Sow: incarcerated fig

The Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm isn’t just for veggies (or dogs). We’ve got three fruit trees too: a plum tree and a peach tree that came with the house and a very young fig tree I planted a couple of years ago.

Little fig tree is coming into its own this spring and when one of our Canadian visitors pointed out that she saw tiny little figs sprouting, I knew something had to be done STAT!

You see, we have roving bands of marauding grackles even though the 4Gs do their best to chase them from the yard. Those naughty birds spend a lot of time picking our neighbors’ three fig trees clean of any figs, so we needed to take action, quickly, before they realized that our little tree was chock full of yummy figgy goodies. And yes, they eat the baby figs green. Bastards.

Taking action was easy enough. Bruce went to the local big box home improvement/garden center store during his lunch break to pick up just two things to build the tiny tree’s prison: bamboo stakes and bird net. Now before you go all PETA on me about the bird net, it’s not for catching birds, it’s for covering plants so the birds won’t get in there. I have used it with great success for several years on my sad tomato experiments with no winged casualties (there was a deceased bird near the urban farm last year, but I suspect feline foul play, not bird net) and once it’s in place, the birds (and squirrels) stay away, mostly because the plants look different.

Here are a few figgy photos so you can see what I mean:

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figs galore! shot through the bird net.

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bird net close up — see the yummy tiny fig?

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the fig facility: yes, those are binder clips!

The stakes are around 4 feet high so the fig tree is still more petite than me. But unlike me, it still has the chance to get taller.

The bricks are an inelegant temporary solution. It was very windy during the install on Monday night so I thought it might not be prudent to cut the bird net then. I’m going to adjust the bird net when both Bruce and I are at home this weekend (he was in Boston during the install and I’m in California until Saturday) and then pin it down using landscaping pins for a better look.

As for the office supplies in use, I find that binder clips are very helpful on the urban farm. I use them during the cold months to secure the frost cloth to tomato cages, the lips of the stock tanks, the bars of the trellises, and even attach the ends of the frost cloth to itself. That’s why when I noticed that theses stakes were so thin that the bird net’s holes could slip down and touch the fig tree, I grabbed a few. I may concoct another solution that looks a little better, but for now, they’ll stay.

So now that the fig tree is all locked up, hopefully I’ll be able to report back in a few months with a nice big fig harvest. I’d settle for a few to eat with prosciutto and cheese or on top of a yummy salad, but my dream is to be able to make fig jam and give it as gifts. It just may be another few years. Sigh. A girl can dream.

If nothing else, fruit trees teach us patience, something we all can use in our fast paced world.

Today’s gratuitous dog photo:

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Gidget likes to bark at the photographer. It’s almost as good as saying “cheese”.

And a special treat for today, a gratuitous business travel shot from my current home away from home (and former stomping grounds):

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San Francisco Bay Bridge

It really was as picture postcard perfect as it looks. But don’t feel too jealous: I’m about to spend my entire day today (8:30 am – 7 pm PT)  in a dark room! But still I took a quick walk at 6:00 am in the early morning fog to pick up a Peet’s Coffee at the Ferry Building. I won’t lie, trips like these make me miss the Bay Area…

 

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So: overrated fear


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Meet Julius. He’s my new BFF.

If you would have asked me about him a week ago, I would have said he was big and scary. That his giant eyeballs and enormous teeth gave me the willies. Or that he’d flip me off his back like a little fly. And I was terrified that he would toss me off his back and stomp me into the ground.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Julius was quite the gentlemen. He knew I was scared. But he took his time to get to know me and show me he wasn’t going to hurt me. And in the end, he made my first time very special. It was a very enjoyable couple of hours.

So, Julius changed my mind about horses. They’re kind of like super-sized dogs that you can ride. And now, I get to cross being brave enough to ride a horse off my bucket list. Can’t wait to do it again. Maybe on a beach with Bruce on some fancy vacation. Or maybe at a ranch in North Texas.

Clearly, my fear was overrated. Good thing I dared myself to be brave. Check that off the bucket list.

It felt like I had ridden a horse before. It was weird. Sometimes I feel the same way when I’m out messing around in the Urban Farm. Even though I haven’t done something, it feels like I have. Weird.

