25 April 2020

Let's raise a rezdog!

Nellie
Skadi
A few years ago the Internet introduced my wife to the plight of the abandoned pets at Dead Dog Beach on the island of Puerto Rico. As her awareness and concern for mistreated and misbegotten mongrels grew, she and my daughter both became occasional volunteers at a local no-kill shelter.  It was a short distance between this formative experience, helping in the recovery, care, and re-homing of unwanted animals, and the adoption of our own first rescue-pet, an adorable-but-feral little black puppy. She had been found a few weeks prior by some travelers, wandering alone and mortally ailing on the roadside not far from the town of Kayenta, Arizona.  Her bowels distended and  infested with worms and infection, the travelers took her straight to an animal hospital here in Flagstaff where she received emergency surgery to repair her destroyed prolapsed rectum, and intravenous antibiotics for several days.  Her care was made possible by High Country Puppy Rescue, from whom we acquired her.  We call her Nellie.

Our younger dog and her sole surviving sibling were clever enough to be able to evade capture by the good people at the Tuba City Humane Society for several days after they were first reported as strays to them.  Just another set of feral black puppies scavenging, motherless, in trashcans near the center of town, but my wife and daughter immediately fell in love with them the day their pictures were first posted to the agency's website.  After a brief in-person get-to-know-you session, they brought the more gentle of the pups home.  As with our first rezdog, she's quickly socialized positively into our domestic life, though, because she's still not quite a year old yet, she continues to be inclined to be cautious and nervous when out in the world beyond our home. She is never far from Nellie’s side no matter where we are.  We call her Skadi.


The rezdog isn't a recognized breed by any formal dog-breeding association, not by any measure whatsoever. And, of course, that's just fine with us.  But I think, perhaps, those that find something integral and meaningful in identifying dogs by their common traits and breeding, might do well to consider the merits and appeal of the Native American reservation dog.

As descendants in a long, long line of self-sufficient survivors, and prior to that, in many cases, real working/herding/hunting/companion dogs, there are a number of compelling and endearing traits in both disposition and intellect that I suspect all rezdogs share, despite their sometimes feral origins and often broad and diverse differences in appearance. 

Native American people, including the DinĂ© (Navajo) on whose lands both of our dogs were born, have revered the dog for thousands of years.  And, while certainly many other standard-breed pets are likely to have been sold, abandoned, or lost on Native lands over the course of many years of colonization and tourism, we can be confident that the rezdog of today, despite the introduction of a wide array of dog genetics from far and wide, are nevertheless the direct descendants of the very same dogs who provided companionship and cooperative hunting and herding assistance to the native people of North American for many generations.  I think that's a very cool legacy.

Photo credit: White Wolf Pack
There aren't too many differences between raising a rezdog and raising a more familiar variety of pure- or mixed-breed dog.  Rezdog puppies can be pretty undomesticated and unsocialized when they first come into your home.  But, with consistent love, affection, and training they always come around and seem, to me at least, to bond on a very deep level with the members of their new family.

Also, rezdog puppies are always hungry.  For nearly the entire first year of their lives they seem to be almost insane for food, with each meal it's like they're trying to make up the calories they missed out on while they were homeless during their first weeks and months of life.  But eventually, they get their fill and begin to approach mealtimes with the same excited anticipation most other dogs have, but without wolfing down every morsel with the feral madness they once had.

Rez Dog - Navajo
Photo credit: White Wolf Pack
Aside from some occasional barfing and the loose stools that come with the always-hungry sampling of the many unfamiliar things growing in our backyard to determine if they're edible, neither Nellie nor Skadi has ever been ill or injured since they've come to live with us.  Rezdogs, I gather, have a good strong set of diverse genetics to sustain and empower them and their ancestors to survive in all sorts of adverse and challenging conditions.  I hope both of our amazing rezdogs will be a part of our family for years and years to come.

If you're interested in bringing a rezdog into your home (and why wouldn't you be?) there are several organizations that can assist you with the adoption process:




09 April 2020

Let's make fresh roasted coffee on the BBQ!

