Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Gardens and Dogs Don't Mix

Yes, Dart tore up my garden.

I knew there was a good chance it would happen, since we did realize he was taking his rawhide bones and burying them. Some were in the lawn/weeds, and some in my potted plants  (and not just the outside pots - I found at least one of them in my indoor dracena potted plants!). And when I brought home the bales of soil and steer manure to fill the planter bed I knew it was going to be a problem because he was really interested in the steer manure. But it was still frustrating to look out the window and see him rooting around in the loose dirt, and my tomato plants nowhere to be seen.

I ran outside and rescued my plants, replanting them and shoving the dirt around again to get it level. Fortunately Dart wasn't flinging dirt all around, just making quick little holes in the soft dirt. I think he was attracted by the smell of the steer manure at the very bottom layer. Although he ignored most of the plants he did, however, chew the pot off of the "plant in the pot" tomato plants. I don't think he ate any of the leaves or roots, he just shredded the pot.

splorp!'s brilliantly executed solution was to build a fence with rabbit fencing, and posts from the home improvement store. The posts were sledgehammered into the ground, then the rabbit fencing was attached and secured with zip-ties. Then we lined the fence with the (free) bricks that were in the side yard when we moved in. The bricks are to prevent our little digging dog from simply going under the fence and resuming his mission to dig to China.

The fence was quite successful:

Dart sees the fence being built
Dart inspects as the fence is being built


Dart outside the fence


Full view of the fence


Dart patrols the fence

He seemed more or less resigned to the fence in the end. This is the closest he's gotten to it since we built it. Just this one picture, and then he left it alone. Even if we toss something  on accident over the fence (like a ball) he remembers its there and he hasn't managed to crash into it.

Now I can garden with the bird, and Dart sits in the sun and watches. From the other side of the fence.


Gardening with Harley on my shoulder

Now, a full week after the digging, my tomato plants seem to have recovered, and Dart has not made any serious attempts to get into the garden area. The bricks prevent digging under it, and the only way he could jump over would be to start from the fence line, and we prevented that.


Our fence next to the gate

Yes, Dart is small enough he could balance on the lower ledge of the fence and then jump over. But the solar light wedged into the fence boards and angled away from the garden prevents him from getting close enough to successfully jump over the rabbit fencing.

Not that we've seen him try, exactly. About ten minutes after the fence was finished he did jump up on the fence rail and look like he was considering making the leap, but we told him "NO!" before he could actually jump. Hopefully the verbal lesson (plus the physical barrier) will do the trick.

Oh, and even though Dart managed to mix up my soil and steer manure beautifully (what with all the digging), he got "rewarded" with a bath that night.Yeah, not his favorite reward, but I thought he deserved it.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Why "Settle"?

I thought I should follow up on what we're doing with Dart's behavior training.

First off, I'm not planning on taking him to formal obedience classes. Partly because I'm cheap and don't want to pay for them, but also because I have pretty extensive experience with dog training and feel capable of this.

I did several years of Dog Training through our local 4-H group, and was even the Junior Leader for the Dog Care program. Plus I medaled in 4-H for my record book under the Dog Training program.

My teacher from 4-H was quite qualified to teach dog obedience to kids because she showed her dogs professionally and had a room full of ribbons to prove it. She had at one point 3 Manchester Terriers she showed, and a rescue French Bulldog (the rescue was named "Mabeline" aka "Maybe" as in "maybe we'll keep her, maybe we won't). And before the little dogs she had a Dalmatian that was her pride and joy.

My mom signed me up for the course without asking me, but I liked it enough that I kept up with it, and I ended up going through dog training with 2 different dogs. First was our shelter rescue Sandy (a beagle mix), and then our inherited dog Mugsy (a Boston Terrier). Both had excellent behavior, and I feel confident Dart and I will do just fine.

I do confess to some differences. My 2 dogs growing up were quite a bit older when they started Dog Training with me, so they were more mature and less hyper. In Sandy's case he had been part of my family for many years - I was 3 when we got him, so I don't really remember him ever being a "bad" dog (I guess maybe my parents would have a different opinion). In Mugsy's case he was my grandfather's dog and went everywhere with Grandpa, so most of his behavior was already modified to suit an older man. Except for chewing stuff up, I don't remember a lot of bad behavior from Mugsy either.