Here are a few photos of today’s fun in Austin with my dear friend Simone:

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so proud of myself! and Julius!

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Julius and his pals Zeke and Ranger

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beautiful ranch scenery

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looks like something out of a movie

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so serene

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ah nothing quenches fears like seeing a sign like this one

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Simone and Topper, Julie and Julius

Special thanks to Jessica and Emily at Texas Trail Rides for getting us into the saddle and on the trail. It was an excellent experience and one we will never forget.

Today’s gratuitous dog photo:

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the 4G network likes to sun themselves • photo by Tracy

So: winding down

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pepper haul (from top): bell peppers, Anaheim peppers, jalapeño peppers

2013 is winding down and this lucky, yet turbulent year is promising to end on the same chaotic, always changing, yet exciting note that it started.

First, a quick Urban Farm update: After last week’s earliest freeze in 13 years, I lost pretty much all of my pepper plants. They were covered with peppers so we were able to save the peppers even though the frost killed the plants.  There are two which are now cut down to tiny things and one that was more protected that’s still looking nice and bushy. We’ll see what happens in the next week or so since we have snow predicted. After I harvested all of the peppers, my plan was to can “cowboy candy” aka pickled jalapeños this evening to give out as holiday gifts, but the powers that be had other plans and I was not in the right frame of mind to can. Spending a chunk of the afternoon at the vet, giving the old credit card a little bit of a workout will do that to a gal.

I also lost the beautiful malabar spinach vines, but not the plants. They’re still hanging on and I’m hoping they hang on through the winter and do their thing all spring and summer again, even though Bruce really isn’t all that crazy about their thicker, more juicy than North American spinach leaves. The haricots vertes aka green beans were also murdered by the frost. The last ones were quite good and worth planting again in the spring. One hidden basil is hanging on, though it will most likely be a casualty in the coming weeks. Still I supplied many people with tons of basil this summer/fall and that was really gratifying. Plus, we have a bunch of pesto in the freezer.

On the plus side, we are having a lovely bok choi harvest, growing plenty of leafy salad greens for lunches, and enjoying the beauty of tons of bushy kale and brightly colored chard. The radishes were also quite good, though they are done. Hopefully the carrots they were planted next to can do their thing. The beets are pitiful compared to the spring ones, but I’m hoping that the ones that are there are at least delicious. Snow peas are slow growing for some reason. They are not loving North Texas fall. The herbs are all growing like champs.

The Gs are also in rare form these days. The cooler weather is bringing forth some rowdiness and naughtiness, although you wouldn’t guess it from the dogs spread out across the kitchen floor at the moment. But they’ve had a tough couple of days.

You see we’re trying to give Gidget more freedom and less crate time. Yesterday’s weekday attempt was a bit of a fail. Notice in the photo below that there are little yellow-orange half-chewed pumpkin-y things lying on the dog beds and floor. Those are the decorative gourds that I’ve had kicking around since Canadian Thanksgiving and was hoping to keep around until American Thanksgiving (a week from Thursday). That is not to be since George and Gidget think they are delicious. George greeted Bruce at the back door with one in his mouth last night. Godiva also took several dainty bites out of a bright orange mini pumpkin looking gourd. Needless to say, we have no more gourds lying around the house. And I’ve moved my big pumpkin and anything else that might look tempting to Gidget to higher ground. At least no one experienced any GI issues due to the gourd consumption.

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the Gs gourd-ous handy work

And then there’s the vet. He has just joined the practice and the 4G network just might be his opportunity to put his kids through college. Last week it was Guinness with an ear infection. He is prone to them and no matter what we did ourselves to doctor him, it wasn’t enough this time, despite training from the vet, consultation from our vet tech friend, and OTC products. He’s now doing much better with special ear meds and a prescribed course of hard core cleaning. Cha-ching!

This week (today) it was Godiva. Cha-ching! I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say, she must not lick a certain body part for the next 3-4 days so she’s going to wear the Cone of Shame when she’s not being supervised by us. She is on some serious antibiotics and steroids to get the itchy situation under control. And she’ll be hanging out with me at work for the rest of the week, since leaving her at home in the cone, puts her at a disadvantage with the rest of the Gs. It also makes her very sulky. And that in turn, has made me feel rather sulky. Or maybe I am just suffering from lack of natural vitamin D.

