Jan 31, 2011

Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee Meeting on Wednesday

The newly re-constituted Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee is having their first meeting of the year on Wednesday from 4:00 - 6:00 in Room 101 at 309 2nd Ave. So.

Unfortunately, I am on the outside looking in, but Don Pflaum was kind enough to add me to the distribution list for the agendas. Here is what's on tap for Wednesday's meeting:
1. Member introductions and sign-in (4:00-4:15)  
2. Selection of officers (Chair, Vice-chair, Secretary/Recorder) (4:15-4:30) 
3. Review of BAC mission and membership (4:30-4:45) 
4. Discussion of regular meeting time and place (4:45-5:00) 
5. 2011 goals (5:00-5:30) 
6. Schedule future agenda items (members may select topics) (5:30-5:50) 
7. Misc (5:50-6:00) 
These meetings are open to the public, so if you care about bike advocacy and can make it this meeting, please try to attend. I plan to be there, at least for the first half of the meeting. I have a prior commitment that involves thrashing the men's club broomball team from Our Lady of the Nativity. If I had known, I would have declined the broomball thing, but like I said, I didn't get an invitation, so I get my information from Facebook. And now email, thanks to Don.

Getting passed over may be just as well - I have a natural distrust of advocacy groups in general. The line between good and evil with these things is so narrow - properly used, these committees and advocacy groups can harness the energy of grass routes advocates and focus it, effecting powerful change for the better.  Many times, however, it seems these groups collect that precious energy only to discharge it harmlessly into a ground-bed of bureaucracy governed by Robert's Rules, which ensures nothing actually gets done and status quo is safe for another go-round.

Jan 29, 2011

One Role of Transit in Modern Society

Winter has knocked me off the bike for regular commuting, but I am still riding somewhat for errands and recreation. Maybe I'll commute next week, as I have been saying for the last month or so...

A small benefit of taking the bus is more time for reading, which is more important now that I've got an active book club to participate in.

I am convinced that if American is a melting pot, then the bus is cauldron where the serious work gets done. Downtown office women, students, immigrants, slackers, down-and-outers and up-and-comers all sway together in (mostly) silent communion, brought together by happenstance and the need to somewhere else.

The bus is a real-world cultural "butterfly effect" experiment that is conducted every morning and evening. Invisibly and imperceptibly passengers influence each other, as we move together, many parts as one unit, lurching along towards our now shared destiny.


Another experiment from writer's group this morning....

Might beast, noble beast
Son or daughter of Simba
Dream of the Serengeti
From the warmth of the hearth
A lion's heart beats in your small chest.

Descendant of Simba
The sparrow is your waterbuffalo
The mouse your zebra
Cunning or sunning
Stretched out in regal splendor
For all to admire
Royal blood in your veins

Untamed, unbroken, wild and free
I am but a convenience to you
My house your castle
My garden your realm
Gracing me with your presence
When it suits you.

Jan 28, 2011

Unsticking a Seized Bottom Bracket

Few things can be quite as frustrating as a stuck part. It shuts down the whole maintenance operation until lubricants, greater force or destruction frees things again.

The last time I rode my winter bike, it felt like it was pedaling poorly. Closer investigation revealed that the sealed bottom bracket was one its very last legs. If felt like there were rocks in it, and it had to be replaced because the sealed units are not really meant to be user-serviceable.

The sealed cassette bottom bracket is usually a really simple operation, but I quickly realized that my bottom bracket was seized up in the frame. Every time I attempted to turn the cartridge out of the frame, the bottom bracket socket would cam-out of the splines before the cartridge would break free. Dammit. I screwed around with this a few evenings trying to free it with Liquid Wrench and percussive blows, but it was clear that I was going to round the splines if I kept at this much longer.

Pedro's makes a tool for just this problem, so I ordered one up from my LBS, but it won't be in until sometime next week. There's no way I could ever leave this alone until then, however, so I went to the hardware store to devised my own DIY tool and finish this.

