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.



Thursday, December 29, 2011

Planned Obsolescence Equals Unplanned Annoyance

Is anything built to last these days?  I hate to turn this into a tirade against the pervasive march forward of technology or a "back in my day" rant but it seems unavoidable at this point.  Our official Deaf Dogs and Benevolent Gnomes digital camera stopped working over the weekend and we're troubleshooting (aka doing some online research) to try to figure out if we can get it working again.  At this point it doesn't look good, something to do with the memory card.  My primitive mode of linear thinking leads me to believe that it would be easy enough to go out and get a new memory card for the camera, but alas they don't make new memory cards for ancient cameras like ours (it's a four year old Canon). Dagnabit!!

Faced with the prospect of having to shell out money for another digital camera after only having this one for a few years, I had to contemplate the question - Are electronics deliberately made to have a three year lifespan?  Is it assumed that there will be so much more processing speed/features/apps/whatever in three years that everyone will simply buy a new one?  Is our society so disposable that goods that once were assumed to last a lifetime, like cameras, are now deliberately built with a planned obsolescence after three or four years? 

I've owned a cell phone now for about 15 years, and in those 15 years I'm now on my third phone.  Most people my age or younger are saying "only three phones in 15 years?  OMG, what a freak!!"  Most people older than me are probably saying "that seems about right".  The only reason I've ever gotten a new phone is because the previous one stopped working or I was given a free phone.  My first phone lasted about four years and by today's standards it's a complete joke, large and clunky, non-foldable, no internet access, not even able to be carried in a pocket.  I had that phone until I visited a buddy of mine (who had recently traded in his phone) who told me that my old phone was an embarrassment, a visual testament to my archaic mindset and technophobic worldview and that such a phone would definitely not help me impress chicks (please note this was many years ago when I was in my "impress chicks" life stage).  I tried to explain that I'm not a technophobe, but I'm just not like a most folks who are like a kitten with a piece of shiny ribbon around new technology.  And this was in 2001, I think the problem has only gotten 7,000% worse since then. 

So my buddy gave me his old phone (which by that point was already a few years old and indeed by current technology standards OLD), I took it in a had it switched over to my phone number and it became my phone for seven or eight years.  And it worked just fine.  Sure people made fun of me for having such an old cell phone, and people whose opinions I didn't value made sure to express their opinions on the antique-ness of my cell phone, but I cared not.  And all was fine and dandy in the world, and I would have been happy to use that phone for the next two decades.  Then one day it stopped working.  And I mean stopped working, completely. It wouldn't turn on or anything, it was dead.

So I hauled my dead phone into the (Insert Phone Store name here) store.  The first thing the kid working there says is "Holy smokes, a Startac 8600!!, I haven't seen one of these in years!!"  I tried to explain that yes indeed I had owned this phone for quite some time, but I really wanted to try to transfer my information from this old phone onto a fancy new one.  The kid handled the phone almost reverentially, like it was a museum artifact, and took it to the back room where after repeated attempts to revive it, it was declared officially dead.  It would go Davey Jones Cell Phone Locker with its secrets (all my contacts) still resting on its fried little memory chip.  My new cell phone is now starting to exhibit some end-of-life signs, sluggish performance, buttons not responding, etc. and it's probably only a matter of time 'til it needs to be replaced as well.  Was it only made to last three or four years?  It sure seems that way.

Thanks for bearing with me through this prolonged rant.  Anyways, the bottom line is we're stuck with no pictures for a little while here on Deaf Dogs and Benevolent Gnomes, until we can get this camera up and running or bite the bullet and go out and buy a new one.  I'm sure the new one will last three to four years before it starts to break down, and then the cycle can repeat itself.  Caveat emptor.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holiday Newsletter

For those who may not have been on the mailing list, and for everyone else on the World Wide Interwebs, Welcome to the Cummings/Chappell Environmentally Friendly Family Newsletter – 2011 Edition!!! 
You’ve been good all year, and I’ve been watching.  You’ve been kind to small children and animals, haven’t played your music too loud, and eaten all your vegetebles.  As such you are hereby bestowed with the greatest Holiday blessing I can give you – the fourth edition of the Cummings/Chappell Family Newsletter.  We’ve listened to our customer feedback from previous years and included more pictures of Alycia and the dogs, fewer pictures of John, and less of John’s tedious writing.  

