Homesteadin'

Homesteadin’ – The Pink Toilet Caper

An image we pulled it from the Zillow page for our house. Surprisingly, I have never thought to take pictures of our hideous toilet.

When we bought our small home, nicknamed The Tavern, we knew it needed some work. The bungalow, built in 1893, has had some, but not a lot of upgrades. The electrical has been updated, and the kitchen isn’t toooo outdated. But the foundation wasn’t particularly amazing. The subfloors are useless. The carpet is just some kind of dust collector. The back “laundry room” is nowhere near up to any kind of code. The plaster appears to be WWII era. Oh, and the bathroom is pink and awful and falling apart and we absolutely hate it.

Today we took the first step to correcting this gross injustice to our eyeballs: we replaced the toilet. By ourselves. Terrifying.

When I say “the bathroom is pink,” I mean it. It’s a disgusting, horrible, vomit-inducing shade of pink that was only palatable from March 3rd – April 7th 1962. The bathtub: pink. The uneven tile running across the walls: pink. Toilet: pink. Until today.

Today mine eyes have seen the glory of Home Depot tutorial videos on YouTube. And my hands have seen the glory of our brand new, 1.28 gallons per flush, Watersense® certified Kohler toilet, the Cimarron®. I can’t tell you how happy I am that I know the make and model of my toilet. It’s only slightly embarrassing.

And, the best part: IT WAS EASY. While I fully admit I watched the video embedded below, there were some issues that popped up that not only gave me unnecessary heart palpitations, gave me enough fodder to make for an interesting blog post.

BEHOLD THE GLORY OF NEW PORCELAIN.

#1: Not everything will go to plan.

The instructions on both Home Depot’s video and given by Kohler were spot-on… once I got past some hang-ups. First off: toilets use water. Toilets also use metal bolts. Water and metal don’t always get along. Instead of being able to use my socket wrench, which I assure you was up to the task, I instead stared at rusted chunks of steel that, at one point, were nuts that I could unscrew to remove the tank from the bowl.

This wasn’t “the nuts rusted stuck.” This was “the inside of the nuts rusted shut, but most of them have disintegrated, and now I can’t get them off without drilling the bolts off” stuck.

I did not drill the bolts out.

Instead, I channeled my inner Bruce Banner and just took the toilet out in one piece. It worked. Nothing about this change in steps was terrible.

#2: Not everything will go to plan deux: stupid plastic things.

In the instructions, it shows a little plastic washer going under the toilet and another one going under the metal washer above the toilet. Apparently it’s easy to confuse the two. Like I did. It ended being fine after undoing, then repeating, steps 5-7.

#3: Sometimes things go to plan.

After re-doing the bolt/washer/plastic thingie order, we had the first tests. Well, the Test #1, and the most important test, Test #2. The new toilet passed with flying colors. Wait, no, that doesn’t sound right. Passed with nothing flying. Everything is still very white and clean and wonderful.

As we continue to rebuild The Tavern, we’ll be sure to share the journey in hopes that it inspires you to learn new skills.

After this experience, I can’t wait to start smashing the rest of the pink fixtures, but honestly, that was enough homeowner-DIY-ing for one day. Time to crack open one of these awesome Dogfish Head and Woolrich collab beers and watch some old Top Gear.

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Camp – The Board Game

Cal, her brother, Mahlon, and her mom, Ramona

Last weekend, Cal & I got to take a trip to her parents’ cabin in Big Bear where we hiked, sledded, and played games with the rest of her family (yes, yes, we are TOTALLY spoiled). While we usually play word games like Mad Libs, Apples to Apples, or A2A’s R-rated cousin, Cards Against Humanity, this time around, we played a new-to-us game: Camp: The Board Game.

Well, OBVIOUSLY we were interested in playing a board game based on one of our favorite activities. While the games are a bit short, the gameplay is actually designed to be challenging for both kids and grown-ups.

