Dec 31, 2010

The Things I Carry

The Things I Carry
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Photo documentation of the everyday things I carry in my messenger bag or briefcase.

From left to right:

- Dale Earnhardt signature disposal lighter that I found at the airport . I don't smoke, but it's good to have the capability to burn stuff now and then.

- Cheap mechanical pencil from the office. I accidentally bring about 3 of these home a week. Periodically my wife rounds them up from around the house, puts a rubber band around them, and tucks them in my bag to send them back to their native habitat. This one escaped that fate - at least thus far.

- Sharpening steel - this is really nice. I have no idea where I got this, but it's the best knife sharpener in our house. I hope I never lose this thing.

- Titanium spork. Titanium!!

- A nice waterproof ink pen (also from the office, but this one was given to me, so it's not really misappropriation of office supplies).

- A really big USB jump drive with a rubber armoured case. These are handy as hell if you blog or swap photos and files with people. I have two of these, one in my bag and the other at the office.

- Tactical flashlight. This is from Cabella's and it's blindingly bright. It shines white or blue. Why blue? Blue is useful for following blood trails. I have never gotten to use that feature, but it's there just in case I feel like doing that at some point in the future. Good to be prepared.

- A wireless internet USB device. My brother gave this to me for Christmas and I love it. Never to be stranded without the internet again. Virgin wireless, pay-as-you-go, no contract. Freedom, sweet freedom.

- Memory card USB device. This enables me to snarf photos from my camera's memory card on to a PC without a cable and without using the camera's battery. Very handy.

- Lens pen for cleaning binoculars, spotting scopes and sometimes computer keyboards.

- Not visible but very much present is a lens cloth for cleaning my glasses. That's tucked in one of the pockets, behind the flashlight.

All of this fits in a Maxpedition pocket pack, which fits neatly in BDU cargo pockets, messenger bags, etc. I use at least one thing from this pack just about every day of the week.

Dec 30, 2010

A New Project is Brewing

Happy in the car
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
I completed my second wheel and brought that in for a final blessing from the high priest of spoked things this afternoon. The wheel, which will be the front half of a pair of Deore/Velocity Synergy wheels I built for the Rawland, turned out well. I took this home from Hiawatha laced but not tensioned or trued. In the basement, I got the wheel up to tension, fixed an out-of-round problem and then got it trued up quite well. Jim tweaked it a bit but it only needed some minor attention, so a pat on the back to myself. I am feeling as smugly satisfied as Coltrane the Cat for that one.

Last night over glass of wine at the Dakota, my wife confided in me that she is curious about riding single speed after I sang its praises this year. That set the wheels in motion (no pun intended) and I am hatching scheme involves building a flip-flop single speed wheel using a Sun CR18 rim for a Phillips 3-speed that is cluttering up the garage. I'll keep the 3-speed bits but swap out the wheels for a true single, drop the gearing down to about 64 inches or so and see what happens.

I think it will be a success. She likes the bike; it's comfortable and upright so she can look around on it, and it's got nice old British style. Worst case scenario and she hates this contraption, then I have a second set of Sun rims and an extra flip-flop hub laying around, all of which I can find a use for in about 4 minutes.

With the holidays nearly over, it's good to turn to another project to fill the winter evenings.

Dec 27, 2010

Epiphanies and Hard Fought Battles

Last summer when I was driving back from my parents house in Wisconsin on a hot Sunday afternoon, I happened upon a car accident that was in the process of being cleaned up. The crash happened at the intersection of Delaware Street and Highway 110 in Invergrove Heights or Eagan or whatever. It was hard to tell exactly what transpired, but one thing was readily apparent - a little station wagon had one of those "press to walk" poles speared right through the window and dash board.

How does that even happen? Those poles are attached to the ground very well, but it must have been sheared off by another vehicle and flown through the air end over end, hitting the station wagon just right and with enough force to impale the car like an  hors d oeuvre. I can only imagine what the driver of the station thought (an extreme variety of "WTF" no doubt) when s/he collected their senses after this incident. If I didn't get the photo, I would not expect anyone to actually believe this story, but there it is for your consideration.

I have been reflecting on wake-up calls/revelations/epiphanies/life changing moments and was reminded of this photo, so I dug back in the Flickr pile and pulled this out. If getting your car speared by a pole on a clear sunny afternoon is not a wake-up call, I don't know what is.

I personally know at least two people that have had personal wake up calls; one involved a lightning bolt that hit a tree near where they were standing; the other was a more routine but very effective health scare. I've had one of these myself (sort of). I was flying in a small plane coming back from an administrative hearing in rural North Dakota when we had to take emergency evasive action to avoid another plane over the western suburbs of Minneapolis. Although I am generally a nervous flyer, the whole expereince (steep dive, hard turn to the north, another climb and then re-routed over Wisconsin) was strangely serene and beautiful, that's how I know it was a "close call".

I suppose if anyone lives long enough, it's inevitable that they get a wake-up call at some point. Unfortunately, I also suspect that most revelations are not bolts of lighting that are over in an instant, but instead are long, slow drawn-out processes of self discovery fueled by vague dis-satisfaction, frustration, a feeling of stagnation, or maybe even failure.

The trick here is discernment, and recognizing personal challenges and unhappiness as a means to finding what's wrong and setting it right rather than as an end in itself (i.e. one's destiny). It would be so much easier for most people if they could just buy a life-changing experience at the mall, but that's not an option yet.

I hear Apple is working on that, however.

Dec 23, 2010

Merry Christmas!!

frosted pine
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
I'll be off the air for a few days, but I wanted to wish you all a very merry Christmas, happy holidays and best wishes for the New Year. Thanks for stopping by and reading this blog, and thanks for your comments.

Have a safe and festive weekend!

Dec 19, 2010

Getting Stuff Done

My energy level has been much better the last couple of weeks. Accordingly, it's been a busy but satisfying weekend. Saturday started early with a wheel building class at HCHQ. I had signed up for one of these earlier, but demands at work precluded me from making that appointment, so Jim was good enough to move me into the December class.

I had all the components, which I had purchased about two years ago, I think and never gotten around to successfully building. It was good I waited, though, because I swapped out the hubs I had for some disc-specific Deore's and now these will be used on the Rawland.

The wheels (at least the one I finished completely) turned out very well. I am very pleased with myself for completing this. It's been a goal for some time, and with the guidance of an experienced builder, I picked up some useful tips that I would not have gotten from pouring over Sheldon and Jobst's musings.

