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.



Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving Recap - Part 2

...and so the tale of Thanksgiving continues.

Once Alycia's Dad and I had returned from our lumberjack escapades, the family wanted to venture out to the local Cavalier, ND Christmas tree farm and select a tree for us. So we packed up the entire family unit into our version of a sleigh (the Cummings family red Pontiac Aztec), plus Alycia's folks and their two pooches and drove west of town to the little Christmas tree farm.

The Christmas tree farm was a half mile off the road and consisted of trees of varying ages and heights, all growing lined up four to six trees wide on each side of a rutted grass road, stretching for a few hundred yards. In between all the trees was essentially meadow grass that would have been nearly waist high in summertime, but had now died back and was knee deep and very fun to wade through.

Shaak Ti was on doggy cloud nine, bounding through the brown grass as fast as I could keep up, pulling at her leash with every ounce of her being, and sniffing intently every few feet, at times burying her entire head under the dead grass to get a better whiff of the aromatic goodness below. The grass was surely home (at one time or another) to some manner of bunny, pheasant, or other tasty smelling creature and I thought Shaak Ti might stroke out from the sensory overload, but lo, she did not. When we finally returned home that night though, she did walk straight past her dinner into her bed and promptly fell asleep, too tired even to eat.

After much debating over what defines perfect arboreal artistic form, we selected our tree and Alycia's Dad brandished a hacksaw for us to cut down yet another tree. We secured it to Alycia's parents car and headed back to Cavalier. Alycia's parents were planning a trip to Grand forks the very next day, and along with the Christmas tree, they also had the trunk full of the wood we had spent chopping earlier that day. We were thankful for the door to door delivery service.

And that's the Thanksgiving story. OK, really the day after Thanksgiving story, but a story none the less. Alycia and I were both thankful to have a full weekend to recover from all the festivities.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving Recap - Part 1

Lot's of stories to tell, let's get going. And unfortunately I had to make this a two parter - too much information for one sitting.

We headed up to Cavalier on Thursday morning, dogs in tow, to spend Thanksgiving with Alycia's family. Thanksgiving dinner was a long affair and filled with delicious food for everyone. Alycia's Mom and Dad enjoy trying out new recipes and they had a couple of vegetarian, gluten free dishes for Alycia. One was a wild/brown rice casserole with mushrooms and water chestnuts, another was roasted butternut squash with cauliflower, garlic and pine nuts. Both were very different and quite tasty.

We have leftovers of both those dishes, and we'll spend the next several days consuming them. Since I'm busy eating the turkey, gravy and other meaty gluten filled items, I always feel a bit bad for Alycia, but this year, she had quite lot to choose from, the two aforementioned dishes, plus mashed taters, gluten free stuffing, and a gluten free apple pie, so nobody left hungry, Celiac or not.

Friday, the day after Thanksgiving though, was where the real fun started. Alycia's parents sit on the Holy Church Council for a church in the nearby hamlet of Hamilton, ND population 73 (here's the Wikipedia entry on Hamilton, ND for those who would accuse me of hyperbole for storytelling purposes). Her Dad had volunteered to remove a dead tree from the church parking lot the previous Sunday, and I as his helper monkey, was gonna help him do it.

First we had to mosey from Cavalier, ND, south on Highway 18 to the farm of a family friend (Farmer Lee) who lives outside Hoople, ND, population 292 (again here's the Wikipedia entry for you non believers) to pick up his two chain saws. Chain saws in tow, we headed up to Hamilton only to find that the tree had already been removed!!!! Alycia's Dad attributed this shocking discovery to the likelihood that another parishioner had overheard the tree removal plan and had simply jumped the gun and come over and removed the tree himself.

We were now all dressed up, chain saws in hand, with nothing to chain saw. This simply would not do, so we conjured up a backup plan. Tom called Farmer Lee and asked if we could take some of the trees that he had thinned from the tree breaks/shelterbelt around his fields, chop it up, cart it away and use it for firewood at our homestead in Grand Forks. For those of you city slickers who don't know, North Dakota is a very windy place, and tree breaks or shelterbelts are used around both houses/farmsteads and around crop fields to keep wind, snow drifts, weeds, and soil erosion at bay.