When splorp! and I went to the shelter to find a dog, our only real criteria was we wanted a smaller dog since our backyard is not huge, and we were actively looking for one that was not a puppy. The "no puppy" partly because I have never done housebreaking and I really didn't want to, and partly because we were hoping to give a home to a dog who would not otherwise find a home. We picked Dart more for his temperment than anything else, and figured we would work everything else out as we went along.

As a result of our guessing game at the shelter, Dart is quite a bit younger and more hyper than I am used to, which does try my patience sometimes, but he seems to pick up on things fairly quickly - mostly when there is a food treat involved!

As far as his training goes we're sticking to the basics, and will gradually introduce some fun tricks and hopefully some off-leash heeling (someday). But I did depart from my teacher's list with the "settle" command.

This is actually one I picked up from one of my dog-and-house-sitting clients, Livy's dad. He was the first one I ever heard using the word "settle" for the command "lie down". And when you think about it, it makes a great deal of sense.

It goes like this: when you want a dog to lie down on its belly you tend to tell it "down" and drop a food treat to encourage the good behavior. But that word is more than a little misleading to the dog, because you will often find yourself saying "go lay down" (as in get out of my way) or "get down" (as in get off the table) or just "down" (as in "stop jumping on me") or any number of other instructions that have the word "down" in them.

By using the word "settle" you are giving him or her a specific duty and they are not confused by what you want them to do. Plus it reserves the word "down" for correcting some of those other unwanted behaviors.

And let's face it, when you say "down" in regards to your dog you're usually going to be saying it in a cranky voice like "get down from there you bad dog!"

So substituting "settle" for "lie down" is just a good little variation on a common command.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Other House Improvements

Well, it's really just minor stuff. Nothing so grand as a kitchen remodel, or a new roof. But we got some new things installed in the ceilings!

First project on the list was a ceiling fan for the master bedroom, since where we live it gets HOT in the summer, and one wall of our bedroom is actually a giant sliding glass door. We hope to be able to replace the door when we upgrade our windows later this year (we qualified for the $8k tax rebate - yay!) but that won't happen for a while. In the mean time, a ceiling fan with light fixture:

New Ceiling Fan!

Installation of this fan also came with explicit instructions from me that a) the remote NOT be installed on the wall next to the light switch (so ugly), and b) that the light switch only operate this ceiling fan.

What that second part means is previously the light switch operated an outlet on the wall, and if we were getting this central light fixture I wanted the outlet to be always hot, and the light switch to only operate the fan. I am so happy I got an extra outlet back, I can't even tell you.

Second project: New bathroom fans. Ok, this one involves a story.

Ever since we moved in splorp! has had a love-hate relationship with our master bathroom. He is 6 foot 2 inches, and as a tall guy he loves the fact that the shower already has a very tall showerhead connector, and he didn't need to put any adjusters on it to make it taller so he could actually fit his head under it.

By the way, have you seen these extension arms? They're really very cool, and easy to install. We had one on our shower in the last apartment, and he loved it. I think he said it was the first time since he hit his growth spurt in puberty that he could actually stand under the shower and the water hit the top of his head without him leaning backwards to do it.

Anyway, so splorp! loves the shower, and loves the fact that our master bathroom is actually attached to our bedroom (en suite, I think it's called), and he loves the fact that (unlike our last apartment) it is fully enclosed by walls instead of having the sink out in the middle of our living space. But he is not too fond of the ventilation system in the bathroom. Specifically, the lack of ventilation system because the bathroom has a window. A window that is inside the shower.

Now, I understand the concept. You need to let the steam out of the bathroom to prevent mold and mildew, so you either need a bathroom fan (usually in an interior bathroom) or you need a window. But I have always hated the windows that are in the shower with you. I mean, in summer it's not too bad, but in winter? In winter it's just cold air coming down on top of you because guess what - hot air rises and cold air falls. And when the window is in the shower with you, the cold air falls right on top of your wet body.