Gratuitous dog photo of the day is of disgruntled Godiva:

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poor Godiva

so: proper thank you


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Like I said the other day, Kate from foodie blog Tea and Tamarind nominated me for the Shine On Award. I wanted to give her a proper thank you and also think about which 10 (?) bloggers I wanted to nominate. And since I took a break from the award nominations (not that I’m not grateful for the love, just wanted others to get it too), I’m a bit rusty. And Kate and I have somewhat similar tastes in blogs so she’s nominated some I would have too (like 365 and Counting for example).

Luckily, there are so many wonderful blogs that I follow that it’s not hard to come up with 10 more. You should check these out sometime—maybe you’ll like them too:

1.  Evil Squirrel’s Nest

2.  Loving Homemade

3. The Dimwit Diary

4. Life on the Farmlet

5. The Kitchens Garden

6.  Cast Light

7. The Culture Monk

8. Pete Armetta

9. The Grammar Belle

10. lifebeam

Accepting this nomination requires me to share some random, interesting facts about myself which makes me laugh a little bit since that’s what sowsosew is all about, isn’t it? If you read this blog with any regularity you know that I have 4 dogs who have names starting with G, that I’m attempting to grow my own produce, that I’m failing miserably in the sewing arena since I haven’t touched the machine since last winter, and I’ve since spewed a bunch of other random factoids over the past 11 months. I mean, really, this blog is about as narcissistic as they come.

But rules are rules, and, while I don’t always play by them, here are some factoids about me that you may find random and/or interesting:

1. Mortroski is an amalgamation of Bruce’s last name and mine. It was created by the Grammar Belle who in her quaint Texas way really doesn’t like that I didn’t take my husband’s last name when we got married nearly 18 years ago. We think it’s a great new name and if the vet’s computer would let us, we’d give it to the Gs.

2.  I love flowers, flower arranging, giving bouquets to friends, but barely grow any except to attract bees to the Urban Farm.

3.  Guilty pleasure: fast reads! I love Sophie Kinsella, the writer of the Shopaholic series (I know, I am ashamed of myself, but I do love her storytelling and the fast read), the Twilight series, Harry Potter. Fast reading pulp is perfect for business trips and airplanes.

4.  My boss nicknamed me “Hollywood” after Bruce and I appeared on a show called Get Color (US)/Colour Confidential (Canada) starring Toronto interior designer Jane Lockhart.

5. I catch bugs that come in the house and I release them outside. Lizards too, if I can get to them before the Gs.

6. I love holidays of all kinds and decorating/doing special things/buying gifts/making special food for them, but I don’t do it nearly enough.

7. I love having so much to be thankful for that I can celebrate Thanksgiving in October (the Canadian one) and November (the American one) and I have done so for 19 years. No, I don’t get tired of turkey.

8.  At my work, we’re having a jello-shot tournament bracket style with two contestants each Friday. I was planning to make tiramisu jello shots and compete next week, but my travel schedule made me bow out.  My coworker nicknamed Plastic is taking over for me.

9.  I try to perform at least one random act of kindness/good deed every day.

10. This is my 200th blog post. (thank you for reading and following)

And now for your gratuitous dog photo of the day:

feet make excellent pillows

feet make excellent pillows

Sow: mulch better

Sorry, folks. I know I’ve been MIA for much longer than normal. My feeble excuse is work’s been pretty intense and snuck away to the Great White North for a much needed girls’ weekend with two of my pals.

While I was gone, Kate from the yummy foodie blog Tea and Tamarind nominated sowsewso for the Shine On Award. (I’ll take care of the formalities of accepting later. Maybe on the weekend.) Thank you, Kate! I appreciate your kudos and I thank you for the nudge that got me to write today’s post.

But in the interest of catching you up on what’s been happening on the Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm, I need to show you a ton of photos:

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ugh. untidy garden.

