My attempt to move from Southern California and create a happy and sustainable urban homestead in North Dakota, with some musings on life with deaf dogs, a gluten free spouse, and the occasional mischievous garden gnome. Thank you for visiting and I hope you enjoy.



Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Crazy Spring Weather in North Dakota

Spring weather here in North Dakota has some wild swings.  Thunderstorms, hot days, sudden cold snaps, you name it, it can and does happen.  Two weeks ago it was 80 degrees and we were in the midst of a drought, everyone was talking about how little precipitation the area had received.  Farmers were able to get out into the fields and start planting, some a month or more ahead of schedule.

Then over the last week, we've gotten multiple inches of rain, almost 2 inches on Sunday alone.  The rain front passed through and now we're getting booming cold North winds and even a little bit of snow.  Yes snow, in Mid May.  The white blurry spots on the picture below are snowflakes.  It wasn't a blizzard or anything, but off and on snow showers most of the day. 

The final oddity was temperatures down to 27 degrees last night, a hard frost.  I had to scramble and cover the few annuals that I'd already planted so they didn't get frost bitten.  The good news is that the rest of the week is forecast for sunny and pleasant, and then we're nearing the time of year (late-May) where it would be REALLY strange to get a frost. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Blast from the past: Graduation Time

The other day my mom brought me something that I guess has been hiding in a closet for the past 19 years. It was a poster of the U.S. that I made using the return addresses of all the schools that recruited me during high school. Nearly all of the schools contacted me for track, though a few were for general academics. I was called to our high school's administration office on a regular basis to pick up these letters - some schools sent me multiple letters (note that athletic recruiting is very different now with email and social media, none of which was around in 1996). I tried to count the schools and I came up with 92, but it's possible that I miscounted.
While it was fun to see the poster, I'm not quite sure what to do with it now. I felt that a blog post might be the best way to send it on its way. John thinks that since we spent the time to laminate it, I should keep it, but I'm not sold on the idea yet. Any suggestions?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mississippi River Recreation Area - Part 2

The continuation of our tour through Minneapolis in April.  You can read Mississippi River Recreation Area - Part 1 if you happened to miss the first installment of this exciting series. 

On Saturday we made our way to the actual Mississippi River Recreation Area, which is a huge series of parks along both sides of the river throughout the city.  We specifically wanted to find the couple of places where we I could find a Passport Stamp, because well that's the most important thing in the world!!
This particular wildlife station had an impressive collection of stuffed creatures on display and a pretty cool exhibit for kids.
It was a beautiful day though, and we wanted to stretch our legs on the walking path along the Mississippi River.  The river level was low and exposed sandy beaches in many spots. 
The website description for the Recreation Area said that there was a Great Blue Heron nesting site along the walking path.  But after a discussion with the Ranger on duty it turned out that high water had washed away the favorite nesting site a few years ago and the Great Blue Herons had relocated several miles South to a treed island in the middle of the river. 
The nesting site was located in a park in a slightly sketchy part of town, on the river and next to a power plant.  Not terribly scenic. 
All of those dark blotches in the trees are Great Blue Heron nests.  It was a pretty impressive number of nests, and there were several birds hovering around for most of the time we were there. 
Lots of Great Blue Herons. 
John seemed particularly nervous about the area.  Something about the sketchy neighborhood, remnants of campfires in the sand, and beer cans made him concerned.  But how often would we get to see a Great Blue Heron nesting site?  
That's the tour.  We'll return to our regularly scheduled programming of gardening, deaf dogs, and gluten free antics in our next post (maybe). 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Mississippi River Recreation Area - Part 1

These are the last two posts about our weekend trip to Minneapolis.  Minneapolis is a 5+ hour drive away, and even though we've lived in North Dakota for almost 6 years, there's still a ton of touristy stuff in the big city that we haven't seen.
The Stone Arch Bridge in downtown Minneapolis, spanning the Mississippi River. 
This is the Mill Ruins Park and consist of the ruins of the old riverbank and dock structures.  Loading and unloading from ships to the Gold Medal Flour Mill happened here. 
This is Saint Anthony Falls, the only natural major waterfall on the Mississippi River. It was dammed in the mid 1800's and used to make Minneapolis the "Flour Milling Capital of the World" from the 1880's until the 1930's. 
The concrete spillway was created after a partial collapse of the falls in 1869.  The locks on the left  and a series of dams (including one for hydroelectric power) were created in the 1950's and 1960's.
This is the inside of the Gold Medal Flour Mill.  It was shut down in 1965 and then a huge fire gutted the abandoned building in 1991.  It was made a National Historic Landmark in 1983, and was restored and reopened as the Mill City Museum in 2003.  Here's the Mill City Museum Website
The brand new museum was built in/around the old factory and it made for a striking combination of old and new construction.  New glass and steel on the left, old bricks on the right. 
The original mill stone from the flour grinding mill. 

We took too many pictures, so we'll have to continue this in Part 2...

