• Bicycle Repair (Wo)man

    As many of you know, I have a NEW JOB. Hooray!

    New Job is all of 2.5 miles from my house, so I figured I probably shouldn’t be a lazyass and drive. So I bought a bike. Used. Off Craigslist. Late at night from an Irish guy out of a warehouse and it was not at all sketchy.

    BEHOLD. My new bike:


    Yeah, yeah, okay, it’s not very impressive. “Hell of ugly” you might say. It was $80 off Craigslist. Whadda want.

    It worked fine enough for 2.5 miles over flat territory, but after riding it a few times, I noticed it had a few issues:

    • A complete lack of interest in going up to a higher gear
    • If I got it in a higher gear, after a minute it’d decide it’d really rather not 
    • It made weird grumbly noises if I really really insisted on being in a higher gear
    • I got too much of a workout riding the thing 2.5 miles over flat ground

    Did I mention used? Craiglist? Eighty bucks?

    So I went on Youtube, looked up “bicycle repair” and I’ve been able to fix most of the problems. I be writing this down so I remember what the hell I did, and maybe one of you will have a cheapass bike that needs fixing.

    Bad Cable Tension

    One of the first videos I found was this one, on how to adjust cable tension. Sure enough, the rear cable was hell of loose. I hand-tightened it up to where it looked OK. Shifting the rear gears worked better after that.

    Tightening the rear cable

    Bad Shifter Tension (?)

    I don’t know what to call this - I couldn’t find a video on it. The problem was the front shifter would not stay in a higher gear. You ratchet it up and it would ratchet itself right back down, thank you very much.

    Turns out there’s a screw on the shifter that was really, really loose.

    I screwed it good.

    I screwed it in until it was tight. That fixed it. Yes, I am a genius.

    Front derailleur is whack

    This guy, despite his annoying habit of telling you what to do, and then remembering the three steps you should do before you do that thing, walks you through adjusting the low and high limits for the derailleur. This sets how high and low it shunts the chain.

    On my bike, the limit screws look like this:

    There's a joke to be made here about high and low screwing, but this is a classy place.

    Sure enough, they were wildly off on my bike, and I’m still not sure I have the high limit set right. At least I can get it into high gear.

    Brakes are whack

    As I finished all that stuff up, I noticed the front brakes were really tight and one side was rubbing against the tire. So THAT’s why I get a really nice workout riding the bike.

    The light outside’s going, so I’ll probably adjust this tomorrow.

    Jam & Laziness

    I make jam because I’m lazy.

    But, you say, can’t you buy jam from the store? How much more lazy can you get?

    Aha, I say, but then you have to put on pants. And find your keys. And find your preeeeeeciousiPhone. And drive to the store. And find the jam. And find the right jam that doesn’t have all that weird coloring and HFCS. That’s work, people. Hard work

    The solution to this madness?* Freezer jam. You can make it from easily stored ingredients in less time than it takes to go to the store. And I’m only somewhat lying.

    There’s no cooking and above all, NO CANNING. I don’t know about you, but the idea of doing a lot of work to give myself botulism…eh.

    Freezer jam is so-called because it’s stored in the freezer instead of all that canning nonsense, and it’s not cooked so it actually tastes like fruit. Even with supermarket frozen berries, it’s better than just about anything you can buy in the store. And you don’t even need any pants.

    What you will need is:

    • Fruit (fresh or frozen, both work great)
    • Pectin (the normal powder kind, not the gel or the low-sugar stuff)
    • a crapton of sugar (somewhere about 4-5 cups) 
    • lemon juice (optional)
    • salt (optional)
    • some empty jars or tupperware containers

    For this batch, I used two 1lb bags of blackberries from Safeway. The better the fruit, the better the jam, but this is what I had on hand. It works.

    The fruit needs to be room temperature, so if you’re working from frozen, I recommend defrosting in the microwave. If you just dump berries in a bowl, you’ll be waiting about four hours for them to defrost. Not that I would know.


    You can do this in the food processor…but it’s too easy to puree the fruit or make it all choppy. The potato masher approach works best, IMHO. And it’s very satisfying. BERRY SMASH GOOD. 

    When you’re done, measure how much fruit you have. 

    The pectin box will have a recipe for no-cook freezer jam, and I base how much sugar to add on that. It depends on what your fruit is. For blackberries, it’s 5.5 cups for a quart of berries. This batch was less than a quart so I used only 4.5 cups. It’s fine to use a little less than they say, but don’t reduce it dramatically. You need the sugar for it to jell properly.

    Dump the disturbingly large amount of sugar in the berry mixture and stir around.  Leave it to sit for about 10 minutes, or until all the sugar crystals have dissolved. Stirring makes it go faster, but it’s fine to go off and play Angry Birds or something.** 

    Usually this is where I add lemon juice (1-2 teaspoons) and a tiny bit of salt (1/8 teaspoon), but it’s optional. When I have lemon on hand, I use it, and if I don’t, I don’t. That’s just how I roll.

    Once that’s done, dump pectin in sauce pan, add 3/4 cup water, bring to boil, boil for minute. It’s easy like Sunday morning.***

    Then dump the boiling pectin in the fruit and stir around for a couple minutes until you’re really really really sure it’s all mixed in.

    Then divide up between your containers. Now you’ve got a use for all those old jam jars you save for no readily apparent reason and your husband keeps asking why you save them and then stealthily recycling when you’re not looking. No. Not today, for today you are vindicated! YES!

    Aren’t they lovely?