Summer’s been rough in the aesthetics department. The pine straw mulch looked great for a while, but then it seemed to help the grass grow back in the places where we didn’t want it.

So we started ripping up the landscaping cloth

So we started ripping up the landscaping cloth around the raised beds and stock tanks. Notice who appears to be doing most of the work.

 

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I read that many people use newspaper to more successfully smother grass and weeds, so we got several coworkers to save their papers for us

once we got all the old stuff up, we could put down the newspaper

once we got all the old stuff up, we could put down the newspaper

then it had to be soaked so that it stuck to the ground better

then it had to be soaked so that it stuck to the ground better. again notice it’s Bruce doing all of the work.

mulch applied over the wet newspaper

mulch applied over the wet newspaper. it already looks better, right?

 

we ended up doing about 1/2 of the garden on the first day because we ran out of mulch

we ended up doing about 1/2 of the garden on the first day because we ran out of mulch. still it looked much better.

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it’s a little hard to see everything, but once it was done, it looked awesome. thanks to Bruce for all the help.

It’s been about two weeks since we completed the mulching. I’d like to say that the grass/weed mixture is 100% smothered and the mulch looks perfect. I’m afraid that this weekend, I’m going to need to pull out some grass. But still if I’m vigilant, I’ll be able to keep things looking nice.

That’s important since it’s patio season again in North Texas. Time for sitting on the patio enjoying adult beverages with friends as we watch the 4Gs and their doggie pals romp around the yard. I can’t wait. It’s really lovely.

As for the urban farm, my kale seeds haven’t sprouted and after a few weeks of waiting and watching the chard sprout and thrive, I’m giving up and picking up some transplants this weekend. Bok choi is growing well. Beets are a little disappointing so I’m going to plant more seeds. Beans are doing their thing and flowering so I’m hoping for a bumper crop. Various salad greens are growing well.

Tomatoes are a disappointment once again and may get pulled out. They are a complete mystery to me. I tried everything, fertilized as directed, watered, and the weather wasn’t that hot. But some of the plants are flowering again so maybe there’s hope.

Snow peas seem to be taking their own sweet time, but maybe they don’t like being so close to the okra. The okra may get pulled although it could still keep producing until the frost kills it. I’ve been giving it away and I have a huge bag of it in the freezer. I’d love to make some pickled okra but that is a little more of a time commitment than I can do. I’d like to get some collard greens growing. Peppers are going crazy. Basil too. Radishes are turning into cute little seedlings. Malabar spinach is thriving and so pretty. And the peaches I froze back in the spring are reminding me that it’s time to make jam.

You’ve probably gathered that I haven’t been spending much time with urban farm. Hopefully I get a bit of time out there this weekend.

And now it’s bedtime.  So I bid you goodnight and leave you with a gratuitous (and nap-tastic) 4G photo:

"hey people, where are you gonna sleep?"

“hey people, where are you gonna sleep?”

 

 

 

 

So: preparedness

Today’s the day in the U.S. when everyone remembers what happened on 9/11/01.

I know exactly what I was doing (getting ready for work and watching the Today show) and where I was (in our condo in downtown Toronto) when the first plane crashed. I remember going to work in the heart of Toronto’s downtown core not really knowing what was going on.  I remember getting called into a conference room and watching the tv. I remember getting told by our Managing Director to go back home, not realizing at the time that he hadn’t been able to reach anyone in our agency’s NYC headquarters.  Once I got home, I remember Bruce and I pulling our blinds shut and watching news channels all day with our bulldog Daisy snoozing on the sofa, not really knowing what was going on. I had friends and family in D.C. and PA. I had friends in NYC. I remember planes getting rerouted to various Canadian cities and people taking the frightened and passport-less Americans into their homes, giving them their bedrooms and making them part of the family without knowing when they’d be able to leave. I remember the chaos.

No one was prepared for it. How could they be?

Well, friends, one of the themes for 2013 for the Mortroski Mid-century is to be prepared. We’ve optimized and checked systems. We’ve gotten important paperwork in order for both ourselves and the 4Gs. Bruce and I attended a Pet First Aid class and now know how to do CPR on the dogs, muzzle them in an emergency and do some basic first aid.

