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, August 27, 2012

The Demise of Puppy's Pink Pool

So while the puppy loved her pink pool, she would often get very frustrated when it wasn't filled up. I made the mistake of resting it against the tree (again) to dry out, and Shadowfax decided to give the pool the business.


I was talking with my mom at the time so I do apologize for the talking on the video. Eventually, I went out to stop the carnage, but unfortunately, the damage was too great. You can note the duct tape from her previous exploits with the pool, but at the top left of the pool, you can see a large gouge - that one was too big to be mended.


A close-up of the carnage. Currently the pool is sitting in our garage, taking up space. Anyone know of a good use for a gently used kiddie pool with lots of holes?


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Keepin' cool in the heat

North Dakota has been in a drought all summer and along with the lack of rain, has been excessively hot temperatures, which are often accompanied by high humidity. Not a nice combination anywhere, but when you live in a 98-year-old house (on the National Historic Registry, no less) with no central air conditioning, this can be a downright disaster. We bought our house in 2009 and for the past three summers, have suffered through small to medium bouts of heat and humidity.

Finally, this year, we decided to do something about it. It wasn't going to be easy though, because with the old house, comes hot water heat (hot water runs through pipes in radiators throughout our house). I love our hot water heat: it's clean (no dog hair blows around), it heats up fast, and it heats pretty consistently throughout the house. Unfortunately, it means that we don't have vents and had not option of just slapping a central AC unit into the system.

We had various Heating and AC companies come out and we finally decided on a system where there are two interior AC units hanging on the wall.
One in the office.


And one in our bedroom.


And these are connected together to an outside compressor unit, which is so quiet that I often have to look at the blades in the fan to see if they're moving to make sure the thing is on and working.


These work great. Both units are upstairs and we keep them at 72 degrees and they are able to not only keep the upstairs nice and cool, the cool air sinks and keeps the main floor of the house cool enough that we put away our old portable window AC unit, which keeps the living room from looking so cluttered.

There are a few drawbacks to the system, which I feel weren't well explained to us ahead of time. One is that there is an external pump/water storage unit for the bedroom unit. I assume that this is because the two units are connected, with the office unit flowing directly outside. It's not too annoying, but when the unit is full, then the pump turns on to send the stored water out the pipes and so it randomly gurgles for a minute or so.


What probably bothers me more is the fact that it's just sitting out of the wall, in a fairly ugly fashion. Currently with my dresser in front of it, it's not so bad. If we ever move the dresser, I think we may have a carpenter build a little box/table thing to enclose it.


The other issue is that the water is piped out of the house in plastic tubes and the installation guys just left them to drip right at the base of our house's foundation. I noticed very quickly that the ground all around these tubes was really wet and I got concerned that it would eventually start leaking into the basement. So, me being the crafty girl that I am, rigged up a fairly ghetto gutter/log combination to drain the water away from the house.

 
It's been working well for the past two months and the dogs appear to leave it alone. I think eventually we'll have to figure out a more long-term solution, but for now, it keeps the house dry.

While this system wasn't cheap, I honestly don't know if we (or the dogs) would have survived this summer. It's been exceptionally hot, and this was a great investment in our quality of life. I would definitely recommend this as an option for anyone who has a hot water heating system.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Shaak Ti Shakes Sherman the Sheep

As if we didn't already know, it really appears that our most popular postings are videos of the dogs. Anyway, here is a short video of Shaak Ti showing Sherman the Sheep what she's really made of. The puppy was at daycare so Shaak Ti had full run of the house with Sherman and he didn't stand a chance.



Watch out world - Shaak Ti could be coming for you next!

Friday, August 17, 2012

End of the Week Links & Raspberry Currant Jam Recipe

Our Deaf Dogs and Benevolent Gnomes raspberry jam recipe (posted from our marathon-of-deliciousness jam making session last month) got published on Yahoo Voices!  Yay for us (are we allowed to say that?)!