The tree breaks can be narrow (one tree wide) or deep (a hundred feet wide or more) and very long, usually the length of the field, hundreds of yards long. Essentially they're long, narrow forests, and every few years farmers go in and thin dead trees, cut down problem trees, and generally keep the forest healthy.

Alycia's Dad and I set to work, each with a chain saw and a huge tangle of large trees that had been removed by heavy equipment and piled up at one end of the tree break. After about an hour of frenzied mechanized fury, we had enough wood to fill up the vehicle (a lovely red Pontiac Aztec) and decided to call it a day. We drove the chain saws back to Farmer Lee's compound, returned to load up the wood in the Aztec, and proceed back home in time for Thanksgiving leftover lunch.

And after lunch we had yet another family adventure. To be continued.....

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Another Poll

There's another poll up for all of you, my treasured readers. You can't really answer it until after tomorrow - Thanksgiving, but maybe this will get your taste buds prepared for all the deliciousness that is to come...

Good To Be Home

It's good to be home. Two weeks is about the right amount of time to be away for a business trip. Granted I'd prefer to not have to be gone at all, but since I have to, two weeks is about right. And I actually have no travel complaints this time, no rails against Northwest Airlines, no incompetence encrusted encounters with fellow travelers or airline personnel, just a nice flight, enjoyable layover, and quick second leg home to Grand Forks.

While I was gone, our fireplace repair person was able to come out and install a new damper and screen on top of the chimney. Local barn swallows had made our chimney a home and would likely return every year if we hadn't put a new cap and screen on top of the chimney. I feel a bit bad evicting Gods creatures from our chimney, but I think they can easily find a new place to take up residence.

The chimney guy also cleaned the chimney/fireplace and we were able to have a fire for the first time. I started a small fire to make sure the smoke cleared and the damper worked and slowly built it up to a pleasant, living room warming blaze. It's pretty nice to have a warm fire on a chilly night. The fire also puts out a good amount of light and really seems to open up the room. I finally fulfilled my long standing North Dakota desire and stretched out on the couch in front of the fire with a book, the appropriately titled "In Praise of Slowness" by Carl Honore. It was awesome-rad.

Even though it's windy and chilly, and there are a few flurried flakes falling from above, we need to take Shaak Ti on a run this afternoon. Hopefully it'll have warmed up a bit by then. She has two weeks of accumulated energy to burn off, we'll see what we can do.

Need a musical jaunt back in time? Here's what I'm listening to this morning, a cold, cloudy and blustery morning - an old spiritual by Nina Simone - Sinnerman.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Chicken Debate

I've spent the last several months in a raging internal debate as to whether or not I want to get some chickens. Chickens would not only provide fresh, organic eggs (which are significantly nutritionally better than conventional eggs), but also a significant amount of pest control (they eat a lot of bugs). Our potential poultry partners would also help make the garden a more efficient/organic place through not only the aforementioned pest control, but also turning the dirt with their constant scratching and pecking.

There are numerous articles I've read where people integrate their compost pile and chickens, and the chickens do a marvelous job of physically breaking down the compost, snacking on any fruit/veggie scraps in the compost, and munching any insect interlopers that might stop by.

The drawbacks are 1) building a pen/coop for them, 2) making sure they don't turn into chickensicles in winter, 3) how the dogs might react to them, 4) who'll tend to them when we're out of town, and 5) how much noise they might make (as Alycia's Mom has said repeatedly "Your neighbors will HATE you if you get chickens"). For now we're sticking with the "let's wait and see" how things shake out. Right now the drawbacks are reasonably more significant than the benefits.

In the meantime, we have access to farm fresh organic eggs from a friend of Alycia's Mom. I think as long as we have a steady supply of eggs, the need for chickens dissipates. We'll reassess this Spring what to do.

Backyard chicken keeping has become quite the hot trend, articles abound on the topic all over the Internets. There's a great article I read just recently that deals more honestly about keeping chickens - check it out here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Only Gluten Free Flour Mix You'll Ever Need

In case you missed it last month, I wrote a brief piece on Gluten Free Flour Mixes over on my other lightly paid blogging site.

