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, May 31, 2012

Sergeant Stubby

The Internet can be a wonderful thing sometimes.  The other day I stumbled upon (literally using StumbleUpon) a website about Sergeant Stubby, the most decorated combat dog of World War 1 and the only dog in the history of the US Military to be promoted to the rank of Sergeant through combat.

You can read more about Sergeant Stubby at the Smithsonian Museum of American History or on Wikipedia.

Sadly if Sergeant Stubby were around today he'd find that he'd be promptly put to death if he tried to live in Denver, Colorado or Miami, Florida or dozens of other cities throughout the United States?  Why?  He looks enough like a Pit Bull (it's hard to tell from the photos what breed or mix he actually is) that Breed Specific Legislation makes it illegal for these types of dogs to be kept in the city.

While I'm horrified at the stories of dog attacks the media reports, there is far too much mis-identification of dogs, media sensationalizing of these stories, and outright incorrect information being broadcast in the news and on the Internet.  I think Breed Specific Legislation punishes good dogs/owners and doesn't address the real problem - bad owners.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Tuffy's Dinosaur Dog Toy Review

Our lovely homestead has had its share of stuffed dinosaur visitors (all the dinosaurs have been Tuffy's Dog Toys) over the years, and with the arrival of some new dino friends I thought it might be prudent to stop and fondly remember the dinosaurs of yesterday and celebrate the proud beasts of today.  Please note that these are only the names that we've given the dinosaurs, not their actual given Christian name.

Also, links to Amazon.com are included for each dinosaur (just click on the picture) in the event that someone wants to buy Shaak Ti or Shadowfax a birthday present, or just in case you actually want to purchase one for your own magical pooch.

Harold the Dinosaur (RIP) - Harold was memorably disemboweled in a fit of puppy energy in late 2010 (see The Untimely Death of Harold the Dinosaur).  After the vicious evisceration, Harold lasted a bit longer as a de-stuffed stretch of fabric that became a favorite tug-of-war toy for Shadowfax and Shaak Ti.  Time caught up to Harold though and he became more shredded fabric than actual dinosaur and had to be thrown away. Harold very likely would have survived longer without the puppy, and he was a great companion for Shaak Ti for more than three years, just not able to stand up to the onslaught of a larger dog like Shadowfax.  In retrospect he wasn't as tough as some of the other dinosaurs and didn't live up to his billing as an apex predator, easily succumbing to the predations of one deaf, spazzy, destruction oriented puppy. 

Stella the Stegasaurus - Stella is by far the best of all the fuzzy prehistoric beasts we've had to date.  The dozen or so armored plates running along her spine were each individually sewn down to her body and most had a squeaker in them, giving Shadowfax many individual compartmentalized opportunities to chew, chomp and destroy.  Stella also hid her stuffing well in her head, tail, and four legs, requiring numerous bouts of dedicated stuffing removal from Shadowfax.  Her long length also made her an ideal tug-of-war toy between the dogs and her multiple handles (head, tail, four legs) made for a great human/dog tug-of-war toy.  Stella has been with us for almost two years now and even though she was pricey as a dog toy, she's given the dogs countless hours of entertainment and has been well worth the price.

Triumph the Triceratops - Triumph is fairly new on the scene, having arrived this past Christmas.  Unfortunately as soon as we named him he developed a hole in his right flank and promptly gave up a majority of his stuffing.  The verdict is still out on Triumph, but I think that ultimately he'll fall in between Harold and Stella in terms of toughness, longevity and cost/benefit.  His horns, armor plating, and tail make for good hand holds during tug-of-war bouts but I'm not sure if his fabric and construction is sturdy enough to withstand intense puppy destructo-attention.  

In a future post I'll review the non-dinosaur Tuffy's Dog Toys that inhabit the house, including Boris the Bull, the 5-Legged Octopus (I think that makes him a Quintarpus) as well as the newest arrival, Sherman the Sheep.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Christmas Wreath in May

I was hesitant to write this post since I was afraid Alycia would be angered by my publicly calling out her shortcomings.  In this case her shortcoming is her blatant disregard for seasonal holidays by procrastinating/refusing to take down our Christmas wreath in an appropriate amount of time. 

