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.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

IRA Time

I know that with the market in its current state, the last thing that may be on your mind is plowing additional money into the stock market. We may not be at a market bottom and there's no way to predict how low we'll go, but we're probably pretty close, and for those with a long investment horizon (anyone with 15 to 20 years till retirement), you should probably make a contribution to your IRA or Roth IRA, if indeed you are eligible.

If it makes it easier to stomach, keep in mind that it is extremely difficult to time the market bottom perfectly and any gains you may hope to make by timing it could be offset by being stuck on the sidelines when the rally finally occurs.

Indeed your current year contribution may go down a bit if the market continues to decline over the next several quarters, but overall dumping money into your IRA is a no-brainer. Here's a few articles on IRA and retirement accounts that I have floating out in the ether....

How to Open a Roth IRA

401(k) vs. IRA

Remember that IRAs provide tax protected status and if nothing else, this can make them better than ordinary investment vehicles, but keep in mind that everyone's situation is different, so contact your tax advisory or CPA.

Friday, February 27, 2009

North Dakota Housing

As previously mentioned, the family unit is headed off on the great adventure of relocating the homestead to Grand Forks, North Dakota. We're planning on buying a house in Grand Forks, and due to their significantly lower cost, we should be able to purchase significantly more house than we'd ever be able to afford here in San Diego. We're looking at house in the southwest part of town, just south of downtown near the Greenway, a bike/jogging path the runs along the Red River. There are a good number of 100 year old houses that are just awesome and well within our price range.

I knew going into this move that the cost of living and thus houses would be less expensive, but I wasn't prepared for the list prices of $150,000 to $190,000 for some very nice houses. Generally the houses are 2,000 or more square feet and have a good sized yard (a must for me and my green thumb/urban farming urges), which is unheard of in San Diego, let alone anywhere in Southern California.

The Gluten Free Girlfriend and I also have a special advantage in that her parents (especially her Mom) live only an hour and half away and are able to check out houses ahead of time and give us a report. This is a huge benefit in that we are able to check out houses without having to fly out all the way to North Dakota to look at them. We'll screen houses online, have the Gluten Free Girlfriend's Mom preview the place and then we'll draft up our top three or four choices then fly out and look at them first hand. Hopefully this will require us to only have to make one trip out there before we actually move.

We're looking for at least three bedrooms, one for sleeping, one for a guest room, and one for an office for both of us (though most houses have either a den or a large finished basement that would suffice for an office), a good sized fenced yard for the dogs, and a nice enough kitchen for all our cooking issues. We're not really looking for anything special, our main concerns are adequate fenced yard for the dogs and livable space for the humans. More to come on our house hunting.....

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Warm Climate Apple Varieties You'll Love

Apples good. Yes they are good indeed. The proverbial apple every day may not actually keep physicians at bay, but they are an integral part of my healthy diet (I prefer mine with peanut butter..mmmmm), and an extremely easy fruit to grow in your own backyard.

The key to growing apples is the research you do ahead of time in selecting the right variety for your yard. Although apples are traditionally thought of as cool season trees, there are many varieties that will produce well in warm climates.

You can check out an article I wrote on Apple Varieties for Warm Climates.

For me, backyard apples are a joy, once ripe, they remain fresh on the tree for a few weeks, so you can mosey outside in the morning, pick one for breakfast and continue to do so for the next several weeks. And the happiness from having a tasty, organic, home-grown apple, that you produced in your own backyard is truly immeasurable.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Like Lewis and Clark

Like Lewis and Clark? What the hell can that possibly mean? Well what it means is that the gluten free girlfriend (aka the gluten free grad student) has finally found employment and we are most likely headed to the land of Lewis and Clark as the next stop on the fun family adventure known as life.

The gluten free girlfriend went on a couple of interviews over the last few weeks to the University of North Dakota and the University of Minnesota. And while the University of Minnesota is a very prestigious program and would surely elevate her career status, instead of pursuing it as an option, she chose to accept the position offered by the University of North Dakota. They offered her a very competitive salary, adequate start up funds to begin her research, a modest teaching load (3 classes per year), and all the bells and whistles that go along with it. The most important of those bells and whistles would be health insurance for yours truly, nothing to laugh at....

So it is with North Dakota on the brain that we begin our process of relocating to the Grand Forks metro area, which should likely happen around June or July of this year. We have to find renters for our current abode, locate and purchase a house in North Dakota, and then move the family unit and its moderate amount of belongings to a land far far away.

The dogs are very much looking forward to this move, as Shaak Ti has heard rumors of the numerous flocks of chaseable birds that inhabit the great plains, and Tito has read in his magazine subscription to "Bunny Poop Quarterly" that some of the finest edible bunny poop can be be found in North Dakota. They are both currently napping in anticipation.

More updates to follow as we get deeper into the process of relocation, and I'll do my best to document the fun happenings for everyone.....

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

It's Tax Time

As tax time rears its ugly head, there are a whole lot of things to think about, probably how much money you're getting back and when. You should probably be thinking about who's doing your taxes and what their qualifications are. Thankfully I've wrote a vaguely informative article about how to select a great CPA. Check out the links here to make yourself a smarter little panda:

How to Find a Good CPA

Five Things Your Tax Accountant Won't Tell You

Good luck during this tax season in getting all the dollars you deserve to migrate back into your pocket.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


What a fantastic week in San Diego, almost two inches of rain fell from Thursday to Sunday, putting the region ahead for its annual rainfall total. We're also expecting some more towards the end of the next week. Unfortunately there are some extremely unwise folks in town who aren't smart enough to temporarily turn off their automatic sprinklers, so even as the rain pours down, sprinklers still sprinkle, wasting water. These are the folks who are last in line for conservation and environmental issues.