After picking your animal character (I called dibs on Bruce the Moose while Cal picked Eisenhower the Owl), you roll a single die, where you land on a variety of squares. Should you land on a white set of footprints, your turn is over. However, should you land on green footprints, you get to be asked a question that can earn you another roll. This is where the game difficulty scales up or down.

The question cards offer four levels of nature-based trivia, with levels one and two great for the younger set, and the higher levels appropriately difficult. The questions run the gamut from easy “Which of these birds can’t fly” to questions about fishing lures that I had no clue about (what the heck is a Texas Jig?!).

On top of this, there are some Go to Clubhouse spots that can send you gleefully ahead on the board, or frustratingly backwards on the board. While there’s no trigger to get out of the clubhouse, you do have to read a “fun fact” during your turn. THEN there’s the Compass card and the shortcut, but that you’ll have to play to figure out.

Priced at under $20, it’s definitely a great deal to have some fire-side fun with family and friends. At least until the kids go to sleep and you can pull out Cards Against Humanity and make your in-laws question their daughter’s choice in men.

 

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Product Review – The Cotopaxi Taboche

Cotopaxi Taboche

The Taboche is so hot, snow can’t handle it.

I don’t know how it happened, but I have too many backpacks and not enough backpacks all at once. I have a DaKine that’s alright for a quick hike to hold some snacks, the dogs’ bowl, and a healthy supply of water. I have a small Herschel that’s just fine for running to the coffee shop with my laptop and a couple books. I have a Poler that’s a rugged, every-day sort of beast, but it doesn’t hold THAT much, there’s no sternum/hip straps, and the thick canvas is pretty heavy. My Canon camera backpack just doesn’t hold everything anymore. While each are OK for holding a few things, none of them seem to be able to hold a weekend’s worth of adventure supplies. When Cotopaxi offered to let me try out their 55L backpacking backpack, the Taboche, I eagerly accepted. What’s one more backpack? The answer? EVERYTHING.

Cotopaxi Taboche

Nice day for a hike, don’t you think?

With the recent snow in California’s mountains, I felt it was a good chance to see what the Taboche could do. In went:

My  15″ laptop & charger
A pair of jeans
Two pairs of socks
A pair of underwear
A pair of base layers (one top, one bottom)
A sweater
A scarf
A pair of gloves
Two books (Harry Potter and The Cursed Child and Salt, if you were interested)
Power bank/phone charger
Earbuds
Polaroid camera and a few packs of film
Toiletries (Flonase (WHICH IS THE JAM), deodorant, toothbrush, cologne, etc)
Gozer’s exceptionally adorable camp bandana
Turbo’s exceptionally warm quilted parka

Cotopaxi Taboche

The Taboche in its element.

And I still had room. IT STILL HAD ROOM.

It had room for my tripod.
It had room for my Canon & two zoom lenses. Though, in the interest of gear protection, I traveled with out of the pack.
Two camera batteries & a charger
My camera remote
And it had room for my water bottle in a sweet side pocket.

Poor Cal probably didn’t realize how much stuff I jammed into the backpack, but with the adjustable frame, sternum straps, hip straps, and compression straps galore, she said the weight wasn’t a problem at all. What a champ.

Now, I admit, while up in wonderful town of Big Bear, CA, I wouldn’t be roughing it by any means. We have regular access to a cabin owned by Cal’s parents; the aptly named Tranquility Base. As such, I didn’t try to go through and load the Taboche up with Jet Boils and TP and food and all the other necessities of backpacking, but I can tell you, based on the superfluous amount of crap I brought up, the Taboche is up to the task. AND, it’s sooooo pretty.

While it may not be quite the everyday renaissance (wo)man I am still looking for, it sure as heck is an amazing pack for weekends away from home (especially if you’re sleeping under the stars). If you’re looking for a mid-sized backpacking pack, I highly recommend giving the Taboche a try.

