along with some strenuous swimming and treading water. But other than the physical requirements, there’s a lot of weird beauty pageant elements to the whole thing that freak me out today, let alone as a seven year old. All participants are wearing a nose plug, swim cap, have lots of waterproof makeup on, are constantly smiling, and I think have Vaseline on their teeth to help them/make them smile more/better. Weird to me now, really weird as a kid. Actually to a seven year old these girls (who due to my age were already icky and cootie ridden) looked like aliens.

Twice a week for an entire summer my little brother and I would go with my Mom and sister to Helix High School in East County of San Diego. I couldn't quite tell you how long practice was, since as a seven year old, all concepts of time and space are not yet fully grasped. The practice probably ran about an hour, hour and half, but we'll be conservative and say it lasted an hour. So what did my brother and I get to do for this hour? That's right, sit in the bleachers with my Mom and watch synchronized swimming practice. You may have at some point accidentally happened upon synchronized swimming while watching coverage of the Olympics, or maybe a sadistic significant other tried to force you to watch it on the Oxygen network, and in case you're wondering, yes I can confirm that it's just as boring live in person, possibly even more so. Now imagine how boring this activity is when it's just the practice. Mind numbingly, bone achingly boring, magnified by the fact that I'm a seven year old kid who just wants to run around and poke things (or my little brother) with a stick.

The culmination of this synchronized class, what all these little girls were training for, was the big recital at the end of the session. All the parents would show up, sit on the cold metal bleachers, and glowingly watch their daughters spin around in unison underwater. This particular class was preparing their performance to the tune of "The Rainbow Connection", the song that Kermit the Frog sang in The Muppet Movie. I probably heard this song several dozen times per session, perhaps a thousand times over the course of that summer. More often than not it the same snippet that would play over and over and over as a particular move/sequence was practiced over and over and over while the coach would yell "no no no, when you come out of the water, you smile, then spin to the left, not the right", and other helpful, life altering truisms.

All summer my brother and I would sit there and watch the splashing water and the coaches shouting instructions and wonder what we'd ever done to deserve this. Perhaps the subtle nuances of all the complex underwater maneuvers were lost on us since, well we couldn't see what the hell was going on underwater, but we really didn't care. Every so often my brother and I would start up some little kid bitching and my Mom would let us run around on the grass behind the bleachers. On special occasions we'd get to bring along an awesome toy like a tennis ball, and we would make up fun games like "throw the tennis ball back and forth". It was great.

I couldn't really tell you what happened the day of the big performance, since all of the Rainbow Connections blended together into one great big happy mass of Kermitty positive energy and hopeful attitude. The moral of the story is that anytime I see a Muppet (especially Kermit), hear the Rainbow Connection, or god forbid see a snippet of synchronized swimming, it takes me back to that fun summer of sitting there watching synchronized swimming practice, feeling my brain getting numb. Good times.

Friday, January 18, 2008

An Unexpected Knock on the Door

I was sitting home late this morning in a state somewhere between totally slacking and sort of working when there was an authoritative knock on the door. Upon opening the door I was confronted by two representatives of the GDAT (Gnome Department of Alcohol & Tobacco - gnomes are a peaceful sort and have no need for firearms) who gruffly showed me their tiny little badges and identification and asked to discuss a serious matter with me. They were well dressed in the black suit and tie indicative of government officials and proceeded to pepper me with questions about alcohol consupmtion at Short Pins.

You should probably know that when I agreed to let Frederick run his bowling alley, Short Pins, out of a little corner of my garage, I offered, at his request, to give him a small share of the bounty of the two nearest apple trees (the Cripps-Pink and Golden Delicious), in order to make a little bit of hard cider. I also told him that he could have any misshapen, bruised, or otherwise unusable apples that I had no use for. I gave him some old coffee cans and rubber tubing to help set up the cider making operation, had a sip of the first batch (a sip to you and me is a full glass to a gnome), it tasted pretty good.

Now in discussing this initially with Frederick he assured me that any cider produced would be for his personal consumption, or provided free of charge to his customers. Having an establishment with a liquor license on the premises seemed like an unnecessary hassle at the time, but I made sure to tell him that it'd be his tiny ass in a sling if some problem arose as result of his cider making.

For the last half of the year, the arrangement worked. I even gave him some of the blueberries from the fall harvest to add a little flavor to the hard cider. Turns out though that apparently after a few months, he had started charging his wee patrons for the hard cider, in flagrant violation of local liquor laws. Frederick hadn't struck me as the money grubbing type of garden gnome, so I was shocked to hear this. I came to find out later that he'd been doing this to try to raise a few bucks to buy a bunch black lights so he could have a Gnome Glow Bowl Night at Short Pins. How much can you really blame an entrepreneur for trying to make their business glow in the dark? And besides, everyone loves glow bowling.