How to Make Homemade Raspberry Currant Jam

And while you're surfing the web, you should also check out:
We've got lots going on here and a bunch on cool stuff on the horizon: the puppy's awesome new pool, Shaak Ti's strange habits, the impending start of my new job and photos from garden tours, canning projects, and big yard shindigs.  There's only so many hours in the day, but we manage to fill them all.  Stay tuned (preferably on the edge of your seat) for more great pictures, stories, and videos. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

2012 Early Garden Failures

As John has mentioned in the past, gardening is not all about successes, there is still a learning curve to our garden forays.

One failure again were our peas. This year instead of the pea corral, we tried them in this box that was in our baby garage/shed.

 
I think they would have stood a chance had we not planted them in mid-June. Peas, as you all should know, are an early season/cold weather crop and it was just too late in the season for them. I think we'll probably try them one more time in the box next year, or we might try to get them to grow for the fall season. It really irks me though that we can't figure out the best way to grow peas, as they are one of my favorite vegetables, and I have many pictures of myself as a young child chomping on sugar snap peas.


Another massive failure was an attempt to transplant raspberries in early July (during the height of their production season) from my friend's garden to our yard. And to make it worse, it was 95 degrees out when we tried to plant them. Raspberries are just a step above a weed here in North Dakota and I'm going to be optimistic that they will come back, but currently they look pathetic.

 
We continue to water them, in hopes that the roots will stay healthy and the plants will come back better than ever next year. As with the peas, I love raspberries and at least this year I was lucky enough to have access to free raspberries from one of the kids that I work with (I had to pick them, but that wasn't too tough), but my kiddo is moving and so my raspberry source is literally drying up after this summer. So there is a bit of urgency in my care of my sad but stately raspberries.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Man vs. Deer - who would win?

I'm sure this is a question that keeps many of our loyal readers up late at night. Here is a story from the Thursday, Aug. 9 Grand Forks Herald that details one such encounter. Any thoughts on who came out on top?

Minnesota man pummeled by deer, but rifle ends hoof-fight
By: Chuck Haga, Grand Forks Herald

FERTILE, Minn. — The way Mark Christianson tells it, in his lilting Old Country accent, the deer started the fight. “I was going out to finish spraying the soybeans,” he said. “I stepped out a side door, and we saw each other, and he started coming closer. He was pummeling me, standing on his hind legs and hitting me with the front ones. He hammered me good, rapid fire, and I thought, ‘Well, this isn’t good.’ I wasn’t winning, so I grabbed him and tackled him and we both went down on the ground.”

We don’t have the deer’s account because, after losing the kick-boxing and wrestling portions of this North Woods triathlon, Christianson shot the eight-point whitetail buck, which had brought antlers and attitude and a strong left hoof to the fight but nothing to match Christianson’s 30-06 rifle.

The confrontation, which left Christianson, 66, with black eyes and pink-to-purple bruises over his arms, shoulders and chest, occurred last Thursday as he stepped outside his farm home about 10 miles southeast of Fertile.

Mark and his wife, Judy, 65, had seen the deer days before, brazenly hanging out in their yard, sampling Judy’s potted impatiens and ignoring all attempts to shoo it away. “We sometimes have 17 or 18 deer in the yard here, but we have a hard time getting a picture,” she said. “You open the door a little and — phfft — they’re gone. They’re usually so sensitive. But this one, I would stomp my feet and it wouldn’t go away.”

Banging antlers
Two days before the fight, Mark came upon the deer near a shed. “He was 8 feet away, and instead of being scared he came right up to me. I went inside, and he stuck his nose right up against the window. Then he banged his antlers against the wall.”

As he left the shed and ran toward the house, the deer followed, and Christianson ducked into the back seat of a 1992 Bonneville that had been retired to a side yard. Later that day, Judy stepped out to hang clothes on a line and turned around to find the deer facing her. The next day, they watched as the buck feasted on a flaming crabapple tree.

On the third day, last Thursday, Judy had been napping when she was startled to hear her husband hollering. “He got me!” he cried. “He got me!”

“Mark was dripping blood all over, and his ear looked like it had been tore off,” she said. “He was shaking and trying to load bullets into his gun. I didn’t know what to think.”

The buck was still standing its ground. “I gut-shot him where he was, then saw he went down at the edge of the hill over there,” he said, gesturing through a thick stand of old oaks. “I got him a couple more times there.”

