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.



Monday, September 28, 2009

A Backyard Visitor

We had our first backyard visitor the other day. Yes, the fuzzy tailed rodent menace found us and pranced right into our very own backyard.

Shaak Ti saw the squirrel from her perch on the second story window and flew downstairs like she was shot out of a cannon. She hoped that at long last she could have her very own squirrel pet. Sadly it was not to be.




After 20 minutes or so of circling the tree, whining relentlessly, and barking like the crazy dog that she is, she finally gave up. I did go outside myself, proud that my firstborn had finally done something productive and treed her first squirrel. Truth be told, I also wanted visual confirmation that there was actually a squirrel in the tree and she wasn't barking at specters, a phantom squirrel from the great beyond....





There was also some concern that she would hurt her neck from craning it skyward for so long, though I'm sure that would have been fine with her if she could have reached the squirrel prize up there in it's leafy Cracker Jack box. She was OK though. Two minutes after coming back in the house she had forgotten all about her almost squirrel prize and set to destroying her new favorite toy.



This final picture is my favorite, she looks like a tiny Lipizzaner Stallion, perched up against the tree. You may be asking yourself - What the hell is a Lipizzaner Stallion? and how the hell does John know that that is? Well I'll tell you faithful reader.

The Lipizzaner Stallions are some special kind of white horse from Spain (or Portugal or some place like that). The tour around, and for a fee you can sit there and watch them trot and prance around. I saw this as a small child. My sister went through a horse phase and demanded to see the Lipizzaner Stallion show when it rolled into town.

I can't emphasize to you, dear reader how brutally painful and boring this was a small child, to sit for hours and watch these pretentious horses trot around in circles. It made synchronized swimming look like a monster truck rally.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Officially North Dakotans

We officially became North Dakotans yesterday. How so? you may ask. Did we get North Dakota drivers licenses? Nope. UND Fighting Sioux tattoos? Not quite. A big 4 Wheel Drive Pickup with mud flaps and a sweet Hemi engine? Maybe later. No we finally indulged and purchased a chest freezer.

You see, pretty much everyone has one or more chest freezers in their garage or basement for long term food storage. They're useful for when you need to lay in provisions for a blizzard, prefer to freeze your garden bounty instead of can it, if you purchase a whole cow (yes people actually do this - you pay to have your cow processed and they deliver hundreds of pounds of various cuts of meet and ground beef), or if you drop a cap one of God's creatures while hunting and have a fatty grip of wild meat on your hands.

We bought our chest freezer from Lowe's Hardware and selected the 9.0 cubic foot (this is a measure of internal storage space) model, which is the medium sized one. We wanted to make sure it fit down the stairs and into our basement, so we couldn't get the large 15 cubic foot model. There was also a smaller 7.0 cubic foot model, but we decided it was too small. When I told the salesperson that I wanted to purchase the medium sized freezer, he made an incredulous face and asked "You only want one?" Yes I replied, we're chest freezer newbies and we only want one.

Congratulations - It's a bouncing baby Frigidaire

Check out all that sweet, sweet storage space, and the hanging baskets. You know you're jealous.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sigg Company Shamefully Admits Its Aluminum Sigg Bottles Contain BPA


So if you've been living in a cave with no wireless Internet, you may have missed the announcement (though you've probably been quite cool and comfortable in your cave) that Sigg bottles have BPA, a cancer causing plastic, in the lining of their aluminum drinking containers.

I have two Sigg bottles, both of which were purchased for the express purpose of NOT leaching chemicals into my body. My choices are to abandon them and buy something else, like a stainless steel Kleen Kanteen, or send them back to the company to be replaced free of charge (though I have to pay for shipping) and believe the company that their "new and improved liner" doesn't have chemicals.

Should I believe a company that already lied to me? Or cut my losses and move on? Or should I believe that there's "little risk of chemical leaching" as the company website tells me? It's probably no worse than drinking out of plastic dispoable water bottles and microwaving my leftover casserole in plastic tupperware. What to do...

