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 30, 2010

Cummings/Chappell Environmentally Friendly Holiday Newsletter

Welcome to the Cummings/Chappell Environmentally Friendly Family Newsletter – 2010 Edition!!!

Holiday lights brighten the neighborhood, fattening confectionary treats abound, and a blanket of snow has fallen that covers up the previous layer of yellow snow.   That means the Holidays are here, and with their arrival you and your inbox are both being blessed with the greatest Holiday Sacrament known to humankind – the Cummings/Chappell Family Newsletter.  

2010 was our epic first full year in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and Alycia’s first full year as a professor at the University of North Dakota.  We observed the full complement of North Dakota’s seasons: mud, mosquito/road construction, leaf raking, and painful bitter cold in their proper chronological order.  

Alycia has quickly become a student favorite on the UND campus, which on the one hand is flattering, but on the other hand comes with the obligation of writing dozens of grad school application letters over winter break.  Ahh, the burdens of being well loved...  She continues to teach and inspire the future Speech-Language Pathologists of North Eastern North Dakota, as well as doing clinical work helping small children in the local area with their speech production problems.  Her research lab on campus is now fully operational and is staffed by a loyal cadre of completely unpaid research assistants and does NO animal testing.  Alycia’s other firsts for the year included operating a snow blower and participating in an Irish drum circle for the first time (no I’m not making this up).  

Alycia finally succumbed to old triple jumping injuries this year. She had ankle surgery in May and was therefore able to continue the annual Cummings/Chappell family tradition of vacationing in a National Park while Alycia is on crutches.  We joined family from California for a wonderful low-speed week touring around Yellowstone National Park.  Alycia’s crutches were actually a blessing as they made us both slow and appreciate things we might have otherwise marched by in an attempt to see all the sights.  The pictures below are of John and Alycia in Yellowstone at the Mud Volcano and Alycia and John’s sister in Yellowstone at the Keppler Cascades. 
After more than 8 weeks on crutches, and being called a robot by more than one screaming crying child, Alycia had large enough biceps (we call these “guns” in the business) that John was wholly intimidated.  It probably didn’t help that she frequently wore sleeveless shirts while repeatedly flexing and yelling “you got your tickets to the gun show?!?!”  Luckily the gun show phase passed, physical therapy was attended, and the ankle healed, which enabled us to visit Las Vegas at the end of summer.  We met up with friends from California and spent a nice weekend pretending to be youthful and vibrant, and actually managed to stay up past midnight multiple evenings in a row.  

On the family front we celebrated John’s brother William’s wedding and proudly welcomed our new sister-in-law Christine to the Chappell family.  Welcome to the crazy house Christine!!  Good luck, you’re gonna need it.  We’re also looking forward to being an Aunt and Uncle for the very first time as my sister and her husband are expecting their first child in late January.  Even if our new niece/nephew isn’t blessed with red hair, we’ll still love ‘em. 

John’s major accomplishments for the year include learning to make local delicacies like Tater Tot Casserole, guest posting on a fine culinary blog (Thanks Sara!), learning to garden in Zone 3, and beginning a few minor woodworking projects.  He spent the year planting various apple trees, blueberry and currant bushes and setting up some of the infrastructure of the garden.  Spring will determine how many of aforementioned plants are still alive after the winter, but hopes run high, and like spring, our optimism blooms eternal.  John continued to make repeated trips back to San Diego for work purposes and enjoys being able to have a work vacation to his old hometown and visit family and friends.      