Alycia and I have regular quid pro quos in our daily lives involving chores.  These are harmless exchanges of the "if you clean out the lint trap in the dryer I'll polish the door knobs" or "you brush Tito's teeth and I'll stick my hand in the blender".  So when she agreed to take down her Christmas wreath when/if I put away the Christmas lights she probably thought she had it made.  Since I am known to procrastinate on such things and I also like looking at the pretty Christmas lights, she must have thought this was quite the savvy bargain since the odds were good that those lights would be up until, well until next Christmas.

So when I took down the Christmas lights in late February I gave her a week or so to fulfill her end of the bargain by taking down the wreath.  But nothing happened.  So I started giving her grief about it.  Lots of grief.

In her defense the Christmas wreath has several things going for it.  It's hanging over a door in the entryway and really isn't in the way.  It also hasn't dropped ANY needles in five months.  I'm not sure what manner of genetically modified evergreen boughs this thing is made of, but the fact that it hasn't shed any needles is weird, freaky, and just plain unnatural.  I keep trying to casually brush it as I walk but I'm afraid that it's so dry that even casual contact could create enough friction to cause it to instantaneously combust. 

The Christmas wreath also has sand dollars and fake starfish attached to it, making it less of a Christmas wreath than a summer beach wreath.  Now I may not get out much, but I have never heard of a summer beach wreath.  Perhaps this is just another attempt by the insidious wreath industry to gain a foothold in another holiday, but I doubt it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Head Gardener During the Ottoman Empire

Here's a rather grisly but fascinating bit of history from Smithsonian Magazine describing some of the details of the inner workings of the Ottoman Empire.
"The job of executioner was held instead by the Sultan’s bostanc─▒ basha, or head gardener—the Ottoman corps of gardeners being a sort of 5,000-strong bodyguard that, aside from cultivating the Sultan’s paradise gardens, doubled up as customs inspectors and police officers. It was the royal gardeners who sewed condemned women into weighted sacks and dropped them into the Bosphorus."
You can read the very interesting full article (it's pretty short, but yes quite grisly) at Smithsonian Magazine.  

I don't think I've ever heard of a job where I'd be mulching the azaleas one day and lopping off people's head the next day.  It would definitely give a new meaning to the phrase "dead-heading", you'd probably have to specify if you were talking about flowers or people.

Monday, May 14, 2012

New Advertising on the Blog

You may have noticed that I'm trying out some new advertising from Chitika on Deaf Dogs and Benevolent Gnomes.  After our falling out with Google AdSense over a year ago I've been searching for an online advertising shop worthy of the high standards of the creators and readers of this fine blog.  The Amazon Associates ads are good, but not generating enough action to justify being my sole attempt at website monetization.  You can still do all your Amzaon.com searching and purchasing through the "Search Amazon.com" box at the middle-left part of the blog or click on any of the Amazon widgets that look particularly enticing.

The first few days of running the new Chitika advertisements saw some really non-specific ads (pretty much just incorporating "Deaf Dogs and Benevolent Gnomes" into some semi-sketchy search engine), but the ads seem to have gotten a bit better over the last week. What's your feedback on the ads?  Annoying?  Tolerable?  Do you have ads blocked or opted out of seeing them?  Do you have any other or better recommendations for web advertisers?  If you blog, what ads do you run on your site?