I'm pretty bummed about this development, and not just because Sigg lied/conveniently omitted facts about their containers. I'm bummed because my two Sigg bottles had become my friends, I even named them - Schmitty and Blue Lou. They were like my sidekicks, helping me to defeat the dehydration demons, which for anyone who knows my and my perspiration proclivities knows this is no easy task.

Here's the original post.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Motorcycles and Such

One thing that still throws me for a loop about North Dakota is that there are no helmet laws like there are in California (and other states). I'll always do a double take when I see people cruising down the street on their motorcycle with no helmet on. Granted I can't understand the allure and joy of riding a motorcycle and have the wind whipping through my hair since I never have, and never will ride a motorcycle.

Most of my lack of desire to ride one stems from my childhood riding my bicycle everywhere, and having a paper route for a few years. With only human power and gravity on my side, I sustained injuries and had multiple accidents, and am terrified to think of what would happen with the advent of much horsepower to the equation.

One of my former co-workers who had ridden motorcycles since he was a child, on the farm and around the city, and who commuted every day on a bike told me once - "there are two kinds of riders, those who have fallen, and those who are going to fall." I'm not sure how true this is, but he seemed to believe it. And it certainly made it seem like a pretty dangerous thing to ride a motorcycle.

So anyways, back to North Dakota. I'm not sure that the anti-helmet sentiment is an expression of personal liberty, of anti government, or something else. Knowing what happens when there are motorcycle accidents, and knowing what happens without a helmet makes me cringe a bit every time I see a helmet-less person on a bike. I guess natural selection expresses itself in different ways.

Here's a website about Motorcycle Parts & Accessories.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cast Your Vote

Since I don't want you, faithful readers, to feel as though you're at the whim of a tyrannical blog-master, I've decided to add a generous srpinkling of democracy to our little blog. For the first time ever on this blog, you can now be part of the solution, not just part of the problem, and can cast your vote on what blog topics you'd like to see more, or less of.

You have one week.....

Nursery Auction - Fertile, Minnesota

Last week one Alycia's co-workers tipped me off to a nursery auction happening about an hour away from Grand Forks near Fertile, Minnesota (which is a fabulous name for an agrarian community). Apparently a huge nursery was going out of business and selling everything, I mean everything - plants in pots, plants in the ground, pots, pallets, tractors, greenhouses, even the land, everything. And this was all going down over three days, and I wanted in on it.

So yesterday I dropped Alycia off at school and drove about an hour to the nursery site just north of Fertile, MN. The nursery was huge and you can see the auction website HERE (not sure how long this link will stay good). The amount of things they were selling was simply staggering. There were 13 fields of various rows of trees in the ground, being sold in lots of between 20 and 100 trees, mostly in blocks of 30 to 50. The auction guide had an 18 page listing, 42 listings per page = about 750 individual lots to sell.

I got there at 10:00 as the sale of the land started, and since I didn't have the cash to buy any of the 560 acres of land in various plots, I checked out the small lots of above ground potted plants and trees. There was a great selection of shrubs and a few dozen lots of fruit trees, mostly Honeycrisp Apple Trees, in groups of 3-6 trees, perfect for me to haul away in the Toyota Camry.

At 11:00, they started they auctioning off everything else that wasn't land. The auctioneer explained how rare this type of auction was (due to the volume of stuff and nature of it - apparently nuseries don't go out of business very often) and reminded everyone that they had a LOT of items to get through. He also noted that they wouldn't start on the above ground plants and trees, which is what I wanted, until after they'd gone through the 18 page listing of in-ground rows of trees first. I quickly realized that when it took them almost a half hour to get through the first page, that my math meant I would have to wait 7-8 hours (assuming they kept the same pace) to get to the items I was interested in. :(

I hung out for almost an hour, realized they were no closer to the items I wanted to bid on, and took off. Bummer.

I did chat briefly with a very amiable (though funky smelling) Amish fellow who asked me "Do you know the differences between the various crab apple trees?"

