A transplanted Southern Californian living in North Dakota Idaho, with some insights 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.


Did Christianity Cause the Crash?

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


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


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 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.

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, here are some books from Amazon.

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 Best Gluten Free Flour Mix.

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 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????

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Smart Choices Program Suspended

I was at the grocery store recently and saw first hand the most recent terrible idea from the food industry - the "Smart Choices" program.

Under this program, created by a PR firm associated with food giants like General Mills and Kellogg, junk food a sugary cereals were labeled as "smart choices" and made to seem like healthy foods to choose. My wandering through the grocery store demonstrated the insanity and hypocrisy of this program, crap like Froot Loops and Frosted Flakes were given this alleged seal of approval.

Another abomination of processed food crap, Bagelfulls, which judging by what I saw in the freezer container was nothing more than some type of doughy stuff filled with cream cheese and corn syrupy jam. If crap like this qualifies as a "smart choice" than it's plainly obvious that such a program is useless.

Thankfully the public outcry over this program in the last few weeks has lead to the recent cessation (see LA Times article) of this program. We'll have to see if they try to roll the program back out, with changes? or with less publicity? or perhaps they'll put the program where it belongs, in the trash can.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Snow on the Way

Weather is probably one of the first things that you want to stay updated about regading our move to North Dakota. So you'll be happy/excited to know that our first decent snow storm is on the horizon. The timing and amount of actual snow (versus rain that could fall instead) is dicey, but for now it does look like there will be some snow on the ground come Friday morning.

Here's information from our local newspaper - the Grand Forks Herald:

"The National Weather Service says a storm is expected late today through early Friday across central and southern North Dakota, and in the northeastern part of the state late Thursday through Friday. The winter storm watch for Thursday night and Friday afternoon is primarily for counties outside the Red River Valley, including the Devils Lake basin.

Rain in northeast North Dakota is expected to turn into snow by Thursday night over a large portion of northeast North Dakota. More than six inches of snow accumulation is possible by Friday afternoon, with winds expected to increase late Thursday night and Friday morning, possibly reducing visibilities."

We'll see if and how much snow we actually receive, but we'll let you know, and if there is a blanket of snow on the ground, I promise to take plenty of pictures.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Morning in Grand Forks

Just a quick picture of the sunrise this morning to prove to you non-North Dakotans that this is indeed a pretty place.

It may not be a sunset at the beach (I grew tired of those anyways), but it's still fairly pretty.

I'm trying to get better at taking pictures, and haven't forgotten my camera as often as I did before. Previously it seemed that everywhere I went there would be some picture worthy event that I would curse myself for not having my camera. My commitment to show all the picture worthy events that occur back here and bring it to all of you out there, well that commitment remains strong.

It's another windy day today, gusts up to 30mph, leaves are blowing around like, well like leaves on a fall day. At least it's not too cold, mid-40's, otherwise it would be pretty unpleasant outside.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Quitting the Paint Factory

I read a fabulous essay this morning, it's actually a reprint from 2004, from Harper's magazine by Mark Slouka, and thought I'd pass it along for everyone to enjoy. Here's the link. I always enjoy cerebral justifications for my semi-retired lifestyle, and pieces like this really resonate with me, not because it justifies laziness, but because it validates my urgent need for regular time for quiet introspection.

There's also some interesting dicsussion of the perceived differences between leisure and idleness. Leisure being activity which is directed in pursuit of a goal - fishing, golfing, sailing, and idleness is directed in pursuit of doing nothing - resting, reading, thinking, or just sitting there doing nothing. Naturally you can guess which of these society deems morally good, and which is morally bad. "Idles hands are ___ (fill in the blank on this one, but it won't be a positive reference)".

Here's a quick passage from the piece that I'll leave you with:

Idleness is not just a psychological necessity, req­uisite to the construction of a complete human being; it constitutes as well a kind of political space, a space as necessary to the workings of an actual democracy as, say, a free press. How does it do this? By allowing us time to figure out who we are, and what we believe; by allowing us time to consider what is unjust, and what we might do about it. By giving the inner life (in whose precincts we are most ourselves) its due. Which is precisely what makes idle­ness dangerous. All manner of things can grow out of that fallow soil. Not for nothing did our mothers grow suspicious when we had “too much time on our hands.” They knew we might be up to something. And not for nothing did we whisper to each other, when we were up to something, “Quick, look busy."