Tito spent the year like a fine wine, mellowing with age, but also like a fine wine, sitting in the dark remaining sedentary.  Actually in all fairness to Tito (which John rarely exhibits) many folks have commented how friendly and accepting of pets from strangers he has become, and he relishes trips to Alycia’s parents’ house where he can beg for meat treats and accompany Alycia’s Dad to and from, and to and from the Barbecue outside.  Since Tito never really changes (and he hates the camera), this year we’re going to include an old Tito picture, from when he was just a little puppy.   Those of you who know Tito are probably just as surprised as I am that he was actually once a cute little pup - a long time ago indeed.  The other picture of Tito is recent – note the orneriness, you can see it in his eyes…
Shaak Ti enjoyed her first full year in North Dakota and became well acquainted with the local squirrels and bunnies, and greatly enjoyed barking and chasing butterflies, dragonflies, falling leaves, and snowflakes, in that precise seasonal order, around the backyard.  In her second winter here in North Dakota she’s managed to grow a thicker fuller winter coat (eat your heart out premium shampoo marketers) which has enabled her to take longer winter walks and enjoy the snow to its fullest.  She’s currently thriving in her role as big sister and has dusted off many of the old wrestling moves that fell into disrepair when living with only Tito.  Huh?  You say.  Well that brings us to….
The big event of 2010 brought the memorable addition of yet another deaf dog to our family unit.  She’s a 5 month old pit bull puppy that was in a shelter in Texas, and through the magic of the Internet and the devotion of dog lovers from Texas to South Dakota who performed a mammoth dog transport relay, we were able to bring her into our home.  She’s a full fledged puppy tornado, fearless in the snow, wanting to play at all times, and then having epic crashes when the energy supply runs out.  Irrespective of the proud parent commentary, she’s very well behaved, sleeps through the night, has good manners, takes very well to training, has been accident free (hopefully this doesn’t jinx it), plays very well with Shaak Ti, and ignores Tito most of the time, which is all Tito really wants.  Alycia’s parents were initially reluctant when they heard she was a pit bull, but it took only a few hours upon the first trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for their hearts to be won over by snuggles and kisses and puppy happiness of our magical little pup.        
Oddly, we got motivated to complete a few unfinished projects around the house and will be finishing our basement this winter, which means soon there will a lovely bedroom suite for guests.  So except for the expensive plane ticket and distance from anywhere, you’ll have no excuse not to visit!  Most of John’s family (Dad, sister, and brother-in –law) came to visit during the Potato Bowl festivities in September and had so much fun that they’re already planning their return trip (seriously, I’m not kidding).  Below are pictures of John and his Dad on a hike at Turtle River State Park and the requisite picture of the whole family with the moose in front of Cabela’s.
We wish you the happiest of Holiday seasons and a productive and fruitful New Year.  Thank you to all of our family and friends, near and far, four legged and two legged who make our lives brighter.  We love you all.  Our last picture is of Alycia, Tito, and Shaak Ti.  John was out of town when they had the picture sitting (for a small donation to the Humane Society you get two free 5 x 7’s; it’s pretty sweet), and we didn’t have the puppy yet, so don’t freak out that the whole family isn’t in the picture.  We’ve also added a second bonus picture of John and the puppy so you get a complete montage of the family unit. 
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to Everyone!!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Music Video With (sort of) Garden Gnomes

Whether or not you're fans of the band Cage the Elephant, one of their videos (that I just discovered on YouTube) is a poignant cautionary tale against the very real dangers of committing gnomocide.
So think twice before you decide to purge those garden gnomes from your yard.  They may bring evil, but don't mess with 'em or you could end up in big trouble. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Last Minute Gift Ideas - The Deaf Puppy 7000 System

Looking for a last minute gift idea for a loved one?  Searching for that perfect present to make Christmas morning special?  You should get the Deaf Puppy 7000 System for your family.  The Deaf Puppy 7000 System has literally thousands of uses!!!
Rid your house of unwanted fuzz bunnies!
Entertain the whole family for hours with original songs!
Serve as a paperweight to keep your other dogs from flying away during high wind events!
Prevent evil green dinosaurs from taking over your house!
Make you laugh for hours with their hilarious facial expressions!
And they make an amazing heated laptop platform!!!  Pick one up today.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Very Very Rare North Dakota Tree

You are in for a very special treat faithful reader, pictures of the most unique arboreal organism in the Upper Mid-West.  A one-of-a-kind plant in North Dakota.  A plant so rare that horticultural experts will likely flock to the area as soon as this entry is posted, and this will probably lead to thousands of tourists coming to the area every year. 
At first glance it appears to be nothing more that a typical pine/fir tree, unremarkable and ordinary.  The tree is growing in our next door neighbors yard and I had observed it for over a year now unsuspecting and unknowing that this is probably one of the living wonders of the world.  Here's a close up picture to help show the magic of this special, special tree.
Can you spot the fruit that this tree is bearing?  Look closely to find the red and red/yellow apples that are on this tree (click on the picture for a full screen view).  Seriously, this is an evergreen tree of some kind with apples on it.  Look again, can you spot the apples?  So what's the deal?  Well those really are apples on an evergreen tree.  Is this the rare North Dakota Pine-Apple Tree of legend?  Heck Yeah!!!

