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Archive for August, 2011


I’ve been trying to write and post this forever and a day, so I’m just going to call it done. Our 1 yr anniversary on the island was on 8/23/2011:

I suppose this happens everywhere, but it seems so much more common here in the Seattle area than anywhere I’ve lived before. I meet someone new and they ask me where I live. Seattle is broken up into neighborhoods and people think they can understand a great deal about you if they know which neighborhood you call home. Belltown? Capitol Hill? Ravenna? the U District? Greenlake? Ballard?

Since we moved to the island, I get the very same reaction I used to get when I told people I lived on a boat. First there’s a hush over the room…like those old “when E.F Hutton speaks” commercials (who the hell was E. F. Hutton, anyway?). Then everyone has a flurry of questions. What’s it like? Do you love it? (the assumption is that I do (and I do)) Do you take the ferry every day? What’s that like? Is it impossible?

There’s a wistfulness behind the questioning that makes me feel most people would like to do the same thing, but they have jobs or partners or budgets that they think would prevent them from doing so.

Everyone seems to think that it is really expensive to live on an island, and they share that surreptitious look amongst themselves that says something like “oh, this one has family money”. I saw that look over and over when we told people that we lived on a boat, and I recognize it now as well.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

When we first moved to Seattle, the Mad Scientist and I were married. Between the two of us, we’d been either underemployed or unemployed for at least six months. By some sort of miracle we each found jobs we were interested in within 40 miles of Seattle and both potential employers flew us out here during the same week for interviews — and we each got the jobs we wanted. And they paid for us to move. We’d be making less money than we had been making in RI, but because there was no state income tax in WA, we’d be pocketing more. Then the Mad Scientist got it in his head to live on a boat instead of in an apartment, condo, or house and he found exactly the right boat to entice me into agreeing with him. There’s a lot more to that story and someday I may tell it, but here’s my point today: it was a lot cheaper to buy a boat and live aboard than it would have been to rent an apartment, condo, or house. (Or, well, it would have been if we had just lived in the boat “as-is” and not spent all our time and money restoring it. Again, another story.)

So, the island. In the interim we got divorced and lived apart for 7 years. We owned two houses and all the things it takes to live in a house of your own — times two. It’s substantially less expensive for us to share a house here than it was to own two houses in Seattle. The house and yard here on the island are pretty huge but still we pay less for mortgage and taxes. We have a well, so we don’t pay a bazillion dollars a month for water/sewer any more. We have one phone/internet bill instead of two and we don’t bother with cable. Power and heat are substantially more expensive than we anticipated, but they are balanced by the rest.

I’d like to say that there are about 3 restaurants on the entire south end of island, but I’d be exaggerating the scarcity. There are a dozen or so in our area. Between my impossible schedule and the Mad Scientist not feeling up to leaving the house, we almost never (3-4-5 times in a year now?) go out to eat.  We have located local farmers and purchased meat in bulk, at prices substantially lower than grocery store prices.

In one year we:

1) Had the entire yard fenced for the dogs — and to keep deer and rabbits out

2) Had a sort of huge chicken coop built

3) My brother came to visit for my birthday! The weather was fabulous. 85 degrees and sunny the first weekend of October.

4) Moved the fence we’d just had built to change the pattern of the dogs’ behaviors and stop driving the Mad Scientist even more Mad. (I’m taking this opportunity to say “I told you so” — because I did tell him so and he insisted I was wrong.)

5) Spent about 3 weeks in constant angry-confrontational mode. (Establishing territory??)

6) Found a “handyman” who did a lot of gorgeous work, but irritated us to near death.

7) Then found a house cleaner

8) Stephen built and hung about 300 bird houses — then moved on to bird feeders

9) Had a dog door installed. A life saver.