So splorp! wanted a bathroom fan, even though the bathroom is already "adequately vented" with the window (such crap - the bathroom is still steamy, even with the window open). Ok, if he wanted it that badly, he's going to get it. But I asked him if he's going to do this to please either replace the bathroom fan in the hall bath (an interior bathroom, but the fan was deafening - it sounded like a jet engine) or put an additional switch in the hall bathroom that controlled just the fan, so I could turn on just the fan or just the light.

And that is how splorp! and my dad spent their weekend. Dad (being smaller and also knowing more about electrical stuff) did most of the crawling in the attic and running wires. splorp! did most of the going up and down ladders and handing stuff around.


New Wiring for the Master Bathroom

Dad's head in the ceiling
Dad's head in the ceiling

New Bathroom Fan
New Master Bathroom Fan

Now we happily have 2 new bathroom fans (one which is MUCH quieter than the piece of junk that was previously there), plus a lovely new ceiling fan.

Next up: hopefully can lights in the kitchen, but I'll settle for track lighting. I'm also not sure when this will happen as it is getting extremely hot in the attic area.



Monday, March 22, 2010

On to the Garden!

I have a bit of a green thumb.

splorp! told me (a few months after we moved in together), "I knew you collected books, but I didn't expect the plants."

I confess, I have done well with houseplants, though the trick there is mostly choosing hard-to-kill varieties, like pothos.

Then in our last apartment we had a bit of a garden area, and I planted some vegetables. The carrots and the radishes did so-so, the onions would have done better if I watered better, but we had tomatoes coming out of our ears (but they were oh-so-yummy). And the basil plants grew gigantic.

Now that I have an actual backyard with lots of space, I gently twisted splorp!'s arm into buying some fruit trees. We have a nectarine tree, an orange tree, and an apple tree. I'm looking forward to the apple fruiting later this year because it has 5 types of apples grafted onto one rootstock.

Lately it has been quite warm and sunny here, and when it hit 80 degrees (Fahrenheit) earlier this week I decided it was time to buy some garden soil and set up my planting bed.

The one I have is similar to the one I stuck a picture of here to the right. Mine is made of black recycled plastic, and it doesn't have 2 levels, but maybe someday I will graduate to that. I like the idea of 2 levels, for more deeply-rooted plants, but we'll see.

I went to the gardening center of one of our local home improvement stores, and I bought a couple bags of steer manure (2 cubic feet) and 2 big bags of garden soil (6 cubic feet). Plus I bought 3 kinds of tomato plants, 2 basil plants, and a rosemary plant (which I am going to plant in the half wine barrel that was left in the yard when we moved in).

I'm also going to look in my box-o-gardening crap for extra packets of vegetable seeds. It seems like I have some left over from last year. So all in all I should be in pretty good shape for gardening. Now I am just waiting for the sun to go down a bit and the temperature to cool some more before I set everything up and give it a good watering.

Oh, and I cross my fingers that Dart won't dig up my plants.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Training Going Well

Nothing too interesting to report.

Dart is continuing to settle in well, and we're trying to adjust our routine to his presence.

We did have to permanently install a baby gate in the doorway to the kitchen, in effect confining him to our (large) kitchen and the backyard. At first the baby gate was because we weren't sure he was housebroken. But it evolved into a permanent installation because we discovered he is fond of chewing electrical wires, which means we're not leaving him unsupervised in any room which has something he can grab.

It's a bit inconvenient having to move the gate to get in the kitchen (splorp! installed it on the hinges included in the purchase, so at least it swings now). But we think the inconvenience of the gate is a small price to pay to be able to watch TV with intact cables. Also, I somehow think the baby gate was a bit less expensive than the replacement wires would have been.

Dart's routine includes a walk most days. Usually I take him out after I get home from work in the evening, around 5 or 5:30. But it's getting warmer, and the daylight is sticking around longer thanks to Daylight Savings Time, so I am aiming for a bit later in the evening when it is cooler.