Friday, October 23, 2009

Starry Starry Morning

It was chilly this morning, low 20's, the coldest so far this year. Saying that it was the coldest night of the year in mid-October is like watching a basketball game and stating after the first basket "I don't think the final score will stay at 2-0". What is John trying to say with this odd analogy? That it will most likely get colder as the days and weeks creep towards actual winter.

We're up early these days, and not because of cold puppy noses poking over the edge of the bed. Nope, we're actually slaves to the alarm, set for 6:00 am. We've got many tasks to accomplish- dog walk, dog breakfast, people breakfast, coffee brewing (this step is VERY, VERY important), and getting Alycia ready for her school day. The dogs would actually allow us to sleep in later if we didn't need to get up. It's a small measure or revenge to have to rouse Shaak Ti out of bed instead of the other way around, which happens 97% of the time. That small measure of revenge though does nothing to mitigate the unparalleled horror of having to be up that early.

So needless to say our morning dog walks are done while it is very much dark, and this morning was dark and cold and clear. Without the fluffy layer of cloud insulation to ward it off, the cold really sets in. Even in my sleepy state I appreciate the fact that we're the only ones out and about, parading our furry companions through the dark, and crunching the frost covered fallen leaves with slippered feet.

As I stumbled around in my multiple layers of clothing and fuzzy slippers, I looked up at the night, soon to be dawn sky, and marveled at all the stars. These stargazing moments were brief, as my shuffling demanded as much attention I could generate so early in the morning, lest it lead to me performing the popular "shuffle-shuffle-stumble-faceplant" maneuver.

There were more stars than I ever remember seeing in the light polluted lands of Southern California. And most folk around here will tell you that you can't see stars at all in "the city" (that would be Grand Forks that they're referring to) and that you need to get out into the country to really see some stars. I look forward to it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A New Harness

The littlest sled dog (aka Shaak Ti) got herself a brand new blue harness today. The old one finally collapsed, much like the Bluesmobile at the end of The Blues Brothers (see it in the first 15 seconds of this clip), it just completely fell apart this morning. The buckle had slipped and became unbuckled a few times over the past week or so, giving the indication that total failure was imminent.

This morning as we put Shaak Ti in her harness, the buckle snapped completely. Upon closer inspection I also realized that a few of the seams were also almost completely torn off as well. It was a good thing because soon enough the whole thing probably would have failed, and Shaak Ti would have torn through it like Bruce Banner changing into the Hulk, shed her restraints, and raced freely after some poor squirrel or chipmunk.

The harness lasted for quite a while, more than two years, through hundreds of miles of walks and another few hundred miles of runs, through rain and snow and sand from so many beach trips. We humbly salute you, oh noble harness, you have served your purpose well.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New Poll

I posted a new poll, so check it out and cast your vote. It's very important that you do, if not, I may not have my finger on the pulse of what Halloween candy is popular this year, and I'll hand out something that kids hate, thus turning me into a social pariah. So please vote.....

Wallyball Results

You'll be proud to know your wallyball team was victorious in its athletic debut last night. We met our first foe and soundly, yet honorably, defeated them in our first athletic conquest. Our new comrades Chris and Kaitlan integrated well into the team and were fun teammates to play with, which bodes well for a successful and enjoyable season.

You may be surprised to know that I wasn't confident of victory and had set my expectation level at "I just want to make sure no one gets hurt this evening". Lo and behold what a pleasant surprise it was when not only were there no injuries, collisions, or mishaps, but everyone played well, had a pleasant time. AND we won. Expectations were exceeded at every level.

Though there were no injuries, there was some aftermath. Alycia, still sore from our wallyball outing on Sunday, reported post-game soreness in her quads, hamstrings, and every other leg muscle she owns (and even a few I think she made up). She's on heavy doses of Ibuprofen right now, and we're hopeful that her condition will slowly improve. Don't tell her (it's a surprise), but we're going to try to use homemade chili and gluten free cornbread to nurse her back to health this evening. She's due lots of slack though since this is her first real exercise in 7 months since her broken ankle diagnosis, so it may take some time to get her back up to speed.

I do have a few photographs of the event, but they are currently unavailable as they were requested for display from the Grand Forks Athletic Hall of Fame. The organization promised they would provide duplicate pictures, as the originals will be proudly displayed in a traveling exhibition throughout North Dakota over the next several months. If you're in the area, I would highly recommend a visit.