10) Realized exactly how much mud four dogs can track into a house

11) Ordered a mountain of cedar chips to counteract the mud

12) Had all the gutters cleaned out

13) Had a wall of moldy cedar shingles replaced (where a gutter was misaligned and was splashing onto the wall)

14) Bought a generator

15) Had a transfer switch for the generator installed

16) Fixed multiple small electrical problems…discovered more

17) Had wood delivered and stacked for winter and used most of it

18) Were appalled by the amount of money it cost to heat this house in winter

19) Had disagreements and misunderstandings about the importance and traditions surrounding Christmas and the New Year

20) Discovered that some sort of rodent was getting into the chicken coop. Worked hard to keep it/them out.

21) Bought a bazillion tools and supplies for yard and house maintenance

22) Unpacked two houses — I add this so far down the list because it took a really long time

23) Located local farmers and ordered beef, chicken, and pork for the freezer

24) Despaired of ever seeing sunshine again

25) Got ten baby chicks

26) Had a new dishwasher installed (to great fanfare!)

27) Moved the raspberry canes

28) Got really behind in the gardening because the rain and cold were unrelenting

29) I went to visit kiddo and Miss C in NC

30) Hired gardeners to help us catch up — it took weeks, but they did an incredible job

31) Were *so* relieved to have the yard looking better as a result of the gardeners’ hard work

32) Planted tomatoes

33) Created new garden spaces

34) Took out weeds and planted many many dollars worth of plants

35) Were furious when slugs ate the new plants (and dogs trampled them)

36) Built compost bins from free pallets

37) Endured 10.5 months of winter

38) Had the balcony re-sized (smaller) and re-built to replace rot and discourage the woodpeckers that were attacking us

39) Finally fired (or just stopped calling) the handyman who did great work but was driving us crazy

40) Pulled out the tomato garden due to blight

41) Officially created a guest room

42) Had guests

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Leftovers. Time to make lobster rolls.

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Day 3 — Summer Vacation


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It’s summer. Time for lobsters.

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There are so many things that need to be done around here on any given day that if I think about them all, my head will explode. I’ve intentionally chosen not to make a list of what I hope to accomplish during my week off, because I don’t want to feel forced to adhere to an agenda — even if it is an agenda of my own making.

It was gray and cold this morning. Just cold enough that even in a sweater and slippers, I had to turn the heat on for a few minutes to warm the house up. I did some reading while sipping my morning coffee. When I felt sufficiently awake I went out and rounded up the water containers from the chicken coop and gave them both a good scrubbing and a bleaching. Then I decided to stain the decks while it was cloudy and cool. Seemed like a better plan than doing it in the hot sun. I worked a few hours on the staining, then came in for a BLT salad while the decks dried enough for the dogs to step upon them. When dried, I let the dogs play for about an hour while I regrouped and the Mad Scientist went to the store for more stain. We’re going to need a lot of stain.

After he returned, he joined me in the task and we put a couple more hours into it. Everything is starting to look really good. Clean, uniformly colored, and protected. It’s pretty clear that nothing has been done to protect the decks in years and years. They’re gray and cracked and very dry. Most of the boards are sturdy and strong still, though there are spots of rot that need to be replaced. I stained the rotted boards too, since I’ve no idea when we’ll actually get around to replacing them.

By late afternoon I was beginning to question the wisdom of buying a house with so many square feet of decking. No wonder they’d not been stained in ages…it’s a lot of work. We’re not nearly done, but what is done looks great.

[In the photos above you can see where we left off when we had a good sunny day way back in about early May. There’s some not touched at all, some patchy coverage of a first coat only, and then there’s a shot of an area with today’s second coat (and edging) in contrast to a top step that still only has the one coat.]

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My very first objective was to sleep. It was Friday night and honestly, I was longing for bed by 7:30 — every fiber in my body wanting to lie down. About 9:00 I took a half a pill that my doctor had prescribed about 10 months ago (two months after we’d moved and when I still couldn’t sleep in the new place) and which a friend had warned me — in a frantic arm-grabbing I’m-so-not-kidding-it-happened-to-me kind of way — could easily become addictive. I didn’t care. I just wanted a long night’s sleep with no interruptions. This was a touch and go proposition, as I’ve had a least week of really nasty nightmares and I could have ended up trapping myself inside ever more nightmares with a pill. (I still took the half a pill.)