To which I responded, "I'll bet you very last zipper and electrical appliance I own that I couldn't tell a crab apple tree from a Mancana Ash Tree (they were selling lots of these too)". Actually I just said "nope, sorry". Much like the Germans, the Amish are not to be trifled with and don't appreciate sarcasm....

As usual, I forgot to bring my camera, so I don't have any pictures of this scene, though it was a lot of fun.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Deaf Awareness Week

It's Deaf Awareness Week, and therefore also Deaf Pet Awareness Week. Special thanks to Katie (Shaak Tis' foster Mom) for passing along this link.

Petfinder.com Information on Deaf Pets

Now go look at all the cute pictures of the deaf dogs, and maybe consider rescuing one the next time you're adding a member to your family.

Three Runs In One Week

As I mentioned in previous posts, my running mojo may have returned. Though just because my running mojo has returned doesn't necessarily mean that my legs are fully prepared to deal with a recently re-mojoed running John. It feels like my legs were in hibernation for years and they need to be awakened.

So last week was the first week in a long time that I got three runs in, two the week before that. We'll shoot for three runs again this week. Granted they're only three mile runs, but any more than that is probably too much to take Shaak Ti, especially if it's warm outside. Now, many runners out there easily log nine miles a day, so nine miles a week isn't anything to be terribly proud of, but it's a good foundation to build from.

My run yesterday was the usual North Dakota to Minnesota and back route, and the typically quiet Greenway actually had a few people on it, since it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and all. I caught up to one guy, mid-40's, running slowly along, and as I got closer I saw why he was running so slow, he was running barefoot. On asphalt. My first thought was to tell the guy "Dude, you're a bad mamma jamma", but I wasn't sure how that would be interpreted, so all he got was the polite runner nod as I passed.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Canning Day

Today was Canning Day, which is not to be confused with Caning Day, which is in early March and is decidedly less pleasant than Canning Day. Considering that this is just the start of apple season, there will probably be more Canning Days in the future.

Alycia's parents stopped by yesterday and (at my request) brought three large sacks of apples from folks up in Cavalier. The apples were a little pricey at 3lbs for $1. Yes, you read that right, three pounds of apples for a dollar. And they were picked off the tree this morning. I'm trying to think of scenario that would beat that price and freshness, but I'm drawing a blank.

With a little help from the Ball Canning Jar website I got started with some applesauce. I remember fondly the applesauce my Grandma used to make. There was this closet in a guest bedroom filled with canned applesauce, starwberry jam, and other preserves, and we'd frequently drag a jar out for mealtime. The applesauce was so tasty I'd eat the whole jar and happily deal with the subsequent bout of intestinal distress from eating too many apples.

I'd like to think my canning experiment was pretty successful, I got 8 jars of very tasty applesauce (see picture above of the first four jars - yes it was still warm in the kitchen, but if you can't take the heat, then you should do something, not sure what). It only took a couple of hours, which hopefully can be winnowed down as my skill at peeling, chopping, and preparing the apples increases.

The true test of my canning experiment will be in a week or so when I crack open the first batch and have a taste. If I'm dead from botulism and no longer post here, you'll know that my experiment was indeed, not successful. I honestly think the risk of botulism and other poisoning is pretty minimal if you do it right.

I have high hopes that since I followed every direction and safety precaution the family unit will be alive and able to tell tall tales of tasty applesauce. I'd also like to think that my previous years of food service experience at Hornblower Dining Yachts and De La Guerra Dining Commons at UCSB also somehow helped a bit, we shall see.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Almost Autumn

It's almost autumn here in North Dakota. You can tell it's just around the corner, maybe as soon as next week when they expect a cold front to swoop in (thanks Canada) and hang around for a few days. It probably won't be a hard freeze, but nighttime temps are expected to dip into the upper 30's by midweek.

A few leaves on random trees started sporadically yellowing as soon as a week ago, and now there's a noticeable, yet slight yellowish tinge on the outer layers of most of the trees, like the leaves are trying to change, but the tree is resisting the effort, unwilling to relinquish its grasp on summer. And now, every day brings more fallen leaves to the ground, not a ton, but just enough to be noticeable and portend the great leaf shedding to come.

The past two weeks that I've been back here have been phenomenal weather, warm and pleasant, with very little rain. Everyone says that this great weather has been to make up for what was a cold, rainy summer (by North Dakota standards at least). And even though the past few days have made it above 80 degrees, there's been a difference, the heat doesn't last as long, and begins dissipating in early evening, and the sun just doesn't pack the same midday punch that I felt even last week.

I'm hoping that the majority of fall colors can hold off for a few weeks. My Dad's coming to visit the first week of October, and he always enjoyed fall colors, especially his yearly Columbus Day excursions to New England to visit when I lived back there. I'll have more on my Dad's visit, we're still planning his itinerary, but it already involves a UND football game (The Potato Bowl!!!) and hockey game.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Two New Subscribers

I'd like to take the opportunity to personally welcome two brand spankin' new subscribers to our wonderful little blog here. Now I know that there are others out there who read regularly, but these two have actually added themselves as "followers" to the blog and thus get updates through Google Reader or some other internet reader. Want your own shout out? Then be unique, and become a "follower" (yes this irony was intentional) of my awesome, super-rad blog here.

So without further ado I happily welcome:

Bill - My baby brother. OK, so he's only a year and half younger than me, but if you ever met him, you'd know that "baby brother" is probably more accurate than "little brother". He's like 6'7" and built like an offensive lineman. Since he's my brother, I love him, but I still have never forgiven him for being that tall yet being totally disinterested in basketball.

Bill is currently in school in Northern California with the goal of carrying on the family tradition of becoming a drug dealer. Both parents have been unapologetic drug dealers for decades, and soon he will be too. Technically his degree will be in pharmacy, but it's a fine line between drug dealer and pharmacist, one that I'm not qualified to make, that is for God to decide.

Sara - Leesha's friend and former roomie, and tied for first place in my "Craftiest Person I Know" category. And mind you this isn't crafty like a fox, but crafty like McGyver with flour, eggs, suger, and buttercream frosting. Alycia loves sheep and for her graduation party Sara made cake pops (tiny little cupcakes on a lollipop stick) shaped like sheep that were one of the coolest baked things I've ever seen.

You can see a picture of the tasty sheep to the left. The body is a combination of gluten free brownie and chocolate frosting, rolled into little balls and dipped in white chocolate. To make the sheep's wool, Sara then dipped the balls into her cotton candy machine (seriously, who has their own cotton candy machine? A dedicated craftsperson like Sara that's who) and melted Tootsie Rolls were shaped to make sheep feet and faces.

Sara has started selling these cake pops via the magic of the Internets, and here's her website for her business - Sarandipity Sweets and her blog here that has some cool baking ideas/hints/recipes/musings on life. I would highly recommend both.

Welcome Bill and Sara.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Wake For Tourist Dog

Considering how rough Shaak Ti is on her toys, we've come to only purchase puppy toys from two places - the discount bin at Petco, and the dollar bin at Target. It was during a recent perusal through the Petco discount bin that we found Tourist Dog, marked by his tacky Hawaiian shirt/floppy hat and camera slung around his neck. Possibly due to homesickness for all the tourists she used to see in San Diego, Shaak Ti took an immediate shining to Tourist Dog, sadly the results were as disturbing as they were predictable.

I must warn you that the following pictures are grahpic, and not intended for young children or those lacking intestinal fortitude.

Fare thee well Tourist Dog, we hardly knew ye.

Decapitated, with innards splling out across the floor, we took a moment to gather our thoughts and had a brief impromptu wake for Tourist Dog. We rounded up his fuzzy innard stuffing as Shaak Ti continued to sadistically prance and play with Tourist Dogs' severed head. The good part about toys like this is even though they may be semi-destroyed, Shaak Ti can still extract an amazing amount of fun out of just the small pieces that are left. She's been dragging around Tourist Dogs' head for the last few days now and the stuffing-less carcass will likely continue to be a source of enjoyment for weeks to come.

In other pooch related news, the front porch perch is up and running. Both dogs, but especially Shaak Ti, spend countelss hours here, surveying the neighborhood and yelling/barking at any squirrels within view.