Cotopaxi Taboche

Cal looking mighty pleased with 3,457lbs strapped to her back.

Hiking Local

Hiking Local – Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Preserve

 

Meadows and mountains alike at Santa Rosa Plateau

I love where I live. If I drive an hour East, I’m in Joshua Tree National Park. An hour and a half West lies the Pacific Ocean. And hour northeast and I’m in the amazing mountain community of Big Bear Lake. And an hour south? The Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Preserve. Post Christmas, and with a shiny new zoom lens, Cal & I headed out, snagging her mom along the way.

Located near Murrieta, CA, the Santa Rosa Plateau boasts over 9,000 acres with a variety of interesting ecosystems. There’s meadows of low brush, forests of Engelmann oak, and plenty of chaparral. There are also miles of hiking trails, but on this particular day, we opted for the Vernal Pools and Historic Adobes trails.

The vernal pools come and go with the rains, but we were lucky this time around to see them in nearly full force, even if they did give me a bit of the Dead Marshes vibe (from Lord of the Rings). No, you’re a nerd. There’s a nifty circular dock that allows you to look at the pools from within their border, looking directly down into the water without getting your boots covered in muck. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see some fairy shrimp, one species of which ONLY exists in these pools and nowhere else in the world. I know, that’s nuts.

Vernal pools in winter? California doesn’t care about “seasons.”

The pools themselves aren’t far from the parking lot, and COULD be a stop off before any number of other trails, but we continued on to the Historic Adobes, which, having been built in 1846, are the two oldest standing structures in Riverside county!

The trail to the Adobes, which the area’s cowboys used to crash in, is up a quick hill, down a narrow trail with bushes on either side (and was quite muddy on this particular day), up another hill, and finally down through a wide valley with a beautiful view of the snow-capped San Jacinto Mountain range. On the way, you get to see plenty of prickly cacti, a wide range of wildflowers, and a generous helping of picturesque panoramas.

I didn’t find the Adobes themselves particularly interesting, but we were surrounded by a 400-year-old oak tree and its avian residents. An acutely adorable Acorn Woodpecker aspired to be a model, thus posing for me for an extended period of time. Not to be outdone, a Scrub Jay pranced about in a tree, demanding equal opportunity for a contract.

Acorn woodpecker looking quite smug.

As we left the Adobes for the last 1.4-mile leg of the hike, we climbed a short, albeit mildly steep, hill until we found ourselves flanked on the right by a stunning meadow. While we did see plenty of coyote tracks, we didn’t get to witness any bouncing around. After kicking the mud off our boots, it was but a short jaunt to our perfectly-located home.

 

Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Preserve:

Website: http://www.rivcoparks.org/education/santa-rosa-plateau/santa-rosa-plateau/

Costs:$4 each adult pedestrian, $3 each child between 2-12.

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Do Good & Do Well: Cotopaxi

I’ve always liked telling the masses (read “anyone who will listen to my rambling”) about good things and good people. From my teens and through my twenties, my wardrobe consisted mostly of band t-shirts, which I eagerly wore in hopes of meeting either someone that had heard of the band, or, better yet, someone who hadn’t heard of the band. If asked, I would gladly regale the poor unsuspecting sap with the biography, lineup, discography, and any pertinent trivia they may need to also become a fan of said band. Now, well into my thirties, my shirt collection consists of far more national park shirts than snot-nosed punk bands, but I am still all for grabbing a hold of your proverbial ear and telling you all about why I am rocking a Joshua Tree shirt.

As such, I’ve decided to try to use Bristlecone to help evangelize on behalf of brands and organizations that I feel put people over profit. On that note, I’d like to pontificate for a while about Cotopaxi, a fine example of companies that give a shit.

Cotopaxi incorporated as a B Corp, or certified benefit corporation, which means they were literally designed to do good in the world. As they do well, others do well. It’s a win-win situation if I’ve ever seen one. It was even the first corporation to be formed as a benefit corporation BEFORE getting venture funding. That means it is actually backed by people who were willing to give money away before they were profitable. Hot damn.