Carcass sent to Twin Cities lab
The deer had sounded “wheezy” and sick, Christianson said, so he had contacted the Norman County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources even before the animal picked a fight. Blane Klemek, wildlife supervisor for the DNR’s Detroit Lakes area, said the deer carcass was sent to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in St. Paul. Disease specialists there have ruled out rabies but continue to check for other diseases, such as chronic wasting disease or Lyme disease.

He said the deer had no tags or other indications that it was a domestically raised deer. “It did have a fair number of liver flukes (parasites) in its liver,” he said, but it’s unclear whether that would explain the animal’s unusual behavior.

“It is an odd one,” Klemek said. “Deer normally are afraid of people. We don’t know why this one would attack this guy. But it’s always a concern when we get calls from the public about an animal acting strangely.”

Pie eases pain
Friends “have given me some grief about it all,” Christianson said Wednesday. “They said they don’t believe my story. They say, ‘It’s the wife.’”

An Amish family lives close by with three small children who often play outside, and Judy had gone over to sound a warning about the deer. After Mark’s bout with the buck, the family brought over a lemon pie, Mark’s favorite, and a card. The children — Magdalena, 4, Sylvia, 2½, and Perry, 11 months — signed the card with hand prints. “So sorry you got hurt,” the card read.

Christianson said he was too sore to sleep the first two nights after the attack. Blows near his eyes caused blackening about the sockets and bent his glasses, but he said he’s grateful the deer didn’t damage his eyesight. The sorest bruise was to his right shoulder, probably due to his sudden take-down move, and couldn’t raise his right arm for days. “Friday morning, he had a bowl of Cheerios in front of him,” Judy said. “He just sat there, holding the spoon. I said, ‘You’d better use your left hand.’”

And how would Mark respond if another bellicose buck showed up and tried to pick a fight?
“I wouldn’t wait three days to get my rifle.”

Photo credit: Eric Hylden, Grand Forks Herald (2012)


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

This probably doesn't help our neighborly relations

This is a pretty common activity in the afternoons in our house. Somewhere between 2 and 4, the dogs get the syrup in them and demand a walk. On a day like this, when it was 95 degrees and 90% humidity, a walk at 4:30 was not very appealing. Instead, John tried to appease them all with a game of fetch.

Note in the video that all three dogs are included in the "fun", but it's really only Shadowfax who is attempting to play fetch. Shaak Ti is playing her defensive back position - ready to chase the dog that is chasing a ball (she's done this for years with many other dogs playing fetch). And Tito is lurking in the background, ready to put in his two cents worth if and when the puppy makes it past Shaak Ti; this is why the puppy got her stitches.

In any case, the amount of barking is typical, and I know for a fact that even with all the windows and doors shut, the barking is pretty loud and clear outside.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Squirrel sabotage in the garden

Along with having an organic and chemical free garden, I also like to maintain it as a no-kill zone for our furry woodland creatures. This desire is becoming harder to maintain though due to recent squirrel mishaps with our apple trees.

Here is one of our eight apple trees - the only one really loaded with apples and we're quite excited about our first apple harvest this fall.

 
Unfortunately, here is the incriminating evidence that the squirrels are amiss in the trees. The stupid squirrel didn't even bother to eat the entire apple; it just took a few bites and left it on the sidewalk to taunt us.


According to Jerry Baker (our holistic gardener referee), we could try to put a [fake garden hose] snake on the ground to try to scare the squirrels and we are going to try that. Unfortunately, I don't know if it will work since there are so few snakes in our area of North Dakota and I don't think the squirrels would know what it is and thus, wouldn't be scared of it. This concern was confirmed by one of my colleagues who said that he bought a realistic 6-foot plastic snake, complete with fangs, and that it didn't do anything to scare his squirrels. So, I'm not optimistic that my homemade hose snake will do anything. But, we need to try something before they get all of the apples.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Raspberry Currant Jam

We had the good fortune to come into some raspberries a few weekends ago.  A friend of Alycia's has a bunch of raspberry bushes in her yard and invited Alycia over to pick some, and you better believe that we took her up on the offer.  Free raspberries?  Heck yes.