    They’ll need to sit on the counter for 24 hours to set up****, but you should see them start to jell in an hour or so. After that, they keep in the fridge for three weeks or the freezer for up to a year.  (I’ve never had a batch last that long, though.)

    Hooray for lazy!


    * This line was “How to get out of this jam?” in the first draft. Don’t worry, I already slapped myself.

    ** Who wants to bet when this reference will seem old and absurdly dated? I call July 2012.

    *** OF COURSE this popped into my head while writing and now it won’t leave. If I have to suffer, you have to suffer. 

    **** Thus the “kind of lying” part. I suppose it doesn’t take 24 hours to get to the store unless you’re Pa Ingalls. 

    The MacGyver Kit

    The inspiration for this project was simple: I rubbed my eyes. For those of you who don’t wear contact lenses, you’re not aware of the peril I was in. Contact lenses are amazing little beasties, but if your eyes are dry (and mine were) they’ll pop off and instantly dry up into expensive, transparent raisins. You then have about 45 seconds to fumble about and find saline or water to have any hope of getting them back in.

    No problem…if you’re at home. If you’re twenty miles away on campus, not so much. Thankfully I found a drinking fountain and spent the rest of the day with one gritty, filmy contact lens and a headache.

    Thus the MacGyver Kit was born.*

    This kit fixes things that’ll ruin your day: headaches, backaches, colds, bad breath, blisters, cracked lips, unexpected trips to the beach, hangnails, parking meters and loud people. It fits in almost any bag and goes in carry-on luggage. 

    First, you need a container. I made my own box pouch using this pattern, but you can use a makeup bag or other travel case. My bag measures 5” long by 3” wide by 2” tall - about the size of a can of soda. 

    And here’s what’s on the inside (slightly bigger image here):

    My current rev of the kit contains (starting from front left):

    • Bandaids (5)
    • Knuckle bandaid (1)
    • Blister pads (3)
    • Sewing kit with:
      • needle
      • black and white thread
      • black and white buttons
      • safety pins (3)
    • Excedrin
    • Throat lozenge
    • Benadryl
    • Dayquil
    • Prescription medication
    • Ibeprofin
    • $1 in quarters
    • $20 bill 
    • Contact lens case containing:
      • lip balm
      • suntan lotion
    • Spare set of contact lenses
    • Saline eye solution
    • Floss
    • Nail clippers
    • Tweezers
    • Hair bands
    • Toothpaste
    • Deodorant
    • Sacred tokens of my people
    • More sacred tokens of my people
    • Earplugs
    • Cotton string

    The medications are in plastic wrap. I wrote what they are on a scrap of paper and put it under the final fold of wrap:


    The sewing kit is DIY too. It’s made out of a scrap of fleece leftover from another sewing project, and closed by the safety pins:


    The thread is wrapped around a notched piece of paper. 

    Would you believe I still have a couple square inches of room in my kit? I’m considering adding:

    • Instructions. First aid, emergency numbers, knot tying, card games, submarine plans, you name it. Print it out in tiny tiny print and shove it in. 
    • Superglue.  Never know when you might need to stick a thing to another thing. Or fix your pantyhose.
    • Duct tape.  Or tape a thing to a thing.
    • Thumb drive. With a TrueCrypt drive, I can carry all my important documents around with me. You never know when you might need your 2007 taxes. 

    Cost? That’ll vary by how much you have on hand. I think I spent about $20 on items specifically for the kit. It’s more than worth it - the bandaids, blister packs and womanly things have already been replaced.  

    And I never have to be afraid of rubbing my eyes again.


    * Alternative, less family friendly name: The Oh Sh*t Kit.

    More crazy laser cutter action

    Crazy Crap We’ve Made Vaguely Recently Week continues, with our wedding invitations. I love showing them off (to a rather scary degree) since I think they turned out awesome.

    Like the glassware, we also made ‘em on the laser cutter. 

    You have no idea how long it took to learn to tie a flat knot correctly. Seriously.

    The edging is all laser-cut. We were trying for wood bark but it turned out more abstract. I like it: 

    Seeing the laser cut out all those tiny bits is very satisfying.

    Detail of one of the monograms: 

    I forget which font this is, but it's pretty.

    If you turn the invitation over, this is the only thing on the back. I think that’s all you need.

    Friggin LASERS

    The inside. It’s an oak tree (a coast live oak, ubiquitous in this area) and leaves, drawn by my husband.

    [missing image]

    Detail of the oak leaves. I really liked those oak leaves, we used them as motifs on everything. Note the scorching from the laser on the edges, which I think is a neat effect and makes it look more organic. 


    Once we got a design down, it didn’t take too long to power through them all. Especially since our wedding was fairly small.  It took a couple days to nail down a design, four hours to cut them all, one afternoon to spray glue them together and one afternoon to assemble and mail them.  They were a big hit.

    It was the only really insanely crafty thing we did for the wedding, I promise. 

    Wine glasses

    Speaking of crazy stuff we’ve made vaguely recently, here’s some etched wine glasses we did for Christmas using the laser cutter at Techshop. Each one is etched with a little icon so you can remember which one’s yours. They were a HUGE hit.

    We did a set for friends with hand grenades, ninja stars, tanks, shoes, a handbag, cherries, etc., but the ones in the picture are our set.  Since I’m an ex-astrophysicist, I requested the astronomical symbols for the planets.  Front to back you have Jupiter, Saturn, the Moon and Earth.

Contents © 2013 Rachel Sanders