On Saturday afternoon, I picked a new snowblower. It's not a monster, but it's certainly bigger and more powerful than I the little one I had been using. This unit is a Toro 722 (e.g. 7 horse power and 22 inches wide at the mouth). It's a 4 cycle, so no more mixing oil and gasoline, too. I cleared out the neighbors back parking pad for her in anticipation of snow tomorrow and then tacked my bus stop, which has been absolutely impassable for over a week now.

If it were just us, I could have made do with the smaller snowblower, but I am clearing out neighbors quite a lot this winter, so I am rationalizing this as an altruistic thing, but really, it's a lot of fun to blast snow all over the place. Still, I think the riders of the 14 and 133 will appreciate not having to scramble over snow banks or wait in the street for a bus. I am still debating with myself whether or not I'll try and send a bill to the City for this service. That might cut down on the good karma, however.

Tomorrow will be another adventure - a day at the range. We'll be firing everything from pistols to rifles to shotguns and then a proficiency test at the end. I have no concern about passing the proficiency test. I have not shot in a long time, but it's like riding a bicycle. Sort of.

Dec 15, 2010

Hold That Thought, Please.

I've been riding the bus a lot since it's gotten cold and snowy, partly because I wimped out and have not been called to the bike as much as I would like and partly because I have this book club and need a little time to read, and the bus provides that opportunity nicely.

I am coming up on my third winter of riding the bus - I started in March of 2009. It's certainly easier than it used to be, and I have found a number ways to use the time, minimize the inconvenience and maximize the enjoyment of transit. In fact, I have been mulling over a "how to ride the bus" post in the recesses of my little brain as I type this now.

One of the things that transit is reconnecting me with the experience of humanity on a grander scale. In my job, I have a corner office and a recptionist that screens calls, and although people stop in, it's certainly not like working in a noisey cube farm. What's more, we have a quiet house with no children and we don't do a lot of entertaining, so unless we go to a concert or something, my most intense exposure to people (both in density and duration) is generally the bus ride. In fact, we were packed in like sardines yesterday on a slow cold ride home.

The morning commute is generally pacific; I get on early in the route and I am often the first person on the bus. As we move along picking up others, it is typically quiet as people read, check their email and generally mind there own business. In the afternoon, the bus is more crowded and there is generally more conversation.

That comfortable routine was turned on it's head today when two women got on the bus in South Minneapolis. They were chatting when they got on, continuing a conversation that started at the bus stop. For the entire ride downtown, they continued their conversation, pausing only long enough to inhale life-sustaining oxygen. This steady torrent of vowels and consonents lasted at least 30 minutes without pause. It was an amazing performance, really.

For our benefit, they sat in the very front of the bus, facing each other, so we all got to enjoy this display of relentless and unmitigated communication.

I chuckeled to myself when I remembered the very carefully worded, but very sound, guidance the Society of Friends gives regarding speaking at Meetings. I think we could all benefit at times from considering whether we are truly being called to speak or simply filling voids.

Dec 14, 2010

More Snowpocalypse

Some good imagery from the weekend snowstorm....

This was originally posted on MPR's website. The second one makes me smile the widest, however:

Enjoy the snow!

Dec 13, 2010

Welcome Winter

Back Deck
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
The weather forecasters were rewarded with an accurate forecast this weekend; Minneapolis got almost 18 inches of snow and high winds. The snow started on Friday and continued throughout the day on Saturday. The roof on the metrodome collapsed on Sunday morning due to the snow, so you know it was a significant weather event.

The tally for Saturday includes an X-C ski outing (I was reminded once more that I am a really poor skier), a snow shoe hike, four separate sorties with the snowblower, and 5 cars extricated from snow banks. I was a little stiff on Sunday, but not as bad as I would have expected.

Now we've got cold; temperatures never made it above 5 degrees at our house today. I took a day off the get caught up on a few things so I was out and about running errands. Driving is still difficult but it's do-able. We finished our "snow emergency" so we have been plowed on both sides of the street, but the City declared a second (back-to-back) snow emergency, so hopefully they will widen things out a bit.

Despite the cold weather, it's all-systems go for our first book club meeting tomorrow at Townhall Tap. Hopefully we'll have a few people show up for beer if not book-talk.

Stay warm, stay safe!

Dec 11, 2010

SIlent Voices

Originally uploaded by overly curious bystander
Do you hear a silent voice
A silent voice calling you out?
Calling you out by name?

The last of all the fools
Has finally gone away
Leaving only that which remains

My silent voice waits patiently
Watching each night and day
Call again and wait for reply
But things overwhelms me at times

Do you listen?
Do you answer?
Do you even hear?
Or is it just wind and the trees?

A silent voice speaks to me
It speaks in you and even they
Whether heard whether heeded whether understood
It never goes away.

Dec 9, 2010

Better Cyclopath by Spring!

Comrades! I am re-posting a message from our friends at Cyclopath:

Dear snakshak:
I'm Mikhil Masli from Cyclopath HQ. Thank you for helping to make Cyclopath one of the best cycling resources in the world, right here in Minnesota! On behalf of Cyclopath, I'm requesting just 1 minute of your time. 
To prepare Cyclopath for the next cycling season, we at the HQ are launching a  campaign called "Better Cyclopath by Spring". The aim of this campaign is to ensure that by the time Spring arrives, Cyclopath has more information and is ready to help many more cyclists like you than last year.
Would you spare a minute to help this campaign? All we are asking you to do is to read a note and extract only one tag (single word label) from it (this should just take you a minute).
  Note: Very good mixed use path. It's asphalt of decent quality. Watch for pedestrians and cars on the streets turning onto Lexingon.
  Tag: cars OR decent quality OR pedestrians OR mixed use
If you agree now, we'll contact you with specific instructions in near future, after we have heard from more people.
Please click here to express your interest and commitment:
If you have any questions, please reply to this e-mail or contact
Thank you for participating in Cyclopath!

Mikhil Masli
on behalf of the Cyclopath team
GroupLens Research 
University of Minnesota
Cyclopath has already demonstrated itself to be a great resource to Twin Cities cyclists. I have tried Google Maps"bike there" tool and Cyclopath and came down on the side of Cyclopath for use in the metro area. Notes are important to optimizing routes, so if you have time and are knowledgeable about an area, spend a minute or two and help clean up the Cyclopath wiki.

Thanks and ride safe out there!!