The dogs and cat woke me at 5:45 am and I wanted to sleep more. I decided the way to do so was to get up, feed the cat, and lock the dogs out of the loft bedroom. That did not work. Jake knew I was up there lolling about in the sheets, breathing without him, and he whined and scratched at the hallway gate. I was not tired enough to ignore him and go back to sleep.

I made coffee and read my email. I would have liked to have my coffee outside with the birds and the bees and the butterflies, but as has been the rule this summer it was too cold and gray outside. So I read blogs and thought thoughts and sipped. Eventually I decided I needed breakfast and I made some bacon and scrambled eggs. The refrigerator was very nearly empty and in that state where it’s relatively easy to clean. So I did that, and got rid of every condiment in it that contained wheat as well.

Shortly after that, I decided to shower and change and head out to do some provisioning. First to the Farmers Market for tomatoes — rare and still not quite ripe (or sweet) and more precious than gold this cold, cold summer.  The bank, the thrift store, the flooring center. Then to the hardware store for a hedge trimmer, and the Star Store for everything else.

Back home I unpacked, did a few things at the computer, called the kiddo and then promptly forgot the cell phone on the kitchen counter, and then went to tear apart the tomato garden. This was a sad task. The tomatoes were planted in a raised bed that came with the house, and when I planted them I added a manure/compost mix, but still they became stunted and yellowed and diseased. I kept thinking it was the cold, wet weather until co-workers told me that their tomatoes were doing well. So I consulted with my good friend, who is also a master gardener, and she told me that they needed to be pulled. They had some sort of pathogen attacking them and they would not recover. And after I tore them out I was to put some hot manure/compost on the beds and let them sit and recover until next summer.

So I tore the garden down and then went out to clean the chicken coop inside and out. I collected eggs and discovered that the new chicks were laying! We’d had a very-nearly full-sized white egg the other day so I knew at least one of the chicks was laying. But two new (very small) eggs confirmed that they were all finally mature enough to provide us a surplus. Cleaning the coop would have been easier if I had been able to find my tools. I use a metal paint scraper to remove the chicken poop from the window sills and someone put it back in the buckets of painting supplies. Still, I got it done. I moved four big buckets of chicken poop and wood shavings out to the garden, and then I snugged down some tarps over them. If I had not done so, I knew the dog communications would go something like, “hey, did you see the great big piles of chicken poop Suzie left us? They’re fabulous for rolling in and eating!

And then I was too tired to do anything else, so I took a shower, put on my ‘lounge-wear’ (PJs), and I made a quick and easy summer dinner of chicken-basil sausages and a tomato, basil, and burrata salad (the tomatoes were really disappointing).

And I read “Still Life with Chickens”, which my master-gardener friend had sent in the mail. And then Jake came in and shook chicken poop and wood shavings all over the clean carpet, and I went outside to find Molé with her head under a section of the tarp that was not stapled down…munching. So I placed a bunch of texas tomato cages on the top of the tarps, like a horizontal fence. And then I vacuumed.

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This is not an exact quote of the results of our first dog-training consult, as I edited to suit my OCD and to protect the not-so-innocent. But it is close…

Judging from the scenario I saw while consulting with you at your home, and the direction you would like to go with more control of your pack, I make the following suggestions:

The majority of your complaints were directed toward the fact that you have both become irrelevant with your dogs – they are generally not listening to you as they should – and so much of what has been mentioned in training terms is to gain relevance. Without that initial training, consistency, and compliance, you will not accomplish this. They are a pack of another species, and we need to provide the currency that they respond to. This means treats …for we-don’t-know-how-long. At least until you have the desired results, and then you will always want to provide them for on-going training  — so they don’t get bored, but also to keep you relevant, and to keep their lives fun with you.
Begin a feeding schedule. Rather than ‘free-feeding’, give them something to look forward to, almost a hunting of sorts. Make it an event. With Duke and Jake it is a very good idea — as resource guarders — that they be fed by hand for the first couple of weeks. This is to begin establishing that the food is a yummy treat that you can put down for them without fear of getting bitten, …it’s also (in Jake’s case) beginning to give him some boundaries. All the dogs should (could) be fed in different rooms. No anxiety, no bullying that way. Even though they don’t exhibit this at mealtimes, it is again setting more structure in their days.

