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.



Thursday, December 31, 2009

More Pictures

I gotta give my audience what they want.  And what do they want?  More than anything else they want pictures of Professor Alycia teaching her class "Snowblower Operation 101" and cute puppy pictures.  I'm more than happy to oblige.....

Vroom Vrooom, look at her go.

Look at that snow fly!!!

Sorry about this picture, it's a bit X-rated, naked dog and all.  Shaak Ti had a bath and then sat and stared at her post-bath biscuit treat.  Alycia thinks nothing of letting the dogs scamper around naked for hours after their bath.  I think it's terribly inappropriate and always admonish Alycia for her laissez faire attitude towards canine clothedness.  Special thanks to Auntie Alma for the delicious Christmas biscuits.  

Baths always make her sleepy....and that's just fine.

Happy Last Day of 2009

Best wishes on New Years Eve to all my faithful readers.  May the next year bring you happiness, fuzzy socks, quiet solitude, sloppy puppy kisses, and the comfort of family and friends. 

Here at the homestead we'll be celebrating New Years Eve by staying at home, watching a movie, and perhaps popping open a bottle of fine champagne that Alycia's friend Andy gave her as a going away present when we left San Diego.  We also have an appointment at 1:00 to watch the mighty Stanford Cardinal in the Sun Bowl, their first bowl appearance in many years. 

This morning, as always, we checked the thermometer outside the dining room window to determine how bundled up we should get for our morning walk.  As we checked the thermometer we noticed a few bad signs; 1) the thermometer needle was below zero and 2) the entire thermometer itself was wiggling due to the wind.  I deduced from these two signs that it was chilly outside and girded myself up appropriately, which is to say, I made coffee as Alycia walked the dogs. 

That I stayed inside while Alycia walked the pooches may sound cruel, but the reality is that only Shaak Ti went out.  Tito ventured to the back gate, speedily relieved himself and then scampered back inside, so really Alycia only had to walk one dog.  It gets better though.  The forecast for tomorrow - "bitterly cold".  Literally that's what the forecast says.  Sigh...

May your New Years celebrations be warmer and more festive than ours and Happy New Year to all. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

More Snow Pictures


As promised, here are some more snow pictures.  

The front of our house before we dug a path to the front door. 

John using the snowblower near the back gate.  The picture was taken by Alycia, who was tasked with being the official event photographer, from the balcony as she was clearing snow.  It took quite a while just to create enough space to maneuver the snowblower around and get out of the backyard through the gate. 

Alycia took a turn with the snowblower helping to clear the driveway.  Doesn't she look cute in her pink jacket?  I think so.  The bright pink color also makes it harder for her to get lost in the snow or should there be whiteout conditions.

The veteran members of our crack snow removal team take a break. 

"That snow's really high.  Where am I supposed to potty?"  One of our first priorities was clearing a path through the yard for Shaak Ti and Tito to conduct their doggy eliminations in the yard.  Shaak Ti did manage to initially misjudge the back step and floundered in a snow bank for a bit, but I quickly rescued her. She's still learning. 

Blizzard Alvin

Sorry it's been quiet on the blog front recently.  I'd like to blame it all on Christmas and being busy playing with my new toys, but the truth is much more sinister, we've spent the last few days digging out from the big blizzard, first at Alycia's parents place in Cavalier on Saturday, and then Sunday at our place in Grand Forks.

First, more information about the storm.  Yes, it was blizzard Alvin that struck us.  For some reason the local newspaper (the Grand Forks Herald) recently started naming all the blizzards that strike the area.  This particular blizzard was named after the rambunctious singing Christmas chipmunk crooner.  Why Alvin?  I have absolutely no idea.  Perhaps there is much credence granted to cartoon singing rodents here.

The newspaper has stated that it will take a few days to review the historical records to see if they can find a bigger snowstorm, but no one can remember a bigger one, not even a few "old-timers" they interviewed.  So for now, this is the biggest snowstorm to hit Grand Forks ever.  Ever.  Not biggest storm on this day, or biggest snow storm in December, but of all time, and we were lucky enough to be here to see it.

So without further ado, here are some pictures of all that snow.