And please note that any and all revenue from this site goes to help deaf dogs in North Dakota.  We're not an officially sanctioned 501(c)(3) charity or anything, but every little bit helps. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mulch Bonanza

The last few weeks have been a frenzy of activity here at the homestead.  Warm and dry weather started much earlier than normal and allowed me to aggressively plot out some large structural changes to the grounds and gardens.  We added some dirt mounds (see 10 Yards of Black Dirt and Front Yard Dirt Follow Up) and planted some new perennials and flowers in the mounds.  Since these are still tiny specks of green plant material, they don't photograph well and I'm going to wait a bit for them to grow and become more photogenic.
It was with some tired muscles and slightly grumbly disposition that I stood in my garage the other day surveying the land. When lo and behold a large dump truck drove by...
Then the large dump truck started backing up into the driveway.  I tried waving my arms and yelling, but it was to no avail, that truck was determined to back into the driveway.
No matter how much a yelled, the driver kept back up in to the driveway.  He seemed to be ignoring me or impervious to my yelling.  
Suddenly, to my horror, and without warning from the driver, he started to dump a huge pile of mulch into the driveway.  Was this some kind of nightmare?  A sick practical joke?  I'd just finished shoveling large piles of dirt last week and now there was more impending manual labor?    
Mulch started spilling onto the driveway!!!  Not to worry gentle reader.  This was not an unexpected delivery of mulch from the heavens or a cruel prank, I had ordered it.  A few areas on either side of the driveway around the apple trees and currants need a serious mulch refreshing and there were some areas of grass that need to be converted to vegetable beds through the magic of mulching.
The mulch guy though said he only had 5-6 yards of this particular kind of mulch (the cheap stuff) so I was prepared for a day/day and a half of work.  I fact he had more than he thought, 13 to 14 yards, even though he only charged me for 10 yards.  This was more than twice the amount of mulch I was planning on, but no big deal.  We'll get all our fabulous mulch apportioned to its proper place and snap some photos, so more to come in a later post. 

I also completed my 3-Bin Compost System (more on this in a later post) and planted more apple trees, plum trees, and dogwood shrubs (more on this in a later post as well).  Whew, I've got  lot of writing and photo-documenting work.  It's been a busy Spring here as I'm sure it is for you.  We'll try to get pictures and blog posts on everything that's gone on over the last few weeks.  Stay tuned!!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Cub Cadet Lawnmowers Are Crap!!!

I wrote and sent an angry letter to the Cub Cadet Company today.  Cub Cadet isn't even really a Company anymore, just a brand name (that used to significant a quality product) that is slapped on lawn and garden machines so they can generate a premium price.

This damned lawnmower has been the bane of my existence the for the last three years.  Alycia's Dad got it for us as a gift and I think that it was just a lemon, a dud, a bad mower, perhaps one possessed by evil spirits, it's hard to tell.  It performed so poorly I'm still partially convinced that it was a joke lawnmower, bought by Alycia's Dad at some gag gift store online to play a prank on me (if so it was a magnificent prank).

On the one hand this mower has caused lots of wasted time and energy and generated significant amounts of John-angst-rage, but the positive thing that has come out of it is that Alycia and I have decided to finally get an electric lawn mower. I'll post more information on the new lawn mower once it gets here and after it (hopefully) demonstrates its' awesomeness.

Here's the letter I sent to the Cub Cadet Company.  The letter won't do anything, it was just a cathartic expression of my anger at the countless hours spent trying to get this damned mower to work.  Regardless, it felt good to write it and send it. 


To Whom It May Concern,

I received a Cub Cadet walk behind, self propelled lawn mower three years ago as a gift from my Father-In-Law.  My initial happiness at the gift quickly turned to disbelief at the mowers performance and over the last three years has morphed into outrage and anger.  This lawn mower has NEVER worked correctly and Cub Cadet products in my opinion are complete and utter pieces of crap (I apologize for the language but since I know this e-mail won’t result in any substantive changes, it serves merely as a vessel for me to vent).   The only reason I keep trying to make this mower work is not only because I don’t want to litter (by throwing it off a cliff), but also because I don’t want to hurt my Father In Law’s feelings since this was a gift from him.   

The mower constantly stalls, sputters, and refuses to run.  I’ve spent near $300 (equivalent to the purchase price of the mower) on tune-ups, repairs, and other attempts to fix it over the last three years, all to no avail.   I’m not sure what the problem is or why the mower doesn’t work, but this situation has me frustrated and angry beyond belief.  