Dec 4, 2010


We got about 6 inches of beautiful fluffy snow that started yesterday afternoon and continued through the night. After running around this morning with the snowblower and digging out our house and all of our neighbors the snowy streets were only a minor inconvenience ( here's to 4-wheel drive).

I am pretty convinced that a bike can be as good a form of transportation in winter as a car, and better than a car on ice. After a slight hiatus from the bike I finally wheeled it out and went for a ride this evening. It felt VERY good to be on a bike again. The alleys were tricky - packed snow over ice. That was very squirmy, even with studded tires. The side streets, however, are very rideable in the tire tracks and the trail along the Parkway is generally in good condition. The only tricky stuff out there are the intersections,  where the plow spooge blocks the trail crossings.

The secret, to the extent that there is a secret, to winter riding is base layers. I invested in two Smartwool base layer tops this winter. They are expensive, but unbeatable for warmth, breathability and light weight. I like these under a light jacket more than a sweater for riding in winter. I told my co-workers that I am sorry, but I will not be taking my Smartwool off until May (and in every jest there is a grain of truth). The addition of a Grovecraft wool hat has also been a blessing. Holly's hats are wonderful soft Merino wool and fit better than any other ones I have tried. She was selling these at No-Coast today and also sells at Freewheel, Hiawatha and I think at the Hub.

The only winter cycling problem I am still having is my eyes. They tear a lot in cold weather, but I have a pretty low tolerance for goggles. I feel claustrophobic in goggles and they steam up (or my glasses steam up) as soon as I stop, so I am always taking the damn things on and off at stop lights. I am considering getting some of those wrap-around glasses with prescription inserts. Maybe Santa will deliver the goods on that this year.

The final thing that makes winter riding easier is the right bike. I could not be happier with my single speed MTB. I picked this for $60 at a garage sale this summer. With the addition of some wide fenders (I had to hack off the front of the front fender to clear the cantilever brake cables), lights and now studded tires, this bike is amazing. Although this is not a high end bike, it's a very good bike - it's perfect for it's purpose. That's my definition of a "good bike". I know a lot of people ride road bikes in winter, but I prefer a mountain bike with a small frame for better handling. I am never going to win a speed record on this, but then I am never going to win a speed record on a racing bike, either.

Finally, it's just a lot more fun and engaging to ride a bike in winter than it is to drive. Even with studs, I find you have to pay a little more attention, and the little fishtails and side-slips keep you very in touch with the road conditions. You are also presented with a lot of little challenges, like busting through a ridge of plowed snow at an intersection. You think nothing of this in a car, if you even notice it all. On a bike, you to come with a strategy in half a second, bust through it, and then you give yourself a little high-five when you succeed. That's good clean fun.

If you have not tried it, put on some long underwear, find a plowed trail and go for a little spin. It's a beautiful way to enjoy winter and a lot more accessible than most people would think.

Dec 3, 2010

Living for the Weekend

Lots going on this weekend, but fortunately the action is all going down in the same place and on the same day.

I discovered a Minneapolis Writer's Group that meets on Saturday mornings at Midtown Global Market. I plan to sample that tomorrow for the first time ever. I think it will be an interesting and fun experience. Thanks to my day-job, I tend to write well under pressure, and the new venue and experience may tap some hidden vein of creativity. I suspect that this may become a gateway into further shenanigans, however. One of my long-held but unspoken personal goals is to read my own stuff at a poetry slam at some point in my life. This writer's group seems like a pretty logical stepping stone in that direction. We'll see about that.

Another happening, the No-Coast Craft-a-Rama is also going down at that same location tomorrow. I know a few people that are exhibiting (and hopefully selling) at this event. We went last year and the stuff they had was exceptional and unique and kind of weird. I am hoping for the same this year.

Finally, on the same day at the same venue, Blue Wolf is playing at 12:30. For you cats that are not hep to the scene, let me lay it down... Blue Wolf is a bluegrass band that we follow because the guitar player is a friend and sort of the brains of the operation. They are fun to watch and very talented - we've seen them at DuLono's a few times now and NEVER been disappointed. Be there or be square, Daddy-O.

Now for confession...

I've been a big wuss and have not ridden my bike for at least a week, now. I've used my need to read as an excuse to ride the bus to work. Hopefully I'll get back in the saddle over the weekend and sustain that into a commute here next week. That said, I've made peace with the bus and have a post brewing about just exactly how one should ride the bus, so stay tuned for that. Plus, I've made a few new Bus Friends, too.

The photo, in case anyone is interested, is dawn this morning from my porch.

Nov 30, 2010

Time Out for Art: The Frescoes of St. Thomas

Pardon the long post, but I have been thinking about these frescoes lately and want to put this out there tonight for some reason...

We have an amazing work of art in Minneapolis that I suspect most people may not even be aware of. The Minneapolis campus of the University of St. Thomas has a series of frescoes by artist Mark Balma that need to be seen to be believed. In fact, the atrium ceiling has one of the largest frescoes in the United States. I stop in here periodically to look at these and reflect on the meaning behind behind these images. I have taken co-workers who know nothing of the technique behind making a fresco, or the symbolism behind these images, and even they are awed by these.

The frescoes depict a modern interpretation of the seven virtues. Indeed, Balma's take on these is kind of surreal and bizarre, yet it's beautiful as well. Here are some short excerpts from the St. Thomas site describing these pieces to help make these more accessible:

Faith - Faith is the foundation of all of the other virtues. This is why Balma's depiction of the virtue is located at the entrance of the building. A family sits together peacefully beneath the golden sun. The sun provides energy to all living things and although we cannot gaze directly at it, we believe in its power. The family represents love and commitment. The child holds a small goldfinch, a Christian symbol for Christ because of its tendency to make nests from the seeds of the thorny thistle. The overall theme of this fresco is creation, and illustrated by the Native American teaching of the tortoise volunteering his back as a place for the people to live when there was no land.

Justice - Traditionally, the virtue of justice is depicted as a blindfolded woman holding equally balanced scales. Justice is meant to be blind; it does not make judgment based on prejudice. In Balma's interpretation, the scales become the main symbolism, with the images of male and female figures balanced perfectly upon them. The figures are not blind, but they see themselves as they are in their natural state, different and unique, but equal in respect to one another on a scale which is fixed. Behind them is the dark form of a stylized eagle, wings outstretched in an upward lift. The shape of this mythical bird was inspired by the "Thunderbird" of Native American folklore. Native people believed the eagle to be the mediator between heaven and earth, as it was able to soar effortlessly. It was considered the essence of spiritual enlightenment, of principles to be upheld. This representation of the eagle was adopted by early American colonists and became the symbol of our country. The entire piece is framed by a circle, a symbol of perfection.