As far as training, "heel" is going somewhere between "OK" and "poor". We had a big jump in improvement after I got a choke chain for his walks. (And it was difficult finding a small one! Little Dart almost has to wear a cat collar, that's how small his neck is.) Still, progress is relatively slow. Instead of walking calmly next to me he pulls a lot on the leash, trying to lead me around, and really wants to go see the other dogs. And he whines and carries on when I don't let him have his way. Seriously, the other day he yelped like I was hitting him, but I didn't touch him. I just made him sit as the other dog went by. But, practice is important (also, exercise!). So we keep going for walks. And I have decided to carry some treats with me, to hopefully speed progress along.

As far as behavior training for inside the house we have a ways to go. He still has a number of bad habits, and has no what I call "people manners." Basically he was never taught what people expect of him, so he just acts because he's excited. Like when you first walk in he jumps at you from the ground, trying to get your attention and to get you to lean over to pet him. If you're wearing shorts when he jumps that can be a big problem as he has rather sharp little claws and doesn't know that scraping you hurts. And he likes to grab your feet with his mouth or jump and land on your feet, which again is a problem if you're not wearing shoes or something. He also walks all over the furniture, including jumping to the top of the kitchen table if we don't push the chairs in.

However progress in other areas of behavior training is going well. He picked up "sit" quickly, and we moved on to "settle" (aka "lie down"). That is his favorite "trick" right now, as he knows he will get a treat if he throws himself on the ground as soon as I touch the bag of treats. Quite funny.

I think we will move on to "roll over" or maybe "dance" soon, as those seem like natural behaviors for him. I am putting off "shake hands" because he is a bit hyper when you bend over and approach his level. I think we need some extra practice with "sit" before we come to that.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Not Loving Cats

It's not that I actively dislike cats. I just happen to be quite allergic to them, so I prefer to keep my distance.

Also, there's that thing with the litter box. I'm supposed to be happy the animal (any animal, for that matter) goes potty in the house? No, thanks. I'll pass.

Anyway, ever since we moved in to our new house, my pantry cabinet has smelled like a cat peed in it. To say that would not be a pleasant smell would be an understatement. It is one of the smells I most dislike in all the world.

I tried to kill the smell by leaving vinegar in there for weeks on end, and I thought that worked, but just the other day I smelled it again and determined to figure out if I needed to wipe down walls with vinegar, or what. I needed that smell gone!



So my first action was to examine the bottom of the pantry, since the smell seemed to be coming from the floor area. Starting with the bottom shelf, I decided there was something in the gap between the shelf and the wall of the pantry. Time to drag out the vacuum (this turned out to be spilled cereal, or cat kibble, or something).

Then I decided the toe-kick board looked loose, so was it possible to move it and vacuum under the cabinet?

Well, the toe-kick moved, but the surprise of the month was that the cabinet seemed to be sitting on a line of green fuzz.

Green fuzz? It was then we decided this cabinet was an afterthought install, and when some previous owner put it in, they installed it on top of the carpet that was there. And it was the carpet that smelled so strongly of cat.

At that point I decided that carpet was coming out. There was no way I was living with this cabinet - one of our primary use cabinets - smelling like cat forever. I have no idea how anyone ever lived in this house with this cabinet smelling so strongly!

Fortunately the bottom shelf of the cabinet was just sitting on the floor or base of the cabinet. It was a sheet of melamine cut to size. It lifted out fairly easily to expose the dark green carpet under the cabinet.

In addition to "just" smelling like cat, the carpet wasn't very clean. There were bits and pieces of who-knows-what liberally sprinkled over it. (Also, dark green? When was that last in style? How long has this cabinet been stinking? It makes me gag to think about it.)

So, the next project: how do we (I) get the carpet out? It is a fairly small square of carpet ,but it's held in place by the entire weight of the cabinet. And the cabinet can't be removed because it is attached to the cabinet to the right - and both cabinets are part of our tiled counter top. Since we're not ready to rip out cabinets and counter tops (nor do we have the funds), we'll have to work in the very small space to rip out the carpet.

Now, I've seen those renovation shows on TV. And it always looks easy to cut carpet and lift it out. I have a couple comments about that:

  1. When carpet is in good condition, it doesn't cut well.
  2. A dull carpet knife sucks.
Sadly the carpet showed little to no signs of wear (other than smelling like a cat spent all his time sleeping in that corner). The back of the carpet was still tightly woven, and the carpet pad was in good condition. Both resisted being cut by the knife I had, and once I did get a cut going, they resisted being yanked out by brute force.