2011 was a wonderful year in North Dakota filled with gluten free cookies, furry canine companions and their antics, fresh garden tomatoes, and strolls along the Red River of the North.  Here are some highlights!!!  
Our garden continues to expand and we added another raised bed, a compost bin, and some additional fruit trees.  And in a spirit of addition by subtraction, we removed the unruly stand of lilac bushes and gained significant acreage in the front and back yard.  Since lawn mowing is a much maligned chore in the household, John has begun discretely (yes John can occasionally do things discretely) converting small areas of the yard to annual and perennial beds, slowly so as not to alarm the local neighborhood watch who already has the household on the “suspicious” list due to their California lineage, distinct lack of FOX News Rocks!! or I ♥ Karl Rove bumper stickers, non-truck ownership, and otherwise admittedly odd habits.  

John spent the year fine tuning his Tater Tot Casserole recipe, writing on the world famous Deaf Dogs and Benevolent Gnomes blog, planting more apple trees and currant shrubs, wearing plaid shorts and sandals about town (see above paragraph on public perception of “odd habits”), and quietly enjoying bird watching as much as Alycia.  John was thrilled in March when the basketball team he plays on won their division in the 2011 Grand Forks Grand Am Basketball Tournament. Though he didn’t win any individual accolades or a coveted purple ribbon, he contributed greatly to the team effort (in his own special way) and was voted by his teammates as “Most Likely to Foul Out of a Game” which was deemed by all to be a great honor.  And despite the fact that summer is by far the most pleasant season in North Dakota, John spent much of the summer travelling back and forth from San Diego to continue his consulting practice.  

Tito turned 11 years old this year and celebrated a decade as Alycia’s dog and half a decade as John’s step-dog.  In his old age he has decided he no longer wishes to be burdened with the arduous task of walking up stairs.  He plays the “I’m an old man” card, makes a sad sack Tito face and Alycia carries him up stairs every night before bed.  Even though he claims to be an old and infirm dog, he still manages to occasionally play with Shaak Ti and Shadowfax and is strangely remarkably spry when there are treats or leftover bits of Thanksgiving turkey to be handed out (picture below on the right).  And since he never wanders more than a foot away from the Tasty Treat Triangle (aka Alycia’s Dad, the outside barbecue, and the kitchen), he has gained free roaming and off leash status anytime he visits the Cavalier estate.
 
Shaak Ti turned 5 this year and continues to take daily informal singing lessons, preferably prior to her early morning walk. She has happily embraced the role of big sister to Shadowfax by teaching her invaluable life skills like thrashing on her back and making bizarre groaning sounds (though since they’re both deaf, we’re not sure how these skills are passed along).  Even though she’s now the middle child, Shaak Ti enjoys the company of her big little sister and the two play and wrestle daily.  Shaak Ti also continues to operate as the household’s fuzzy alarm clock, making sure to awaken the entire household at 5:30 am.  

The photos below are after an epic Spring muddy-buddy marathon race through the back yard with Shadowfax, and posing with Alycia’s Dad for family picture day.   
It was our first full year with our new puppy Shadowfax.  Alycia and Shadowfax spent much time at obedience classes and now (with proper motivation) they can both sit, lay down, stay, play dead, roll over, come, walk nicely on a leash, crawl, down stay, leave it, and fetch.  Alycia continues to hone her “fetch” playing skills with Shadowfax, the most recent fiasco involving the puppy’s lacrosse ball hitting the gutter downspout, flying out of the fence, and ending up two houses down across the street in the alley. Shadowfax is a frequent visitor to doggy day care, and the legions of eviscerated toys will attest to the need to have her expend energy outside the household.  She is by far the best trained and most well behaved of the three pooches, and once she outgrows the puppy spazz phase, she’ll easily be a model citizen. 
Our basement visitor suite was completed in early 2011 and we celebrated by hosting visitors including: Alycia’s sister and fiancĂ© from England, Alycia’s parents from Cavalier, North Dakota, most of John’s family from San Diego, and Alycia’s college chum from Los Angeles.  The pictures below are John’s family (dad, sister, brother-in-law, and in the carriage, our nephew, Jacob) out for a stroll at Turtle River State Park just west of Grand Forks and John and Alycia at their friends’ wedding in Portland, Oregon in September.  
We wish you the happiest of Holiday seasons and a productive and fruitful New Year.  May your pantry and deep freeze (we know you all have one) overflow with the bounty of the past summers’ harvest, and may the happiness of the season leave big stains of Holiday spirit all over your reindeer sweaters.  Thank you to all of our family and friends, near and far, four legged and two legged who make our lives brighter.  We love and cherish you all.  Our last picture is of Alycia, Tito, Shaak Ti, and Shadowfax.  John was again out of town when they had the picture sitting so don’t freak out that the whole family isn’t in the picture.  