Prudence - The virtue of prudence traditionally has been depicted by a figure of a teacher, denoting wisdom. Here, prudence is interpreted as the wisdom to make the right choices in life. The main symbol in "Prudence" is a large, scaly dragon. To Asian cultures, the dragon represents wisdom and supernatural powers. A woman with an academic gown stands calmly before it. She carries the book, "Sapienza," which means "knowledge" in Italian. In its mighty claw the dragon clutches a diploma. The woman is not frightened by this vision; instead, she gestures toward it, offering peace. On the other side of the great beast are the pink glimmering arches that represent passage to a more enlightened, successful life. Close examination of the two figures shows that the woman and the dragon are actually in identical poses; they mirror each other. Sometimes our greatest inhibitions are within ourselves. We must confront these weaknesses. Thus, as Socrates said, "Know thyself."

Hope - Hope is played out against a deep blue sky, dark before the rays of sun bring the promise of a new day. The figures represent the cycle of life. A woman holds up her newborn child, who represents a new generation in whom we place our dreams. The young man in the prime of his life is bent over, laboring in the soil. Near him is a flourishing fruit tree in full bloom. His hope is knowing that he will reap what he sows. On another level, we must remember that our hope lies in respecting and caring for the earth. The elderly woman completes the cycle, but she is not a static member of this scheme. She represents the universal grandmother who has laid the groundwork for us to sow our dreams. She carries compost in her wheelbarrow, showing that what dies does not end, but becomes the basic elements needed for new life. In the same light, the pinnacle of symbolic hope in the Christian tradition is the lamb. Amid darkness is the sun, or the Son of the world, who sacrifices himself as the pure lamb in order that we may have the essence of hope.

Temperance - This virtue is the condition or quality of being temperate (exercising moderation and self-restraint). In Balma's depiction, temperance is depicted as the ability to remain free of distraction and focused on a goal. A stoic woman walks amid a fantastic forest filled with strange beasts. They depict the vices of temptation that face us. The grasshopper reclining on an anthill represents idleness, calling to mind Aesop's fable of the Grasshopper and the Ant. It is seated in front of a television, which Balma considers a potential instrument of a wasted mind. The satyr, half-man, half-goat, traditionally offered wine; but instead, here he offers a bag of drugs. The strange figure in the tree was inspired by the ancient siren, half-woman and half-bird, who sang seductive songs to lure sailors off course toward eventual destruction. Here a rock music diva becomes a contemporary siren. The monkey in the other tree accuses with a pointed finger, but is blindfolded as well. It represents prejudice. The fox, dressed in the garb of a religious man, offers the olive branch of peace while concealing a dagger; he feigns virtue while symbolizing treachery and is a comment on the many wars that have been raged over religious differences. The pig, traditionally the symbol of gluttony, holds a globe covered with the by-products of careless overconsumption.

Fortitude - In medieval times, when chivalry was prized, the virtue of fortitude was depicted by an allegorical person with a sword; thus, fortitude too often is misinterpreted as physical strength. Within American history, however, one of the most prominent examples of fortitude can be found in the African-American experience. In Balma's work, two main figures, draped in colorful, native dress, have persevered to retain part of their heritage; nevertheless, they stand strong. The mule, in the center, is an interesting blend of a horse and a donkey. It is the symbol of oppression, the beast of burden. It also represents the "40 acres and a mule" promised to freed slaves by the post-Civil War government. The two figures unleash the mule from the bridle, having surmounted adversity. The woman takes an active role in the bridle's removal because she has been considered as the lowly of the low. Her exposed breasts represent strength, in the literal sense of nourishment which comes only from a woman.

Charity - St. Thomas Aquinas called charity the greatest of the virtues. This panel, located at the end of the ceiling as you ascend the grand stairway, gives the viewer the physical sensation of being led upward to this virtue. Charity is played out on a city sidewalk; a woman cradles a lifeless figure. A mythical pelican envelops the couple and offers its own blood from its plucked breast to revive the figure.

It would be worth pedaling down to St. Thomas or stopping in if you find yourself downtown with some spare time.

Nov 28, 2010

More on Book Club

With winter rapidly approaching, I am attempting to organize a book club. That effort seems to be going reasonably well considering we have not had our first meeting yet. We will be meeting at Townhall Tap, located at 48th St. and Chicago Ave. on Tuesday, December 14 at 7:00 PM. The first book we will be discussing is The Gift of Fear by Gavin DeBecker. It's up to the group, but I expect we'll be doing more non-fiction than fiction in this book club...

I have set up a Google Group to facilitate communication with the participants (so far there are 8 people signed up not including me). If you are interested, join the group and come see what this is all about. The group is heavy on bicycle-friendly people, but non-cyclists and bicycle-curious are welcome as well.

Nov 27, 2010

Bike Blitz at MMRB

2010 Pie
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Today was the "Bike Blitz" at Mr. Michael Recycles Bicycles. MMRB is located in the Midway at 520 Prior Ave. in St. Paul in a small nondescript office building with a couple of red Dero bike racks out front.

Despite the inconspicuous exterior, MMRB does good work. Mike and Benita collect bikes either from donations or from recycling events and repair them so they are safe and rideable. The bikes are then given freely to people that need them. Their typical clientele includes people in recovery, the homeless, low income and other needy folks. This is a ministry for them, but also a service to the community. They also sell used parts and a few bikes, but the proceeds go to covering operating expenses entirely.

I did my first Bike Blitz with them two years ago, now, I think... They participate in a Christmas Wishes program and repair and give away bikes for Christmas through this program. Today was the 2010 Bike Blitz, and I donated the better part of a day to helping them out. I got four bikes on the road for them in the time I was there, which is better than average, it seems.

Although the wrenching is entirely volunteer, they take good care of the volunteers at MMRB; we typically have a little food, some beer, and occasionally pie. Today we were treated to two different kinds of pie - apple and pumpkin. Given that choice, I usually go apple.

These are always kind of fun and I always learn something each time I go over there. Today I was schooled in the fine points of grip shifters (grrr). I also have absorbed quite a bit about how they run the operation, what's salvageable, and how to best get a tired bike back on the road quickly and efficiently. This is a really different style of repair than I do at home on my bikes, but the experience is additive, and the company is always good.

Thanks MMRB for putting this on and for being out there.

