Friday, March 30, 2007

There and Back Again

I always wondered with the "S" stood for on my 1982 Audi 4000S Diesel. Apparently it stands for Sisyphus. I spent a few hours tearing doors apart the other day and wound up exactly where I started.

I like the car for what's on the inside: a VW 1.6L Diesel engine which is very efficient and, if I ever get around to it, will be able to eat left-over deep-frying grease. The body is a little tougher to love. VW's aren't known for good electrical systems from this era, and the door handles keep breaking... which leads me to this post. Over the course of the winter both rear doors became inaccessible from the outside. Try to open them and this happens:
The handle comes partly out of the door and there's no way you can get it open. Both handles are broken and need to be replaced. I also can only unlock the passenger door with my key, so last fall I ordered a new driver's side handle-with-lock so that I could unlock the car from the driver's side. Thanks to Steve, the previous owner, included in my complimentary spare parts was another front-type handle.

My plan for the day was to take the existing front handle and replace it with the new one and see if the old front handle would work for the driver's side rear door. As I already hinted, things didn't go according to plan.
Problem #1: The front and rear handles are sufficiently different to prevent them from being interchangeable. The picture above shows both. The wide, flat metal part on the top one is what engages the rear door latch. There's a stub on the bottom example from the front just isn't quite situated right to do that job. Dang.

Problem #2: My keys work perfectly in the driver's front lock mechanism. Yes, that's a problem. I thought that replacing the lock was what needed to be done in order to get it to unlock from the outside. No, the lock works fine, but the shaft that connects the lock in the handle to the locking mechanism in the latch is completely missing. (I checked the bottom of the door cavity and everything. It's gone.)

Problem #3/Tangent: It's been an added annoyance that the driver's door won't let me lock it, then shut the door. The door has to be shut first, meaning that I have to either reach around from the back or climb through the passenger side to lock it. I thought that while I had the door apart I might as well try to fix that problem.

I took the lock/latch mechanism off and examined it. I lubricated it and poked around for any parts that could have slipped out of place. The more I studied it, the more confused I got. It appeared that it wasn't physically possible for the lock to work the way I wanted it to. I couldn't figure out what could have gone wrong with it.

Then I took off the passenger side lock/latch and had a look. To my frustration, it didn't seem to work the same way. (I also noticed it was made in Germany, and the other in France.) After thinking, and thinking, I realized I'd wasted the last hour. There was nothing wrong with the lock. It was designed to not let the driver lock the door before shutting it in order to prevent locking the keys in the car.

Possible Solution #1: It turns out that with the rear handle off it's really easy to reach in and unlatch the door with a finger. Here's a picture of the little lever in the hole where the door handle goes:
Just press down and the door opens. I considered leaving the rear handles off, but decided against it. A lot of rain could get in that way; plus it's only slightly harder to unlock the door through the hole than it is to just open the door.

Possible Solution #2: At this point I'm getting desperate. I've taken close to an hour more than I told Libby I would need to work on the car and it's about twenty minutes of assembly away from usable. The boys are getting restless. Nothing's working. I decided to make my front handle fit on the back. Luckily I'm working in my father-in-law's garage. There's hardware-a-plenty if I can just find it. I ended up modifying the front handle with a screw, some nuts, and sheet metal. It was a desperate attempt, and of course didn't work. It's the lower of the two below. I screwed it on anyway just to plug up the hole.
I gave up. Audi 1. Paul 0.

That's not really true. I've fixed a lot of stuff on this car already, including replacing the injector pump (a complex, precision job). That's the nature of tinkering. Sometimes everything works and in an hour I've rewired an electric window or successfully fixed the dashboard lights, and sometimes I've gone to change the oil and ended up finding out my plug is cross-threaded and spent a whole afternoon looking for the right after-marked gadget to make it work (all true stories).
I wouldn't have it any other way. I love fixing things. Hopefully I'll have a more successful Audi blog post before too long.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Too Much Coffee?

While Libby and I were sitting in Black Sheep Coffee Cafe on Monday, and I was taking a picture, she said "Our blog's getting pretty coffee-centric, don't you think?" She's probably right, but I do work with coffee five days a week, and then we go to a coffee shop first thing on our days off. It was bound to happen.

It's not all about the coffee. Ok, this sounds cheesy, but Libby and I are best friends (awwwwwww). There aren't many places we can go to hang out casually anymore, but we have figured out how to still go to coffee shops with the boys. That means that we can have some time out to kick back, share our ideas and thoughts from the last few days, and try to plan what to do in the coming week. Since we tend to read a lot to each other at home, we always have things to share about our current book. We just finished The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald. It's a wonderful young person's story with so many layers of Christian truth. I wonder how much it influenced Lewis' Narnia.Gibbie played with Legos for the first time at Black Sheep (though he thought of them as strangely small Duplos). For now they're too much of an Ezra choking hazard to keep around the house, but it was great to find them at a coffee shop. By the discretely placed toy area a sign read, "Unattended Children will be given a Shot of Espresso and a Puppy."
It was also good to see Andrea at Black Sheep. I'm proud of her learning latte art (though I don't think I can take any credit!) As for me, I had one of the best latte pours ever today. Want to see it?