All joking aside, they do publish the local league results in the Grand Forks Herald on Mondays, though I'm not sure if that section is also available online. If it is, I'll include so you can also savor our standing in the league.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Wallyball League

Alycia and I joined the gym last week and indicated that we were interested in playing in some organized leagues, and the sports league coordinator not only called me the very next day, but also chatted with me and arranged an informal wallyball get together on Sunday evening.

For those unfamiliar with wallyball, it's essentially volleyball played on an racquetball court with a more rubberized version of a volleyball. The net bisects the court in half and you can bounce the ball off all the walls except for your opponents back wall. It's fast, dizzying at times, and bears some resemblance to actual volleyball. More than anything it's an opportunity for me to play. Which is all I really want to do, run around and have adult recess. Plus this way, Alycia gets to play too, which is a super bonus.

I played wallyball a few times before when I lived in Connecticut, but Alycia had never played before. Our purpose Sunday night was thus two-fold, make sure Alycia enjoyed the game enough to commit to a two month league, and also to test out her ankle to make sure it has healed adequately, or at least sufficiently well to scamper around on a racquetball court hitting a rubbery volleyball.

We played for a couple of hours, had a good time hitting the bouncing ball, and avoided any injuries and wall collisions. We also met Chris and Kaitlan who will join us for the next couple of months on our wallyball squad. The standings for the sports leagues at the gym are listed in the Monday morning Grand Forks Herald. This could perhaps be my first opportunity to have my victorious sports achievements listed in the local paper, something that was previously impossible, considering my lack of involvement with organized sports in high school and college. More stories as the season develops.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Enough Already!!!

Sometimes this blog ain't gonna be funny, and instead serves as a soapbox for some rant of mine. This is one such entry, so if you don't want to hang with me on my soapbox, or were looking for some humor, I won't blame ya' if you don't read on.

Another caveat. Even though I'm pretty sure I'll get pilloried on this one, I just have to say something. But please, before you throw out expletives or call me names, read the whole thing, and some of the attached links as well, then make up your own mind.

This idea has been percolating in my mind for months now, but finally came to a head when I went to the grocery store this morning. I was picking up a few things and wanted to get some mushrooms for pizza we're going to have for dinner tonight, but I couldn't find the mushrooms in their normal blue container. It took me a minute to see that they were specially packaged in a pink container as part of raising money for Breast Cancer Month. That put me over the edge. What do mushrooms have to do with breast cancer?

My main issues towards this Breast Cancerization of America movement are that 1) the money raised for breast cancer would save more lives if it was directed toward the main killer of women in the US (heart disease) and 2) the Breast Cancer phenomenon has become a vehicle for corporate exploitation, greed, hypocrisy, and shameless advertisement.

Let me first say unequivocally that breast cancer is a terrible disease. Any cancer is terrible, and a cancer that results in having part of your body amputated (especially a part of your body that defines your self image and femininity) is unspeakably horrible. The people who have gone through this and had family members or loved ones die have suffered loss and pain from breast cancer, and my heart goes out to you. This is not to be minimized.

CDC statistics show that breast cancer killed 41,000 American women in 2005 (the most recent year statistics were available). Again this is 41,000 too many, but is slightly less than die by "accidents" and 10,000 fewer than die annually from Alzheimer's. Breast cancer is only the seventh leading killer of women in the United States, and isn't even the most deadly cancer, that dubious honor goes to lung cancer.

What if we reduced the number of breast cancer deaths by half, 50%? That would be a laudable, honorable goal, and would prevent the death of 20,000 American women. Anyone would be overjoyed with such an unbridled success. But what if we decided to reduce by half, 50%, the number of heart disease deaths of American women? We could prevent the death of 165,000 American women per year.

So what if we took some of the estimated tens of millions of dollars (no one knows how much is actually raised every year) raised for breast cancer and use it to reduce the number of American women who die from heart disease every year? Wouldn't that be a more effective use of money to save the lives of women in the US? Such a program would involve nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle change programs, especially for urban and poor women, who are disproportionately affected by heart disease. The problem with such a program? It's not so easy to raise money, and it's not so easy to make additional profits from such a program. It's just not as glamorous.

As far as my second criticism, that corporate America is using breast cancer as a vehicle for corporate exploitation, greed, hypocrisy, and advertisement - please check out this article - Pink Ribbon Overkill: Are companies exploiting breast cancer campaigns? This goes a long way in describing the current state of various corporate manipulation surrounding the pink ribbon campaign and the current practice of "pinkwashing" by nefarious companies.

