August 2013 Archives

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Today is a sad day for me - we had to put Monica to sleep. She was around 12 years old, which is unbelievably old for a Great Dane, and it was time for her to pass on. On one hand, I'm devastated that she's gone, but her health has been steadily declining over the past few years, so it probably is for the best that she's gone.

Monica (or "Squid" as we referred to her as) came into our lives on February 2, 2002. I found her through the Great Dane Rescue of North Texas, and drove 12 hours roundtrip on that day to pick her up. When we adopted her, we were told she was around 6 months old, which if accurate, would put her birthdate at sometime around August of 2001.

I'll never forget my first meeting with her. She was quirky, dorky, and struck me as a bit ditzy. Little did I (we) know that she wouldn't really change much from that first meeting. We joked after a while that Monica had two hearts and no brain, because while she was the sweetest dog in the world, she was anything but the sharpest.

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We quickly discovered how sensitive she was, and learned that she had been abused pretty severely. After having her for a week or two, she suddenly became deathly afraid of me. She would pee uncontrollably whenever she'd see me. We later deduced that she must have been abused by a male, because she always seemed a bit leery of men.

We worked with her and her fears. We took her to therapy sessions, learned techniques for calming her, and after a few months, she seemed to be comfortable around me. Which was a win for me, because I loved her like crazy. She was such a cuddle bug; there wasn't a blanket she wouldn't try to crawl under, nor a lap she wouldn't try to sit on. She especially loved to sleep-in whenever possible; she'd lay her head right on your pillow and would get upset when you tried to coax her out of bed.

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She was also quite "squeatal-lee" - a word that we coined to describe when she would roll onto her back and wave her gangly legs in the air. She'd often do this when she had been caught doing something naughty, or if she wanted extra attention (she didn't appreciate other dogs getting attention when she was around).

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I mentioned her naughty side. It was one of the most endearing qualities that she had, because even though she would do some truly naughty things, she was always so cute about it - probably because of her lack of intelligence... It was impossible to get upset at her about anything, because we realized she just didn't know any better.

She was a world-class counter surfer; she once stole an entire pizza from the counter and ate it before we even had a chance to cut it. She loved to lick our plates clean after meals, whether we wanted her to do it or not. If we'd try to tell her "no" or try to stop her from doing it, she'd step back, purse her lips together, and "talk" with this Chewbaca-like growl. Here she is trying to help herself to a Thanksgiving turkey carcass.

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While her legs and spine have been failing her for the past few years, rest assured that back in the day, she was quite the athlete. We would take her (and the other dogs) to the dog park, and she would tear around the place for an hour and never get tired. While generally a klutz when walking around the house, she was a fantastically smooth and graceful runner. Her huge, gliding strides kept her in front of all but the very fastest of dogs. I believe this photo is from sometime in 2005.

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I'll also never forget the absolutely dopey look she'd get on her face after a full evening at the dog park. She'd be exhausted but still eager to play and run around... she'd hold her ears in the craziest poses - like this photo shows. She was such a goofball.

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It seems like only yesterday when she was wild and energetic. But time flies, especially in dog years, and before we knew it, Monica was getting old and cranky. Toward the end of her days, she became super intolerant of any other dogs. She'd take cheap shots at Regis and Riley; I'm guessing it's because she knew she couldn't maneuver like she used to. She was also likely to be in some sort of pain. She spent most of the past few years lying on her couch.

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Amy reports that Monica really slowed down with eating and activity about a year or so ago, and I believe it. When I visited Amy and the dogs in March of this year, Monica was looking quite frail and was having a difficult time with walking. She'd only eat very specific foods, and when she did, she didn't eat much of them. I'm guessing she dropped to around 90-pounds or less; down from her normal 120-pound range. Here she is, lying in some sun back in March of 2013.

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I was lucky enough to get to visit with her last night. Amy recently moved back to Wisconsin, and I think the move was especially hard on Monica. 12-hours in a Tahoe at her age isn't an easy task. It was heart-wrenching to watch her stumble around Amy's parent's house last night. Her back legs just weren't getting the signal to move in a coordinated fashion, and she was so thin and weak. She needed help doing nearly everything - Amy is a saint for taking such good care of her for so long.

When I saw Monica, my heart sank. Gone was the majestic, strong dog that I remembered. Her dark eyes still had that dopey, always loving look, but I could just tell that she wasn't comfortable. She was lying on the couch, and I could see all of her bones; I got the impression that it was painful for her to shift around. Her face was ghost white; grey hairs took over most of her facial features.

As a last meal, I brought her a McDonald's cheeseburger and some chicken McNuggets. I figured she'd enjoy a little junk food. She happily inhaled them and when finished, she threw me one of her trademark sword-tongue kisses.

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Amy got some good photos of Monica lying on the grass outside; I don't have them yet, but will soon. I was only able to get one photo of her outside... you can see how thin she is and how old she looks. The sock on her foot is to prevent her from licking it - she developed a hotspot on that foot and wouldn't leave it alone.

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Monica, I'll miss you. I never quite knew what you were thinking, and that's one of the things I loved most. I'd look at you and wonder what crazy thoughts were running through that little pea-sized brain. While you didn't always appreciate the other dogs, I know that you loved us, and I want you to know that we loved you. You are a special dog. I hope you rest comfortably and I thank you for so many great years. Good bye, wonderful girl. I hope you appreciated us as much as we appreciated you.