Giving permeates everything Cotopaxi is, from employees banding together for volunteer work to the company itself giving their employees 10% of their time to spend in the outdoors. If there’s a way to make your employees brand ambassadors, that’s it.

On top of their insane corporate grant program (which they are exceptionally transparent about), and their phenomenal employee perks, they utilize ethical sourcing in their products and their labor. As their company was built with “the dual purpose of inspiring adventure and alleviating poverty,” it should come as no surprise that their current Kickstarter project, the Libre sweater, is the epitome of this.

The Libre sweater in its natural habitat: outside.

Hot on the heels of their Kusa collection, also launched on Kickstarter, comes the Libre, a sweater with a timeless look made of llama wool, an equally timeless material. It seems to have struck a chord with outdoors enthusiasts, as it has raised over $380,000 at the time of publishing.

Director of Apparel Cheri Sanguinetti was adventuring away in South America when she discovered the Bolivian culture surrounding the llama. Revered as a source of food, clothes, and even religious practices, the Bolivian llama farmers she met weren’t looking to produce the most product in the cheapest way possible. Utilizing the fibers from llama fur, which is referred to as “Bolivian cashmere,” Cheri designed the Libre, a unisex sweater. Combining good looks and honest-to-goodness functionality, the Libre sweater is a piece of clothing that any adventurer can get behind.

I had the opportunity to talk with Ms. Sanguinetti on her thought process behind the Libre sweater. Above all else, the focus was on an element of humanity, “It’s about material sourcing fusion of product design and development coupled with opportunities to improve local livelihoods.”As she continued, we’re trying to reduce labor migration due to lack of market for their traditional products, something we’re trying to do by souring this llama fleece directly from these rural farmers is to create a pathway to market that enables them to keep their traditional livelihood if they wish to stay rather than move to the bigger cities to become miners.”

With their efforts on just the Libre sweater, Cotopaxi has ensured a livelihood for an enduring tradition for countless Bolivian farmers. Along with their grant programs and ethical sourcing and ethical labor for their other product lines, Cotopaxi is proof that companies can do well by doing good.

 

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2016 Holiday Gift Guide

Oh, Christmas, that ode to a gross commercialization of pagan and Christian holidays that everyone finds absolutely disgusting. All the fighting for the latest fad toy that no one will remember in a year. All the worry of whether or not your niece already has a copy of Harry Potter or not. Who are we kidding, even if you are a Grinch with a heart of coal, Christmas rules. Holiday parties rule. Hot chocolate rules. The absolute lack of sub-zero temperatures in Southern California rules. Getting presents rules. And finally, giving presents rules. What doesn’t rule? Trying to pick stuff out. Don’t worry, we have fun (and often times tasty) options for you!

CAFFEINEEEEEE

Caffeine is always a solid choice. A giant bag of whole beam coffee says “I know your schedule rarely allows for sleep, but I want you to stay up and hang out with me.” And, like craft breweries, coffee roasters seem to be popping up all over the place. As such, I recommend grabbing as locally as you can. For me, that’s the bad boys over at Wild Goose Coffee here in Redlands, CA. They even have a Christmas blend ($17.50), offering subtle flavors that I will promptly be overpowering with some coconut-flavored almond milk.


Smells like “Cactus, Oranges, and Ocean.” That works for me.

I used to think that candles were my family’s way of saying “your room stinks, please refrain from offending my nostrils any further.” Now, I just looked around and see nine candles in my living room alone. I admit that I am generally pretty set in my candle-scent ways. I like both pine-scented and orange-scented wads of wax, mostly because they remind me of the smells of Southern California. Would you look at that? Homesick Candles ($30) makes candles playing to that exact sort of nostalgia. Their geographically themed candles base their scents on various states (and half states, as is the case with Northern/Southern California), offering an ability to reminisce through aromatherapy.