Nov 25, 2010


Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Thanksgiving Eve 2010 has me in a pensive mood. This has been an exceptionally difficult year, and one that I would not wish to repeat. Ever.

That said, I've learned a lot, and that life experience is invaluable. I find that the most difficult times of my life always end up being the most formative. I think it takes discomfort and dis-satisfaction for most of us to move off of status quo, and moving off of status quo is, at some level, is the very essence of growth.

While I have experienced a lot of things in 2010 that I would not wish on anybody, there is still a lot to be thankful for:

Here's to seeking help when you need it, and having the humility and/or intelligence to accept that help when it's offered.

Here's to friends. They keep us anchored and keep us honest, and shine a little light into the darker corners of our thoughts when needed.

Here's to family; both blood kin and in-laws. Great people and unconditional support, even it it's annoying at times.

Here's to competence. There's nothing better than doing something well. It doesn't matter if it's as simple as replacing a chain wheel or as complex as guiding a client through a thorny regulatory issue; nailing it makes your day, and sometimes your whole week.

Here's to values. Sticking to your values means never having to say you're sorry (at least to yourself, that is).

Here's to taking a chance. I am not talking about bungee-jumping here, I am talking about trying something you are interested in but a little afraid of. Reluctance can turn into paralysis pretty damn quick if you are not careful, and that can become a lifestyle after awhile. Like exercise, each time you do this, it gets a little easier, too.

Here's to metaphors. I love them.

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving and found more then enough to be grateful for this year!

Nov 21, 2010

And He's Down!

This morning we woke to a glazed world. Overnight, freezing rain had coated everything with about 0.25 inches of glare ice. It was virtually impossible to stand on any kind of slope, and walking was extremely difficult.

What could I do but seize this rare opportunity for a bike ride.

Bounding to the basement, I mounted my studded tires on the bad weather bike, put on a rain jacket and headed out into the mess. It was so slippery that I had trouble mounting the bike - you really couldn't comfortably lift a leg to swing it over the saddle without almost falling. After accomplishing this, however, I rolled out and had a fantastic ride. The Nokian Mount & Ground tires held the road beautifully and the bike handled predictably up hills, around corners and in the straight-aways.

Bringing my ride to a close was another story all together. I was perhaps a little over-confident as I rolled up to the garage and put my foot down. The slight incline of the garage lip was enough to wash my right foot out from under me entirely, and in an instant, I was laying on my back next to my garbage dumpster, looking at the sky. I picked myself up, but it was so slick that I could not even walk up the incline to the garage. Instead I started sliding down the hill in the alley with my bike. I ended up riding back down the alley and circling back up the block, coming in for a landing on the crusty snow in front of the house this time.

I whacked my right elbow pretty hard in the fall, but I think it's okay - it only hurts if I rest on something at this point.

Today's lesson, class, is that studded tires are all kinds of awesome, but some ice creepers make a nice accessory to them in these conditions.

Nov 20, 2010


Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
I have had a project kicking around for over a year, and I finally finished it earlier this week...

I picked up a second-hand Bridgestone last summer off of Craig's List. The owner (in a western 'burb) had outfitted the bike for his son - he removed the large chain ring and was running this as a 6-speed with suicide lever added. It was priced right, and I figured this would make a good fixed gear or could be restored to 12-speed operation pretty easily, and the frame/paint was in really good shape for the age of the bike.

Several years ago now, I bought a set of wheels sporting Velocity Aero rims with a single speed/fixed gear hubs. I toyed with fixed geared bikes after reading what Sheldon had to say on the subject, but never really committed to one seriously. Still, I kept the wheels because they were nice wheels and I figured I might want to try this again some day.

I had scavenged a few parts off this bike for other projects since acquiring it (the Trek restoration I did last winter claimed a derailleur, for instance), so although I had wheels, I had a few parts to scrounge up. Also, the cranks that came on this bike were a little tweaked - they had an annoying eccentricity that I wanted to remedy if I was really going to ride this bike.

Over the past few months I have been accumulating missing parts on the cheap. I scored some mustache bars from a friend in a handlebar trade, got a saddle from a Bike Lover that had upgraded, and finally found a replacement Shimano crank for a reasonable price from another Bike Lover over in St. Paul.

The wheel is set up as a flip flop with a fixed gear cog on one side and a freewheel single on the other, so I am running both front and rear brakes on this set up rather than the more fashionable front-only fixed gear setup. The Shimano Golden Arrow brakes I am running on this build came with the bike, and seem to be very nice brakes (the self-centering ability on these is excellent, in fact). I finished the crank swap this week, and much to my surprise, the bolt circle diameter was identical between the old and new-to-me cranks, so I was able to salvage the almost-new chainwheel from the tweaked crank that came with the bike. I taped the bars and was ready to hit the road.

Other than a quick shakedown ride to check the crank on Tuesday night, today was the first day that this bike has seen the road in this configuration. I am by no means an experienced fixed gear rider, but I am proud to say that I only had to use the hand brakes a few times when I rode this to work and back today. I found the fixed gear to be particularly fun to ride downtown - I was able to slow down and regulate my speed better to time the lights, it was more of a game than bombing up to an intersection, honking on the brakes and then standing there waiting for the light to change, which I do on my other bikes.

I can't say I found the ride of a fixed gear "magical" but it was different and fun (maybe "magical" comes after you are more comfortable with it?). This bike is not set up for foul weather, so it probably won't seem much more road time until The Thaw, but I am glad to have gotten at least one ride in on it before the weather really turns.

Nov 18, 2010

Shared Among Strangers

This afternoon I stepped onto the elevator in my downtown skyscraper office building. There was one other young man in the elevator already. I hit the button for my floor and the doors began to close.

At that very moment, an older woman in the lobby lunged for the closing doors, trying to catch the elevator, too. My companion sprang forward and pushed a button to hold open the doors for this woman. However, instead of hitting the "open" button, he pressed the "alarm" button by mistake.

The doors opened, but a loud alarm went off as well. An automated voice came over the loud speaker announcing "An emergency call has been initiated!" We were horrified and looked at each other sheepishly.

Within moments, a security guard was on the loudspeaker, asking what the nature of our problem was. We all glanced at each other and I said "Um... Our problem is that we pushed the wrong button - sorry about that". Security said "No problem" and hung up the line.

We all laughed about our little misadventure and got off the elevator on our respective floors. We will probably never see each other again, but we'll probably remember this incident for a long time.