Alycia trundled off in her best berry picking outfit and went twice in the span of a week, coming back with about 8 pints and 15 pints respectively from her two trips. We took one of these batches and laid the berries out on cookies sheets in the freezer, then transferred them to plastic bags once they were frozen (this is a great trick to keep things like raspberries and strawberries from freezing together in a great big icy clump).  The rest of the raspberries went into the pot and made into jam.  Sweet, tart, delicious jam.
The recipe we used (you can skip the rest of this post and just find the full recipe here) is raspberry currant jam and since currants are used, there's no need to add pectin.  Yay!  No more fussing around with the pectin solutions to make sure I've got the right amount, and no jam that won't set because I messed up the math somehow.  Currants are chock full of natural pectin and the jam will set magnificently with no added pectin, just the naturally occurring amount in the currants.  

We have some currant bushes near the driveway that produced a bumper crop this year.  These are in their second year and the few berries that popped out last year got gobbled up by the birds (I was slow to apply the bird netting last year).  This year I properly netted the currants and gathered 10 cups of currants from just 2 bushes.  Considering that I have three more bushes that will start producing next year and plans to plant 3-5 more, we should have plenty of currants for years to come. 
Here is a Ben Sarek currant (not a tasty variety) shrub that I transplanted to the front yard near the bird feeders.  Since these weren't very tasty I'll leave them unnetted every year and let the wild birds snack on the fruit.  As far as currant varieties go, I recommend Red Lake and Titania, both very tasty, and I would shy away from Ben Sarek.  Currants are also amazingly tough and hardy bushes.  I mangled, and I mean absolutely butchered this poor bush (and one other during transplanting) and a month later, they looked great.  Today, three months after my attempted shrub-murder, both look like they never missed a beat.  

Anyways, sorry for the tangent.  Back to the jam!!  I've already gone way overboard with too many words (500 words already?!?!?), so let's get to the jam recipe. It really was easy to make, less than 2 hours for the whole process.

Here is your ingredient line up:
  • 4 cups red or black currants
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 6 cups red or black raspberries
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
It doesn't matter what color of currants or raspberries you use, though admittedly, the combination of both red currants/raspberries, or black currants/raspberries does look especially visually striking. Whatever color of berry you choose to use it will still taste great.

Cooking Directions:
  • Wash currants (you don't need to de-stem) and place in sauce pan with water.
  • Stirring frequently, bring the mixture to a boil.
  • Press through chinois or other strainer to get just currant juice and pulp.
  • Add the currant juice/pulp, raspberries and sugar to a large stock pot.
  • Stirring continuously, slowly bring the mixture to a boil.
  • Keep at a full rolling boil for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the jam reaches the gel stage.
  • Remove from the heat and ladle into sterilized canning jars.
  • Seal jars and boil in a water bath for 5 minutes.
  • Remove from water bath and allow to come to room temperature.
This recipe took us under two hours to complete, it's pretty simple. In no time at all you can have jars of deep, richly red hued raspberry currant jam. There's no better way to alleviate those winter blues than by cracking open a jar of delicious summer flavor to add to your favorite bread, scone, or peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Support PBS: Mr. Rogers Remixed

As previously introduced with the Bob Ross Remixed post, PBS has started a new line of videos highlighting their quintessential hosts. This video is of Mr. Rogers, who needs no introduction. As did every child of my generation, I grew up watching Mr. Rogers - never questioning why he always had to change his sweater and shoes when we came and went from his house, just enjoying getting to "pretend".

Pretending and just playing are things that I think kids these days don't do enough of in their daily activities - they have such realistic toys that do everything, they don't have to do any pretending whatsoever. For example, when I was a kid, I had a cardboard box that served as a house, a stove, a car, etc. Now kids have realistic toy houses and kitchen, as well as battery-operated cars they can drive (I shudder when I see kids in those - childhood obesity just waiting to happen). Enough of a rant about pretending, I'll save that for another day.

Anyway, in my more recent years as an academic working with children and children with speech sound disorders, I have often dreamed of being the next Mr. Rogers. Someday, when I've made some fabulous discovery in child speech and language development, maybe I will have my own TV show for kids...

Enjoy Mr. Rogers: