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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Progress and Delay - A Visit to Stratford Factory

Karen and I made a visit today to Stratford Homes to see how our house construction is coming along. Pretty well, I'd say. These guys are good. The only downside is that another job in front of ours, a big commercial job, has slowed our job by a week. Crane set now is scheduled for July 16, with module set that day and the next.

Digital photos provided by the builder actually made the house look smaller than it is. Being able to see the work in person allayed our concerns on that point.
Kitchen windows with Prairie Mission design

Master bath with deep soaking tub

Opening for 2-sided fireplace and shelves for media components. TV and soundbar mounted above fireplace.
Stained doors and windows drying

A few of the kitchen cabinets

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Rain and Other Stuff

First stage of support piers
Raining again this morning. Third day in a row, and the house foundation again has water pooling up. But, the weather was good enough most of the previous week to allow the carpenters to frame a support wall down the center of the foundation that will help bear the weight of the modules. With the crane set scheduled for July 9, they've got two weeks to finish the foundation work, building 6" x 6" piers to strengthen the weight-bearing foundation loads for the rest of the house. I haven't been up to the factory this week, but by now the plumbing and wiring should be about done.

Rainforest Brown
Finally, finally, we decided on and selected counter tops for the master and guest bathrooms. We chose some Indian marble - Rainforest Brown for the master bath, and Rainforest Green for the guest bath. The prospect of a new home is becoming very real.

Pepper and bluebonnets
Pepper is learning more every day, though still has his doggie habits. While he still goes nuts upon seeing our visiting raccoon, he's becoming less aggressive toward Geordie, our long-haired tabby. Twice this week, Karen, Geordie, Pepper and I went for walks together. Geordie generally hangs back 10 to 20 feet, but I keep Pepper on a short lead, and  they've sat down within three feet of each other.

We all walked up to view the home site, and while Geordie wandered around the perimeter of the foundation, Pepper found a puddle resting on some damp clay, took a quick drink, and plopped down on the clay, belly first. As we got back down to the house, I encouraged him (didn't take much encouragement) to jump into the creek and wash himself off. I toweled him off in the back yard before letting him into the house. I think we're moving toward a Peaceable Kingdom, but not a spotless one.

My mother will be 92-years-old on July 3. On Friday night, I received a call from the hospice worker at the assisted living facility in which she lives, telling me she had fallen out of bed on Thursday. No bruising, but she complained of a headache and a backache; but, she didn't want to go to the hospital. My mother's had dementia for the past four years, and her judgement is always suspect. But, I told the hospice nurse to let her stay in the facility. I went to see her early Saturday morning. She seemed physically OK and no mentally worse than usual. She knew who I was, though had nothing to say, didn't respond to my questions, and didn't want to pet Pepper. Karen has a theory that people tend to die near their birthdays. I've never been convinced, but I hope she's right this year. Her loss of independence, clarity, mobility, and communication has been tragic and draining.

Today, I learned from the on-line version of the Laramie Boomerang that Bill Owsley had died at the age of 91. Karen and Bill became friends during years of yard sales. He was a lively man, an archaeologist, collector, teller of tales, and all-around nice guy. I know Karen will be truly saddened. So much death in the past month.

And, now our eyes are on Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood candidate was just declared the winner of the presidential election. As Robert Redford said in The Candidate, "What do we do now?" This is a remarkable opportunity for a Muslim government to prove to skeptics that it can govern in the interests of all its nations people and continue to support stable international relations. Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Pepper's First Elk

Pepper, glowing in the evening sun
The Colville Animal Shelter didn't know much of anything about Sgt. Pepper's past when he was brought in. He'd been lost. Someone found him and brought him in. That's about it.

Lori, our obedience trainer, thinks he'd probably had some gun dog training based on his response to commands, but we don't really know. A previous owner might have used him on birds, though he has an affinity for digging at ground squirrel holes. And if he'd been a hunting dog, he might have seen some large game. But he surely did this evening.

Karen and I started him up the driveway on a long lead, and let him wander through the back meadow. When we turned the first curve, Karen looked back and saw two of our remaining cats doing a slow walk up the driveway. She wasn't about to lose them to an opportunistic coyote, so she turned back with them. Pepper and I kept walking up the trail, his orange and white coat gleaming in the western sun, the wind blowing his ears as it does when he's riding in the car.
Loving the wind in his hair

We went down by the old barn, then up to the house site and back down the driveway. On our way down, we heard a crash in the woods to our left. Pepper stopped and struck a pose with his legs back and balanced. I figured it was a broken tree branch. But, then I looked back up the road and saw a large, beautiful cow elk crossing up toward our new house site. Pepper look at her with intense interest, but didn't lunge toward her. I told him, "Wait," not wanting to throw an "Out" command at Pepper unless necessary - he'd already hit two "Out" commands on our walk, and had done them well.

 Karen and the two cats were in the front yard, sitting on benches, when we got back. Pepper, on a long lead, dashed into the creek, popping out wet, muddy, shaking off water, and happy. It was a good evening.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Breton Athletes

Just got back with Pepper from our evening walk - and then played ball in the back yard for about 10 minutes. Tonight we walked on a long lead, and while he's still a bit weak on "Wait" he hit every "Out" with precision. I also discovered he likes bagels - as toys. Karen threw out a stale bagel for our visiting raccoon, and Pepper pounced on it when we started our walk, prancing as if he'd just found a quail (later on the walk he pointed a ground squirrel hole). He let me take it from him, and I threw it back to where he'd picked it up. Pepper went running after it and nearly jerked himself off his feet when he hit the end of the lead. But, we had a good walk.

Bernard Hinault
The more time I spend with Pepper, the more I've come to see him as an athlete. He's compact, strong, fast, intelligent, and tireless. In fact, he reminds me a lot of another Breton athlete, five time Tour de France champion Bernard Hinault, nicknamed "'Le Blaireau," the badger. And, when Pepper was digging his way out of the back yard, he reminded me more than a bit of a badger - without the bad temper.

Anyone else see the resemblance?

Friday, June 15, 2012


The last few days of rain have turned our house foundation into the shallow end of a swimming pool, but with small islands of clay that need to be tamped down, clumps of stray cement, and some well-used work gloves here and there. Probably some mosquitoes as well. But it's ready, and waiting for the house. Ah, the house.

This morning, I went out to the Stratford factory to see how the construction is coming along. Pretty darn well, actually. The flooring is mostly done - facing, joists, plywood sheathing, PEX tubing for the water, drainage pipe for effluent, an opening for the crawlspace. Looks good. The first of the four modules (two up and two down) went in for wall framing today. According to the framing manager, the walls should be all framed by Wednesday or Thursday.

In the meantime, the credit cards have been working overtime, with appliances, toilets, and the remainder of our lighting on order. Next week, it will be time to order the flooring (tile and wood) and the the rest of the hardware. Still need to find the right granite for bathroom counter tops. But, it's all coming together. The modules go up on July 10, so we still have some time.

Everyday, twice a day, I walk Pepper up by the house site and try to visualize a house, but it's still difficult. The "yard" is a slowly drying field of muddy clay, and there's a Honey Bucket near the intersection of the driveway and our main walking trail. A large chunk of Mt. Dirt is still on the north side of the foundation. We get the occupancy permit in two months. Hard to believe. Here we go.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Training Day

Lori and one of her other pupils.
It's been a few days since Pepper's let's-go-crazy-on-the-raccoon night, and he's been learning on the lead more every day. Yesterday, Karen and I took him for a walk up the driveway toward our new house site, and let him off the lead for a few minutes. He stayed within about 30 feet of us, and came back fairly well when I called him back. So, we were looking forward to today's session with our obedience trainer, Lori McCallister. Let me say this right up front. Pepper learned quite a bit; I, on the other hand, learned a LOT. Clearly, the whole point of obedience training is to train the handler to do a better job. I've got a better appreciation now for the handlers who work the dogs at the Westminster Kennel Club show. I used to think they were just geeky-looking, poorly-dressed leash yankers.Wrong.

Relaxing with Pepper after today's training

The whole training session was geared to keeping Pepper alive and with us. The two big commands we worked on were "Wait" and "Out." Lori was  operating on the information that when we let Pepper off the lead he stayed within about 30 feet of us. Using a 15-foot lead (I'm going to get a 20-footer tomorrow), we let Pepper walk on a slack lead and then gave him the "Wait" command. The point was to make him stay in place, call him back with "Come," and have him set up in front of me. We walked Pepper up and down the county road, and he did really well, though a few times I had to force myself not to go up to him after a "Wait" command.

Lori's dangerous bears
The "Out" command is intended to get the dog out of a dangerous situation, such as spotting a coyote, another dog, a raccoon outside the living room window, or a long-clawed cat. The command is given with a loud, urgent voice, accompanied - if needed - by a yank on the lead, so the dog returns to you. The goal is to have the dog break away from danger before getting into it. Since we didn't have any coyotes or raccoons in the area at the time, we used Lori's most dangerous-looking teddy bears. Actually, the little, Pooh-looking bear didn't get Pepper's attention, but the big Smokey did. Pepper set his jaw and stared at Smokey. I yelled "Out" and he came back to me so I could hold his collar. We did this a number of times, and eventually he simply started to avoid the bear, what Lori called the best learned behavior outcome. Later in the session, I used the "Out" command with our old cat, "Harry," who watched the whole thing, either bored or bemused.
Harry, nonplussed

I worked Pepper a bit on our evening walk, with a few "Waits" and "Outs." And we've started using the "Wait" command every time we let him in or out a door. But the "Out" command really worked tonight while I was starting this blog. Geordie, our long-haired tabby was on an old overturned oil drum outside the living room window, and Pepper, who hasn't yet come to terms with Geordie, jumped on the sofa under the window in a threatening manner. One loud "Out" brought him off the sofa and a "Down" put him in a supine position. A pretty good day of training, I'd say.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Calm Dog/Crazy Dog

Pepper has been with us a week now. He's been a great dog, calm, easy-going, walking well on a lead, and learning commands pretty well. Last night I'd wondered if we'd made a mistake.

Here's the background. Pepper's a Brittany, a bird dog, used for flushing upland game - grouse, quail, pheasant. We don't have a lot of game birds on our place, some quail, one blue grouse I've seen. But, Pepper keeps his nose to the ground, working the trails whenever we go for a walk. So far, so good.

For the past few years, we've been feeding a female raccoon and, when she has them, her kits. We've never had any altercations between her and our cats, and she cleans up our leftovers - she particularly likes stale bread and chicken bones. Last night, Pepper was in the living room watching Mad Men with us (I think he likes Joan - same hair color), when he rushed the living room window barking his head off and banging the window with his front paws. He'd seen the raccoon for the first time, and was just out of control. I was concerned that he'd crash through the window (literally) or that his head would explode (figuratively). I grabbed his collar, tugging and giving him the "break" command. He hasn't gotten that one yet. The raccoon, just raised up on her hind legs at the base of a willow tree, looked at Pepper, and ambled back toward the creek.

After I got Pepper away from the window, he was just trembling, his heart pounding like a Gene Krupa drum solo. He lay down and eventually relaxed, but as happens to all of us, nature called and I let him out into the back yard. The next time I was with him, he was sniffing along the driveway outside the yard. He'd dug through the large, brick flower box and past to 18" spiked rebars I'd driven in to keep Pepper from digging out. Clearly, he's better at thinking like a dog than I am. The good news is that he responded immediately to the "Come" command and came back in through the front door. Before going to bed, I let him into the back yard again, but kept the door open so he'd see me and come back in as soon as I told him to come.

This morning, before Pepper got up, I filled the hole he'd dug out of the window box with large, heavy, smooth river rocks that he won't be able to move, can't get a grip on with his claws, and won't hurt his paws trying.

 We had a good walk this morning. I started training him to walk at heel on a lead (he did really well), avoided Molly the mastiff, and came on home. He sat and stayed on command as I pulled about a dozen burrs from the outside of his ear, and I praised him, gave him a piece of Stella and Chewy treat. He was a happy dog - even happier now that he's tucked in with a bull pizzle (look it up).

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Things We Do for Dogs

I'm fighting my way through the first cold in a year. A nose-dripping, throat-scratching, eye-aching, muscle-fatiguing cold. Third day. Yesterday morning, I took Pepper for a half hour walk. Yesterday evening, I just couldn't get off the sofa, so I put on Peppers harness and Karen took him for a walk up to our home site and back. Tea, chicken soup and Sudafed got me through the night, and after breakfast today I was able to take Pepper for an hour walk up to the top of our property and down. Today, he was in better shape than I was, and I really looked forward to coming back down.

After a nap and lunch, Karen went to Post Falls to visit our mothers in the Guardian Angel Homes assisted living facility. I took Pepper into the back yard to continue his obedience training. It's going to be a long process.

Pepper really can sit. Sometimes.
Last Friday, we had our first session with our obedience trainer, Lori McCallister, who operates SmartDog Training in Spokane. It was really a getting-to-know-you session, the you being Pepper. Based on his responses, Lori's pretty sure Pepper's got some gun dog training; for example, when he goes down, he goes down flat rather than lolling around on his hip. He also responds better to hand signals than voice signals.

Today, I worked with him on "Come," "Sit," and "Down." Pepper's not bad on "Come" (though he'll also come to his name), and he doesn't differentiate well between "Sit" and "Down." To him, right now, both mean down. I'll keep working with him, and I'll have Lori come out again next week.