The little detectives got a few more bits of information from me then proceeded to go out back chat with Frederick. As it turns out they gave him a small fine, since it was his first offence, and told that he'd better not try shenanigans like this again. I think he learned his lesson.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Random Childhood Memories

Most of this blog is produced in tongue in cheek fashion. I'm incredulous that I have to explicitly point this out, but I want to make sure that the authorities don't come knocking on the door one day because they think that my garden gnomes actually talk to me, and I talk back, etc. Suffice to say though, outside of stories involving garden gnomes, everything else is factual (to the best of my recollection), maybe occasionally embellished for storytelling purposes, but factual. I bring this up because the tale I'm about to spin about childhood trauma that is triggered by a certain citrus fruit is absolutely true.

Backstory. When I was about 13 or 14 I started getting migraines, bad ones. For those of you who get them, you know what I mean. They weren't terribly frequent, two or three times a month, but that was often enough to cause significant discomfort, and pretty much knock me on my ass for a few hours. Keep in mind I'm not trolling for a pity party here by any means. During my childhood I shared a room with my little brother who was a year and half younger. As younger brothers are wont to do, he was none to sympathetic to my migraines and seemed to think it funny to listen to loud music instead - his favorites around that time being Wolverine, Jackyl, and Megadeth. Not exactly headache friendly fare, so my room was not a fortress of solitude where I could escape. More often than not I would throw back some over the counter pain medication and try to sleep it off on the couch in the family room. This is often where my Mom would find me and try to "help".

Additional backstory. My dear sweet Mom, very intelligent and well respected in the community, but like all parents, she had some bizarre ideas about cures to common ailments. In her case, anytime I was feeling unwell, be it a headache, runny nose, sprained ankle, or blood gushing wound, it was because I was constipated. And the only cure for constipation (in her mind) was eating a grapefruit. Often would I have a splitting headache or disagreeable innards and be forced to eat a bitter, woody, pithy disgusting grapefruit. Oh the humanity. Through all the years, and despite my best efforts to produce concrete scientific evidence to the contrary, she still believes in the mystical healing power of grapefruit.

The other funny (funny now, not funny then) aspect was because the grapefruit was held in such high esteem it was a sin and personal affront to God himself not to completely eat the grapefruit. Yup, I'm talking all the way down to the rind, every last bit of flesh out of there, and every last drop of juice squeezed out too. I discovered that an "incorrectly" or "improperly" consumed grapefruit would actually be fished from the rubbish bin, rinsed off and force fed to me. Good times.

Soon I reached the age where I felt empowered to become angry enough to argue back and refuse to eat them, which of course caused a yelling match or argument that became tantamount in aggravation to actually eating the grapefruit itself. So the choice became which of the lesser of two evils would be the least painful to endure. Good times, good times. Years later I discovered that other mothers would coddle their kids with hot chicken soup, tea, or other niceties when they were ill. I begged to a higher power to reveal why I had been tested so, but alas, no answer came.

All the madness of this storytelling was motivated by my very sweet girlfriend who does most of the grocery shopping. She eats a very healthy, diverse diet, chock full of fruits and vegetables, that unfortunately includes grapefruit. Though she won't admit it, she chuckles a bit when I open up the shopping bag to put away the weekly provisions and come face to face with my citrus arch-nemesis, which often cause me to let out a growl or other sign of displeasure. Not many folks in this world have an arch-nemesis that also happens to be a well respected and appreciated fruit, but I do.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Mitt in Michigan

I went out to water the blueberry bushes this morning since we've been experiencing a bit of Santa Ana winds that have left things drier than normal, and ran into Frederick and Franklin (as they both reside in the blueberry bushes). Frederick has currently taken up residence under the O'Neal Rabbiteye bush while Franklin has staked out the Sunshine Blue plant. Gnomes tend to stay in the same place for a few weeks or months, then as seasons and weather patterns change, move along to a different location in the yard that suits their tastes. Itinerant wanders indeed are garden gnomes.

Unknown to most folks, though naturally aloof, gnomes are highly involved in discourses of world affairs, economics, and especially politics. They tend to be fiscally conservative and small government minded, but liberal to indifferent on social issues. They defy conventional classifications, rarely vote as a single block, and would probably be best described as liberal independents. This makes them unpredictable but highly entertaining in discussions of political affairs.

Naturally this morning the subject of Mitt the Mormon's stunning victory in the Michigan primary was the lead discussion topic of the day. I walked smack dab into Frederick and Franklin discussing the electability of Mitt considering his "unusual" religious affiliation.

"I'm less concerned about the religion of our next president than I am his being named after a piece of sporting equipment. President Mitt to see you Sir. That just sounds silly, we'll be the laughingstock of the world." Frederick stated.

"Well I'll tell you this, if that insane Huckabee wins, I'm moving to Canada, or possibly becoming a member of the Lakota nation", I interjected.

"Seriously" Frederick chortled. "Did you read that quote from him where he acknowledged that God helped him win the Iowa Caucus."

