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.



Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Book Review




Huh? A book review? But books are a dying art form, slowly to be replaced by the Kindle and other similar devices until we're all ingesting what little literature we actually consume in pixelated form on tiny hand held computers.

Nay I say. Nay. Books are here to stay, perhaps only as a niche in the future, enjoyed by the few who cherish the comfort and tactile pleasure that comes with handling a book, seeing the words in ink, the cathartic act of turning the page, the feel of the page on your fingers as you turn it. Perhaps books won't be appreciated by the masses in the future, but they'll always be around, and they'll certainly be in my life.

If you enjoy "slice of life" tales and peeks inside the inner workings of family life, and if you also are rejuvenated by an inspirational garden tale, you might like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. It's the kind of tale that makes me want to go back outside and touch the warm earth and lodge dirt again under my fingernails. Here's the full book review:

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Graduation Couch

Alycia recently had some tooth pain and after a dental appointment learned that she needed a crown on a back molar (I blame the Celiac Disease - Damn You!!!). Not a big deal for most folks, only she found out that her dental insurance, while very happy to cover cleanings, X-Rays, and filings, wanted nothing to do with crowns. Our options became a) suck it up and deal with it until approximately August when the UND insurance kicks in (not my choice, also not her choice) or b) pay the $800 or so for a new crown out of pocket.

This is when Alycia's guardian angels (her kindly folks in Cavalier, North Dakota) mentioed during a phone conversation that for graduation they would be happy to buy her a new tooth!!! Woohoo!!! A graduation tooth (fake tooth really, since a crown isn't really a tooth). No one knows what they would have gotten for her had this dental disaster not surfaced, but it got me to thinking - "Is a new tooth the strangest thing anyone has ever gotten for graduation?" Probably not, but it is pretty odd. And it brought to mind the story of my graduation couch.

Can you spot the graduation couch in the picture????

The graduation couch came to be when I successfully ended my matriculation at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I staged a small BBQ with housemates, friends, and other like minded folk on my next to last day in town, and invited my parents and sister up as well. Much to my chagrin they all decided to attend.

Now as a little back story, my parents had gotten my sister a rather expensive gift of jewelry (some kind of necklace/ring/bracelet set), which I could care less about, and I wasn't really motivated by any manner of gift at all until my Mom rolled out the red carpet of embarrassing parental antics at aforementioned BBQ. But whether it was due to their own gift giving generosity or my sisters insistence, and precedent had been set of graduation gift giving, and I wasn't about to be left out.

To get back to the ambarrassing antics portion of the story.....So a festive (but very PG rated) gathering is going on and my folks and sister roll up to the house. Unbeknownst to me, dear old Mom has thrown back at least one, possibly more, bottles of wine before the event, and was thus adequately primed and ready to roll with inebriated shenanigans.

And as yet another aside, no one ever mentions "Congratulations" or anything similar, and no one even has a card, I mean C'mon?!?!!? The only person bearing anything is my sisters friend Hilary, who I've never met before, but yet is thoughtful enough to bring a nice "Congratulations" card. She forever has a special place in my heart for being more thoughtful and gracious than my own family members.

Suffice to say that Mom spent the time stumbling around and being mildly embarrassing until at some point she loudly asked "Where are all your white friends at?" I determined at this point that it was a good time to enlist my sister to help me shepherd my dear sweet Mom to the car, where according to legend she later threatened to assault the hotel valet with an empty wine bottle before retiring for the evening.

It was after this outstanding performance that I demanded retribution, and considering at the time I was lounging on milk crates in my post-college apartment type domicile, I thought a couch to be the perfect gift/extortion payment for emotional distress. Thus the graduation couch came to be, born of the awkward angst of a drunken Mom, celebrating amongst my friends, and threatening hotel staff with empty wine bottles. It twas a wonderful origination, the graduation couch, and lo it continues to support my dreams horizontal lethargy on a daily basis, mostly during nap time....