Green beans are shipped in sealed plastic bags
I've been roasting coffee at home for at least 15 years, probably longer. I can't exactly remember when I began to do so, but I think it was my friend Mark (the same guy who sold me my Rock Lobster) who first clued me in to how to do it, way back in the early 2000s, before our daughter was born, when Lisa and I were still living simple in the barrio on the other side of town.

Here's the lowdown on home-roasting coffee: It's really fun, and it's also a very satisfying thing to do, in that putting-your-hands-to-really-good-work sort of way, same as fiddling with your bikes in the garage, or pulling dandelions out of your lawn, or spending a few hours flipping through crates of old vinyl in your favorite used record store. I dig things like that, especially when I've been able to take the time to perfect my process for doing so over the course of time for many years.  Home coffee roasting is also a little bit cheaper than buying your coffee already-roasted from the coffeebar down the street, so that's another advantage for sure.  But the very best reason of all for roasting your own coffee at home is how it tastes.  There's really no comparison.  None. 

We store green beans in our pantry in muslin bags
I've always ordered my green coffee beans from Sweet Maria's, for several reasons. First, because they're the place that Mark first recommended to me, way back when, probably because at the time they were the only game in town.  Second, I always buy from them because they've never ever disappointed me, they ship fast, always ship fresh, they're priced competitively and fairly, and they're obsessive about testing, evaluating, and reviewing each and every product they sell.  Third, I always buy my green beans from Sweet Maria's, because Thompson, the guy who runs the place, buys most of his coffees directly from farmers and co-ops and he travels all over the world to sample and purchase the most interesting and tasty beans that are available each season.

Until recently, I've always used Freshroast roasters to prepare my coffee.  I've probably owned four or five of them over the years.  They're great little roasting machines, effective, simple, and reliable, at least to a point.  I tend to burn out the heating elements in them after a few years of regular weekly use.  Admittedly, it's a lot of use for a simple roaster that, truth be told, is basically just a cleverly modded hot-air popcorn popper. And I don't bear any kind of a grudge against Freshroast for the fact that their roasters eventually always wear out after a few years.  Like I said, they get seriously used around here, a couple batches at least, every week of the year, always outside on the back deck, in warm dry weather, in cold humid weather.  It's a work-out for sure.

We were going through a bit of an economic rough patch when my last roaster died about a year ago, so I couldn't afford to immediately replace it.  Nevertheless, we needed our morning coffee, and I still had several pounds of green coffee beans on hand. So I began to look around at low-tech, affordable options for preparing roasted coffee at home.  Not surprisingly, Thompson at Sweet Maria's had demo'd the best solution in one of his many Youtube videos: roasting coffee in a cast iron skillet.  We don't have a gas stove in our house, so I decided to try Thompson's method on our propane BBQ's sideburner.  I assumed this would be a short term solution, just until I had the money to buy a new Freshroast machine.  But, now that I've survived a entire winter of roasting outside, I've become quite fond of this method's hand's-on, fully-analog technique and so, for the time being anyway, I'm sticking with it.

Below are a few short videos that show the process I go through to roast coffee on the BBQ in our backyard.  Here, at 7000' elevation, it takes me about 15 minutes to take a skillet full of beans from green to full-city, just past second-crack, which is commonly where I find I like to take the Ethiopian beans that I typically buy from Sweet Maria's.  I usually set the burner on high and wisk the beans pretty fervently the entire time they're over the fire to prevent scorching.  Since there's almost always a breeze blowing here in Flagstaff, the chaff after first crack kinda takes care of removing itself from the pan, and the remainder of the chaff blows away when I spread the roasted beans out on cookie sheets to cool.  As a general rule, I try to allow our roasted coffee to degas in the hopper for the better part of a full day before we grind and brew it, but sometimes, if I've forgotten to roast and the hopper's empty, we've been known to go right from roasting to brewing while the beans are still warm.  Definitely not ideal, but still way better than the old stale bagged bean from the coffeebar down the street.





19 March 2020

Let's make a Burton DIY Throwback snowboard

To spice things up a bit his winter, rather than, you know,  just go out snowbiking or just go out cross-country skiing in the woods above my neighborhood, I determined to try to find a few other fun things to do when I'm out in the snow, 'cause, well, I'm 53 now, and I really do need to find new ways to hurt myself.

Mounting a Cooziecage™ to the downtube of my Pugsley made beer-drinking in the winterwoods possible and, so, that was a great and rewarding first-effort in this regard.