"There's only one explanation for it, and it's not a human one. It's the same
power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed
a crowd of five thousand people. That's the only way that our campaign can
be doing what it's doing." - Verbatim quote from Mike Huckabee


"But didn't your boy Denny Kucinich admit the other day that he's seen aliens?" Franklin piped in. "You want to talk about someone who's popping crazy pills. Aliens???"

"I'd rather have a candidate admit they simply saw aliens, rather than admit an unseen, unknown, but omniscient force helps and influences him. Is this a guy you want with control over a nuclear arsenal?" I agreed. "What if that "same power" told him to unilaterally invade Antarctica? He may be a smooth talker and have some good ideas, but he's got too much of the crazy crazy for my tastes".

They both agreed that it's probably for the best that the individual running our country isn't influenced by outside forces that no one else can see, hear, or verify their existence. Not to mention the possibility that Huckabee might enact a law mandating weekly church attendance on the Sabbath and requiring tithing 25% of ones income. A slippery slope indeed.

And with the two gnomes still excitedly jabbering away, I turned and made my way back into the house. It was early and I hadn't had my morning cup(s) of coffee yet, way too early for that manner of discussion.

Introduction

I am John, son of John. I live in a house with one girlfriend, two very deaf dogs and two garden gnomes. The deaf dogs provide entertainment, solace, and a furry thing to pet. The garden gnomes inhabit the out of doors and not only watch over my humble abode, but scamper around late at night and become involved in some entertaining hijinks.

First the dogs.

Tito the Wonder Puppy. Yes, this is his God given name. Excessive perhaps, but that is what it is, and it is not to be trifled with. In common parlance he is called Tito, Toe, The Toe, and lately Toberto. He tips the scales at 15 or 16 pounds, and though I may delight in calling him a fatty, he is not quite as pudgy as I will lead on. One thing to understand above all else about Tito. He doesn't like you. Never has, probably never will. Sure if you've got a chunk of carne asada burrito in your mitts, he's your buddy, maybe even let you scratch his belly. But understand this, he doesn't like you.

Jedi Master Shaak Ti. She goes by Shaak Ti, but lately I've been calling her Gumby or Doggleton. Doggleton for some reason sounds very regal and stately, like an English country gentleman who'll gladly invite you in for tea and tell you wry jokes about Margaret Thatcher. One of the benefits of having a deaf dog is that you can call them anything you want to. At the dog park I can (and sometimes do) yell "Here Placenta" or "Here Pope Benedict" and as long as I have her eye contact, she comes running right over. Some others do not find this funny. I do.

The best way to describe Shakk Ti is that she is the really pretty, very outgoing, very loving kid on the special bus at school. After we'd had her about a month I remarked to the lady we adopted her from that "she certainly isn't the sharpest tool in the shed". "Yeah, I know" she replied with a slightly guilty look on her face. It seems she knew that the dog was "special" but kind of neglected to mention it. No worries, we love her with all of our hearts and wouldn't change her for world, but Holy Buckets, I've never seen a dog hit their head this much. And not just hit her head, but REALLY hit her head. I know very little of canine concussions, but I'm pretty sure she's had one or two in the six months we've had her.

Now the gnomes.

Frederick arrived first, back in June of 2007. I met him in the produce section of the Vons up the street from my house. He was negotiating with the kid stocking Navel oranges trying to get some overripe avocados for free. It seems that avocado pits are the perfect size for gnomes to use as bowling balls. Fredrick was trying to open a gnome bowling alley, and was attempting to secure a supply of tiny bowling ball shaped avocado pits. After chatting with him for a minute he mentioned that he was still looking for a location for his gnome bowling alley, which he wanted to call Short Pins.

Frederick had a copy of his business plan for the gnome bowling alley, it looked solid, but since he was short on capital he wasn't having much finding a place to open up the business. The discussion eventually led to my offering part of my garage for him to get Short Pins up and running. Since he was short on money, we eventually settled on him retaining majority stake in the place, while ceding 49% ownership stake in the business over to me in exchange for 7 years of free rent. After that there's lease escalation clause, but that's assuming things go well. There's some going concern issues, but considering that I had no other tenants for the tiny space in my garage, it was a low risk investment on my part indeed. Frederick stands about five inches tall, tall for a gnome, he actually played GDII (Gnome Division II) college basketball back in the day, but that's another story.

Franklin has only been here about a month, and aside from being Frederick's uncle, I don't know a whole lot about him. He has his Masters in Alternative Energy from Gnomenclature College in Pennsylvania and from what I've heard from Frederick, he's going to help outfit the bowling alley with solar power, hopefully having a surplus of energy to sell back to the grid and generate a bit of positive cash flow until Short Pins gains a critical mass of tiny little customers. Franklin is more reserved, less gregarious than Frederick, so I haven't gotten to know him very well yet.