Another gift that screams, “Here you go, stinky, have something to hide your stinky” is cologne. Now, I know, I know, these kinds of things are generally subjective, but if you are reading this fine website, you may well be on board with Juniper Ridge‘s line of nature-inspired scents. I have had a bottle of their Sierra Granite Backpacker Cologne ($60) for a while, and I love using that ish. I get to stink to high heavens of pine trees while sitting in my little office in the corner of a window-less room. Awesome.


LOOK HOW CUTE THE LITTLE SKULL IS!

I think gifting particularly useful items is a GREAT idea. But then again, I think most of my ideas are great. Another great idea? California recently banned plastic bags in our grocery stores, which truly is amazing. But, even as wholly on-board as I am, I found myself consistently forgetting my reusable bags. Until I started actually keeping a couple Chico Bags ($6+) in my car. They hold a whole bunch more than disposable bags and fold up into their own little stuff sack. HOW CUTE! Now I am a glowing icon of environmentalism. Captain Planet ain’t got nothing on me. I’m particularly partial to my Stone Brewing Chico Bag. Now people can know that I drink amazing beer while caressing Mother Nature’s bosom.


Give your feet hugs with each step!

I don’t know when it happened, but it has definitely happened: I love getting socks as gifts. From crazy socks with flying pizza slices to plain wool socks that keep my little feetsies nice and toasty. And I recently found out about Feetures. ($15-$17) I’ll admit, “Merino Wool” didn’t really mean anything to me. What should be on the tag is “these socks are made of warm pillows,” because that’s what it feels like. My wife got a pair for some trail hikes and immediately wanted a wide array to keep her toes blister-free. Get these for people you like, even if (especially) if that person is yourself.


I’m on a boat.

I’ve been a proud owner of a variety Chucks, low-tops, hi-tops, black, teal, green, different black, and blue. But now, I have water-resistant ones! These Counter-Climate bad boys have a protective coating on the outside coupled with some kind of awesome neoprene booties on the inside. At first I thought, “Well, these look great, but it’s not like we get a lot of weather in SoCal,” but then I remembered that the ocean was an hour away and decided to take them on a boat. Not only did I not go overboard, but they were simultaneously comfortable and stylish. I can tell you first hand that you should get these. I mean, gift these. Or both.


Scotchy Scotch Scotch

“It’s amazing. Like drinking smoked leather.” While my wife was showed a true revulsion to this statement, you Scotch lovers will know what I’m talking about. From the Isle of Islay, Ardbeg’s 10 year is the top of the line when it comes to entry-level Scotch. But the Uigeadail ($80), this is the good stuff. When Ron Burgandy proclaimed his love of Scotch, he was probably drinking this. If your friend of family likes smokey, peaty goodness, get them this. If they don’t, get yourself a bottle instead.


Liquid gold.

If you want to keep your whiskey dollars in America, let’s do it right with the Bulleit Cask Strength Bourbon ($50). See, when whiskey distillers age their amber ambrosia, that stuff comes out of the barrel all kinds of inconsistent. Usually, the production team will water it back down to 80 proof (40%), but in cask strength, they give you the full dose, with each batch being a different ABV. If you think Bourbon is stiff at a standard proof, wait until you get yourself a bottle of straight hooch that is cask strength.


If your friends are going to try to hike away the calories of the fine whiskies you just bought them online, they may also need to keep warm this winter. Enter the Cotopaxi Kusa Bomber ($150). I mean, LOOK AT THIS THING. You can do some kind of ninja moves (according to this picture), chop some wood (probably, I haven’t tried it), but definitely sip some more whiskey after your exceptionally active adventures. PLUS, this bad boy is made with llama fleece, which keeps you, I mean, the gift’s recipient, warm while being lightweight. Which comes in handy when you’re a freaking dock ninja.