This was the scene that greeted us, the driveway and garage under about two feet of snow, drifts were slightly less in some spots and definitely more - waist high and above, in others.  That little lump is the GrandmaMobile that we park in the driveway and use if we need another vehicle.

Another shot of the garage and driveway from the street to the right of the driveway.  The plows came along and made a huge berm or densely packed, icy snow that took a while to get through.

I stood near the snow pile on the corner to give you an idea how tall it is, probably 7-8 feet, though it's hard to see that from this angle.  Notice my cool hat.  More on my new hat in another posting....

In order to get in the house I waded through the driveway, used my foot to clear enough snow to get the gate wedged open, waded through the backyard to the back door, opened it, and then opened up the front door for Alycia and her parents to get through. 

The sidewalk in front of the house.  One of our neighbors has a small tractor with a snow plow attachment and was nice enough to clear the sidewalk for the whole block, including in front of our house, so that was the easiest route to get from car to house.  From there we dug out the path to the front door with shovels, and people and pups were able to make it inside the house.  Alycia and her Mom set out to haul items from the cars into the house while her Dad and I got started snowblowing the driveway. 


Alycia and her Mom takcled the upstairs balcony and shoveled the snow down to the backyard below.  As you can see the snow was easily waist deep on the balcony.

After five hours or so of snowblowing and shoveling, we retired for the day in front of a warm crackling fire, exhausted but victorious over the snow.  We were treated to a lovely sunset, the last high wispy clouds of the storm made the sky colors abound.

I'll post more photos soon, I promise, including a photo of Alycia using the snowblower!!!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Our First Blizzard

It's our first blizzard of the season for the family unit, and first blizzard ever for me.  Blizzard warnings are up Thursday evening and through Saturday morning.  We traveled up to Cavalier Wednesday afternoon as conditions were set to deteriorate rapidly.  We've already had about 6 to 12 inches of snow here in Cavalier and another 10 to 14 are on the way.  But down Grand Forks way they're projecting up to two feet total or more.  That's a heck of a lot of snow.  We're going to have some digging out to do, that's for sure.

Travel has been deemed virtually impossible and the main interstate (I-29) is closed down completely.  Outside the snow is coming down thick and fierce, and the wind is howling at 25 to 30 mph, with gusts even higher, making the snow mostly horizontal.

Taking the dogs outside for potty time is becoming problematic.  Tito has no problem, once you get him outside.  You actually have to pick him up and underhand-heave him out the door, but once he's out, he'll quickly go and then come back in.  Shaak Ti is a bit more difficult as the snow is above her head in most places.  There are a few sheltered places (near the garage) that aren't under a foot or more, and we're trying to get to those locations, but getting there is tough.

Speaking of which, I gotta go take her out now....

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

North Dakota Job Search

Even though I'm totally happy with my life as a consultant, traveling back to San Diego on occasion is probably the best job-related hazard you could dream up, I thought I would periodically see what employment opportunities were in my new neighborhood. I keep my eye on the local classified ads and when something seems up my alley, I fire over a resume, not actually to try and find a full time job (it just sounds terrible - working every day), but more to make a few connections, learn about the local economy, and show Alycia that I'm making some kind of token effort to find a job here. And to amuse myself.

With that in mind I saw a job with the City of Grand Forks a month or so ago, and realizing that a cake job with the city might be the only thing that could lure me out of my current state of psuedo-employment, I applied. The position was for a staff accountant, something that based on the job description and my experience, I figured I was fully over qualified for. Since I hadn't had much success hearing back from my previous exploratory e-mails (I'd sent out a handful over the past few months and never gotten a response), I didn't expect to hear back about this job at all, even though I filled out the four page application and attached my resume.

Little did I know that not only would I hear back from the City of Grand Forks, but that I was actually totally unqualified for a position I thought I was overqualified for. Thankfully the City of Grand Forks sent me a letter explaining to me not how or why I was unqualified, but with a score that ennumerated precisely how unqualifed I was, 7.5 points. See attached letter for more information.

Monday, December 21, 2009

New Poll

So the last poll wasn't statistically significant in any one answer yet again, so we'll roll out another poll to ask about what the first thing you'll do on Christmas morning.