Since this item was a gift, I don’t have the warranty information or a receipt, and as such have never been able to make any headway with your customer service department over the telephone.  I have taken the mower to every repair shop in town that services Cub Cadet’s and each repair shop tells me that the necessary repair wouldn’t be covered by the warranty anyways.  I’m tired of throwing money down the drain and I’m profoundly disappointed by your product, your service providers, and your corporate customer service department.

I’m only one person and I realize that my opinions or anger don’t mean much to a large company such as yours, but please know that I will make every effort to communicate my experience with your product to my friends, neighbors, colleagues, fellow gardening enthusiasts, and everyone on the Internet.  I am an avid gardener and blogger and will make every effort to let other folks know that I think Cub Cadet’s are pieces of junk and make every possible overture to dissuade them from every buying a Cub Cadet product.  At a recent Garden Club meeting in my area, during a roundtable discussion of “What was your biggest gardening mistake?”, I informed the 35 or so people that the biggest gardening mistake I’ve ever made was getting within 20 feet of a Cub Cadet, they are unequivocally pieces of crap.  

Please consider this letter as my last ditch appeal to you to make this situation right.  I don’t want anything free.  I don’t want money.  I don’t want a coupon for 10% off my future purchases of Cub Cadet equipment (there will NOT be any).  I don’t want a referral to an authorized service shop in town.  I want this lawn mower to work.  Period.  I want you to make the situation right. 

I can be contacted at the e-mail or phone below:

Angry Regards,

John (last name redacted)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

It's a Rough Life for Deaf Dogs

It's been a fun filled day of puppy activities and shenanigans - walks, racing around the yard, yelling at the squirrels, wrestling and chasing each other.  Plus we decided that Shadowfax the puppy is getting a kiddie pool to play in this summer, so she was quite excited when we told her about that.
Shadowfax is sacked out in her slumber ball. 
Tito and Shaak Ti are about to fall asleep in their fort of pillows next to the couch.  It's a rough life for these poor unfortunate creatures. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Retiring Professor at UND

Alycia's colleague at the University of North Dakota stepped down as the Department chair this semester, and even though he'll probably stick around for another few years teaching classes, there was some celebration this semester at his first step towards retirement.  Since this professor is well known for his unusual tangents, funny stories, and crazy non-sequitors during lectures, a few enterprising students decided to spend the semester compiling his funnier quotes.

These are some of the more entertaining mid-lecture statements they compiled in just one semester...
  • "I fancy myself an amateur mountaineer"
  • "I have short eyeballs"
  • "I get choked up when I talk about these hearing aids"
  • "Time is ticking away while you sit there in your ignorance"
  • (when handing out course evaluations to students) "I have to vacate the room so I can't exercise mind control"
  • "I'm practically a saint"
  • "I don't know what a serious hedgehog breeder is...I guess a breeder that doesn't make jokes about his hedgehogs"
  • "Are those voices in my head?"
I'm actually bummed that her colleague is retiring.  He was by far the most entertaining person to talk to at their department events and we chatted a lot about everything from basketball to remote controller helicopters to back country hikes in National Parks.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Front Yard Dirt Follow Up

We built upon (literally) the foundation of 10 yards of dirt by making and shaping some mounds for perennial/annual flowers and ornamental plants in the front yard.
Our mound looked like this when we last left you in our previous post 10 Yards of Black Dirt.
With some manual labor and lots of shoveling, it turned into this.
We took a couple of currant plants from the front yard and transplanted them in the mound.  These are Ben Sarek black currants and we discovered that they were extremely NOT tasty.  As such we'll leave these particular currants un-netted and let our bird friends snack upon them as they ripen. 

This will all look even better in another month once we get some more flowers planted and they start blooming.  We just received a mail shipment of live plants from one nursery and I'll be out in the yard tomorrow planting Bee Balm (monarda), coneflowers, hostas, and sedum.