©Earl Harper

If you know of someone that regularly runs headlong into wilderness escapes, but comes back exhausted from the weight of an entire kitchen in their pack, try getting them the MSR PocketRocket™ Stove Kit ($100). The entire thing weighs just under 25 oz., but contains a stove, a pot, 2 bowls, 2 mugs, a strainer lid, and even 2 freaking sporks. That’s awesome. In case anyone I know is reading this, this would be an acceptable gift for me. For real.


Cal models the Buff in Yosemite.

If you know of, or are a person who would head off into a multi-day camping adventure, then you, or they, may also want a Buff headwear. It’s basically a tube of comfort and protection for your delicate noggin. Offering UV protection at the same time it keeps sweat out of your eyes, the Buff can be worn in a variety of ways. Yes, including “cover your whole face and try to freak out the dogs,” which, by the way, usually ends with some claw marks upon your person. Dogs don’t like the game of “cover your whole face and try to freak out the dogs.” There’s a cool series of National Parks Buffs ($25), which are awesome.


I model The New Primal Beef Jerky

Of course, there are stocking stuffers to consider. Just kidding, you don’t have to think about it, because I’m here to tell you: preserved meats make a helluva gift. Unless the giftee is a vegetarian. Then they are terrible gifts. But for everyone else, they are a great gift. Recently, my doctor told me “HEY, CHUNKY MONKEY, TIME TO LAY OFF THE BEEF.” That’s EXACTLY how he said it, too. At the time, I was bummed about the recent removal of beef jerky as my favorite snack, until the wonderful people of The New Primal Beef Jerky ($2/stick) sent me a wonderful gift pack that included TURKEY JERKY. Admittedly, I was super concerned about the idea. Is this going to be cooked? I’m I going to get tummy troubles? My worries were not warranted, as this stuff was fantastic. Now, if you want beef jerky, or even maple bacon pork jerky sticks, they have those, too. No sodium, nitrates, or preservatives are added, so even if I went behind my doctor’s back and grabbed some beef jerky, I wouldn’t feel THAT bad.

 

Local

Martin & Co. Candle Company

Martin And Co.'s The Great Outdoors

I’m going to stand up and say it loud and say it proud: I love me a good candle. I also enjoy supporting local businesses whenever I can. So, when I ran into Adam and Angela Martin, purveyors of fine soy-based candles under the moniker Martin & Company, of course I had to snag a couple new scents to counteract the fine scent of old carpet and dust that permeates our 123-year-old house.

Hand poured here in my hometown of Redlands, CA, Martin & Co. candles have no storefront, but can be found at shops throughout town or on Etsy HERE. Rather than just putting the name of the scents on each candle, the Martins (mostly) come up with an interesting name and corresponding interesting label. The first candle I snagged was the Rowdy Gentlemen, a patchouli and orange scented candle. While the scent was a pretty solid combo of hippie and citrus, the label, with an old-timey boxing match, really sealed the deal.

While conversing with the eponymous Martins, they gave me the low-down on some of their new scents. After fiendishly snorting jar after jar, Cal & I settled on one new one each: the Nag Champa to up our hippie-quotient (aptly named, since it just smells like an incense stick) and the Great Outdoors, which sold me not only on the outdoors-y theme, but the fact that they put a wooden wick in this bad boy, causing it to crackle like an honest-to-goodness campfire. Sold.

In true Maker-movement fashion, Adam also is a helluva wood/metal worker, creating display pieces and furniture that all look fantastic. You can check out the candles and the projects on their Instagram.

Eat

When The Weather’s Chilly, It’s Time For Chili

Hands down, my favorite camping food is chili. It’s SO easy and SO tasty. There’s something about getting a bowl full of smoky, spicy goodness that warms your hands as you hold it, and your belly as you eat it. Win-win.

Over our years together, my wife and I have seemed to have merged our chili recipes, which has created an amazing mega-chili. I’ve made this recipe for work potlucks and I’m not sure my coworkers have ever liked me more. I mean, someone else brought nacho cheese and the ensuing chili-cheese nachos didn’t hurt, either. It’s a pretty good recipe either way. And you know what? I’m going to share it with you. I know, Bristlecone is super generous.