One 8m 1.25 bolt and a few washers set me back $1.12. The spacing to get this tight enough to hold the socket in the splines was a process of trial and error. It turned out that using an old freewheel removal tool as a large spacer and fine tuning it with washers was the winning combination.

The 8m bolt and spacers were threaded through the removal tool (with the wrench already on the tool) and then carefully screwed nto the spindle of the bottom bracket, like so.

Once this was holding the removal tool in place I was able to give the wrench a few good baps with a hammer and break the bottom bracket free. Installing the new one was a piece of cake after that.

I am still going to pick up that Pedro's tool because the spacing would be so much simpler, but in the event anyone else runs into this problem and doesn't want to buy a specialized tool,  this little trick is pretty easy and useful enough to make it worth sharing.

Thanks to Kyle, Andrew, Liam and Bob for their helpful advise on this one. Success!

EDIT - I am getting quite a few hits on this post. If this was helpful, or if you have something to add, kindly post a comment and let the world know.

Jan 27, 2011


Hennepin Sharrow 11/5/09
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
It would seem at this point that my application for a seat on the Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee has been rejected. Or rather, that my offer to serve has not been accepted.

I can't say for sure because I have not heard anything from anyone since submitting the application back in early December. I did call my councilman's office (John Quigley, Ward 11) and talked to the staff there. They did not know anything about the status of the appointment but committed to call me back. That was about 5 weeks ago now, so I've given up on sitting by the phone at this point.

The darker side of me meets rejection with rejection (fuck you - I didn't want that anyway). In this case, I'll try and manage that reaction and may try to attend a few of these meetings. To be honest, I have not heard good things about this group, which was my primary motivation to join them - how's that for being quietly subversive? I figure it's more effective to effect change from the inside than the outside.

If I can't get to the inside, I am now willing to work from the outside. Maybe that's a sign of being older and more mature. Still, you should have called back, Mr. Quigley, because I am not planning on going away any time soon.

Jan 26, 2011


How Much I Care
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Once more, I was moved to go down to my basement, open the top drawer of my tool box, where I keep my "precision" tools like the calipers and other measuring devices, and dig my micrometer to gauge how much I cared about Alberto Contador being banned from Pro Tour cycling for doping.

The answer, based on my careful measurement, is not very much at all. I got really worked up about Floyd Landis, was disappointed by Ivan Basso and felt betrayed by Tyler Hamilton, but at this point I assume that most of the movers and shakers in the peloton are enhanced somehow. Contador getting banned seems like a logical outcome at this point.

I have mixed feelings about doping in sports. Fundamentally, I think that athletes should compete against each other mano-a-mano. Equal playing field, no technical advantages. As far as I can tell, that's really only possible in wrestling (little to no gear) and gymnastics (everybody uses the same gear). Cycling, tennis, rowing, sailing, and most other sports I can think of really to some extent on gear/technology. Any time gear comes into play, the guy with the most money has the edge.

I remember lining up on the starting line of minor league criteriums in Wisconsin on my Motobecane or my kludged together Basso against guys on much nicer bikes, with nicer gear and the ability to train without school or work interfering and thinking "hey, not fair". I got smoked in every race I ever entered. The gear was potentially a factor, but the hard truth is that I was not a racer - I don't have that killer instinct and am too cautious in corners, or afraid of blowing up, to ever have been really good.

Nevertheless, the experience of going to the starting line was enlightening. It confirmed that he guys with a combination of "the right stuff" and the right gear generally wins. That raises the issue of what "the right stuff" and the right gear really means. Increasingly, I am having trouble discerning the line between technological enhancements to the machine (aero bars, carbon fiber, clipless pedals, etc.) and the rider.

It just makes sense that you start a race or ride well hydrated, right? What about Gatorade during a ride? I've done that and it helps quite a bit. How about 5-hour Energy? What about a cup of coffee or Jolt or a warm Coke? That perks you up pretty well and you will routinely see TDF riders swigging Coke shorties after a climb.