So what's the deal?  Is this a hoax?  Nope.  Are those really apples?  Yes they are.  So what's the deal? Well....about 30 yards to the right of this tree is an apple tree in the neighbors yard and they usually leave some of the apples on the tree for the squirrels to eat during the winter.  The squirrels grab the apples and then scamper up the tree for an apple picnic with a view.  Either they stash them there for later or have a few bites and get distracted (quite a few of the apples have chomps in them) and then leave them there.  So now you can tell your friends that you've seen a picture of a pineapple tree growing in North Dakota. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Puppy Picture of the Week

Here's your sugary sweet dog pictures of the week.  All three pups snuggling together with Ms. The Professor. 
This is a pretty typical evening scene.  After our walk, puppy dinner (typically duck kibble), people dinner (typically NOT duck kibble), and doggy play/spaz time, everyone settles down for some pets and body heat sharing.  Alycia is a big proponent of snuggling and the dogs seem to know this.  She usually breaks out a clipboard and does some grading or lecture planning work while the dogs sprawl around her and snooze.
This is from nap time this weekend.  Alycia settled in for a morning couch nap and puppy tried repeatedly to join her on the couch*.  Eventually she just gave up, donned her Snuggie brand Snuggie and napped on the floor, which puppy greatly appreciated. 

*Puppy still finds it inconceivable that she isn't allowed to join us on the couch for snuggling or napping and we're constantly having to pull her off the couch.  It's not that she's a bad dog, and Tito and Shaak Ti aren't allowed on any couch so she hasn't learned from them, she just gets overwhelmed by the urge to snuggle with her people. Who can blame her?  I'm pretty awesome and I'd want to snuggle with me if I could...

I gave Alycia a Snuggie brand Snuggie last year for Christmas as kind of a joke, I mean really who can take a Snuggie seriously?  Since she used to use another blanket as a toga-like clothing article inside during the winter I thought that she might like a Snuggie brand Snuggie, and she did.  The only downsides to a Snuggie brand Snuggie is that due to their fleece fabric they a) attract dog hair like nothing else and b) conduct static electricity like nothing else.  Except for those two characteristics the Snuggie brand Snuggie is pretty awesome.  If I ever got cold inside during winter I might fancy one of my own.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Breast Cancer Cement Truck

Additional photo evidence to validate the hypothesis that this Pink Ribbon campaign has gone overboard. 
This photo was sent by undercover agent provocateur in Canada. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Snow Shovels - An Artistic Photo Retrospective

When we bought our house here in Grand Forks the previous owners left a bunch of stuff (after asking us of course) for us.  These were all little things that individually aren't a big deal, but collectively have saved us numerous trips to the hardware store, many dollars, and untold annoyances.  They left us some garden tools, spare lumber, spare window screens, their old lawnmower - that served me well for a whole year, and about seven different snow shovels.

Leaving these snow shovels was truly the greatest blessing, not just because they probably would have cost $10 to $15 apiece, but also because I would have had no idea what I was buying.  Though I did live in snow country before (Massachusetts and Connecticut*), I really only had one snow shovel, and it was just a snow shovel.  I had no idea there are many different varieties of snow shovels, and for the snow shovel connoisseur/aficionado each one has a valuable place and serves an integral function in keeping the homestead properly snowscaped.

*These are also the two hardest to spell states, and they just happen to be right next to each other.  Coincidence? or sinister New Englander plot?  You decide.   I can't tell you how many elementary school geography quizzes/tests were ruined because I spelled Massachusetts wrong.  It's a friggin' geography test, not a spelling test, who cares how you spell it?  It's exactly like the Lisa Murkowski write-in vote recount controversy in Alaska, it's all about intent.  Who knew that my personal struggle with spelling Massachusetts 25+ years ago would be a portend of electoral issues in present day Alaska.  I am truly a trend setter...  

All of the shovels are legit, old school shovels.  Wooden handled, metal shovel, and sturdy as all get out.  None of this modern day plastic junk.  So without further adieu, I present the photo essay of the different kinds of snow shovels currently in use on the homestead.
The grain shovel.  It's best for large snowbanks or the berm left by the snow plow at the end of the driveway.
The mini-snow plow shovel.  It's blade is curved (hard to see from this picture) and is great for the driveway and sidewalks, especially if there's just an inch or two.  You just push along the ground and plow the snow forward.
The classic flat bladed shovel.  I use this for clearing the steps and sometimes the sidewalk.  It also is great for scraping/clearing the grass area for the dogs potty time.  I end up clearing about 400 square feet of space in the back yard to make sure the dogs have plenty of elimination location options.
OK, so this isn't technically a shovel, but it is an integral part of homestead snow/ice management.  This is the preferred tool for scraping ice from the back steps, and considering this is our main entrance to the house this tool is essential in keeping people and pups from falling on their backsides.