HELL YES.

First, the ingredients:

  • 1 lb of ground meats of your choosing. I’ve used beef: awesome. Turkey: awesome. Soyrizo: awesome. Want to try venison? Elk? Buffalo? Sure, why not? Go nuts.
  • 1 bell pepper (color of your choosing, but I think green is a-ok for this, as it stands out the most)
  • 1-3 jalapeños, depending on how much spice you’re interested in.
  • 1 onion. I save a bit for throwing some raw onion on top right before I dig in.
  • 1 small can of whole kernel corn. If you’re feeling up to freshly removing some from the cob, go for it. I’m not here to tell you how to live your life.
  • 1 large can each of red kidney beans, black beans, and pinto beans.
  • 1 regular can of diced tomatoes.
  • 1 small can of El Pato enchilada sauce in the yellow can (this is my secret weapon).
  • A bag of cheddar, pepper jack, or other melty cheese.
  • 1 cup of Yost’s (probably not)Famous Chili Spice Mix.

Chili Spice Mix (I generally make a pretty sizable batch to keep on hand)

  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons fresh ground pepper
  • 4 tablespoons granulated garlic
  • 2 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 tablespoons California chile powder
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon (wife’s secret weapon)

To prep:
Finely dice the jalapeño(s) & onion.
Give the bell pepper a slightly larger dice.
Open up all the cans (I find it’s just easier to have everything at the ready once I get going).
Note: If you’re heading out on a camping trip, I’ve found that you can easily prep this part at home, and chuck baggies of the veggies into your cooler, saving you a little bit of time.

To cook:
Whether at home or at a campsite, I usually make this bucket o’ nom nomz in my Lodge cast iron Dutch oven.
Get the Dutch oven on the fire to get hot. Throw your preferred cooking oil in the bottom (coconut oil travels pretty well for camping, FYI) then dump the meat, onions, and jalapeño(s) in, stirring until the meat is brown.
Dump everything else in, put the lid on, and enjoy a beer/conversation/game of cards. Let that ish cook and bubble and hang out for about forty five minutes to an hour. Ladle a bowlful, drop some cheese, raw onions, and/or more jalapeño on top and dig in. We’re a big fan of ditching the spoon in favor of tortilla chips. LOOK AT HOW VERSATILE THIS RECIPE IS.

But you know what? Make it your own! You want to try a sweeter flavor, dump some brown sugar in it. Spicier? HABANERO CITY, HERE YOU COME. Want to stick to one kind of bean? The world is your pinto-oyster.

Let me know if you try out this recipe and what you think!

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TriggerTrap – A Camera Remote Above All (Wired) Camera Remotes

triggertrapHaving spent 13 years as a concert photographer, I am used to shooting without a flash. Low-light photography and I have become pretty familiar. I thought I’d take the relationship to a new level and get myself into astrophotography. Now, I love taking my camera out in the middle of the night, pointing it straight up, and seeing what I can capture.

This is usually preceded by thirty minutes of bent over, craning my neck as I fiddled with my focus & settings, and, depending on the location, shivering in the dark. Enter the TriggerTrap. A little dongle (what a fun word) that plugs into your phone’s headphone jack and partners with the TriggerTrap App.

While you still have to set your aperture, ISO, and focus, the TriggerTrap app lets you adjust a wide variety of settings and modes, including three ways to hold a long exposure, five time-lapse modes, and even settings that trigger the shutter based on sound levels.

I decided to give my shiny new TriggerTrap MD3-N3 (a courtesy review model for my Canon 5DMIII, for full disclosure) a test run. I am fortunate enough to live less than two blocks from the Redlands Bowl, an outdoor amphitheater that hosts a free weekly summer concert series. The final concert each year is reserved for the Redlands Symphony, who, in turn, ensures that the final song is Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. While the original score calls for actual cannon fire, the performances makes do with what they have, which are fireworks.