And I’ve been building a dog first aid kit and a people first aid kit. To get it done in what I thought would be the most efficient manner, I ordered everything online from Amazon. Well, the mailroom at my office must be wondering what’s coming in all the boxes.  Amazon (and their various suppliers) have been shipping everything in bits and pieces, despite my checking of the “ship in as few boxes as possible” box.

Still, by the end of the week, I will have a very comprehensive kit for the Gs, a smaller kit to bring to work, and plenty of materials to expand our human first aid kits. Then I need to work on the emergency supplies: food, water, tools, etc.

It’s a wonder I’ve never put these emergency kits together before. Before adulthood, I lived through tornadoes in Indiana, hurricanes in Georgia, and earthquakes in California (including the big World Series earthquake in the late ’80s where the Bay Bridge and highways fell down). I remember going to the hurricane shelter and I remember being without power for a week. I remember staying with my friend Elaine as we watched San Francisco burn from across the bay in Berkeley, not knowing whether or not her dad and stepmom who lived in the Marina neighborhood were ok. She wouldn’t hear from them for full day, but luckily they were ok.

In Toronto, I should have had an emergency kit for the big eastern 1/2 of North America power grid blackout in August 2003. Instead, our bulldog Daisy and I went for a walk (Bruce was on a business trip in Quebec City and would find himself being driven back to Toronto in a day or so since it was lights out for several days). We visited with our neighbors who were all sitting outside on their stoops, drinking wine, beer and cocktails and chatting. We made our way to our friend Jeanette’s townhouse.

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Daisy and me

Glamorous Jeanette was (and still is) the hostess with the most-ess. Not only did she have a fridge full of food that she was turning into an amazing meal cooked on her BBQ for a full house of friends and neighbors, she had more wine, beer and candles than anyone I knew. It was an amazing and fun night on her back deck—a beautiful party under the stars with a huge group of fascinating people. If I remember correctly, she sent us home with plates of food, for “Daisy’s breakfast”, she said. (Her big black mutt Wade was Daisy’s pal and it was a contest to see who was the most spoiled canine.)

Daisy and I hung out with Jeanette and Wade until 1 am, going home after realizing like everyone else that the power wasn’t coming back on any time soon. Since it was August and still hot and humid outside, we slept on the sofa in our basement that night since it was the coolest place in our townhouse. And since it was so dark, we slept way past when we should have woken up.

But I didn’t make an emergency kit afterwards. Or gather up food and bottled water. Life (ok, work) got in the way and it went to the bottom of the to do list and finally just fell right off.

Maybe it’s Texas, the land of extreme weather, flash floods, tornados, lightening that burns down houses. Maybe it’s just age and realizing that with each passing year, time’s slipping away. So I’m getting prepared for the unknown.

It may not be enough. But at least I’ll have something. So if we need to help the neighbors, we can. If we need to bandage up neighborhood dogs, cats and even chickens, we can.

So on this 9/11 anniversary, I’m taking action. I’m planning ahead. Don’t worry, I’m making sure there’s wine in the kit. And candles for ambiance. Of course, there will be dogs.

And because around here, dogs are everywhere, here’s a photo from last night:

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“So, where will the 2-leggeds sleep tonight, George?”
“I don’t know, Guinness. Maybe they could both fit on the extra dog bed that Gidget and Godiva aren’t using.”

 

So: blue weekend

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tiny piece of inspiration

Hooray! The makeover of the formerly boring beige laundry room is pretty much complete—we finished the blue touchups on Sunday afternoon. I still need to get out white paint for the trim and the door, but the ultra blue (the paint color is called Azurean) makes me smile whenever I see it and it really brightens up a room that’s really not known much for fun.

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glass tile countertop works great with the wall color, just need to get that white counter trim done

We’re really pleased with how it turned out and I plan on getting the cabinets all organized during this long weekend. There’s a ton of space for the laundry stuff, some cleaning supplies that don’t need to go in the utility closet.

It may even be the home of Morty, the much neglected sewing machine (he really needs to come out and see some use in this last part of 2013). Morty would look pretty slick in this room because he’d stand out. Of course, the sewing basket and all of the fabrics I’ve been saving (truthfully old clothes I’m either going to repurpose or just practice with) should probably live here too.