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Earth Day Prelude - Earth Hour 2009

Lights out!!! Tonight at 8:30 local time, cities and countries around the world are turning out their lights in an environmental statement. So put on some candles, or nestle up to the fire, and kill that TV, if only for just one hour.

http://eatdrinkbetter.com/2009/03/04/earth-day-prelude-earth-hour-2009/

You can read the full article at the link above.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Extreme Sheepherding

Somewhere in the Welsh highlands and bunch of sheepherders, their dogs, and handful of modern gadgets, including digital video recorder, camera, and laptop, somehow got the idea for the following video.

http://i.gizmodo.com/5172963/sheep+powered-led-display-lights-up-welsh-hillside

Turn up the sound and enjoy. OK it's not the coolest video clip out there, but it certainly is unique, and funny. Who thinks up thus stuff? It certainly gave me a chuckle and possibly you'll find it humorous as well.

Friday, March 20, 2009

March Madness

I love the NCAA Tourney, aka March Madness, where all of America and college basketball loving expatriates worldwide gather around their TVs, or Alt-Tab through their day at work toggling between live game feeds or score updates and actual work. The prototypical pre-March Madness news articles regarding the percentage decreases of workers productivity during the first two rounds of the tournament always gently warm the cockles of my heart and make me chuckle a bit.

This year held special promise though, being slightly underemployed I entertained the thought of watching as many of the first two rounds as I could manage, not an easy task and not for the faint of heart. So I set about clearing my schedule (this was surprisingly easy) and sat on the couch, lap adorned with computer, streaming one game on the laptop will watching another on the Tele. Armed with my dual mode of basketball viewing vehicles, I hunkered down for 12 hours of hoops on Thursday and Friday and 10 hours on Saturday and Sunday.

Let me just say that the depths of good times that were achieved cannot be adequately described. Fueled by daily pots of Dead Man's Reach coffee (http://www.ravensbrew.com/dmr.html) and the timely arrival of my Girl Scout Cookie order the weekend before, I braced myself for the caffeine and sugar and basketball roller coaster.

I watched the North Dakota State University Bison, the arch rivals of my newly adopted school, The University of North Dakota, make a sporting effort against Kansas in Round 1. It was also pleasant to see the Big West conference (home of the mighty UCSB Gauchos) represented well by Cal State Northridge in their noble effort against Memphis. All in all it was a highly entertaining first two rounds, with games on Friday and Sunday being especially good.

If you replace carrots with Girl Scout Cookies in the picture below, this is a highly accurate representation of what I looked and felt like after some 40+ hours of hoops watching action.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

And the Water Rises.....


Our future move to Grand Forks, North Dakota is yet a few months away, and we're starting to get into higher gear with house hunting out there. Alycias' Mom (aka The House Hunting Fairy) is going out again this weekend, and we've contacted a few loan people with questions. We're also just about settled on a real estate agent we like are narrowing down the list of houses we've found on the internet (with the help of the House Hunting Fairy of course) to a handful that we'd like to see in person.

One small problem is the whole flooding thing. Apparently Eastern North Dakota had a record year for snowfall in the month of December, and the rest of the winter, though not record breaking, was also quite heavily precipitated, which raises the specter of flooding. You can read about Grand Forks and its tendency to flood on Wikipedia. Let's just say that regardless of the source of information the phrase "flood prone" is usually used at some point in the description of the city. Hmm.....

In 1997 they had a huge flood in Grand Forks (picture above), in which much of the town promptly burned after flooding, and have since spent millions of dollar on flood control, large earthen dikes, etc. Well this is the first year that they anticipate the water level being high enough that this system actually gets tested. Will they pass? Who knows, but hopefully they will. You can see the flood forecast in the Grand Forks Herald newspaper.

Needless to say that we won't be putting a bid in, or even seriously looking at, any houses until after the first week in April, when they expect the river to crest. It's not exactly the best housewarming present to find you have a pool in the basement - and I thought the house didn't have a pool? - YAY!!!!