Geordie, the world's handsomest cat.
After about 15 minutes of training, I threw him a tennis ball within the back yard, and watched him race around with it (while I cleaned up his food residue). Now he's sleeping in the living room while Karen and I watch an old episode of Antiques Roadshow. Both indoor/outdoor cats are in the room with us, Harry tucked in with Karen, Geordie sleeping on a wing-back chair. They're all getting along much better now.
Harry, the cuddle cat.

Still some chicken soup left, but really looking forward to the leg of lamb roasting in the oven. Perhaps a salad, Indian lentils, and terrific COSTCO strawberries.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Construction Underway!

Went up to Rathdrum this morning to deliver a check to our builder and see whether construction on our modules was underway. Our designer, Mike Tinsley, was a bit late, so I took the opportunity to give Pepper his morning walk in an unfamiliar setting. Lots of new smells for him. Fortunately, we were nearly done and back at the truck when the heavens opened up.

Pepper loves riding in our 4-Runner

The small square space in the middle of the joists
is our entry to the crawl space beneath the house

Mike Tinsley, our designer, took this shot of me inspecting the floor assembly of the first module under construction.
 After Mike arrived and I gave him the check, we went into the factory - there it was. The first-floor module  that will include the kitchen, laundry room, bathroom and stairs. The floor joists and crawlspace entry were framed, and the PEX water tubing was being readied for insertion. Once this module floor is done, it will be hoisted, insulated, sealed, and moved up the line to make space for the first-floor module that will include the living room, dining room, and Karen's study. The module currently being worked on will be shifted to the side on rollers and readied for wall studs, sheetrock, cabinets, and more. The factory work should take fewer than 21 days; crane set for all four modules on our site is scheduled for July 10.
PEX water lines

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

New Dogs, Other Dogs, and Old Cats

I don't have a lot of experience with dogs. When I was five-years-old, we got our first cat, a big gray male we named Smokey (or Mudie, in Yiddish). I was in college when he died 15 years later. Rather than get a new cat to keep my grandmother company, my parents decided to get her a puppy. My father and I picked out two pups from a large litter of mixed hound-shepherds. They were lively and charming, and my grandmother loved them, even as they grew too large for her to manage. The neighborhood had changed during the years, and the dogs eventually became victims - one poisoned, the other blinded.

Except for a few months in a judgmental apartment complex in New Jersey, I've always had at least one cat. When Karen and I moved to the inland Northwest from Wyoming, we brought three cats with us, and when we moved to our place in Post Falls we inherited my mother-in-law's eight cats, for a total of 11. We also became responsible for Karen's mom's mixed Shepherd, Charley - perhaps the most self-centered dog in the world. Through our local vet, we found a good home for Charley, and the cats dwindled through age and illness. Readers of this blog know that we recently lost three of our six cats to coyotes and that on Sunday we adopted a four- or five-year-old Brittany. During the past couple of days we've found out quite a lot about Pepper, our Brittany, and animal relationships.

Pepper already understood the commands, "Sit," "Down," "Come," and "Stay." But, he complies better on a lead than off.

He's really four legs and a nose. Bred to hunt, Pepper keeps his nose close to the ground as he crosses back and forth along the trail we're on. This evening, he first smelled, then saw, some turkey hens and chicks about 120 yards away.

Big dogs can be dangerous friends. On this morning's walk, down near our spring, a neighbor's Australian Shepherd, Duke, came bounding up along behind us. Duke sniffed Pepper; Pepper sniffed Duke, and everything was fine - until Molly came down the slope followed by Theresa, her tiny owner. Molly was not on a lead, and I wish the enormous Mastiff had been. Molly's a sweet dog, but big, friendly, and clumsy. She rushed in to sniff Pepper, bumping into him; Pepper held his ground. There was no snarling, growling, barking, or biting, but Molly had blood on her nose and mouth, from what I knew had been a brush with a  fence a few days earlier. I pulled Pepper by his collar and Theresa pulled Molly by hers. We eventually got them apart, and Pepper and I continued our walk just as before.

Pepper's a world class digger. After he dug under two different gates this weekend, I drove 18-inch rebar spikes into the ground under the gates; today I saw he'd gotten one-fourth of the way down one set of spikes. I'm hoping the obedience class we're going to tomorrow will help with that.and with Pepper's issues with cats.