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to Everyone!!!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Fox News Makes You Dumb

Farleigh Dickinson University conducted a study last month that polled numerous people about current world events.  They found that people who were most likely to identify Fox News as their primary source of news were the most likely to be poorly informed.  Even more poorly informed than people who watched no news program at all.  You can read the full study abstract, results, and methodology.
"the results show us that there is something about watching Fox News that leads people to do worse on these questions than those who don’t watch any news at all."
You can read the study for yourself and decide what the results mean, but it seems that it pretty unequivocally shows that watching Fox News can leave you less informed and knowing less than if you didn't watch any news program at all. That's something to think about.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sparkling Clean Toddler

My sister has discovered that there's one sure fire, no hassle way to get your trouble-loving toddler spotlessly clean.
Just run them through the dishwasher (lower rack only).

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holiday Movie Time

One of the best parts of the holiday season is the chance to indulge in the "once a year" movies that really stimulate my Holiday spirit glands.  Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, It's a Wonderful Life, and A Christmas Story are classics and always shown repeatedly on television.  In fact I just saw Rudolph a few weeks ago, on November 30th.  I remember when they only showed this movie on Christmas Eve, now it's on in November??  But we'll save the wrongness of Rudolph in November for another post. 

These movies are great, but I'm more of a fan of edgier Christmas movies, like National Lampoons Christmas Vacation, which needs to be seen in it's entirety, not in "televised and interrupted every seven minutes by commercials" format.  But aside from Christmas Vacation, the funniest Christmas movie I enjoy every year is probably Bad Santa.

Let me stop right now though and throw out a strong disclaimer.  This movie is not for everyone. It is incredibly offensive, extremely vulgar (every imaginable permutation of swear word), and has pervasive raunchy scenes throughout.  Billy Bob Thornton and Tony Cox are hilarious (Billy Bob is so believable in the role, I'm not sure he's even acting half the time) and Bernie Mac and John Ritter (in his last move role) seem to steal every scene.
I could watch this scene 10 times in a row and I still laugh every time.  Again, this is an incredibly offensive movie with horrible language and incredibly inappropriate scenes and dialogue.  It's a movie I watch almost every year, but would never recommend to my Dad.  Despite its offensive nature and black comedy tint, it's still a Christmas movie, and has some sweet touching moments without being Hollywood sappy and unbelievable.        
If you haven't seen it before, I would highly recommend this holiday cult classic.  But only if you aren't easily offended by raunchy jokes and offensive language.  If these two clips made you laugh, you should definitely see this movie.  If they made your jaw drop in abject horror at the filthy language, kindly ignore this post.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

10,000 Page Views = Blogger Introspection

So let's tell the story of the beginnings of our humble blog.  I started the Deaf Dogs and Benevolent Gnomes blog way back in 2008 (that seems like such a long time ago), but only really consistently posted for the last two years.  When I first started this blog I realized it would have, at best, limited appeal.  My original intent was to write some funny garden gnomes stories, brag about my awesome gardening projects/accomplishments, post some gluten free recipes, discuss my attempts to make my household more self sufficient, proudly show off my deaf dog pictures, and relay some of their deaf dog antics.