Nov 14, 2010

Meet the New Cat

Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Two weeks ago we took another cat in. "Coltrane" is about 4 years old and a neutered/de-clawed male. We've never had a short haired cat, and although the semi-long hairs are lovely, I am already appreciating less cat hair around the place than with the previous kittehs.

Coltrane was the trusty feline companion of Bike Lover "BillyPilgrim", who moved well out-of-state and couldn't take this fine fellow with him. It was a fortunate coincidence that we were ready for a new cat when Coltrane needed a new home. Mostly it's been seemless; he was kind of high strung when we took him in, but he has mellowed out and demonstrated himself to be a good cat. He's high spirited and quite a leaper, but he's also cuddly and laid back, and not at all stand-offish.

It's been awhile since we have had a young, active kitty; our last cat, Little Cat, passed away a year and a half ago at the ride old age of 19. She was a good kitty, but her senior years lasted a long time. Conversely, Coltrane loves to chase a lazer pointer around the house, and he's always ready to bat the scratchy mouse around the living room as well. Despite this, he is well-mannered and not very mouthy.

Having an animal around the house has changed the vibe at home a little bit. Friendly greetings when I come in the door are always nice, and hearing the "pad-pad-pad" as he stomps around is comforting.

Here's to animals and their care-takers.

Nov 12, 2010

Wheel Buildin'

Truing Stand Base
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Last year I bought all the fixings to build a set of wheels, but after a few failed attempts during a vacation, I shelved the stuff and have not gotten back to it.

Hiawatha is offering a wheel-building class next weekend, and I signed myself up for it today. The concept is now a little different from what I originally planned. Initially, I planned to build a set of 700c wheels based on Velocity Synergy rims and Deore hubs. Part of what slowed down on this project was that I didn't really have any use for another set of wheels like this; I figured I would upgrade the wheels on the Cross Check or something, but those have been just fine, so without any urgency, the project languished.

I re-evaluated the situation and will now be building a 700c wheel with dic brakes and using those on the Rawland. Although it's currently set up for 650b wheels, with discs that frame can run anything from a 26-inch wheel up to a 29'er. I'll build out the Synergy's and mount some narrower tires than the chubby Marathons I run on the 650b wheels. Those will feel a little more lively and will be fun to ride. I'll also be curious to see how the bike handles the larger wheels; I have this theory at on a small frame, 700c wheels are not all they are cracked up to be. I like the fit of the Rawland frame, however, so it will be interesting to see if the wheels are noticeably different. If this all goes to hell and the wheels don't work with the bike like I hope, I'll have a nice set of Cyclocross wheels, so no harm done.

I'll be able to re-use most of the stuff I have but will need to swap out the hubs, obviously. That was taken care of today. I am also eager to build some wheels; I've gotten fairly proficient at truing up wheels, but have yet to actually construct a set. This should be an interesting and rewarding experience.

Nov 11, 2010

Night and Day

Dawn Shadows
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
The switch to Daylight Savings time has dramatically altered the ride to and from work. Prior to last weekend, I was running my powerful lights in the morning and rode home in low sun. It's now reversed; low sun in the morning (or dawn, depending on when I get moving), and darkness on the way home.

After a close call or two last year, I run lights if the sun is at all low on the horizon. At night, lights are obviously necessary, but I think they are even more important in low sun. I generally use the "flash" setting front and rear at dusk and switch to steady beams after dark. The trick in twilight is to catch the attention of drivers and pedestrians; at night it's more about being visible and being able to see.

As I have said earlier, there is something magical about riding a bike in the dark, even if it is in rush hour traffic.

Nov 9, 2010

Lunch On.

School Season Again.
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
We are convening a gathering of the MPLS Bike Love "Downtown Dining Club" on Thursday. Anyone at all bikey that finds themselves downtown over the noon-hour is welcome to join us for food and fellowship. Specifics on time and place can be found here.

Edit - this just in! We'll be a Black Bamboo around 11:30. That's in Accenture Tower, ground floor, south side of the building. The food is decent but the price is excellent. Should be a good time.

Nov 8, 2010

We Are So Special!

The City sent a self-congratulatory message to subscribers of the "Bicycle Update" list today. It points out the highlights of the 2010 season, and reads as follows:
Bicycling Update Subscribers,
2010 has been a year of accomplishments for bicycling in Minneapolis. The Cedar Lake Trail, one of the few remaining gaps in the off-street bike path system, is nearing completion. Construction began on Minneapolis’ first bicycle boulevard. Nice Ride Minnesota launched bike sharing with 700 bicycles at 65 locations. And ten miles of street were improved for bicycling.
To learn more view an interactive map of new and improved 2010 bikeways (pdf).You can also visit our new projects website and track the growth of bikeways over the past decade.
Also, Nice Ride Minnesota is beginning a planning process to expand bike sharing.Two workshops will be held for the public to share where they would like to see more bike sharing stations.The first meeting will be in Northeast Minneapolis on Tuesday, November 9th, from 6:30 to 8 pm in the Northrup King Building (1500 Jackson St NE, Suite 314). The second meeting will be held on Thursday, November 11th , from 6:30 to 8 pm at the Freewheel Midtown Bike Center (2834 10th Avenue S).
Happy Riding,
City of Minneapolis Bicycle Program
I totally support these enhancements. The Cedar Lake Trail extension is a great upgrade, even if it is a little expensive. The 40th Street Bike Boulevard is a good test case of Bike Boulevards - I rode that project on Saturday between 28th to Chicago, and although I was skeptical of the project at some early planning meetings, I liked the enhancements and traffic calming amenities and think they will enhance east-west connectivity. Nice Ride was a success, despite my early skepticism there as well.

I caution Minneapolis against the sin of hubris, however. Shaun Murphy has done great work to help get these projects developed, and we appreciate his efforts. I think he was instrumental in getting a lot of this work done in 2010. Other projects, such as Marq2, Hennepin Ave., and First Avenue are bike-unfriendly and/or poorly executed. I appreciate that the city is trying to move in the right direction, and based on the PR pieces they are issuing, they view this as important, but a holistic and thoughtful approach and a master plan will be needed to arrive at a coherent and effective bike infrastructure.

Nov 7, 2010


Earlier this week as I was leaving the office, I noticed that I had lost another bolt from my crank. This has been a bad year for chainwheel bolts for me. That's like... the 4th one I've had fall off a bike this season. While contemplating this most recent loss and tightening down the 4 bolts the remained, I also noticed that my chainwheel had gone from a 42-tooth to a 41-tooth somewhere along the way - one tooth was entirely gone and the others were pretty worn.