For those of you who used to live in cold climates this might stir echoes of the past and conjure up happy memories (yeah right) of shoveling snow as a kid.  For those who've lived in Southern California your whole lives this is probably completely foreign.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Untimely Death of Harold the Dinosaur

Not since the death of Tourist Dog (see A Wake For Tourist Dog) have I witnessed such a callous disregard for life and wanton destruction of a stuffed creature.

Harold the Dinosaur has been with us for two or three years, is almost 2 feet tall and an awesome toy.  I purchased Harold with the full knowledge that he was too big for Shaak Ti, but hoping that it would help her raise her game, and attain new heights of dog toy chompdom.  Shaak Ti plays with him regularly and even though she had a couple years to work, hadn't established much more than a bulkhead crotch hole in Harold's tough dinosaur hide.  From this hole she was able to extract some stuffing (which we would promptly restuff) but leave Harold relatively intact.  This caused little concern (other than Shaak Ti's proclivity to attack the crotch area) for Harold's well being.  Enter puppy.
This was the scene of carnage in the kitchen the other day.  Stuffed fluffy dinosaur innards were everywhere.
Local wind currents in the kitchen from the puppy tornado had gathered the fluff into large piles. 
Poor Harold's deflated carcass sat sadly nearby.  I quickly put him up on the operating table (the kitchen counter) and began emergency re-stuffing measures.  After re-stuffing him his vitals stabilized and after a few minutes we thought he might be OK. 
But post-op Harold was quickly and mercilessly eviscerated again.
And again.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Single Puppy Picture

Puppy and Shaak Ti have grown to be good enough friends that Shaak Ti permits puppy to share the snuggle ball with her.  Those North Dakota winters can make you do some crazy things just to keep warm. 
It may be hard to see Shaak Ti, but she's underneath the blanket on the right (you can just see a nose and paw sticking out). 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Super Hot Girl On Girl Action

This probably isn't what you were expecting based on the title.  And if you were expecting that, shame on you - this is a family blog.  Jeez, that's wrong.
Alycia and puppy snuggle/play together.The puppy has a body temp of approximately 340 degrees, so Alycia tries her best to encourage the puppy to snuggle with her and keep her warm (and thus the "Super Hot Girl On Girl Action" title).  Seriously the puppy is really, really warm, her entire undercarriage, armpits, and ears get bright pink when she's running around or playing. 
Alycia already posted this picture on Facebook, but I love it too much not to post it again.  I dig the super awesome chomping face puppy is making, plus it also illustrates an important issue that we face with new puppy.

You see...puppy loves to chomp on toys.  Puppy also loves to chomp on toys while snuggling with me/Alycia.  Puppy can be a bit careless/ADD with her toy chomping.  I think you see where this is going. We've both already been the victim of a few innocent misplaced chomps that were intended for a toy, but ended up being delivered on one of our limbs.  It's all perfectly innocent but it does require a certain amount of awareness when dealing with the puppy lest you become a victim of a misplaced chomp. 
The most recent accidental chomping incident involved the puppy playing with Shaak Ti.  They were both racing around and decided to wrestle near my feet (pictured above).  Puppy lunged at Shaak Ti who at the last second darted behind my legs, and the puppy chomp that was intended for Shaak Ti's neck got my lower shin.  Silly puppy.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

New Green Sweater

When my sister heard about the new puppy she did what she does best, she ran out and bought some new things for our little bundle of joy.  Even though we're more than capable of providing cold weather gear for our (furry) kids, Auntie Alma would hear none of it and rushed us two dog sweaters for the puppy.  As such we're required by law to post pictures of the gifted sweater being worn. 
Here she models her new green sweater.  It fits her pretty well despite her odd body shape (long torso and thick neck).  We don't tell puppy that she has an atypical body shape as we don't want her becoming self conscious or developing a negative body image.  
This is not only an awesome sweater display pose but a powerful action shot as well.  For some reason puppy thinks that the camera is some sort of signal to start playtime, which causes her to race around at high speeds, crashing into household objects, people, pets, walls, etc., therefore making picture taking problematic.  Note the awesome pocket at the back of the sweater.  The puppy keeps her candy and stickers in here. 

I know I promised you "Puppy's First Snow" pictures, and I'm trying my best.  We've had 3 or 4 smaller snow events that have left a foot or more of cumulative total snow on the ground, so there's plenty of opportunities for "puppy in the snow" pics.  Most of my time outside though has been spent with shovel in hand, clearing, sweeping, and scooping snow around, which doesn't leave a free hand for picture snapping.  It's also been pretty chilly as of late, making picture taking with a mitten-less hand a chilly proposition.  Like all great outdoorsmen though, I'll forge ahead and get the requisite shot, just for you.