Shaak Ti models her perch. Note all the squirrel infested trees in the background. We're glad to have such a dedicated and efficient anti-squirrel sentinel guarding us from this ever present arboreal menace.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Limited Cable

It's a banner day today. For the first time in almost 5 years, I live in a household with cable television. Seriously.

After numerous conversations with Alycia, we decided that it was probably best to have some manner of TV access. Our experimentation with our rabbit ear antenna system only got 3.5 stations, three of with were public television, not too helpful. Between the potential cabin fever in winter, and needing to be appraised by the authorities when the tornado/blizzard/Toxic Death Cloud Mosquito Spray is arriving, we thought it best to get some kind of TV.

The cable provider - Midcontinent Cable (which is just a terrible name, it sounds like Incontinent Cable to me, so that's what I call them) has three or four different options from basic cable, on up to super deluxe cable. But even basic cable is $45/month. Damn that's a lot. Apprently after some prying with a customer service rep, Alycia found out that they have an even more basic than basic plan called limited cable. You can only find the description of limited cable in one place on their website, and the description of it is "limited cable". Awesome, that helped me out a lot.

Only with more verbal persuasion was Alycia able to coax the actual channels out of the Incontinet Cable sales rep. So limited cable is: the major networks, CNN, The Weather Channel (Rad!!!), the UND channel (so we can get the Fighting Sioux hockey games) and some random public access channels, 20 channels in all. I think this may be the same plan that prisoners and elderly shut ins get for free from the state, though I can't be sure on that. Now I'm gonna go watch some TV.....

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dinner with the President

OK, so it wasn't the President of the US, only the President of the University of North Dakota, and we didn't actually have dinner with him, just at his house. Though we did chat briefly with the President and his wife upon arriving, they were too busy with their hosting duties to spend too much time chatting with everyone. They were both extremely gracious hosts and we learned that Marcia Kelly (The UND First Lady) has her degree in Speech and Communication Disorders and occasionally guest lectures at UND. I pointed out to Alycia that it's always beneficial to have someone in your field in such an influential position.

The occasion was a welcome dinner for all new faculty and I was invited to accompany Alycia, provided that I got all gussied up in my finest business casual attire. Most of the new faculty that we chatted with were quite friendly and sociable, immediately dispelling my presuppositions of the nerdy, anti-social professor. Since my name tag only had my name and not my academic department on it, some people asked "what department are you in?" and I happily replied "I'm in the Arm Candy Department". This caused some eye rolling from Alycia, a few chuckles, and a quizzical look or two from the non-native English speakers who didn't get the joke. But that's OK, it was all in good fun.

We ended up dining at a table with members of the Nursing School and the Aerospace School, arguably two of the biggest and most powerful departments at UND, and well regarded nationally. One of our dining companions was Bruce Smith (no not the Hall of Fame Defensive End for the Buffalo Bills), Dean of the Aerospace School, which I'm told is the best program of its kind in the country. He had lots of cool stories, and by far a more dynamic and interesting vocation than mine. Sadly in the world of accounting, very few stories start with you piloting across Colorado on a silvery moonlit night. Oh well....

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Long Term New Car Search

Alycia and I are starting to kick around the idea of getting a new(er) car sometime in the near future, though it probably won't be a new car, it'll be new to us. Ideally we'd like something with all wheel drive (for those snowy, icy moments in life), and some decent storage in back, like a RAV-4 or Honda CRV size. The goal would be to have enough room for dog crates, as well as enough space for a Minneapolis Costco or IKEA trip.


In the meantime, we'll see how the Northdakotmobile does this winter and then decide in the Spring/Summer of next year what we're gonna do. More than likely we'll get something before summer since the a/c in the Northdakotamobile is out again, and probably not worth repairing.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tuesday Two-State Adventure

Today was my first day back home that Alycia had to pack up and go to school, so after some tasty breakfast burritos, we headed off in the North Dakotamobile (which is going to need a new nickname since there are quite a few North Dakotamobiles here) and went to UND. I got to drop Alycia off at school and get a guided tour of her building, office, and lab, all of which were impressive. I also met a couple of her colleagues and can now rest easy that she's in good intellectual hands.