The mushrooms that I purchased are a great example of these corporate shenanigans. The company that is selling me the mushrooms didn't even give any money to any charity related to breast cancer. In a tiny stamp on the label there's a statement that says "The Mushroom Council donated $50,000 to the City of Hope to fight breast cancer". The Mushroom Councils own figures state that mushroom producers (farmers?) sold 14 million pounds of mushrooms over the last MONTH and 188 million pounds over the last year, (and you know how much mushrooms cost per pound), and yet the mushroom producing contingent in the US could only come up with $50,000 to donate to such an allegedly important cause? I call BS on that.

The truth is the folks I bought these mushrooms from know that they don't have to contribute a penny of their own money to charity (though surely they pay dues of some kind to the mighty Mushroom Council), but all they have to do is slap their product in a pink box for a few months, add some vague promises about "fighting for the cure" and know that people will buy it. Again, I vehemently call BS on that.

Could future breast cancer cases be reduced or eliminated if instead of donating a pittance of a few dollars, companies stopped using known carcinogens in producing their products? Studies have shown a link between breast cancer and environmental pollution, and more research is needed on this topic, but couldn't companies be proactive and eliminate the KNOWN carcinogens from common use. Wouldn't that be a heck of a gift?

Did you know that AstraZeneca, the producer of breast cancer fighting drugs Arimidex and Faslodex, is also related to a giant international manufacturer of industrial chemicals and carcinogenic pesticides? Their former parent company (they spun off Astra in 1993) Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) manufactures the plastic ingredient polyvinyl chloride, that has been linked to breast cancer, as well as the pesticide acetochlor, classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a “probably human carcinogen.”

ICI also makes pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. ICI releases potential cancer-causing pollution into the environment on a daily basis from its global manufacturing facilities. Does that make sense to you? Wouldn't a better contribution from AstraZeneca towards eliminating breast cancer be to lobby their former parent company, ICI, to stop releasing all these toxins and selling all these toxic products into the world?

So that's my rant. Again, please don't misinterpret this as a lack of respect for those who've lost friends and loved ones to breast cancer, or a lack of reverence towards survivors of breast cancer. I just feel that a greater degree of death prevention could be gained if we focused more attention and money on heart disease in American women, and I wanted a chance to vent my anger at companies who have hopped on the breast cancer bandwagon in order to boost their sales. That is despicable, and unfortunately, quite widespread.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Out of Town Visitor

My Dad came out to our humble North Dakota homestead for a visit last week and had a grand time, or at least he was very convincing in his claims that he had a grand time. We had initially planned on playing a few days of golf, but after the weather forecast, I called and told him that unseasonable chilliness would probably prove prohibitive, and he should leave his clubs at home rather than pay exorbitant baggage fees and then not use them.

But we had plenty of other activities to keep us busy - UND Fighting Sioux hockey and football games (The Potato Bowl) to attend, the French Fry Feed, and numerous local establishments to peruse. There was also a Potato Pancake breakfast at the Sons of Norway Lodge. No I am not making this up.

One of the finest festivities of the week was the french fry feed, part of the Potato Bowl celebration. The french fry feed was in University Park, a lovely area a few blocks away from UND. In the picture above, Dad and Alycia pose in front of the festivities. If it looks like they're huddled together for warmth, it's because they are, it was cold.

We also took a picture with the official Simplot French Fry mascot guy above. Simplot is a huge potato processing plant here in town. We stopped the guy and asked if we could take a picture with him, and he seemed genuinely surprised that someone would want a picture with him. Seriously, how often do you get the chance to take a picture with a giant human french fry? Hell yes we were gonna seize this opportunity.

While I attempted to eat our weight in french fries, my Dad had a mild case of french fry related hiccups, that somehow scarred him for the rest of trip where he avoided potato related products like the plague, which I must tell you isn't easy in North Dakota. And as you can see from the pictures, it was pretty darn chilly, low 30's and windy. It's not so much the temperature here, it's the wind.

We also went to a Fighting Sioux hockey game at the Ralph Englestad Arena. The Ralph is a fantastic place to watch a hockey game, and frequently gets named as one of the best places in the world to watch a hockey game. But before we saw the game, we decided to have ourselves a little full access tour, which is where we got the great picture of my Dad with the ice behind him. And yeah, my Dad is a proud San Diego Padres fan, and proudly wears his Padres gear even in the frozen lands of North Dakota where people say "what the heck is a Padres?"