The Only Gluten Free Flour Mix You'll Ever Need.

It's the story of one mans' struggle against all odds, overcoming buckets of adversity to create a tasty loaf of gluten free bread. OK that might be a bit if a stretch. There is a recipe for the all purpose gluten free flour mix that we use for just about everything, including bread, coffee cake, and cookies.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Back to the Beach

Ah yes, it was back to the beach for some volleyball action yesterday. I'd almost forgotten how much I missed playing volleyball on the beach. Sure, we have wallyball (which all reports indicate has gone well in my absence) - an adequate substitute, but not as good as the real thing.

One of the side benefits of coming back to San Diego for work is all the amusing ancillary things to do in between billable hour stints. And surprisingly there are a few things that are unique to San Diego that one has trouble finding in North Dakota, especially this time of year. One of those things is beach volleyball. So in the spirit of "when in Rome", I met up with some volleyballing compatriots on Sunday and had a grand ole' time.

I'm also gonna partake in a few other things that can only be done in San Diego, and these mostly involve consumption of tasty food products. We've (I'm referring to my stomach and me as "we" for the remainder of this entry) already hit up multiple Mexican food establishments as well as Jack In the Box and some Sushi Oto. On our to do list is In N Out (at least twice) and some Phil's BBQ, but I'm not gonna panic or get stressed, we'll get it done.

So what if most of my to do list while in town involves consuming various culinary delicacies. I've also hung out with the fam and done some other stuff, but the crux of the trip involves not only the local fare that I can't find in North Dakota, but also treats that are chock full of the gluten and meat that I can't get at home. We'll let you all know how it ends up.....

Thursday, November 12, 2009

All's Quiet on the Western Front

Yes it's been a bit quiet around our little blog lately. I've been afflicted with a case of work that I haven't been able to easily shake. Don't be concerned though, it's nothing serious, just some billable hours for a couple of weeks, nothing that will interfere with my long term ambitions of being the most slacktasteric slacker I can be.

This is my first trip back to San Diego since the move to North Dakota, and my time away has made me think, reinforced some of my perceptions, and solidified in my mind that moving out of San Diego was the right thing to do. One thing that amazes me is how easy it is to acclimate to a slower pace of living. Being gone for just a few months in mellow North Dakota, I come back here and my first impression is what an immense hurry everyone is in. I'm on the freeway doing 70+ and people are whizzing past me left and right, it's amazing.

And I know that just about everyone is more technologically savvy/competent/enamored than I am, but the proliferation and constancy of use of cell phones and PDA's really made me take notice. Just today while eating my lunchtime gyro, every other person in the restaurant checked, touched, used or monitored their cell phone at least once while I was there. On my way from the parking lot to eat, a Mom and her kid were in one of those psuedo-Bohemian paint-your-own-ceramic places, and she was gabbing away on her cell while supposedly having a tender moment with her child.

Seeing all the cell phones and rapid speed of life, it makes me wonder, is anyone slowing down to enjoy anything? Is anyone engaged in the moment, in reality, or just text messaging to pass the time? And why the hurry? It makes me feel odd, like there's something I'm missing, some reason that compels everyone else to move at such a pace.

This might sound like sour grapes from a former resident, but it's really not. Just observations now that I have a little (more) perspective. I still enjoy San Diego, it has its positive attributes, but I don't think I could ever come back and live here.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Applesauce Day

The whole house has that warm apple smell, a sure sign that there's some manner of appley shenanigans going on. About a month ago the apple people were in Grand Forks (see the Apple Lovers website) with their semi trailer full of apple boxes. I purchased a case of golden delicious, stored them in the back porch (where it's nice and cool) and we've been eating them fresh, pretty much every day, and have managed to consume about half the box.

Now that the apples aren't quite as fresh and crisp, it's time for their next incarnation - to live again as delicious applesauce. The whole family unit spent a few hours this morning (people peeled and chopped apples, dogs prowled the floor for fallen apple bits) and now we have a large vat of applesauce, bubbling and gurgling away on the stove.