With all the Pro Tour riders professionally trained and the Pro Tour gear essentially equalized by sponsorships, isn't the next (only) logical battle field the body of the rider?

Who is to say where the line between fair and illegal lies? We have WADA (aka Where Are the Drugs At?) to tell us what's allowed, but this is a catch-up measure at best. Doping technology innovates, and WADA discovers it, determines if they can stomach it or not, and change the rules accordingly.

We need some really simple, clear and concise rules on what's legal and what's not. No exceptions. Rest assured that pro teams measure VO2 uptake and test recovery methods, massage, meditation, moon phases, etc. to maximize performance. That falls short of injecting stuff into riders, but with money in the game, it's economically rational to explore the frontiers of legality. Under this environmental, WADA is always going to be playing catch-up, and the fans are going to get jerked around in the process.

Jan 24, 2011

Missing Summer

Rawland on the Sabo Bridge
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Scanning through my Flickr photos this evening, I realized that I am longing for warmer weather. Although it's only January, I am tired of winter already, and eager for warm breezes, plenty of day light and maybe a swim in a lake.

The photo above is from October, but it might as well have been last summer at this point. I shot this pic while waiting for a friend on the Sabo bridge. Shortly thereafter, we rode to Target Field (bundled up, because it seemed "cold" at the time) and boarded the Northstar Commuter train for a ride to Elk River. We then disembarked and pedaled back from Elk River, just beating a cold rain that day.

It's memories like this that keep me going in the darkest and coldest nights of winter. Try as I might, I can't quite embrace winter cycling. The winter biking around Itasca intrigues me, but it's still a far cry from a ride on a balmy evening.

Jan 23, 2011

Winter Weekend

Snow, Trees and Sun
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
We are just back from a weekend at a cabin about 11 miles from Itasca State Park. It was really cold, but we managed to get hikes in on both Saturday and Sunday. Sunday's adventure included snowshoeing across the top of a of huge beaver dam, among other things, to sheltered point where we had a lovely sub-zero picnic of bratwurst, trail mix, meat and cheese, fruit and semi-frozen water.

We've been invited to cabins before and found the lake-life to be a little more ostentatious than we are comfortable with. This time, the cabin was nice but not over-the-top, and there was a lot more hiking and public lands as opposed to golf courses and power boats. That's much more our speed, so it was a comfortable weekend all around.

There is a lot of gravel roads and mountain biking around this area, as well as a few trails. I am curious to return in warmer weather and ride around here a little bit.

Monday morning starts another week, for a few more hours I can savor the weekend.

Jan 21, 2011

Going Forward

Thanks for the comments on my previous post. They were a helpful focus group and kind of confirmed what I was thinking.

It was helpful to place a hold on this, as short as it was and ponder the point of it all. I have concluded that although comments are fun to get, and it's easy to be seduced into writing to elicit comments, or feel that you have missed the mark somehow absent comments. That's probably a valid way to handle a blog if that's your cup of tea. I don't think that's my cup of tea, however. It feels kind of like pandering to the masses, and I am not much of panderer. It was good to figure that out, and come to accept that lack of comments does not mean failure.

One of the themes that emerged during the public comment period  was "thoughtful". That resonated with me. For better or worse, I think that by nature, I am a ruminator (hell, I even reflect on the purpose of this blog, for Pete's sake). Having an outlet for those musings is helpful to me. My spouse has commented before that this blog provides an outlet for my inner curmudgeon. Absent this space, my curmudgeonly opinions might leak out elsewhere.

It was interesting to find out that some readers actually value the perspective of another cyclist, despite the fact that I am a best a journeyman cyclist; a semi-serious commuter aspiring to bigger rides and greater mechanical competence. There's no way I could do an "expert" blog, but I do give a damn about advocacy, quality of life and justice. Seeing that there is some value to others in that combination is sort of a pleasant surprise.