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Happy Gnome Brewpub in St. Paul, Minnesota

During our recent long weekend in Minneapolis we stopped by the St. Paul area for dinner at The Happy Gnome. 
The Happy Gnome is a brewpub with an extensive tap list of microbrews and unusual beverages that are harder to find here in Grand Forks.  John had located this restaurant a few years back and owing to their nice beer list and extensive gnome theme, it was pretty much a given that we had to visit.  Not only was there great beer and a ton of garden gnomes, but at least one Sasquatch lurking as well.  Gnomes and Sasquatch?  It's like it was custom made just for John. 
Alycia wore her "Gnome Taxi" t-shirt.  Yes that's a gnome riding a dachshund on her t-shirt.
John wore his Duff Beer t-shirt, it seemed appropriate.  This is the charcuterie plate, an assortment of God's creatures, artfully smoked and pickled for his dining pleasure. 
We continued on to a local ice cream parlor that was visited by President Obama. 
This is John's patented "The President ate ice cream here, so it's totally worth it, but I'm glad I brought my Lactaid pills" look.  I've seen this look many times before. 
With the exception of a 2 hour talk at a conference, this was more of a long weekend, eating/drinking/hiking tour of the Twin Cities area. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Alycia had a conference in Minneapolis in early April and I accompanied her down to "the Cities" for a long weekend trip.  We had some great food, took some lovely walks along the Mississippi River, and visited the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

It was early April, and the tulips had barely poked out of the ground, so this wasn't an optimal time to visit.  But neither of us had been before, so we considered this a little scouting trip.  In one "lawn/prairie" section there were some tiny flowers blooming, really one of the few things flowering at all. 
Some espaliered Honeycrisp apple trees.  These are trained and pruned to grow flat along a fence line. If space is at a premium in your yard, this is a great technique to train trees and still get the benefits of fresh fruit without sacrificing a ton of yard space.  You can do this with just about any kind of fruit tree, and probably any kind of fence too. 
This was gonna be a lovely place to visit once everything was blooming.

A few of the other things that were blooming at the time - dwarf irises.  We have some similar irises (Siberian irises) on the homestead, and they're usually the first thing every Spring to bloom.
This is a still dormant European Weeping Larch and we're going to get one of these for our yard.  They only get about +/- 6 feet tall and have a weeping habit.

There was a lovely pond and bridge, and walking trails ran through the entire property.  Behind Alycia there was a vigorous Canada Goose fight/gangland rumble going on.  The details of the fight are sketchy, but it was indeed a throwdown if there ever was. 
Your author likes to sport the plaid-on-stripes look.  Alycia thinks it's better than my breathtaking plaid-on-plaid look.   My fashion success benchmark is generally "if no children come up to me and expect to make them a balloon animal", then I know I've dressed appropriately for the occasion.
They had a demonstration of a living roof.
We somehow just missed the maple sugaring season, though it should have been in full swing.  Sap runs in the Spring during warm days and cold nights, which we had unluckily just missed out on.  I was looking forward to some maple syrup tastings. 

This is the maple syrup collection machinery and tubing that runs back up into the woods to collect sap.  It takes about 40 gallons of sap to cook down to a gallon of syrup. 

Even though we missed syrup time and not much was blooming, this was a highly successful scouting trip.  We'll be coming back to the University Of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum at a future date and checking out all the cool plants. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Pileated Woodpeckers

It's been an awesome week of woodpeckers.  There's no coincidence that Week of Woodpeckers makes the acronym WOW! It's been a wow week for us here at the homestead, who could be gently described as bird enthusiasts. 

Sunday morning I spotted this Pileated Woodpecker on the power pole at the corner.  I quietly made my way to the front mud room to get a photo without scaring off the bird.  After about 30 seconds the bird flew off to the West.  Things get crazy because as I turned around to go inside...
...a second Pileated Woodpecker had been on the suet bird feeder the whole time!  Whoa!
I've seen glimpses of Pileated Woodpeckers before, but usually from some distance and usually obscured by trees. This is by far the closest I've had a look at one, and definitely the longest amount of time I've been able to watch one.  And to top it off, two of them at the same time.
After about a minute on the feeder, the bird few away...
...and alighted on the tree on the Northwest corner of the homestead, then flew off just moments later.
Sadly Alycia was out of town and didn't get a chance to see this very cool bird.  It's the first time we've seen a Pileated Woodpecker at the suet feeder in the front yard, I'm hoping that one of them will want to come back for a return visit.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker Sighting

There was an awesome bird sighting on the homestead this morning - a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker!  I was way more excited than I should have been, and he hung around so long that I was nearly late for work.  I spent the better part of a half hour watching him work up and down the tree.

This completes my woodpecker sightings for the local area. I've seen the downy, hairy, red-headed, Pileated, and Northern flicker.
We've seen a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker before when were on vacation in Glacier National Park in Montana, but this is the first time we've seen on at the homestead in North Dakota.  I was pretty dang excited.

UPDATE - My co-worker who is a woodpecker expert, seriously he's writing his dissertation on downy and hairy woodpeckers, has alerted me that there are in fact more woodpeckers to see here in North Dakota - "You are missing Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) and can also see Blacked backed Woodpeckers (Picoides arcticus) a few hrs from here."