Soon after starting the blog Alycia and I began the process of relocation.  She had finished up her PhD in San Diego and needed to find a job.  After only a couple of months into the process it quickly became apparent that Grand Forks, North Dakota was going to be our destination and the University of North Dakota was going to become Alycia's academic home for a while.  At that point the intent of the blog shifted slightly to include stories of a "California kid comes to North Dakota" nature and focused on ways that I quasi-embarrassed or fully embarrassed myself in certain situations due to not knowing the local culture and customs (see Haircuts and Assault Rifles, Potato Sale, and The Welcome Wagon).
Moving to North Dakota also gave me an incredible assortment of news stories that I had never encountered before: Fireworks Accidents, Prisoner Escapes, Raccoons on School Buses, and Using Pig Spleens to Predict the Weather.  There were just too many unusual and funny stories to pass along to my friends and family back home in 72 degree Southern California.  It's with all these motivations that the blog has matured (is that the right word? No I don't think there's much about me that's matured) evolved into it's current format, both as a platform for deaf dogs, gardening, urban homesteading and self sufficiency ideas, and keeping friends and family back in California appraised of the North Dakota happenings with pictures and funny stories.   
One of the other strong motivations behind the blog was to serve as a platform for writing.  I really love the written word, but lacking the wherewithal, time, initiative, and writing self-esteem to actually try and publish something, the blog serves as an outlet for my urge to write and gives me plenty of regular practice.  But like many writers out there, finding validation can be difficult.  I'm never going to earn critical acclaim, or an award, or be mentioned in the same breath as other really good blogs.  And that's fine. So how do I get the validation that people are reading and appreciating my writing?

Well validation certainly wasn't going to come in the form of remuneration.  My initial dalliance with Google AdSense ended poorly.  It turns out that Google's fancy algorithms weren't equipped to deal with my then loyal cadre of 3 to 4 regular readers who were probably the only ones clicking on any ads.  So after the AdSense folks told me they thought I was engaging in shenanigans (I wasn't) and told me to go away, I started the Amazon Associates program (you can see the various Amazon ads all over my blog) trying to get people to buy items from Amazon through my blog. And while the Amazon program is never going to make me rich, the dollar or two a month it generates somehow makes me feel like I'm a paid writer, sort of.  So how do I get the much sought after validation?  Through counting the number of times (these are page views) that someone (hopefully) deliberately reads my blog

All of this self aggrandizing jabber is a result of recently passing 10,000 total page views over the life of the blog.  Because I'm an accountant by trade (sorry if this is news to some of you and you feel betrayed), I'm an analytical, numbers oriented person.  Numbers speak to me I'm constantly analyzing stuff.  I can't turn it off even though I wish I could.  So to think that stuff I've written has been viewed 10,000 times is pretty awesome.  There are many other bloggers out there for whom 10,000 page views is a good month, even a good week, but I really can't compare myself to those folks, they're in a totally different league.

I'm in disbelief that so many people have read what I've written and I'm thankful for each person who subscribes, reads, or visits Deaf Dogs and Benevolent Gnomes.  Thanks everyone!

Postscript - I wrote this a week and a half ago, before I was honored to be mentioned by Karen at Quarry Garden Stained Glass as a blog she enjoyed reading and passed along the link for Tootsie's Read 'Em All Tuesday.  This is probably the greatest validation of my writing that I could hope for, another blogger I highly admire admitting publicly that they enjoy my writing.  Thanks Karen.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dancing with the Devil

Every so often I get the inkling to live life on the edge, throw caution in the wind, and invite the devil onto the dance floor for a spin.  What craziness am I engaging in?  Skydiving? Raw cantaloupe consumption? Sledding naked down a pile of semi-fermented sugar beets?  Nah, I just try and take a picture of Tito. 

Tito is not camera friendly.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  Even without the flash (which seems to be the target of his furry fury), taking his picture turns him into a snarling, angry beastie.  He's charged at the camera pretty much every time I've ever tried to take his picture.  But every other blue moon, when he's in a good mood, he'll let you snap one picture, maybe two, then his patience wears out and he tries to forcibly remove your hand at the wrist.  This is why you never see very many pictures of Tito here on the fabulous Deaf Dogs and Benevolent Gnomes blog, it's just too dangerous of an endeavor to try to take his picture.