Monday, March 16, 2009

One Weird Thing About the Author

OK I was kind of inspired by the "25 Things" nonsense from Facebook, and although I already did my civic duty and filled that out and posted it to Facebook for all y'all to see, there's still a few deep, dark, hidden things that you don't know about your beloved blogger here. Part of my desire to connect with you, dear reader(s), is to let you into the inner sanctum of my mind. And what better way than revealing odd facts, secrets, and otherwise unknown info?

So here's one strange fact. Deep breath, deep breath. I never, ever spend too long in the shower between applying the shampoo and rinsing the shampoo. I lather and then rinse as soon as possible, and no matter how much the shampoo bottle may implore me, I never repeat. And here's why, earthquakes. Yes earthquakes.

Now mind you I'm a San Diego native and have been through a few earthquakes in my day, never anything serious, and have adopted the mentality of many other folks here in California, namely "whatever". I know that the state is geologically due for an apocalyptic earthquake that crumbles the whole West Coast into the Pacific Ocean, but I really don't care. The "Big One" is going to happen sometime between now and 100,000 years from now, and me fretting about it isn't going to do a damn thing for anyone. I've never thought much about earthquakes, though I do have an earthquake kit prepared and ready should the need arise.

What does bother me is the fleeting, momentary thought that when that big one does hit, at that precise moment, I'll be in the shower with shampoo in my hair, unable to rinse it out, since of course the water supply is in ruins and the city is destroyed. I can cope with the thought of living in my newly made tent/house, eating my terrible earthquake supplies, and not showering again for a month until infrastructure repairs are made, but I can't fathom having to rinse shampoo out of my hair with Sprite, have the dogs attempt to lick it out, or worse, get stuck with stingy shampoo dripping into my eyes for the foreseeable future.

Now please understand that this doesn't cause me to lose sleep at night, and I'm not pulling my hair out, but not a shower goes by where I don't briefly entertain for a split second the horrible shampoo/earthquake scenario.

My question to you, dear reader (or readers???) is - Does anyone else think of this? Ever?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

How to Ask For a Reference After You Resign

In case you're looking for something fun to read (and who isn't!!!!), try this article out for size How to Ask For a Reference After You Resign

All joking aside, I could spend numerous blog entries recounting my tales of working as an executive recruiter for almost two years. References are truly important and can make or break your chance to get a job, and unfortunately in the current economic environment, lots of people are looking for a job right now. So this might not be of interest to you Mr./Mrs. Fancy Pants "I have a job right now", but you never know who might be helped out by a little bit of information.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Time For More Cheese

So I know that I've already written about cheese before, but alas, it's so good, it deserves more screen time. Heck, cheese is so good that people even give it up for Lent (I'm, thinking of you here Mike), something I don't think I could manage.

Here's a link to an article I wrote for another blog called You Can Make Homemade Mozzarella Cheese. It's not the best article by any means, but it does have all the necessary steps to make your own mozzarella cheese, which I've done a handful of times and have a lot of fun doing.

I don't make all my own cheese by any means, and we still buy mozzarella from the store on occasion, but I do foresee the day when I either want to or have to make most of my own cheese.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Trip to Costco


We really needed some printer ink and computer paper, mostly because Alycia, and her never ending quest to "learn", requires her to print off all these academic type papers. Geesh - reading is for chumps. Normally this is the kind of thing that we'll pick up at Office Depot or Staples or a store of similar ilk, but on this fateful day we were possessed by an adventurous spirit and decided to venture to Costco. We knew that our required items could be cheaper there and we had also heard that the gluten free cake they carried was being discounted and was on sale until it was gone. This spurned us into action.

I hadn't been to Costco in years, maybe as far back as when it was still called "Price Club" here in San Diego (anyone else remember back that far???). But I drove by Costco on occasion, and on even rarer occasion, went to the hardware store in the Costco complex and marveled at the amount of cars and number of patrons pushing huge loads of food/crap to their giant SUVs. And considering our backyard fruit/veggie production, our friends at the local farmers market and our very rare trips to "mainstream" grocery stores, Costco related fare was never really something we were missing out on. The allure of participating in an orgy of consumerism was too much to resist just this once, just one time I wanted to spy inside the golden temple. And Wow!! were we not disappointed.