Given my interests, this site will probably continue to largely be a "bike blog" but I am going to continue to delve into non-cycling subjects whenever I feel the need. If I lose a few readers as a result, that's just fine with me. I am not going to spin off a second blog in an effort to "keep this one pure" or anything because I don't need the hassle of managing editorial content, and this is for me as much or more than for the readers.

That said, I do appreciate that I actually have a few readers, so I'll try and keep the wit and quality up there.

After all this is the internet, and we have certain standards to uphold here.

Jan 18, 2011

Please Stand By

I am placing a temporary hold on this blog because I want to reassess what I am up to here. When I started this blog I had no idea what I was doing. After a couple of years at it, I think I am to the point where I know what I am doing, but I am not sure why I am doing it. It's a cyberstential crisis of sorts.

If you occasionally like what you read here, post a comment and let me know why. If you sigh heavily every time you stop by and regret the time you wasted at this site, let me know that, too. 

Be well, ride safe, be nice to each other and try to do the right thing no matter how hard that is.

- Joe

Jan 17, 2011

Finding the Proper Motivation

I have opined before that riding a bike in winter requires that a person be able to deal with three things: coldness, darkness and lack of motivation. I have the gear to deal with cold just fine, and I have a great light set up as well. I have been lacking somewhat in the motivation department this winter, however.

I found that motivation at 10:00 AM on Sunday morning. A relatively short, but fun ride to a local establishment for a Bloody Mary brunch with friends was just what I needed to get back on the bike.

The temps were cold - it was about 4 degrees and the wind chill was just slightly below zero, but with the right clothing I was just fine. Wool socks, winter boots, long johns under some cargo pants, a Smartwool top under a fleece top under a windproof shell, topped off by some P.I. lobster claw gloves and a beanie under my snowboard helmet kept me comfy as could be.

What sucked was the cookie dough snow on top of hard pack in all the side streets. Very squirmy and hard to ride on at any speed. Studded tires are kind of useless in cookie dough snow. I found I was better off riding in the broken up stuff because the cookie dough that looked firm was in fact loosely held together and would shatter under the treads of my tires, leading to small but exciting detours to the left and right to punctuate my otherwise forward progress. These little snows we've gotten lately have not helped conditions - they don't plow, so the cookie dough snow just piles up.

Only had to put a foot down twice on the way there, and not at all on the way back (either my winter skills returned or the Bloodies helped). Hopefully I'll be able to find some motivation to ride to work this week as well, although sadly I won't have tasty adult beverages and good friends waiting for me on the other end of that trip.

Jan 16, 2011

Another Unite Bike Photo Shoot this Month

Clark Patrick is doing another Unite Bike photo shoot this winter. The following is the text of an email I got from Unite Bike earlier this week:
To rock a little MN winter spirit and make for a fun picture we've decided to organize a winter Unite Bike shot on Jan. 22nd at Noon - meeting at the corner of SE 6th Ave. & SE Main St. in Minneapolis and taking the shot across the street on top of the cities huge snow pile.  Should be good times.  I know it might be a little too cold for some of you... but perhaps jump on a bus part of the way and join us on your bike once you get closer.  And I promise to take the shot fast!
Also, if you haven't looked over the Unite Bike site since last years shoot, check it out with how you can help spread the word for this coming year.  We've got big plans and are already working on this falls events around the country.  2011 should be our best year yet!
Here is a poster you can e-mail around to help spread the word.  Hope to see you all there!
And FB & tweet it up!
I really need to make it to this one; I've missed the previous two because I didn't know about it the first year and the second year I was out of town. Here's the Unite Bike website, but it doesn't seem to have much information about this shoot. Come and get your picture taken if you can!

Jan 15, 2011

Fresh Starts Yet Again

Red Dawn
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
New Years is always a good time to make some fresh starts, hence the time-honored tradition of the "New Years Resolution". Who doesn't want to leave something behind and move on to something new? New Years eve is the perfect time for this since it's so culturally engrained in us. The schlock cartoon imagery of the old man in a night shirt being hustled out the back door by some sort of baby comes to mind...