Game Brain

Sorry for making you all read today, but there are just too many great articles to not pass along. This is from GQ magazine (which I don't think I've ever read) and is about the discovery of concussion related brain trauma and how the NFL spent years disputing findings, trying to discredit doctors, and denying former players pensions even though they suffered terribly. Shameful stuff from a multi-billion dollar industry.

http://www.gq.com/sports/profiles/200909/nfl-players-brain-dementia-study-memory-concussions?printable=true

Did Christianity Cause the Crash?

An interesting article about religion and finances, and crazy people.

http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/print/200912/rosin-prosperity-gospel

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Safety Spotlight

It being winter and all, the good folks at the University issued their Safety Spotlight (A Quarterly Newsletter for Safety and Loss Prevention) to all faculty. It's a two-sided 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper issued four times a year with safety and loss prevention tips, though I'm not necessarily sure those two concepts are as related as they think. Aside from having a "Winter Safety Wordhunt" game and spelling out the University's Holiday decoration policy, an entire page is dedicated to "Winter, Your Car, and You".

In case you happen to be driving this winter in snowy or icy conditions, I'd like to pass along the following actual pieces of advice from the University of North Dakota (and please remember that this is directed at university faculty only):

- Do not leave your vehicle unless you know exactly where you are, how far it is to get to possible help, and if you are certain you will improve your situation (good and practical advice here)

- Keep at least one window open slightly. Heavy snow and ice can seal a vehicle door shut. (Also good advice, this will prevent carbon monoxide poisoning)

- To protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia use the woolen items and blankets to keep warm. (woolen items? and anyone who needs to be told this may not necessarily deserve to live)

- Eat a hard candy to keep your mouth moist. (I'm not kidding this was the final piece of advice. Huhhh??? What should we be keeping our mouths moist for??? This is troublesome)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Letter

You'd think with all the practice I've had over the last year writing on this blog about, well about myself and the family unit, that writing the annual Christmas letter would be a breeze. But strangely enough I've been procrastinating on getting it done and even have a mild case of writers angst. For me procrastinating is a sign not of laziness (well not always), but of a task that is going to require a higher level of concentration and focus that I can put forth, so I put it off, and off, and off.

I think the problems are that 1) I hold myself up to high standards for our family Christmas letter, especially since I know that Alycia sends it to her family and friends and I want them to think well of her and 2) I feel like all the big changes in our lives - Alycia graduating, getting a job, and moving to North Dakota are already well known. I've got to get over these mental hurdles though and just write the dang thing, we're running out of days before the holiday.

Multiple requests have come in over the past week or so from friends and family who need our new address to ship us their annual Christmas letter, and I realized how much respect I have for the folks who actually mail out hard copies (we just e-mail an attachment) of their letter. The record keeping to gather all the addresses and the actual mailing of all those letters is an organizational feat that is well beyond my comprehension, and I'm always impressed by the folks who pull it off. Well done.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Homemade Gluten Free Granola

I always thought making your own granola would be somewhat complicated, but really you just melt a bit of butter and brown sugar, toss it with whatever dry ingredients you like in granola (and there are lots of choices) and bake for an hour or so. Shame on me for thinking it was difficult.

Here's a great recipe for Homemade Gluten Free Granola.

It's from Alycia's Mom (aka Mama Bear), and has become a staple in our household. Lord knows what would happen to me should the granola jar go empty.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

More Cold Stories

So you're gonna keep hearing stories about the cold until, well at least until it stops being insane-clown level of cold. At 11:45am weather.com is reporting the official temp at -3, with a wind chill index of -19, and it ain't even that windy today. But there are a few cold related stories (since it's dominating our lives right now) to pass along.

We had our first cold related equipment failure, the doggy door that leads from the mud room to the outside world. On Monday morning, with the mercury in the negative double digits, Alycia informed me that the door "wasn't quite working right". Mind you this was at 6:45 in the morning and her eloquence and my mental cognition were both worlds away from optimum functioning. After some mutual clarification, I went out to check the door, and gave it one gentle nudge with my foot, and watched as the door snapped off the upper plastic flashing with my second nudge.