After a few hours of work/Internet browsing, I decided that the best present I could give Alycia when she got home was a tired Shaak Ti, and I got ramped up for a run. It's a beautiful blustery day today with scattered thunderstorms, just a fantastic day for a run. I checked the Doppler Radar to make sure there were no heavy showers coming, and we headed out.

Since our house is only two blocks from an entrance to the Greenway, and we're right across the river from Minnesota, I have the unique ability to say that I completed a two state run, which is kind of cool. It was my first run in a few weeks, and my first with Shaak Ti in North Dakota, so it wasn't the best, but we did it. I forgot how hard it is running with Shaak Ti - The Littlest Sled Dog. She pulls so hard, for most of the run, that you not only have to lean back (making your gate bio-mechanically difficult), but you have to engage your biceps and lats and essentially do a low grade lat pull the entire run. This saps much of the energy that I would otherwise prefer to utilize in my legs, which would hopefully make the run easier to complete. I tried to explain this to Shaak Ti, but she would have none of it.

I got away from running in my years in San Diego, there was just too much heat, too many cars, too many concrete sidewalks to run on, and I lost my running mojo. My San Diego neighborhood was great, but not the most conducive to running, and getting in the car to drive somewhere to run just seems to defeat the purpose of running. Running is supposed to be the simplest, most efficient form of exercise, you put on your shoes and step out your door, and just run. That was hard for me to do in San Diego, but here, with access to a lovely paved path along the Red River it should be easier.

Right now I'm sitting on the front screened in porch listening as the rumbles of thunder get closer and closer, and watching the fat drops of rain smack the windows. Add a sleepy puppy, a window rattling clap of thunder, and my post run endorphin buzz, and it's a pretty good afternoon. I couldn't be a happier camper.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Observations from Minnesota

I made my way back to North Dakota, with the necessary stopover in Minneapolis/St. Paul, and since I had a few hours to kill, decided to park myself in the very comfy chairs dotted between the moving walkways in the C Concourse. Not feeling mentally facilitated enough to read, and lacking in quality willing conversation partners, I decided to just sit and people watch.

Here’s what I observed in the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport in the space of just a half hour or so (in no particular order):

- A guy wearing a pirate shirt. Full on pirate shirt. Yup, otherwise normal, 20-something guy wearing sneaks, some black slacks, and a full on pirate shirt/blouse. Not one of them hipster kid types, just a normal looking dude. Perhaps he was catching a flight to his shift at Treasure Island in Las Vegas. Sadly, this is the most plausible theory.

- A sturdy looking ladyman (or if you prefer manlady), who could have been the younger sister of the It’s Pat Saturday Night Live character. I think that this is actually a fairly common sight in Minnesota, but for lack of more research, final judgment will remain open. I wanted to chat with himher (or if you prefer, herhim) to see if I could determine its sex, but they/it had a large bag from A&W and had achieved a forward velocity speed that conveyed intent to feed. I decided not to disturb them/it.

- A very large woman (350 plus pounds easily) with Japanese characters tattooed on her upper arm, which sat at a 45 degree angle to her body as her girth obstructed it from resting any closer. I can’t remember my kanji reading lessons very well, but I think it said “please respect the international ban, and do not harpoon me, if you do, you may be rammed by a Sea Shepherd vessel”. At least I think that’s what it said.

- A whole lot of denim. I’m sometimes so caught up in my little world that I forget that denim isn’t just for jeans, it’s also for dresses, decorative shirts, hats, overalls, scarves, shoes, handkerchiefs, and cell phone holders.

It also seems (and this is based on multiple trips worth of evidence) that Minnesota still has one of the highest rates of fanny pack usage anywhere in the country, possibly the world.

I also have an anti Northwest Airline rant or two (again) in me as a result of this flight, but so much stress and anger has depleted me energy and that’ll have to wait for another day.