As I said though, every so often I get the urge to live life to its fullest and try to take his picture, and the other day I tried while he was sleeping. 
Success!!  A picture of Tito.  But don't let the cuteness fool you, he's a stone cold killer.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Scandalous Sweater Pictures

Our mischievous little puppy Shadowfax has grown quite a bit in the past year.  How do I know?  The awesome lime green sweater she wore most of last winter (see New Green Sweater) is now quite snug on her.  What used to reach all the way to her furry doggy bottom now barely covers most of her back.
This is the sweater last winter, when Shadowfax was still a puppy.  It was a very conservative garment, reaching all the way to the base of her tail.  As an overprotective father, I approved of her wearing an outfit like this out of the house.
That sweater used to cover up everything.  A lot has happened since then, mostly our little puppy grew up and filled out.  Now?
As you can see it's pretty scandalous - it's like a tight tube top with exposed midriff and doggy decolletage, not what my little girl should be wearing. 
 
I think even the puppy herself realizes the scandalous nature of her outfit.  Alycia might let her go to school or doggy camp dressed like this, but I certainly don't approve.  I think it's time for a new (and larger) sweater. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Negative Monday Morning

No we're not in a bad mood, but we are negative.  Negative in temperature.  The official temperature on our fancy digital thermometer (the Weather Direct Wireless Forecaster) was -0.4 degrees this morning, our first official negative temperature of the year.  And I will bet you every penny I have (Full Disclosure - I don't have many) that it won't be the last, or the lowest.  Any takers on that bet? 

The Weather Direct Wireless Forecaster was a birthday gift from Alycia last year and is pretty dang cool.  I love watching the weather, checking Doppler radar, and anticipating the forecast for the future, so a digital thermometer and weather forecaster was right up my alley.  We have the traditional round plastic thermometer hanging from a tree in the back yard, but it always seems to be off by about 10 degrees.  I think the tree trunk obscures air from getting to the sensor or something.  The fancy digital thermometer uses a sensor mounted on the North side of the house, just under the eaves, and seems to be pretty precise. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Garden Gnome Hibernation

The first day of December marks the true shift into Holiday mode.  The last bits of stuffing and pie are gone, Christmas lists are drafted, and lights start to adorn the neighborhood.  December 1st also marks the traditional day of Garden Gnome Hibernation.  It's been pretty chilly lately, though nothing unseasonably cold, just normal late Fall temperatures, and the garden gnomes have been getting chilly at night.
Frederick the Gnome has snuggled in a bed of leaves up to his beard to keep warm at night.  As you may already know, garden gnome culture dictates that all gnomes have a huge end of season shindig before heading to their winter hibernation cave (the cardboard box we put them in and store in the garage).  The party can get pretty raucous since it's their last opportunity for merriment before the long winter. 
Franklin the Gnome was groggy and laying face first in a bed of leaves when I showed up this morning with the hibernation box.  He had few too many the night before and was sleeping it off in the fallen leaves. 
Furkel the Gnome took one last fertilizing good luck poop in the garden and it was nap time for the season.  See you in Spring garden gnomes. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

When Bulls Poop

We recently added Bevo the Bull to our collection of dog toys.  As with any animal newcomer to the household, there's always the possibility of an accident or two.  Puppy was pretty good and has only had a handful of accidents in the year we've had her, and in her defense we were equally culpable in not knowing her routine and getting her some outside business time. 

Bevo the Bull was only here for a few days and he had an accident.  All over the floor.  It was a mess. 
Here's a closer view.  It was a pretty big mess, all over the carpet.  And please note that this wasn't staged for the camera, this was the scene exactly as it happened.  We strive for absolute truth in reporting here at Deaf Dogs and Benevolent Gnomes
OK, I realize that since it's not a live animal that he didn't actually poop in the floor, but it sure looks like he did.  The more disturbing aspect of this is it isn't the first time that a large stuffed animal has developed an immediate crotch hole.  Do the toys have a structural deficiency in the crotch area?  Or do our dogs just immediately attack the crotch?  The jury is still out.