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Home Sweet Home

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Looks like I'll be staying in the Madison area for quite some time. After a few years of renting, moving numerous times, staying with friends, and even spending a few nights in my car, I pulled the trigger and bought a new house.

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I wasn't sure if I could afford to own a house here in Madison, as I still have the place in Arkansas, but after crunching numbers and talking with a few lenders, I got pre-approved for a second home, without contingency to sell the Arkansas home.

I started shopping around in March, and quickly discovered that most houses in Madison don't stay on the market for very long. On one particular weekend, I scheduled six showings; by Sunday morning, five of the six had accepted offers for full asking price. Yikes!

After viewing several dozen dumps and missing out on a few places because I took too long to see them or because someone else beat me to an offer, I was feeling pretty discouraged. Making matters worse, I was quickly running out of time on the lease at my rental house in Verona.

Thankfully, my boss's fiancee came to the rescue. A few years ago, I entertained renting her house, but decided to look for something on the west side of town (her place was downtown). But, after having lived in the 'burbs for a few years, I realized that downtown is where it's at... there are a ton of great restaurants, bars, events, parks - you name it - and I liked the vibe and feel of those areas, so I felt comfortable living a bit farther from my workplace.

So, we talked, and we worked out a deal that was good for both of us. A deal was struck, and we were off and running. But not without some challenges...

The house is 107 years old, and started its life as a single-family home. Some time in the 1950s, the house was converted into a two-flat home. Molly (my boss's fiancee) bought the house in the late 90s and performed a ton of upgrades on it - new kitchens (upstairs and downstairs), new bathroom (downstairs), all new mechanicals, a new roof, a new two-story deck, fence, and so on.

However, there were a few items that needed to be addressed before it could be sold. The house had "knob and tube" wiring, which was common until the mid-sixties, when it was determined to be unsafe for use with modern appliances and insulation methods. So, we had to update the wiring... I spent my Memorial Day weekend converting the place from knob-and-tube to Romex with 200-amp service. What a project that was! But, it knocked $5K off the price of the house, so that was good.

Then, the appraiser/inspector found the detached garage could possibly have had lead paint... so, we scraped and painted and fixed that issue. The inspector also made note that the garage was in need of major repair (I knew that beforehand) and that the basement needed a smoke/carbon monoxide detector (easy fix). Aside from that, the place received a glowing review.

Molly wasn't surprised by any of the news; she had lived in the house for 10+ years and worked hard to keep the house in good condition. When we closed on the house, she handed me a stack of papers about 1" thick - receipts for work/upgrades that she had done.

She also transferred the lease for the first-floor renter to me. There's a girl who has been renting the first floor unit for several years and has been a model renter. I met with her a few times and she definitely seems like a great renter (and person). When Molly moved in with my boss, the renter volunteered to take over responsibilities for yard work, snow removal, and general maintenance. Things looked great every time I was there, so I don't have any doubts that she's responsible and helpful.

My plan is to continue renting the first floor for a year or two; I'll use the rental income to fund replacing the garage, and will then focus on converting the house back into a single family home. I can envision converting the second kitchen to a wet bar, and possibly taking advantage of the huge attic as a master loft...

I love old houses - they have a ton of character, the hardwood flooring is always spectacular, and the little details/nuances are so cool and interesting. Sure, they're not perfect (the plaster walls are a bit uneven and could benefit from some patching, and the floors squeak a bit), but I do enjoy projects, so this should be a good fit.

I moved-in on Sunday and am busy unpacking and getting things set-up. Here's what the house looks like as of yesterday (no first-floor pics, as I didn't want to bother my renter).

Upon entering the front door, there's a landing. The door to the first floor unit is to the left.

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At the top of the stairs you'll find my door. Opening the door lands you into the living room:

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If you take an immediate left (toward the front of the house), you'll find yourself in the master bedroom, which is huge. It even has a full walk-in closet (not seen in this photo):

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From the front door, if you'd turn right, there's a hallway:

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The bathroom has a cast iron, true "claw foot" tub, with a shower attachment. My first project will be to update this bathroom - I'd like to work on it over the winter. I'll remove the tub and install a walk-in shower, and will update the vanity and toilet.

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The back room is a small second bedroom. I'll use it to store bikes and guitar stuff.

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The kitchen is a bit small; I'd like to install a larger range and a larger refrigerator, but the stuff that's in there is nice (it needed a good cleaning, which is why it's disassembled in this photo). There's a dishwasher as well, which is a bonus.

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And here's a photo from the backyard, which shows the two decks.

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So, there you have it. Even though I haven't fully unpacked and set-up my stuff, it's good to be "home" and to not have to worry about moving again. Flea seems to be enjoying the house - she likes the fenced-in yard, and has been making friends with neighborhood dogs.

I spent all day yesterday (from 8am to 11pm) packing, loading, moving, and upacking... I'm a little beat today, to say the least. I still have a solid week's worth of work to do unpacking and organizing... being in an unsettled house makes me a bit crazy. :-)

Oh... there's also a full basement (full height and full size of house), with laundry and tons of storage. I need to get some shelving down there so that I can organize better... that'll be project #0 (before the bathroom work). :-D

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