While the color is certainly not a typical midcentury color (maybe too extreme—you think?), it makes me happy. So does the ironing board cabinet.

Do you have one of these babies in your house? This is the second house that we’ve had that has had such a built-in. In Toronto, we removed one to free up some needed space. Here, it’s perfectly fine where it is, although we don’t really use it. I just love the lattice screen at the bottom. The knob is not original and it’s not what I would have chosen, but it’s here. If I find something cool, I may replace it just for kicks. For now though, it’s fine.

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we kept the original ironing board cupboard and ironing board —a little visual interest for the room even though we don’t use it at all

The new ceiling light makes me happy too. The circles remind me a little of soap bubbles which is fun for a laundry room. The designers probably intended some grander purpose for it than lighting up the sorting and folding, pouring and spraying that will happen in here. Maybe a dining room or kitchen—or even a foyer (in Texas, it’s pronounced FOY-yer by the way, so I usually say entry, lest I be accused of putting on airs by Frenchifying the word).

It puts out a ton of light so it’s great for the laundry room. And for lighting up Guinness, who has recently rediscovered his love of the laundry room now that there are no paint cans, tools, and tarps in his way. It’s also a nice place to hide from the younger ones and their rambunctious romping and destroying of toys. Bruce calls George and Gidget the NGs (new Gs) and Guinness and Godiva the OGs (Old Gs).

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A bit of the fancy ceiling light…that we picked up at Costco Canada last summer

Speaking of the Gs, Gidget got a bright blue ear on Saturday afternoon as Bruce was painting behind the washer and dryer. That makes her even more official as a member of the 4G Network. Now, every one of those dogs has now gotten paint from this house on them. Guinness and Godiva have gotten orange and avocado green on them, George managed to paint himself with bits of gray while we worked on the office/tv room. And I always manage to get some in my hair too. Not sure what that says about me except that I’m klutzy.

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we painted the cabinets blue since leaving them white looked funny and made your eye just look at the wall of white

So that’s what we were up to last weekend. Bruce wants to put a shelf above the washer and dryer, but that’s a project for later once we see how we like the new set up.

We also took Gidget to our vet and found out that she’s not 11 months old. Dr. Hutson thinks Gidget’s probably 8 months old tops.

Now that explains a few things! Gidget decided last Monday that she might like the taste of the bay window sill and moved on to the surfboard coffee table. Luckily, Bruce is handy at fixing wood things, she didn’t hurt herself, and we have gone back to using the crate while we’re gone for during the workday. It’s just too long of a stretch for her to be left to her own devices—and the naughty 3Gs didn’t police her very well. Still, I know she looks forward to the Kong filled with peanut butter (I freeze it for less mess).

At the vet we decided to get her DNA tested like we did for Godiva (lab-bull terrier-chow-English setter) and George (lab-golden retriever-pomeranian-some other small dog). We’ve assumed Guinness is 100% lab but several people have remarked that he might have some Great Dane in him. Looks enough like a lab that we’re not bothering with DNA. I’ll let you know what we find out about Gidget. We should know in a couple of weeks. Any guesses? We think terrier of some sort for sure, but who knows?

Gidget’s gained a few pounds (yay!) and seems to be getting a little bit taller. She also was a wee bit sick and the vet found out she had giardia. Unfortunately, it’s contagious when you have a pack so It’s meant treating all the dogs this week. They haven’t minded much since we mix the medicine (it’s a powder that must taste delicious) with their favorite wet food. They’re going to be sad tomorrow when they take their final dose. They all line up and sit when they see us doling out the wet food and sprinkling the powder on. We have to hold each dog’s bowl to make sure each gets their own dose (it’s by weight). As you know, George would be glad to take everyone’s medicine.

I hope that you’re all doing great. Thank you for your kind words about my last post. We are all so glad that Gidget found her forever home.

PS: I’m sorry that I haven’t written much lately. Work’s been a little nutty. And having a puppy in the house again is keeping everyone on their toes. I’m hoping that things have settled down a bit now.