It was so cold, that the malleable plastic door had become a slab of hardened polymer goodness and couldn't swing more than a couple inches from perpendicular. My foot nudge (which I can assure you gentle reader, was gentle) pushed it a few inches to far and it pulled the flashing off from the top where the door hangs.

Verily I sprang into action since we couldn't have a gaping hole into the mudroom from outside. So I fashioned a makeshift door from three eye hooks mounted into the door, three of those ring things that you use to hold note cards, and an old towel. Calling it deliciously ghetto would be an understatement. I'll let the picture below speak for itself.
We have Alycia's Mom, aka The High Priestess of Craftiness, at work on a more permanent fabric covering. I don't think that the plastic door is going to be able to remain during the winter, so we're going to abandon it for a heavy fabric one instead.

Our second cold related failure was Shaak Ti, who finally had to give up on walking due to cold toes. On Monday afternoon we only made it to the park (just a few blocks away) before she stopped and picked up her feet, unable to go on even though she had her sweater on. Since then she hasn't been able to go more than a half a block before being done, afflicted with cold toes. I have gotten some good exercise carrying her though, since as soon as she stops I have to carry her back home. We already have an assortment of sweaters and jackets for her, but we need some doggie booties, we'll pick some up this weekend. Now whether or not she lets us put them on her, that's another story. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Cold!!!

Yeah, it's here, the official first blast of icy winter. The Grand Forks Herald reported that the official low at the airport was -16 early this morning, and with light winds the wind chill was only -20 or so. And it's supposed to get colder later this week.

Just to prove that it is that cold, I bravely (though briefly) ventured outisde to snap a picture of the thermometer in our yard.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A New Poll To Start Your Week

It seems like the Thanksgiving poll wasn't statistically significant in any one category, thus we're unable to extrapolate any meaningful data, expect that you, faithful readers, did enjoy yourselves on Thanksgiving.

Here's another bit of fun. What's your favorite thing about winter?

Sunday Morning

It's a chilly, snowy Sunday morning. Fat flakes have been drifting down lazily all morning, no real accumulation, just enough to make for pretty outdoor vistas. Everyone has had a walk and some tasty breakfast - duck and potato kibble for the four leggers and eggs and potatoes for the two leggers, and settled in to their Sunday tasks. So let's set the scene with pictures:
I've built a cozy little fire in the fireplace....
...and set the newly decorated Christmas tree to twinkle. I'm busy tapping away on the keyboard keeping the faithful blog friends up to date with our happenings, and eventually doing some light work. What about the rest of the family unit? What are they up to?
Alycia is crafting up lesson plans for her class next semester.
Tito is solving complex quadratic equations and calculating optimum angles for snatching fallen bits of food from the kitchen.
And Shaak Ti is...well she's just napping. The peer pressure to stay awake is enormous right now, but I think we can do it, at least until the first football game comes on, then all bets are off.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Shaak Ti Story

The last few days have given us an opportunity to assess how Shaak Ti is going to deal with life in a snowy climate. She loves the snow, but hasn't mastered it by any means. I've already witnessed this sequence two or three time in the past few days.

- Smell something really good.
- Insert face into snowbank/under snow convinced that the bunny/squirrel/moose is underneath.
- Inhale and snort deeply to get all the good scents.
- Spend the next 2 minutes sneezing and vigorously pawing at her nose while squinting painfully due to what I can only assume is severe brain freeze.
- Ten minutes later, forget the entire incident and repeat the above process.

I'll get an amusing picture or two of this in the next day or two if I can.

On the other end of the spectrum is Tito, who due to his Christmas break visitations with Alycia over his seven years, is an old pro dealing with snow and cold. When it gets cold, like this morning when the temp was near zero, Tito gets hooked up his leash, but quickly realizes how cold it is and does his all business before we get to end of our driveway, then stops and refuses to go any further. He's probably smarter than I give him credit for....

We're going to decorate our Christmas tree later today or tomorrow, so prepare yourself for some festive photo fun.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Homemade Gluten Free Chex Mix


A recipe for Homemade Gluten Free Chex Mix? I just happen to have one right here.

It's tasty, I'm eating some right now for breakfast with a hot cup of coffee, a perfect winter morning breakfast.