Fortunately for me, splorp! decided it would be easier to grab pieces of carpet using a pair of pliers. Yes, that worked a lot better! Carpet yanked out in bigger pieces, and I was able to grab pieces left in the corners.



Making my job harder was the tiny space. At one point I crawled inside the cabinet to get a piece out.



Still, it wasn't possible to remove all the carpet. The pantry cabinet was installed where the carpet butted up to the original kitchen cabinets, so the carpet still had its tack strips in place. Yes, the pantry cabinet was installed over carpet, carpet pad, and carpet tack strips. It's a wonder the thing seems to be level, much less stable.

After I removed all the carpet I could manage to grab with the pliers, I finished the clean-up by vacuuming the bits of carpet out of the cabinet, and then spraying Febreze over the remaining raggedy bits we couldn't get out, and wiping the walls of the cabinet with water and vinegar. I poured some baking soda in the hole under the bottom shelf, and then wiped the shelf with vinegar too. Hopefully that kills the cat pee smell for good!

Though frustrating, this type of renovation exercise sort of makes it possible to see the previous floorplan of the kitchen. We have seen pictures of kitchens in other houses in our tract, and our pantry cabinet is unique. We suspect at one point the side of our kitchen with the windows and the sliding door was used more like a sun room, thus the carpeting in the kitchen area.

It's interesting to see what previous owners did to "improve" the house over time. You can see that under the cabinet is some very yellowed linoleum. This was very similar to the peel and stick linoleum squares you see today, though extremely yellow. I doubt it was the original linoleum (the house was built in 1970, and the linoleum is a bit tame for the '70s!) .

You can also clearly see that whoever decided to tile the kitchen tiled right over the linoleum, and that they cut the tiles to fit around the existing cabinets. That will certainly make for an interesting decision if we ever decide to demo the kitchen.

As intriguing as it is to get a glimpse of the past, this was one install where I wish the previous owners had not cut any corners!


Monday, March 8, 2010

Must Love Dogs

Yes, we got a Dog. And we named him D'Artagnan, after the character in The Three Musketeers. And actually, it was splorp! who came up with the name.

We both had great dogs growing up, and we agreed (long, long ago,) that we wanted to get a dog. But we would only get a dog after we were settled in a house of our own. Somehow it has never seemed fair to us to keep a dog in an apartment. Oh, I know some people make it work, but it would not have worked for us.

For one, we are aware of our limitations when it comes to pet-parenting, and if the dog didn't have access to a yard to do his business then we were going to have a rough time with taking the dog outside on a leash. (Again, I know lots of people do it. We're just not that organized and we know it.)

Side note, the only apartment we ever had with a yard specifically stated in the lease that pets were not to be allowed out unattended in the yard. So that eliminated the possibility of having the dog to do his business outside when we were not home. Which is good chunk of the day seeing as how we work full time jobs and all.

Second, if we had a dog while living in an apartment it seemed unfair to the neighbors, who tend to live very close together in an apartment building. If the dog was noisy, then the neighbors who shared our (usually very thin) walls would be stuck hearing him all day long.

So we waited to get a dog until we were settled in our house. We had talked earlier in the house-hunt process of hopefully moving and being settled in time to adopt a dog by Christmas. That didn't happen (what with the wait to hear from the bank on the short sale, then moving during our crazy month of December), so we waited a little longer.

Once we got our routine settled splorp! basically agreed the dog could be my Valentine's Day gift. There wasn't a lot of negotiating - he was on board with the dog idea from the beginning - but I think he wouldn't have minded waiting a bit longer.

Anyway, we went off to the county shelter on Valentine's Day, and took a tour of all the dogs available.

Let me just say it is very sad the number of dogs that were (and are) in the shelter. If you are looking to bring a pet into your home, please check out your local shelter and rescue groups! There are many dogs in need, and they are frequently purebreds, so you're sure to find someone to come home with you.

Some dogs (only a few) were being held for their owners to pick up - they had names on their cages and their "adoption date" was far out in the future (if the owners didn't come by a certain date they would be adopted out). Others (like our Dart) had no names, and were available at much sooner dates.