I set up my camera, set up the app (which has a sweet “night mode” meant to save your eyesight in the dark), and I sat back, enjoying the warm summer night, a sweet woodwinds section, and the anticipation of my first decent fireworks shot. And capture it I did.

RedlandsBowlFireworks

The Redlands Bowl is explosive.

I admit, I didn’t think it would turn out this stellar. Let alone with a beverage in one hand and my phone in the other, my camera sitting next to me atop my beloved MeFoto Roadtrip tripod. Having set up my focus early, I literally just hit the button. Hot dang.

Looking to give it one more test, we took a trip to the Mojave National Preserve. I found that the main crux of effort on my part was simply finding a solid focus, and after that, I sat there, beer in one hand, phone in the other, just hitting a button. Sure, the shot looked fine in the display, but once I got the files downloaded, I found that the Pleaides wanted to come hang out just before the sun rise. Hot dang.

The night sky at Hole In The Wall Campground in the Mojave National Preserve.

The night sky at Hole In The Wall Campground in the Mojave National Preserve.

 

There was, however, one TINY issue I found with it. It’s wired. And worse, the cable is pretty short. BUT, it’s an easy fix. A $6 1/8″ cable extender made the cord three feet longer, which makes the already amazing product phenomenal. For under $40, you can snag yourself a TriggerTrap at their website.

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Skip the Chaos & #OptOutside

 

REI Opt OutsideThank Mother Earth/God/Buddha/Krishna/Allah/Whoever for REI. Once upon a time, I worked in retail, which required working Black Friday for over a decade. It was THE WORST. Droves of hyper-aggressive grandmothers steamrolling anyone in their path to get their favorite grand-kid the hottest and most forgettable toy. Grotesque.

Sunrise

Not a bad sunrise, amirite?

Last year, REI shrugged off the traditional Black Friday marketing approach of slashed prices and doorbusters by telling every one of their customers to go away. Go away to the mountains. Go away to the beaches. Go away to any number of National Parks, State Parks, wherever. Just don’t go shopping. Instead, Opt Outside. Last year, I answered their call. Hell, my whole family did. Myself, the wife, the dogs, the in-laws, and even the inlaws’ dogs all found ourselves still waking up at 5am, but this time in the middle of the Mojave National Preserve.

We weren’t surrounded by hordes of mothers, crazed with the idea of paying half-price for a coffee maker. Nor did we see masses of middle-aged men manhandling each other to get a power tool for $25. Instead, we woke to crisp air, which quickly became scented with the coffee and bacon we had picked up along the way. With dogs at my feet, coffee in hand, and bacon in belly, we sat around an early fire (the desert is REALLY cold during the holidays, mind you) and talked. LIKE A FAMILY.

Are you achin' for some bacon?

Are you achin’ for some bacon?

And we’re going to do it again. And I hope you do, too. And now you have more of a reason to, as well as more than 275 companies are coming together to do good across the nation. REI’s closing its 149 stores for the day, instead telling everyone to GTFOutside. Kühl Clothing is shutting their single retail store down, putting “trails before sales,” a helluva tagline if I ever heard one. The National Parks Service, The Sierra Club, Big Agnes, Keen Footwear, PrAna (who make, hands down, the most comfortable pair of shorts ever constructed, the Zion stretch), and Meetup are all pushing their fans and customers to get out of the stores and into nature.

And, in total YESSSSSS-ness, Subaru, the champs they are, are sending out an armada of vehicles to take New York City shelter dogs away from the cold steel environment they’re used to and getting them out of the (dog)house for the day. Now, that’s a job I wouldn’t mind giving up a Friday for.

While we haven’t determined where to go, yet, we know we’re not hanging out with the rabid retail crowd. I hope you decide to #optoutside, too.