Applesauce is a tremendously simple food to make,and honestly that's part of its appeal. Take apples, peel and chop. Add some cinnamon, nutmeg, a bit of sugar, and cook it all until everything is squishy. It couldn't be easier, and it's also really hard to screw it up. Simplicity and difficulty to mess up are two qualities that I definitely look for when choosing a recipe.

It's such a pleasant thing on a cool, cloudy Sunday afternoon to have a big ole pot of applesauce cooking on the stove. Football is on the television and we're getting prepared to get our applesauce canned up and preserved for future consumption. Now I'm gonna relax on the couch with some warm applesauce and watch the Chargers game.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

More Halloween Fun

As promised, I plan to divulge what our little precious deaf dog Shaak Ti was for Halloween. During a recent trip to Target Alycia saw a squirrel costume and knew it would be the perfect outfit for our magical little canine. So Shaak Ti got to be a squirrel for Halloween, and we even have a few pictures to prove it.
Here's Shaak Ti (aka Squirrel Ti) in all of her costumed glory, note the fake arms holding the stuffed acorn. As squirrels are apt to do, Shaak Ti got right into character and tried to devour the acorn, though aside from chomping at her acorn, Squirrel Ti was fairly well behaved in the costume.

For the record, there was actually a great idea to take the squirrel costume, secretly dress up Tito as a squirrel, and release Shaak Ti upon him to see what would happen. My hope was that she would think "holy crap!!! A squirrel in my own house!!!" and then I could watch Tito run for his life. This would not only cause great entertainment for me, but could also potentially answer the question of what Shaak Ti would do if she actually caught a squirrel. Would she give it kisses? Eat it? Try to organize a game of Texas Hold 'Em with her new squirrel friend?

Unfortunately our attempts at using the scientific method to peer into the brain of our awesome-rad, though syrup fueled, little dogs' brain were thwarted by Alycia who thought it might not be the best idea. You'd think a Professor wouldn't be such an obstacle to learning and a detriment to enlightenment.
And as you may know, being a squirrel can be darn hard work, and it can make the best of us sleepy.
And in our final picture of this Halloween, we see Alycia Cummings proudly posing on the front steps with our jack o' lantern. Isn't she cute? I think so. For the record, the jack o' lantern was a team effort, art by Alycia, and carving by John. Nothing like a team effort to take that gourd and make it into a candley illuminated Tour de Halloween force. And if you look real close, over her right shoulder, you can see two inquisitive sets of doggy noggins and ears...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Halloween Recap

Halloween was three whole days ago and we're just getting the stories now? What gives? I wish I had a good excuse for you, faithful readers, but things just got a bit busy. I got wrapped up in watching football on Sunday (Farve's return to Lambeau Field as a Viking was given the amount of attention I would expect to be given only to Jesus going to Lambeau Field, but that's another story) and forgot to relay Halloween stories.

Over the past year I had forgotten how personally Alycia takes it if we don't have what she perceives to be an adequate number of trick or treaters. She sits by the door and jumps up at every knock and really seems to enjoy asking the kids about their costumes and handing out candy. She only acknowledged one minor faux pas - she told a little boy she liked his goat costume. He was actually Yoda. She was indignant.

"Isn't Yoda supposed to be green?" She demanded, "I thought Yoda was green? This kid was white. Maybe he wasn't white, but he sure wasn't green. Isn't Yoda supposed to be green?"

I sighed deeply, mostly because it disturbs me when the woman I love can't be certain about basic Star Wars facts, like what color Yoda should be. I tried to assuage her by suggesting that in the dark it was possible that she just didn't pick up the green color too well, or that maybe the kid was just light green, but she seemed to have none of it. I was almost sure she was going to track the kid down outside and either demand an explanation for why he wasn't green, or give him a handful of candy and apologize for saying he had cute goat costume.

After the Yoda debacle, the rest of the night went fairly smoothly, though we only saw 40-50 kids. I did take the opportunity to be neighborly and go across the street to chat with our neighbors to the North, the Moe's. This proved to be a fortuitous event for the Moe's as they had to stop by briefly to borrow some candy, buying some time to run to the store to replenish their stock of sweets. We had a good time chatting with them and enjoying the Halloween fun.

I'll post another entry with pictures of Shaak Ti in her costume. Can you guess what she dressed up as????