Also set a time schedule between you two, for what times and how frequently the dogs will be together, and when apart, where they will be and for how long. This schedule absolutely has to be completed in order for The Mad Scientist to know that he is working the plan. I don’t know your daily routine, but given that you have one in place, be sure to stick to how the new ‘dog schedule’ remains do-able.

The two sets of dogs need to be separate most of the time during this training time. In order for Susan to have any hope of peace on her homecomings, the dogs need to be trained separately. This means that when the dogs are outside on Susan’s return home, that they get greeted only when they are calm. That might look like sitting, might be standing with no jumping…you determine what you want, and train to that. Ignore jumping …turn around and come back in the house. Greet them very neutrally, not a lot of happy voice during this training time. If Molé is calm and Jake is not, you make the decision whether you want to let Molé in, but Jake only after he has settled more. Given that they may very well be feeding off each other for your attention when you get home, you might find that greeting them separately is good idea. Dogs will not be allowed to greet you at the door you are coming into. Period.

This is also very important if The Mad Scientist comes upstairs after Susan has arrived home. She is concentrating right now when she gets home to a new pattern for her dogs, and the four simply can’t be together at such a volatile time. If you don’t feel comfortable leaving them downstairs until you have finished dinner, my recommendation might be to change your dinner routine for now until this is accomplished. Remember Mad Scientist, you have NOTHING to feel guilty about …you are beginning a plan for them that will make everyone’s anxiety go down a few notches, that is something you can instead feel proud of!!

Treat generously for good behavior. Ignore bad behavior. By just having 2 dogs at a time to concentrate on, this will be easier. You may want to cut back on their food so you feel comfortable giving them treats. You can also treat them with their regular food as part of the regimen.

A lot of this shift will be most felt by The Mad Scientist, and that is why having the conversation about compliance was so very important. This is designed for success, and yet if you decide at any point that you don’t agree, or that you don’t feel it is working fast enough, you could be undoing much hard work and progress by resisting any or all of it. That is why it is important to call for advice if you get frustrated — then it can be worked out. As is so often heard, these behaviors didn’t just begin and they won’t necessarily (though I hope they DO) just end quickly. They’ve patterned their little lives around these behaviors…yet they don’t work for YOU. I urge you to keep that in mind when it seems like it is a lot of work. You will see results, hang in there.

Just before Susan is expected home, you might throw the ball for Jake and Molé…exercise and get them engaged in some kind of activity with you while they are also burning energy – so that they have less to exhibit when Susan walks in the door.

In dealing with Jake’s barrier frustration, I urge you to have Comet and Duke ‘away’ from the fence-line when you are outside with them. It is a big distraction for Jake to see them out there, especially since he won’t be spending so much time with them. If Duke and Comet are in the yard, Jake should have a place that he can hang out that is not sequestered, yet where he can’t see them playing out there either. I trust you will figure out what that looks like. You want to avoid Jake and Molé having frustration at not having Mom home all day, and yet seeing that everyone else is out playing …because they can take it out on Duke and Comet when they see them — so be as fair about play schedules as you can be.

Remember the ‘jackpot’ idea, and when they do something you SO want them to do, give them a jackpot of cheese, for example. Not every time…but with enough variability that they don’t know what to expect.

It would be a good idea to have another session when it is time to reintegrate the dogs, as there will be a procedure for that as well, so that things don’t slide backwards.

That is plenty of work to do for now!

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