As a matter of policy, I don't make New Year's resolutions anymore - I reserve the right to change course and reassess things continually. Nevertheless, the end of one year and the start of another is a logical time to evaluate one's reality and wonder if some course changes aren't in order.

I've already taken the measure of my progress on publicly announced personal goals here.

I have been less forthcoming on plans for the next year, however.

That's not because I am not thinking about it, but because things are in flux. It's difficult to plan anything when so many things are in motion. Nevertheless, one can't stop thinking, can they?

I think I did very well, all in all, on moving to a bike-centric lifestyle in 2010. I rode to work way, way more than I took the bus, and have driven so little it's starting to not make much sense to keep the truck. Kudos to me for that. Little things, like picking up toothpaste and shampoo downtown, rather than running a stand-alone errand for that kind of stuff, has made a big difference and made this a lot easier.

What I didn't accomplish in 2010 was more serious recreational riding. I don't have any long rides under my belt from last year and I really sucked at hills all year. I did manage to lose a little weight, which I am trying to keep off, and hit a perfect 120 over 80 on my blood pressure, so all is not lost, but I could certainly be doing more.

That is, if my schedule permits. Or perhaps more accurately, if I manage my schedule to accommodate this. It's all about choices, you know.

I'd like to stick my toe into long distance cycling this year. On Friday I was invited by a friend to join a Gran Fondo in Oregon that includes about 4,000 feet of climbing. My initial reaction was "no fucking way could I do that", but in retrospect, I would like to be ABLE to do this, so that's on the to-do list this year. That's going to require paying attention to mileage and some diligent long rides, but I think that would be something worth striving for, so I'll put it on the list this year. I may have to hook up with the HC boys to get the long rides in, but if that's what it takes, it's probably the most enjoyable way to do it.

Despite the bravado of Gran Fondo and perhaps randonnuer aspirations, I also would like to continue my exploration of enjoyment cycling. I am past thinking that I could smoke the field in a crit or dance on the pedals past everyone on a hill climb, but I really had fun screwing around with my 3-speed and organizing a few lazy rides around the 612. The whole point of the 3-speed was to slow down and discover how to enjoy bicycling and not sweating. That was a success, and I intend to replicate that in the coming year. Stay tuned for more 3-speed rides and other shenanigans in 2011.

Not related to cycling, I've hooked up with a writer's group, which I intend to continue. After my first meeting, I've concluded that stuff that falls out of my brain and on to the page is as good as anyone else's, so I am curious to explore this a little more deliberately this year and see where that leads. We'll see how that pans out in the long run.

No mileage goal this year, again. We'll see what happens, but I bet it will be better than last year. That said, I will be tracking mileage, either in Bike City or some other application.

I also want to continue building my skills with bike repair and maintenance. I am contemplating completing the Park 40 hour course this year. No decision yet - I need to do some more research on that before I can determine whether or not it would be worth the cost in PTO hours. Nevertheless, I'll keep learning what I can on the mechanical aspects of bikes and restorations of bikes.

That seems like enough for now, and it seems right for now.


Looking south
Originally uploaded by delablu
A photo from Delablu farm. Beautiful. Enjoy!

Jan 9, 2011

I am a Bike Revolution Guinea Pig

I replied to a post on Bike Love about a week ago and got to be a test pilot as a result. Beau at Penn Cycle received a few sets of Bike Revolution stickers from the company and offered them to the cycling community to test them out.

Penn has deservedly earned a bit of a reputation for helping Twin Cities cyclists recover their stolen bikes. I am aware of several episodes were stolen bikes were brought in to Penn or seen in the neighborhood and ended up getting returned to their owners because the folks at Penn follow the missing bike posts on CL and Bike Love and maintain a constant vigilance. This good karma resulted in Bike Revolution contacting Penn to see if they wanted to carry the I.D. tags, I suspect.