The first day here, when he broke out of the back yard, he ran our long-haired black cat up an apple tree. He stayed in two different trees for two days and nights (tonight Pete showed up in the back yard, and we gave him back his garage, where Pepper had spent his first night here). Pepper took a jump at Geordie, our long-haired tabby, and he's been avoiding Pepper, staying in one of the bedrooms or spending time outside. Pepper tried the same thing with our old tabby, Harry, and received a claw on the nose for his efforts and has stayed clear of Harry since.

Last night was the first night we let Pepper sleep in our bedroom, and he was great, curled up on the rug next to the bed near me. He slept through the night, and was ready for his morning walk. Today, we let him off the lead while in the house. He was pretty good, spending a lot of time with a rawhide dog chew I got at Wal-mart. Since then, I've read on the Internet some horror stories about them. Tomorrow, it's off to PETCO for some Merrick jerky bones and a pet door that we're going to install in our new garage, exiting to a chain link pen we'll build. This is going to be an expensive pooch.

Monday, June 4, 2012

My Dog Pepper

Between May 24-30, we lost three of our six cats to coyotes. It was heartbreaking, but life in the country has its own dangers, and the coyotes were doing what they do - hunting, probably feeding spring pups. I joked to a Facebook friend that my next cat would be a dog. And, it is. Pepper, a handsome Brittany. Let's just say we had a brief, intense exercise in computer dating.

On Friday, I Googled for the local animal shelters to see if there were any Brits available for adoption. All of our cats were adopted, so it just seemed natural, but the Internet has made pet adoption so much easier. My first hit was an older Brit, about 10. Having just lost three cats, including my favorite, I didn't want to lose a dog within the next few years. The second Brit I found on-line was blind. I just didn't figure I could manage her, especially since we'll be moving to a new house in August or September. The third wasn't really a Brit. The fourth was Sgt. Pepper, a handsome orange and white Brit at the Colville Valley (Wash.) Animal Shelter, about two hours away. I e-mailed Nancy at the shelter, asking her to call me to arrange an interview, and she called within a couple of hours. We arranged to meet Nancy and Sgt. Pepper (his shelter name) Sunday afternoon.

Karen and I drove toward Colville, stopping in Spokane to pick up Karen's son, Donovan; I wanted him to be available to drive back to Post Falls if we and the dog hit it off. Nancy met us at the shelter and brought Pepper to meet us. He was blur of orange white packed into 50 lbs. of muscle and fur, handsome, but with burs matted into his chest and leg hair. He knocked me down as I tried pulling some burrs from his belly hair, but I managed to pull a tick from the inside of an ear, and another from his neck. "He's a runner," Nancy said, and he was all of that. He raced around the compound until we could have a lead put on his collar and take him for a walk along a tree-lined path. Karen and I liked him immediately. Donovan said, "He's not the right dog for you - too much energy." We took him.

Donovan drove back, with Karen riding shotgun and me in the back seat, chatting with and petting Pepper, as we decided to call him. "That's a girl's name," said Donovan, referencing Pepper Potts, Tony Stark's assistant in Iron Man. "Pepper Johnson was one of the toughest linebackers in Giants' history," I replied. Pepper it is. He rode well, sniffing the air through partly-opened windows, walking around the truck, sitting, lying down. Never a bark. We stopped at PETCO and bought a new collar, lead, food dish, dog food (he hates Blue Buffalo, it turns out), tennis ball and launcher, and a tag engraved with his name and our phone number. We took him into the store and he behaved like a real gentleman.

Upon arriving home, we fixed up a bed for him in the garage and took him for a walk. He immediately treed our black cat, Pete, who's since moved to another tree. We quickly found out he's a master digger, tunneling under two different gates to the fenced-in back yard on two different days. He spent Saturday night in the garage. Early this morning, I fed Pepper, leashed him up, and took him for a tour of our property, walking him all the way to the top and back down. Like a good spaniel, he walked with his nose, crossing the trail, back and forth, stopping when he thought he smelled something interesting. He understands "Sit" and "Walk," but I'm going to enroll him in obedience training ASAP. After the walk and his second escape from the back yard, I went to Lowe's and bought 40 18" long, pointed rebar, and drove them into the ground below the gates so he couldn't tunnel under. We'll see how that works tomorrow.

 Pepper had a grand day, meeting our two remaining tabbies, who took him mostly in stride; getting his distemper and parvo shots, as well as a subcutaneous chip; going on a tour of the house with Karen, and going for a long walk in the rain with us this evening. Tomorrow, I'll get him registered with Kootenai County Animal Control, and we can settle in to building our new family dynamic. As Rick said to Louis, "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."