In case you haven't heard of Costco, Costco is a membership club and you need to have a member card to even get in the door, and part of the reason for going was around Christmas my Mom added me to her business account and gave me a card. I was extremely skeptical that the dues on the card would be fully paid and I'd be able to use it, but after a call to both my Mom and Sister, I was assured that the dues were paid in full and the card was active. More on this later.....

We went to Costco on a Friday night, not exactly the type of place for a hot date, but then again, I have been known to schedule Valentine's Day outings to the dump for free mulch. Alycia seems to think that these types of trips are funny and enjoys telling her colleagues that we went to Costco on Friday night or that I surprised her with a romantic weekend trip to the landfill. Luckily Costco was fairly manageable on a Friday night and we parked and moseyed on in.

The first items in the Costco are all the big ticket electronics and I considered telling Alycia that she could have a new flat screen digital TV, and I'd buy it, but only if she'd be able to lift the box (which at least 4 ft x 3 ft and weighed Lord knows how much). I decided this was probably a mean idea, though it would have been funny...

We scored cheaply priced printer ink and paper, then wandered through the food isles, picked up some good cheeses that were significantly cheaper here in bulk, and we could break them up and freeze portions of them for later. I also kept an eye out for large jars of pickles or pretzels. The big glass or plastic jars are great for storage of all the weird flours that gluten free baking requires. Instead of a cupboard full of random messy sacks of brown rice flour, tapioca flour, potato starch, sorghum flour, etc., its much neater to have a bunch of jars that can be arranged and stacked. Sadly the only thing sold that fit this bill was a 5 gallon jar of pickles. Alas, we don't eat that many pickles.

After wandering around, we found the gluten-free sale cake, grabbed a bunch of them, scoring some Honey-Nut Cheerios, a giant sack of chocolate chips (for baking), and a Carbon Monoxide detector as well and headed for the checkout lines. It was at the checkout line that I heard the line I remembered so well from my childhood: "I need to get a supervisor" and then the subsequent - "there's a hold on your account". Aaahhh yes, I remember them so well.

Faced with the prospect of ditching our burgeoning basket of goods and having to endure another shopping experience at another store, I sucked it up and reluctantly forked over the $140 to renew the business account for my Moms business, knowing that at the very least I could walk out with my 5 pound sack of chocolate chips and valuable printer ink. I also knew that this would cement my "don't believe anything that my family tells me" theory and give me some complaining capital next time I saw the fam. Good times.

We topped off our date night with a visit to the Costco snack stand where we each got a frozen yogurt, which even though it costs only a buck, is 20 ounces or so. It wound up being large enough that even after two attempts to finish it, it still lurks in my freezer.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Identities Revealed


We've long held true to tradition and only identified the Gluten-Free Girlfriend as well, the Gluten-Free Girlfriend on this blog. Being that she has become a fixture on this here blog and I can't figure out how to use the Auto Populate field outside of MS word to automatically create the phrase "Gluten-Free Girlfriend" when I type in the first few letters, I feel it is time for her identity to be revealed. Many future activities will involve her, the move to North Dakota and all of its inherent wackiness, being the prime example, so I feel that she needs to be disclosed.

Since I haven't actually cleared this with her, I hope it's OK, though I'm not exactly revealing name, address, and Social Security number or anything, just a first name. I'm hoping this can draw you in (Mr. or Mrs. Faithful reader) to the stories a little better. Though to be totally honest, I don't think anyone reads this besides the Gluten-Free Girlfriend herself, and possibly my Dad, assuming he can figure out how to use the link that I e-mailed him. So I really don't think there's much danger in stating her name to a bunch of people who already know who she is.....

This isn't going to be as momentous as when they revealed Batman to be Bruce Wayne, or removed the mask from Zorro, but it should be entertaining going forward as I can now feel liberated enough to use her actual name - Alycia. Welcome to the blog actual person, you shall no longer be named according to that food which you are violently allergic to, but shall carry the name assigned by your parents.

In the picture above, our subject is hugging the Gluten-Free Girlfriends Mom.