Bike Revolution is an on-line registry service for your bike (and Krypto locks, too). The Bike Revolution kit comes with 3 stickers with identical Pulse barcodes and numeric codes on each sticker. The large sticker is the "deterrent" and should be placed visibly on the bike (I stuck mine on the top tube). The other two are smaller and can be hidden somewhere else on the bike or kept for files, I suppose.

The on-line registration was easy and straightforward, but you will need your bike's serial number to complete the process, obviously. I chose to register my Raleigh single speed commuter because that seems like the mostly bike to get stolen, since I lock that up all over the place. The registration page has a box to describe the bike, so certain details, like the fact this bike is singled and has generic flat bars, can be added to the basic facts such as make, model, size and color. I also registered one of my Kryptonite locks while I was at it.

Once the registration is complete you are taken to a "My Bikes" page. You get a unique user name and pass word on the site when you register, so if you have say, half a dozen bikes, and you bought 6 of the I.D. tags, you could register them all and see them listed on this page. I only have the Raleigh here because that's the only bike I have in the program at this point, but it's infinitely expandable, it seems. This is the page where you can list your bike as stolen if that does happen.

When the registration process is all done, a PDF certificate of registration is sent via email to the email address you provide during the registration process.

Bike Revolution/Kryptonite offer a free bar code scanner software application for smart phones that enable the phone to become a barcode scanner, read the tag and identify the bike. I already had a free app, called ScanLife, on my phone and was unable to read the bar codes with that. I tried to download the application from the website, but had trouble doing so the first time I attempted it. I'll give a shot later and see if I can get it to work, and actually scan my bike, later. For now, I figure that I get the most benefit from having the bike registered in the system. This is probably easier with a Droid or iPhone rather than my out-of-date Motorola Q, but even so, the website is not smart phone friendly, which seems really stupid.

The other minor tweak I would make to this is that I would make the stealthy stickers smaller and design them to fit in the rim, attached to the rim strip. I suppose you could stick them on the steerer column of the fork and in the seat tube, where they might be found, but I think the odds of a stolen bike being brought in to a shop for a flat tire is a hell of a lot higher than coming in for a headset. When I remember to do so, I write my name and phone number on my rims strips, since that might help a stolen wheel find it's way back to me. Seems like the stickers would be as good or better if they fit in the rim channel.

Aside from the stealth sticker size, the bar code scanner seems like the weakest link in this system. We tried to scan a bike that had been entered into the system when I was at Penn Cycle on Wednesday night and neither my phone nor the mechanics phone would register the Pulse I.D. I bet you can still manually enter the numeric code on the website, but I bet fewer people will take the time to do that.

Whether or not this will catch on remains to be seen. I think it certainly can't hurt the odds of recovering a bike. Whether bike shop owners embrace this will be one test of its success. If few mechanics take time to read the code or check the site, this will ultimately be less effective.

Winter Projects are Backing Up

With the holidays finally over, I find I have a plethora of winter bike projects that are stacking up that I need to get after.

I finished one project yesterday. I built a set of wheels through the excellent class offered by Hiawatha in late December. These are disc-specific 700c wheels that I will be using on my Rawland Sogn all-arounder. The Tektro discs came in and I easily installed those on the wheels yesterday afternoon, so some tube and rubber and those are ready for the road.

Bike hunting is always a pleasure, but personally, I need a new bike about as much as Warren Buffet needs spending money, so I am branching out into the role of "personal shopper" for a friend that's in the market for a rideable 3-speed. On the agenda for this afternoon is a trip to MMRB to sort through their pile of 3-speeds in order to acquire a likely 21-inch restoration project. I'll be helping with this project, but she'll be doing much of the work. I love this kind of arrangements because as much as I enjoy puttering around with bikes, the teaching aspect and shared discovery of these projects is always a lot of fun. That's how I worked the Trek project from last year and both I and the Trek recipient would call that a major success.