I picked up an Origin8 replacement chainwheel and some new bolts, popped the crank off and replaced the chainwheel this afternoon. I was quick and simple, but definitely necessary. I inspected the rear cog and that was just fine, with very little wear. The chainwheel that was on there was very cheaply made - it was probably the original wheel and seemed like it was just heavy stamped steel. The cog, on the other hand, was a newer Shimano cog, so that was in much better shape.

I probably took a little life off the chain by riding the chainwheel in that condition, but measuring it, it's not too bad, and with winter coming on I am not going to deal with that until Spring (hopefully).

I learned today that Park no longer manufactures the nifty caliper for measuring bolt diameters to replace these components. The best solution is apparently to consult Sheldon Brown to calculate your bolt diameter.

I find being able to do these kind of simple repairs to be very empowering.

Unseasonably warm temps brought us outside today for an afternoon ride with that little chore out of the way. We stopped at the Midtown Freewheel and got Molly outfitted with some full-finger gloves, a flasher and a head-band type ear warmer. She's kept riding as the weather has gotten colder, so she's earned a little investment in gear to keep her comfortable in the chilly. She'll be rocking a rechargeable Blackburn Flea rear flasher around the neighborhood effective tomorrow. I like these - they are small, bright, and last a long time between charges. I have yet to run one in really cold weather, but I suspect it will be just fine.

Nov 6, 2010

Getting Chilly Out There

Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Yesterday morning I awoke to 26 degrees. We have had a few hard frosts now and it's typically in the 30's at night, but I think this was our first sub-30 morning.

Over a year ago I posted on some concerns I had over riding into the winter. Like many things, preparation makes all the difference. I have been using my powerful lights in the morning, and I have been able to dress appropriately as the temp has dropped, so as of yet I have had no problem whatsoever matching my set up to the weather (you may recall that I include "darkness" as bad weather because you have to prepare for it).

The most obvious change is the unpretentious Raleigh single speed. It's not as interesting as my Rawland but it's stout, has big, big tires, fenders and lights, and it's kind of fun to motor along on. When it turns icy, I'll change out the Big Apples for some studded tires, but I intend to either wait as long as I can or try to avoid the studs and go with big contact area this winter.

The other changes are less noticeable but probably more important. I am totally sold on wool cycling hats. We picked up a wonderful Grovecraft wool cycling hat last Spring for Molly. She never took to it though, and I ended up appropriating this. It's become my favorite hat - soft merino wool made from recycled (or rather re-used) sweaters with ear flaps for extra dork-credibility. Otherwise nothing out of the ordinary - wool base layers, wool socks, gloves and some Sporthill tights.

I think I have a pretty good chance of riding most of the way through winter this year. We'll see how I am feeling about that in January, however.

Nov 3, 2010

More Stupid Bike Games

Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Back in mid-October I posted about a photo tag game I am participating in. The idea is to find some obscure mural and get a picture of it with your bike in the photo. That photos gets posted on-line and then others hunt around and try to find the location and recreate the photo (more or less) and post the next mural. I scored my second "find" today.

There's another stupid bike game I play that's a little edgier. There's a small but passionate group devoted to taking self-portraits of themselves on a bike. For whatever reason, these have become known as "Panda" photos. I have indulged in run-of-the mill Panda photos previously, but lately I have been drawn to the more thrilling "danger Panda" genre.

A "danger Panda" photo requires that you ride hands-free and snap the picture such that the other hand, and the moving bicycle is clearly visible.

I can only imagine what I look like to normal people as I attempt this.

Nov 2, 2010

DIY Book Club

After trying unsuccessfully to hook up with an existing book club, I have decided to try and start my own damn book club. I found the book club I dipped my toe into to be kind of a closed circle; by starting a new one, I am hoping to open this to others that have wanted to try this but maybe have not found the right group.

The first book we will be reading is a non-fiction book (The Gift of Fear) by Gavin DeBecker. I read this several years ago and found it fascinating. The author is an expert at threat assessment; he is a behavioral psychologist type and has done a lot of work on determining when someone is, in fact, dangerous. The link has a better description than I can provide, but suffice it to say that it's a fascinating window on human behavior, and with recent issues on the LRT trail and assaults in Elliot Park, it's timely and topical. The book is available from the MPLS library and can be purchased in paperback for about $7.00.

I put the initial feeler out on this via MPLS Bike Love. This is still dynamic and specifics on time and place are yet to be determined, but if this takes root, I'll probably open a Facebook page to manage this. We'll probably meet either in South MPLS or downtown in early to mid-November to discuss the first book. If you are at all interested please let me know via the comment function below and I"ll keep you posted.

I promise this group will be open and receptive to new people, will be respectful of all opinions, and won't be stuffy or snobbish.

The discussion on Bike Love can be seen over here.

Nov 1, 2010

A Better Way

After several years of using Park and Portland Avenues as the backbone of my basic commute, I have abandoned that route almost entirely. A friend polled me on how best to get downtown these days, expressing some frustration with the noise and traffic on Park and Portland. I suggested Chicago Ave. as a better option. Here's why.

I began experimenting with Chicago last winter. Heavy snow and ice was encroaching on the streets and narrowing them considerably. Parked cars were starting to crowd into the bike lanes on Park and Portland. Add to that the fact that the posted speed limit on these 3-lane, one-way streets is 35 mph, and more typically traffic moves at closer to 40 mph, and the prospect of falling and sliding into traffic, or getting rear-ended, seemed too likely to make that a good option for winter riding.

I set a course on Chicago one snowy wintery night last January, and was pleasantly surprised. Although there was traffic, it was slower and better behaved than on Park or Portland. An unexpected benefit was that it was a lot more interesting to ride. South of Lake street, it's residential and mixed commercial use; north of Lake street we have Midtown Commons and retail until you get to the Abbott Northwestern Hospital campus. Franklin/Chicago is seedy and sketchy to the freeway and then you pop out into Elliot Park, which is marginally sketchy as well, but still feels safe enough on a bike. Connectivity to other good routes downtown is good, too.

The real problem with Chicago was terrible pavement. It was like a third world street early this summer. For about two months it was torn up and then entirely re-surfaced, so it's creamy smooth and a pleasure to ride on.