Sadly we don't have any pictures from the Sons of Norway potato pancake breakfast. All we have is the memory of delicious potato pancakes and charming conversation with a gentleman named Harold Vjold (lot of j's in surnames around here).

We think that Dad a decent enough time, we plied him with homemade delicacies like corn chowder and Parmesan biscuits, blueberry coffee cake, and pho soup (tasty on a cold night), and traveled to the finest dining establishments in town. Hopefully we impressed him with the level of actual civilization here and he'll schedule a return trip. Once winter has passed that is...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cute Puppy Pictures

I've got a bunch of fun pictures and a recap of my Dad's visit on its way, but I'm a little light on writing inspiration today. So in the meantime, you get a bunch of cute puppy pictures instead. Hopefully you can hold off another day or two to hear all the fun stories of my Pops' visit to North Dakota.

Tito and Shaak Ti have a little chompin' time.

Tito sees his opening and moves in for the kill. Actually rolling over on her back is really Shaak Ti's only offensive move, aside from using her butt to shove Tito into a corner.

After a run through the snow flurries there's nothing better than curling up into the green ball for a cozy nap.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Quiet Time

It's been a bit quiet from the Deaf Dog Blog for the past few days due to my Dad coming out to visit - our first official out of town visitor!!! Our grand plans of golfing multiple days were thwarted by 30 to 45 degree temps, brisk breezes, and some precipitation.

The precipitation is the big item of the day. Yesterday it was chilly and a few rogue snowflakes fell from the sky. I immediately alerted my Dad who was dutifully impressed, apparently snow is a rare sight in San Diego, especially this time of year. But today was a different story, flakes have been falling aplenty, and there is talk of actual accumulation overnight. Accumulation? But it's only October.

It is a bit tiring playing tour guide, so I'm gonna keep this entry short and sweet and go take myself a nap. More information and funny stories of my Dad's visit down the road a bit, right now I'm gonna drift off to sleep as I watch the flakes drift down from the heavens.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

It's Getting a Bit Crafty In Here

A craft show at a hockey rink? Hell yeah I want to go.

This past weekend we attended the largest craft show in the region. It was massive, immense, two giant buildings worth of arts and crafts in East Grand Forks, Minnesota. Building one was the local hockey rink (appropriate) and building two was the local VFW, all in all approximately seven hundred thousand square hectares of locally made stuff. OK I made up that figure completely, and I'm not actually sure how big a hectare is, but there was a lot of stuff.

I really wanted to tag along with Alycia and her Mom to see what the craft show was all about. The largest craft show only comes around once a year, so you gotta get while the gettin' is good.

According to Wikipedia's North Dakota Info, the largest industry in North Dakota is agriculture, followed by petroleum and food processing. But I argue that baby making should also be on the list, possibly as number two, right behind agriculture. The number of baby related items (fleece Minnesota Viking onesie anyone?) and people with babies at the fair was crazy. And in my half hour or so at the craft fair, my impressions of the area were confirmed, there are more young people here with kids than just about any place I've been. Being over 30 and childless definitely puts you in the minority.

I left after a half hour, while Alycia and her Mom forged bravely onward. Alycia did find a new fuzzy hat to keep her very valuable noggin warm in the winter and some cool new mittens.
Alycia and Mama Bear survey the crafts. The two of them are quite the team, and they focus on inspecting just about every booth with a high degree of scrutiny. When it came to this particular craft show/shopping event, they were no match for me.....

Monday, October 5, 2009

One Thousand, One Hundred and Thirty Seven

Lots of times people ask me "You're so awesome-rad, How did you get to be so awesome-rad?" or "You're so awesome-rad, Have you ever tried to quantify exactly how awesome-rad you actually are?" Sadly there are few opportunities to actually assign a numerical value to awesome-radness, but one recently came my way, so I thought I'd pass it along.

The number is 1,137. That is the number of consecutive games of Freecell I have won. It hasn't been easy, but then again, nothing worth achieving that's difficult is ever easy. And it's not over. We'll continue to build on these 1,137 consecutive victories and establish a new personal best. And don't worry, we'll keep you up to date on new Freecell developments.