Dart caught our eye because he was surrounded by very large barking dogs (pit bulls, mostly, with a few boxers), and he was just sitting quietly in the sun in his kennel. No barking, no lunging at the kennel walls. Just enjoying the sun. He seemed very calm.

When one of the shelter workers brought him to the exercise pen, Dart was NOT calm. He was very hyper, running around in circles and rolling on his back to have his belly petted. He was not afraid of men (very important for us!) and he only showed a small amount of aggression to other dogs - barking at the dog in the next exercise pen. He liked treats, he came to both splorp! and me easily, and he rolled on his back and showed submission easily. It was a fairly quick decision to give him a home.

We had to leave him at the shelter to be neutered, and then we were able to pick him up on Wednesday. He rode in the car like a champ, and has been settling in to our household quite well.

After a couple of days at home with us, we were pleased to discover he is already housebroken. We got one of those doggie door inserts for the sliding glass door, and my sister came over with her little dog (Loki), who proceeded to show Dart just how easy the door was to master. I think that contributed to a very fast learning curve - Dart was using his door in about 15 minutes, and now loves his door.

Having a dog in the house is still a bit of an adjustment, and there is a lot of training left to do. Though housebroken, Dart has no "people manners" and tries to jump all over you when you come in the house. We're slowly working on "sit" and "settle" (AKA "lie down").

As far as age, our vet told us Dart is about a year old. I'm leaning on the younger side of a year, as he still mouths things and chews like he is teething, though he has all his adult teeth. And he has a LOT of energy. Still, it is good for us. splorp! and I try to both get out for a walk with him after work, which helps to burn off some of that extra energy. However, he is easily excited on our walks, and "heel" is going slowly.

But practice is important, right? And we're certainly practicing.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

March Already?

Wow, time sure has flown by. I can't believe it is March already, and the last time I posted was just after Christmas.

Not too many changes to report in the new home.

Shortly after the new year we went to IKEA and found a piece of their free-standing kitchen series that will work well for us as a kitchen island. splorp! and my dad assembled it quickly, and we are very happy with it.

We also acquired some other new furniture: a TV console that is very modern and finally fits all our TV-watching electronics in one cabinet plus everything is behind glass doors. Yay!

splorp! also did some great shopping online, and found an ottoman that is made to fit all the gear (we have guitar shaped controllers coming out of our ears!) that is needed to play the Rock Band video game for PS3. It has slots for the guitars to rest in, and a pole that is built in to hold the drum kit. The drum heads themselves lift off and fit inside the ottoman. Closed up it is nice and neat! Plus it will double as seating when we have guests. At Christmas we discovered that the house will fit quite a few people, but we don't exactly have seats for everyone (yet).

Early in January my old boss (who is the proud daddy of twin boys around 2 years old - visit 2 For Team Lopez for more details) came with a rental truck and took the play gym / swing set thing from our backyard. I helped him dismantle it, and load it in the truck. He will modify it a bit and re-assemble it in his own back yard for his boys to enjoy. Our backyard seems so much bigger now!

Shortly after the swing set left it was scheduled to rain a LOT, so my dad came by and he and I spent a day crawling around on the roof as he patched some shingles and I sealed some protruding pipes with what seemed to be roofing-tar-in-a-caulk-tube. Very smelly and messy black goop, but quite effective.

While dad was here he also took his circular saw and sanding tools to the decorative beam / ledge thing under our front window. He gave the ledge a gradual slope, plus replenished the caulk around the windows. Yeah, the thing about windows is you want the water to run away from the wall of the house, not sit on a level surface or (worse) pool in water-damaged wood and soak into the wall.

So the sloping decorative ledge sheds water nicely, the windows are caulked, and the roof is tight against the rain. All that was accomplished just in time for a week of steady downpour!

We were snug in our house with the heater turned up to keep us warm. Until I wasn't warm anymore and asked splorp! if the fireplace flue was closed. Which it should have been, what with us never having laid a fire in it. And of course by the time I asked splorp! about the fireplace we had lived in the house for over a month before we discovered it wasn't closed, and was letting all the heat out of the house.

Oh well! The joys of home ownership!