Water is one of the extremely limited resources here in Southern California and every gallon counts, so when we're out on our morning dog walks and there's more annoying than seeing a sprinklers on as the streets remain wet from recent rains. The word on the street is that come July 1, Southern California will have mandatory water rationing, thus the opportunity to rat out those water wasting folks may soon be at hand.

In previous years of water rationing I recall unpleasantness between friends and neighbors as people confronted one another about water abuses. Many of this future unpleasantness could be avoided if people could conserve water now, but there are too many ignorant "I have my sprinklers on ever though it's raining" folks around town.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Mozarella Cheese

You can make your own cheese, and it’ll be good. Yes, right in the comfort of your own kitchen, probably with cooking equipment you already have. If you have an hour of time and an adventurous spirit, you can easily make your own mozzarella cheese. After one failed attempt I made mozzarella cheese in about an hour, though with some practice, it could probably be done in half that time. Mozzarella cheese is one of the easiest cheeses to make and since it can be used in a variety of dishes, sandwiches, pizzas, pasta, etc. it will disappear quickly.

Instead of going into the gory, step by step details of the process, Amazon has cheesemaking kits. It’s also a great resource for other free cheese recipes and cheese making supplies. The only two ingredients you’ll need that you may not be able to find in your local supermarket are rennet and citric acid, both of which you can purchase cheaply online. If you’re lucky enough to have an extensive local grocery store or cheesemaking shop in your town, you might be able to find them locally. Besides rennet and citric acid, the only other ingredient that you’ll need is whole milk. You’ll need to read the label carefully and make sure that the milk is NOT labeled “ultra pasteurized”. Ultra pasteurized milk has been heated to a high temperature that kills the bacteria and cultures needed to make cheese. Raw milk or pasteurized milk is OK.

One best facets of making mozzarella cheese is its simplicity, simplicity of ingredients and necessary equipment. All you will need is a pot large enough to hold a gallon of milk, a slotted spoon, some clean rubber gloves, and a kitchen thermometer. A candy thermometer is preferable to other types as you’ll want a large enough readout in the 80 to 110 degree range. This is the sweet spot for cheese, where you’ll want to hold the temperature of your mixture so the curds can set, so a thermometer that’s easy to read in this range is optimal.

Once you’ve tasted the cheese you can make in your own kitchen, you may be hooked. I’ve added cheese making to my weekly kitchen tasks and enjoy watching the curds set, then massaging the curds into small mozzarella mounds. Sure I still get my other, more complicated cheeses from my local grocer or farmers market, but soon enough I may experiment with another type of cheese with a higher degree of difficulty. Once you’ve made your own cheese, you’re part of an ancient tradition of turning milk into cheese, and you’re part of a select group of people who’ve made homemade cheese.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Rain and some New Trees

As we finally got some much needed rain today, it's a good opportunity to stay inside and watch the raindrops fall. After a month or more of a rainless rainy season, the drops started falling yesterday afternoon and continued through the night, a slow pleasant soaking rain, just what the garden needs. Though most of the garden is covered with a many inch layer of mulch, underneath the thick clay soil still remains, and a slow soaking rain is just what's needed to fully saturate the soil.

About a month ago I put in four new bareroot fruit trees, spaced evenly along the southwest fence. They were ordered online and delivered the first week of January.

The trees were a Royal Rainier cherry and and Lapins cherry. Rainier cherries are delicious, but always expensive and they tend to have a short season, one week they're here, the next they're gone. Plus the fact that they're grown in the Pacific Northwest means that they have a significant carbon trail if they're shipped to Southern California. I never thought that cherries, let alone Rainier cherries would grow in Southern California, but these are a low chill hour cherry that should produce here in Southern California. The Lapins cherry is known as a good pollenizer and also has a low chill hour requirement.

The other two trees were both pears, a Flordahome and Hood variety. These are both low chill hour requirement varities that should produce in Southern California.

All four of the planted trees were out in the ground about a month ago and all have taken well to their new surroundings. They have all started leafing out and the two pears have flowered as well. Pictures to follow....

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

No Winter in San Diego

It's been yet another odd winter here in San Diego. Typically winter is barely a season in San Diego, though noticeably colder and damper than the other nine months of the year (aka summer), it's still punctuated by warm spells, Santa Ana winds from the North and East, and general mild, warm days. This winter started out promising with an almost record rainfall in December, 3 inches, but since the rains of December, it has been bone dry. January should have been the wettest month of the year, but we received barely a trace of rainfall and since the beginning of the year we've had multiple stretches of days over 80 degrees. The cold unsettled weather pattern that ushers in storms has abandoned the area for high pressure and unseasonable warmth.

"Uh so what?" you may be thinking, "I'm freezing my (inset body part here) off". Well aside from the aesthetic implications that I like winter, being chilly, having to wear the occasional jacket. Our heat waves last year during February, March, and April, affected the yields of some of my blueberry bushes and citrus trees. Both of these were fooled by the early heat and flowered and budded only to be smacked back down with a cold frost. It looks like the same thing is gonna happen again this year.

Already my early peach and pear trees, and blueberries are leafing out and flowering. This may prove to be a non-event if the remainder of the winter is mild, but on average, we're still due for several nights of frost before our official "Spring" season arrives. Hopefully it'll turn out OK, but the risk of losing another years worth of fruit and berry crops has me fretting.....

Being warm during winter may sound like an ungrateful thought, bordering on treasonous to folks who may be cold and snowbound, but I feel that people need cold and rain as much as a garden does. It's part of the seasonal rhythm of life. It's an odd "out of body" feeling to walk outside and be greeted with 85 degrees in February. It leaves you with the seasonal equivalent of taking an afternoon weekend nap, sleeping too long and momentarily feeling disoriented as you wake up and struggle to place what time of day it is.