I've researched online and there doesn't appear to be any National or World Championship of Freecell, and that's too bad. I feel like I could represent the great state of North Dakota pretty well.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Half a Bushel

Half a bushel of tomatoes. Yup, that's what I bought. First time I've ever purchased anything in an increment of a bushel, or fractional part of a bushel. I'm not gonna lie, it felt good. And since it's prime tomato harvesting time, half a bushel of beautiful, ripe tomatoes was only $15. To give you an idea of how many tomatoes that it, the box they gave me was an old beer box, case size. That's a lot of tomatoes.

My plan was to cook up a big ole batch of pasta sauce, and instead of canning it, I'd honor the sauce by making it the first item inside our newest basement inhabitant - the chest freezer.

It took me a couple of hours to process all the tomatoes, and another hour or so to pick some fresh basil, oregano, and chives from our backyard herb garden to add to the sauce. I also purchased five pounds of onions for $3, so I chopped those up as well and threw them in the pot. The sauce took a while to cook down (the tomatoes were quite juicy), and I actually left them on low to cook down overnight.

I ended up with 11 jars (quart size) of pasta sauce, which are all happily hibernating in the basement freezer. From a cost benefit analysis, I only spent $18 on 11 jars of pasta sauce, which is still a savings over what I would have paid at the grocery store, but the joy is not in saving money, but having tasty homemade sauce waiting for me in the freezer.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Poll Results

So the poll results are in, and it seems that the readers overwhelmingly want to hear more funny stories about North Dakota. I've got to be careful not to make the stories of a "look at these bumbling hicks" types, since a) that's not really the case of the folks here, and b) I don't want a mob of angry villagers knocking politely at the front door whilst brandishing torches and pitchforks.

For the most part, there's no malice or judgment in my observations, nor do I think there is much City Mouse vs. Country Mouse attitude. My earlier post today about the neighborhood smelling like potatoes was the truth, the place smells like potatoes. Plus it gave me the opportunity to investigate and discover some information about my new hometown, mainly that there's a large potato processing plant a few miles down the street.

If I'm reading my audience correctly (and I know I am), I think what you truly want to see are unique perspectives on an otherwise unknown land. And I think the majority of you want to hear humorous tales of me getting into awkward or emabrassing situations due to my presuppositions, Southern California mindset, or lack of knowledge about local customs.

Please note that I will endeavor to place myself in as many situations that can produce these humorous results. This hopefully may include some or all of the following activities: snowmobiling, snow blowing, any other activity that deals with snow, eating lutefisk, clog dancing, pheasant/deer/elk hunting, decking myself out in Chargers gear to visit the local saloon for Sunday football viewing, attending the annual craft show (IT'S THIS WEEKEND!!!!), and ice fishing. I will try as to my best abilities to take pictures and share them, even if they're embarrassing.

Thanks for participating in the poll, it was fun. I think I'll try and come up with new polls every week or so. I'm also pleased to offer a full guarantee for anyone taking the poll. If you're not fully satisfied with your experience, your money will be refunded to you in full. That's right, a 100% money back guarantee if you're not happy. Beat that....

Potato Aroma

Alycia and I noticed this morning as we were walking the dogs that there is a noticeable baked potato aroma all about the neighborhood. Over the past few days there has also been a noticeable large plume of steam from the big plant several miles east from our house. Related events? For shizzle.

The plant is the JR Simplot Potato Processing Plant, one of the largest producers of frozen french fries in the country (they supply McDonald's with french fries). And now that it's prime potato harvesting time the plant is running at full tilt turning delicious Red River Valley potatoes into golden delicious, ready-to-be-fried-for-you-yummy-goodness french fries. The facility is huge and now that the weather has turned cooler, the steam plume is visible for some distance, and the breeze carries the potato smells further.

The rush to process all these taters is also to ensure that the town is ready, ramped, and geared up for POTATO BOWL USA 2009!!! You can see all the Potato Bowl USA 2009 information on their aforementioned website. Every year as part of the festivities they try to set the record for the worlds largest french fry feed, free french fries to anyone and everyone. You gotta be ready for an event like this.

It's actually sort of a pleasant smell, comforting, but at 6:00 in the morning, I don't know if it was the proper time to arouse a hankering for baked potatoes. I'll keep you up to date with how much longer the potato aroma continues. Maybe in another few days/weeks I'll be sick of it, we'll see.

In weather news, today is chilly and rainy. A big front is quickly moving through and was preceded by strong winds yesterday that made for a beautiful blustery fall day. I'm comning to realize what a big factor the wind is here. 50 degrees is quite pleasant. 50 degrees and 40 mph wind gusts can be chilly.