Snow Run

It continued snowing off and on most of Thursday, nothing significant, just light snow showers to snow flurries all day. But I had a bit of a problem, an overactive dog named Shaak Ti who isn't concerned by things like snow and cold. In our walks the last few days she keeps bounding through the snow like it's not there leading me to believe that her attitude about snow is somewhere between oblivious and indifferent. Yesterday she needed some good exercise and didn't make any qualms about letting me know.

My options were either to hop in the car and take her to the dog park or go on a run. Even though there were a few inches of snow on the ground I felt determined to get a run in, and it was loads of fun. I strapped on my new waterproof Kamik boots (they're awesome and very lightweight) and went for a very low speed jog along our usual Greenway route over to Minnesota and back.

Since I didn't have my usual running sneakers on (with the cool new Nike Plus feature) and wasn't going to be timing my run or distance, we stopped to take pictures a couple of times.
This is the bridge over the Red River, pointing south, taken from the Minnesota side.
The Greenway path on the Minnesota side. There hadn't been too many visitors/pedestrians over the past few days. With the exception of one older guy walking his black lab off leash (who luckily paid no attention to Shaak Ti) I didn't see or hear a soul, it was very peaceful and serene. That one guy we did encounter looked at me like I was nuts, running through the snow, though I was very polite and bade him good day, he gave me the "Are you friggin' crazy?" glance, which I loved of course.
"Uhhhh, can we please start running again?"

Just after these pictures on the way back to the house, it clouded over again and flakes continued to fly.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Snow Pictures

We got our first snow of the year, not a whole lot, maybe two inches, but it was enough to make some pretty pictures. It's still coming down this morning too and there are forecast to be snow showers/flurries today and tomorrow.
Here's the view towards the Northeast from the front door of our house.
This is the view towards the Northwest, the intersection of First Avenue and Fenton Avenue, our street corner.
The path leading up to our front door. You may not be able to see the detail, but the only footsteps on the path are that of the mailman and paper deliverer. As you can see, I've got a bit of shoveling to do. We're off to the garage to see if we can engineer some type of snow plow apparatus to attach to Shaak Ti that will allow her to pull me on her leash while also plowing the sidewalk. You never know, it might work.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Wallyball Results

It took a few weeks, but our wallyball results finally got listed in the Grand Forks Herald. Our team name is "Strangers In the Night" (we didn't all know each other and I thought it would be funny) and currently in second place. The one loss occurred while i was back in San Diego for work, so I'd like to think with all our regular players, we'd be undefeated.
We won again last night to finish the regular season at 6-1 (the paper seems to lag a week behind, though I can't tell why, this is breaking news) and are primed for a deep post season run at the title. The title and free t-shirts. The post season tournament is next week, so stay tuned for the results from our wallyball happenings.

Snow on the Way

Snow is on the way, how much is yet to be determined. A big "Alberta Clipper" system is moving down out of Canada, but it expected to stay mostly to the North. Alycia's parents in Cavalier should see 6 inches or so, but we'll be lucky to get half that down here in Grand Forks. It's always pretty amazing what a difference a hundred miles makes. The forecast is still changing, but snow should start late morning/early afternoon and continue with snow showers through tomorrow.

You can see the local forecast and accompanying Winter Weather Advisories here.

I've also finally tracked down the charger for the digital camera (it was misplaced in the move) and am charging the battery. The battery had run out and that's what has been preventing me from posting any pictures. But now with the battery fully charged and raring to go, I'll post any and all applicable winter wonderland scenes as well as any "apprehensive about all the snow on the ground" puppy pictures.

We probably won't get enough snow to warrant using the snowblower, which is a good thing since we can't get it started. Alycia's Dad was tinkering with it for over an hour on Saturday and other than two brief startups, we couldn't make it run. I could tell that this vexed him greatly as he called both Sunday and Monday with additional ideas on how to get it going. It's a fairly new machine (pictures to follow in a subsequent posting) but I don't know how long it has sat idle in the garage, it could be a number of years, so it's possible that gaskets, seals, or even the carburetor need to be replaced. There was recently a coupon in the newspaper for a snowblower tuneup (with pick up and drop off service) for pretty cheap. I think I'll be giving them a call.