I am surprised the City has not yet looked at enhancements such as sharrows on Chicago Ave. They are currently working on enhancements to 17th Ave. (the "Southern Connection" project) because 17th is one of the few streets that goes all the way from Minihaha Parkway to near downtown (17th stops at 22nd Street, so it doesn't make it the whole way). Chicago goes all the way from the Crosstown to 9th Ave. downtown. It's wide, and the lights are in place at all major crossings. It's a better route for bikes and more direct to downtown if you are anywhere west of Cedar Ave. and and east of I-35W.

Hopefully others will read this and start riding Chicago and making bikes more visible on this route, which I really do like more than Park/Portland.

Oct 28, 2010

Cereal Day!

Cereal Day
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Every year, Malt-o-Meal sells their cereal products in the Crystal Court of the IDS Center for $1.00 per bag. Each sale raises $2.00 for the United Way.

That's a generous contribution to United Way, but seriously, Cereal Day is a bigger deal than it really should be. I came up from the bike racks in the IDS Center today only to be confronted with hundreds of people waiting in line to purchase Choco-Puffs and Malt-O-Bark for friends and family.

The atmosphere in the Crystal Court is festive on Cereal Day. It's like Christmas for grown-ups. Office drones line up to buy, and then schlep giant plastic bags of breakfast through the skyway to their cubes and offices.

I don't understand this demand for breakfast cereal. I honestly can't recall the last time I ate a bowl of cereal.

Apparently, I am in the minority on this one.

Oct 26, 2010

Bomb Cyclogenesis FTW

We were treated to a "bomb cyclogenesis" today. For those of you less into weather than some of us, that's a strong, rapidly intensifying low pressure system. This storm, the first major storm of the Fall season for us, produced a good shot of rain, record low barometric pressure and some very impressive winds.

In Minneapolis, we saw a peak gust of 52 MPH at 5:15PM. That was about the time that I left the office to start my ride home. I rode to work today specifically to sample this monster storm and was not disappointed.

The winds were probably about 35 MPH (sustained winds) with some gusts over that. I doubt I felt the 52 MPH blast, but all forward progress was nearly stopped by one gust when I crossed I-94 on the Chicago Ave. bridge this afternoon.

My co-workers thought I was insane for riding to work today. On the other hand, I felt like I was the only sane one in the building. This is a huge weather event, and to miss out on the experience by huddling on a bus was unacceptable. Something like this only happens a few times in anyone's life, and to chicken out and ride the bus or drive would have made this just another rainy, blustery day in Fall.

Honestly, the ride was not as difficult as I expected. I was dressed for wet wind and didn't have any trouble controlling the bike. I was admittedly a little concerned about being blown into traffic by a side-wind, but that never happened. Not even close. The only real problem tonight was A-hole drivers. I don't know if it was the poor weather or not, but I noted more speeding, and more inconsiderate drivers than usual on the route home.

I think a little weather-related adversity is good for us. A case could be made that too much fine weather breeds complacency, sloth and indolence and suppresses intellectual development (indeed, this was a real theory in geographic thought; it helped to rationalize European colonization and is now widely considered to be, um... "culturally biased"). This windy slap upside the head is really good at focusing us like a sunny, 70 degree day can't.

I hope you all enjoyed the bomb cyclogenesis as much as I did. Stay safe and stay dry!

Oct 25, 2010

Cyclist Killed in Collision on First Ave.

1st Ave. 11/4/09
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Today a 55 year-old cyclist was struck and killed on First Ave. in downtown Minneapolis. Although reports are sketchy right now, it sounds like the cyclist was going straight in the bike lane and was struck by a delivery truck that was turning right.

First Ave. was modified in late 2009 to include bike lanes. The design for these lanes was intended to shield cyclists from traffic with a line of parked cars. During rush hour, parking is not allowed on the street, but during off-hours cars are allowed to park next to the bike lane, but away from the curb as shown in this photo, which I shot late last Fall.

There were problems with this design when it was implemented; drivers did not understand that they can't park next to the curb, or would hang over into the bike lane, creating a hazard for cyclists. The City installed "candlestick" markers to delineate the bike lanes better as a result of these problems. I originally took this photo to document the installation of the candlesticks.

I have ridden the re-designed First Ave. exactly twice. I rode it once right after it was installed to see for myself how well it functioned. I rode it again after the candlesticks were installed. The number of cars hanging over into the bike lanes were reduced thanks to the candlesticks, but I was never comfortable riding on First Ave.

The reason for my distrust of this bike lane was (and still is) that the parked cars obstruct the view of the cycle lane for drivers turning off of First Ave., and they also can obstruct the view of cars on First Ave. from cyclists using the First Ave. bike lanes. It always seemed to me that a right-cross was more likely, and left-cross was also a possibility. I avoided this street as a result.

My other concern with the design was that other cyclists would view First Ave. as a "safe" street to ride on because it has dedicated bike lanes that are isolated from traffic. In my opinion that creates a false sense of security that can lull inexperienced cyclists to believe that they are safe riding in these lanes.

I don't know the specifics of what happened today on First Ave. I can easily imagine the cyclist was riding up to the intersection, did not see the turn signal on the truck and proceeded straight through the intersection, directly into the path of the truck, which had begun it's turn.

I think this design needs to be revoked, or if not, additional controls need to be added to give cyclists green arrows or red lights to accommodate right turns.

It's too bad this tragedy happened, but hopefully we can all learn from this and create a safer city for everyone.

Oct 24, 2010

Home-Made Laundry Soap: Too Cool

Our behind-the-alley neighbor gave us a small container of home-made laundry soap recently in appreciation for various and assorted good deeds done and favors rendered. She told us that her sister has problems with allergies and can't tolerate scents and fragrances, so they have been making this laundry soap and really like it, so they were giving us some as well.

I am admittedly a huge sucker for this kind of stuff, but I was amazed at how well it worked. With only one tablespoon of this mixture per load, all the clothes came out very clean and bright. We used up our initial ration so I set out today to make some more. Here's how to do this:
  • 1 cup Fel's Naptha laundry soap, finely grated
  • 1/2 cup Borax
  • 1/2 cup washing soda
I struck out on washing soda, but the better grocery stores will have Fel's Naptha soap and Borax in the laundry section. Absent washing soda, I used Oxi-Clean, which is about the same stuff, but costs a lot more ($6.50 or so for the tub).

The only trick is grating the Fel's Naptha finely enough. I used a small kitchen grated and elbow grease, and that worked very well. Best of all, you only need to use 1 tablespoon of this stuff per load (2 tablespoons if the laundry is heavily soiled).

This is simply too cool to not pass on. Enjoy!