Speaking of the Trek, that bike is coming back to me as well for some additional work. My co-worker loves the bike, but is finding the stock 1980's road gearing to be a little ambitious for her style of riding. We are thinking of adding a triple crank to this if we can do that reasonably and maybe putting a larger freewheel on it as well. I picked up a very reasonably priced used Tiagra triple last week but didn't realize that this used the Hollowtech bottom bracket, which will significantly complicate this project, so also on the shopping list for today's trip to MMRB is a square taper triple suitable for a 1980's road bike. She'll need a long cage derailleur as well to handle the chain, but I have one of those in the parts bin that should serve admirably. I'll either pass the Tiagra along to someone in need or keep it for some as-yet-unknown project in the future.

My most sacrilegious project at the moment involves converting a Phillips 3-speed to single speed service for my spouse. After hearing me spout off about how much I am liking single-speed life for general around-town riding, she is ready to give it a go. She's of the opinion that people should be comfortable on their bikes, however, so that makes it more challenging to find a bike she likes. One that she does like is this Phillips. That said, she is less enamored with the genteel, 3-speed Gentleman Cyclist bike culture and is more content to roll around the neighborhood and lakes on her own. The concept for this project is to build her a rear wheel with a flip-flop single speed hub using the Sun CR18 rim to give her a taste of single speeding on a bike she is familiar with. There's more to be figured out with this one, but the downside risk is low; if she hates this set up, I'll end up with an extra single hub and a rim for a 3-speed, so that's no loss to me, and hopefully she'll like the bike.

Finally, through MBL I was able to secure a set of Bike Revolution stickers to test out. The guys at Penn Cycle have justifiably earned quite a reputation for helping to recover stolen bikes. Bike Revolution got wind of their success in finding stolen bikes and their owners, and reached out to them to stock their product, which is a set of bar-code stickers backed up by an on-line bike registry. Bike Revolution has teamed with Kryptonite, the heavy weight in bike security to move into the U.S. market. I agreed to test these things out and post back on MBL and the blog to give feedback. Sticker sets cost $15. I'll be curious to see how easy these are to use and what the registration process is like. Hopefully I won't have any direct experience with bike recovery, but if my bike does get stolen, I'll be glad I have these on there because it certainly can't hurt.

That's quite a pile of projects in the queue for this winter, but fortunately I've got some good help in my basement workshop.

Jan 8, 2011

A New Adventure

This morning we put on our brave pants and headed out to give a writer's group a try. This was a first for us, and it was actually kind of fun.

The way this group operates is that we are given a prompt and a set time to write something once the prompt is given. Of course some of these go nowhere, but others turn out better than you would think. We each have the opportunity to read our work aloud if we want, but there's no critique. It was particularly interesting to hear what the others did with the same prompts.

Here is a very short story from this morning that was prompted by the phrase "There was dirt beneath her fingernails". We had 13 minutes for this one.

Dirt Beneath Her Fingernails

The kitchen door didn't quite close anymore because one of the kids had swung on it one time too many. Now hanging slightly cockeyed in the door frame, the warm night breeze pushed the torn screen in and out as the cat watched a house fly buzzing aimlessly around the bare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling.

It had been two months since she had told him to get out. Surprisingly, he apparently had, leaving her the house, the kids, a falling-down barn full of his crap, a couple of cars that don't run and a farm that was barely fit to be called a farm at all.

Her friends did not believe that he was gone for good.

"You ought to go get one of them restraining orders" Eileen told her over drinks at the Dew Drop Inn last weekend.

"I am not getting any restraining order - he's gone and he's not coming back. I can feel it"

As good as it was to finally be free of him and his drunken rages, she was now left with the work of the farm and the work of raising the kids by herself. Getting the kids up and sent off to school, tending the animals, cooking, feeding the kids again and helping them with there homework each evening left little time for herself.

"This is better" she kept telling herself as she scrubbed at the dirt beneath her fingernails, standing over the kitchen sink as the radio played softly so as to not wake the children.

German Engineering at Work