Then I did some, well I guess you could call them, multisport-snowbike-to-xc-ski excursions up Schultz Creek, which were a hoot.  Probably got the first-ever ski descent of Kentucky Waterfall in the process, too.

Snurfer Nomad, snecret snurfhill
Around that same time, my buddy Lyle told me about some of his adventures lightweight/low-angle backcountry skiing in the San Juan’s carrying a bindingless snowboard called a Burton Throwback (an homage to one of Jake's original snowboards from the 1980s, the Burton Backhill) on his back. He was super stoked on how bringing the snowboard along on his tours made it possible for him to have serious fun carving big graceful turns on wide-open backcountry slopes.  He suggested that I get a board of my own and attempt to use my touring skis, or even my fatbike, as an approach vehicle to do the same thing on some of the more open north facing slopes in the Dry Lake Hills area.

To test this idea on the cheap, I bought an inexpensive but nonetheless quite clever little snowtool called a Snurfer Nomad from the Vermont manufacturer who's been making them in the USA since 1965.  Because it doesn’t have any bindings or metal edges, it’s super lightweight, so it was easy to mount on to the rear rack of my Surly Pugsley or to carry lashed to the old Craterpacks backpack I use when I go lightweight ski-touring in the hills north of town.  Only everso-slightly safer than sledding, but nonetheless gloriously stupid and also terrifyingly fun, turns out snurfing is a rad, additive wintertime diversion from the typical just a snowbike ride or just a xc-ski tour adventure, precisely as Lyle said it would be.

I had some good fun a few times riding on my Snurfer Nomad solo early this winter.  But then, midseason, I got to watch another one of my friends shred my snuper snecret snurfhill on his kid's Burton Throwback.

DIY Throwback unboxed
Up close and in person, it was easy to see that the Throwback was wider and longer and heavier than my Snurfer, a big-boy's version of the Nomad if you will, and it had a full p-tex base. As far as I was concerned, it was from a different planet, and it enabled him to easily ride faster and farther, and make better looking turns, every time, way better than my best-ever run on the Nomad.

So I started looking around for a cheap used Throwback on eBay, but it would appear that such a thing doesn't really exist.  Then I looked at some of our local used sporting goods and thrift stores for a decent used snowboard that I could remove the bindings from and improvise into an ersatz backcountry snurfboard.  But all I could find around town was garbage, all of it thrashed from years of abuse or neglect, and often both.  For about 10 minutes I even searched online for a legit vintage Burton Backhill, but they must be very highly sought after.  Every single one I saw for sale cost as much as a used car.

It was about then that I stumbled upon Burton's DIY Throwback kit, which, it turns out, sells for something like 30% less than the Snurfer Nomad.  The DIY Throwback comes as a rockered-on-one-end rectangular plank of unpainted laminated wood with a p-tex base.  Not really a kit, I guess, but nonetheless very DIY.  There are no templates, no plans, no instructions with the DIY Throwback.  It's just a gorgeous naturally-grained plank of wood, a couple sticky-backed footpads, a long rope, a wooden handle, and thou.

DIY Throwback ready to ride
Given the freeform, unguided nature of the project, before I ever put a saw to it, I spent quite a lot of time staring at the naked plank, trying to envision the shape I hoped to render upon it. Even after this great and prolonged period of introspection and planning, I can still spot a few small mistakes I made during my project's three-hour execution (does not include contemplation time).

In the end, I can tell you this: Burton is definitely using some sort of rock-hard ballistic epoxy when they're laying up the laminate for this board.  I went through the teeth of four different jigsaw blades while trimming the nose and tail on to the beautiful bombproof blank plank Burton sent me.

After using my hand jigsaw (and a carefully rendered long paper template to make sure the two halves mostly matched left-and-right) to cut out the rough shape of the board, I finished all the edges and curves with a handheld belt-sander and then I used a router with a small round-off bit on the top-sheet to make all the things very nice and smoothish and purdy. I think the finished product looks nice.

I’m not a very handy guy when it comes to building things, but now that all has been said and done and test-ridden, I'm rather proud of this project. And, I think my Burton DIY Throwback snowboard rides pretty darn well, too.