So I don't think there's too much coffee on this blog. Do you?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Latte Narcissism

What's more obsessive than taking pictures of your lattes?
Filming them.
Cathy (owner of my coffee shop) took a little video of a rosetta pour I did today. What makes this a little less prideful is the fact that it didn't turn out the best. Note the blob-like top to the design.
Anyway, here it is. (click)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Winter Visit

Our dear friend Liz Winter just finished staying with us for a few days. She lives in Maine most of the time and is one of the several important Liz's in our lives. Gibbie has a little book of photographs that he likes to look at which contains pictures of Liz eating at a restaurant with us when he was Ezra's age. So I thought it would be fun to get some pictures of it happening this time around at Maria's in Minneapolis.
I love how Liz and Gib are both examining the menu.
Lastly, here's what Ezra does for fun at a restaurant: (that's a packet of jam.)

Gibbie and Ezra Videos

I've been playing with the ability of my little digital camera to take short silent movies. Last week's splashing outing on Snelling Avenue seemed like a great subject.

Here's Ezra playing with a wooden bowl:

These are posted through YouTube and you need the shockwave-flash plugin to see them. This is kind of funny because I blog using an old ibook running Debian Linux. As for as I can tell, Macromedia doesn't make a linux flash plugin for the ppc chip, therefore I am unable to see the movies after I upload them. Someday I'll blog more about the blessings and adventure of being a linux-only family...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Adventures in Vegetables

Cabbage and Beets: Despised vegetables, right? But Oh my Goodness, do I have a good recipe for them! I didn't even know I liked cabbage!
This comes from my friend Christy, who learned it from her mother in law, Nadine, although she makes it with romaine lettuce and tomatoes. It being still winter here, we don't have good tomatoes, so I thought to try it with more wintry veggies. Lo, it worked!
-Mash a few cloves of peeled garlic in a mortar and pestle. (If you don't have one, mash them on your chopping block with the bottom of a jar or a meat tenderizer, and run out and buy a good mortar and pestle tomorrow.)
-Sprinkle garlic with salt: in Christy's words, "more than you think" I used about 1 tsp.
-Squeeze in a puddle of lemon juice; several Tbsp.
I did this all in the mortar and pestle. The key is to make a nice mashy paste. Taste to see if the flavor balance is good
For Cabbage: chop up. Heat a few spoonfuls of butter and/or olive oil in a frying pan on Med-Low. Saute the cabbage, stirring casually until it is partially wilted-- a little crunch is nice. I used a whole cabbage, which quite filled my pan, so I stirred using a wooden spoon and a spatula to turn it without overflowing the pan. Toss with dressing just before serving. Eat hot or serve levtovers cold with rice. When I made Paul taste a forkful of the cabbage, he actually said, "what did you do to that to make it so delicious?" Imagine--delicious cabbage!
For Beets: Boil beets whole. When they are soft if you stick a big one with a fork, put the pot in the sink and rub the skins off with your hands under a slow stream of cold water. (Warning: if you have bare hands, they will turn pink!) The skins and cooking water are great for the compost pile. Then loosely chop or cube the beets and toss with dressing. Beets are so rich and sweet I don't think they need added butter or oil. Adjust flavors to taste. It also works to include the beet greens; just chop and wilt as with cabbage, tossing before serving hot or cold. Happy eating.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A simple loom

Libby here, making my blog debut! I've always loved making things. Being with little ones all day, every day, I find that I can't do fine art; actual drawing, painting take a kind of time and concentration I just don't have, but I love to make things of all kinds, and find that other kinds of making can feed that creative impulse. I find this especially satisfying when my projects are part of the rhythm of daily life; when a handmade object can fill a daily need, when I can work on it with the kids, and when I can make it with the surplus byproducts of our life.
This simle loom fits all my criterion. Using fabric from old clothes, (also solving my quandry of what to do with clothes once they're worn past the point of donatablility!) I can make rugs myself which I otherwise would have had to buy.
The resulting rug is very thick, absorbent, machine washable, and should be quite durable, as its thickness is multiple layers of cloth. It is downright cushy on the feet! It is modified from weavings I found in Twined Rag Rugs, available at our library. Because I use whole fabric instead of string, it works up quickly. It's also possible to just do a few minutes of work whenever I get a chance, making it Mama-and- Kid-friendly.
Fabric: Old sheets, dress shirts, khakis, jeans, etc. Terrycloth (old bathrobes or towels) would feel wonderful stepping of the tub, and tshirts would be great for the weft (horizontal weaving) though nothing stretchy should be used for the warp. (the vertical strips to be woven on)
Preparation of Fabric: Tear into strips. If denim or terry, I would cut instead of tearing. Strips should be just wide enough that when scrunched, the strip is as thick as a pencil. Thicker fabric=thinner strips.
Loom: The glory of this loom is it is so sim
ple! Two sawed-off broomsticks are tied with rope around the door itself. I set the intended length of the rug by securing the sticks with strips of fabric. I can post more pics if anyone wants to know how to do it!
Warping: String strips between sticks. I attach the strips to one another as I go along by cutting slits in the ends of the fabric and weaving them through eachother. Then tighten this now-continuous strip until the top and bottom sticks are even and the strips are tight with an even tension. The color of the warp fabric will be almost totally
hidden by the weavers.
Weaving/Weft: Use two strips at once, twining them both aroung each warp strip. When you get to the end of a row, just turn around and go back in the other direction.
Finishing: Pull out the broom sticks. (The loom will fall apart.) You will be left with
a row of loops at each end of the rug. Pull each loop through it's neighbor. Split the last loop into two and tie it to itself so that nothing can unravel.
Here I am, weaving with my happy, watermelon-rind-chewing babe on my back. He's teething, (hence the watermelon) and seems so much happier when I wear him lots.
These are not nearly complete instructions, but I just wanted to throw this out as an idea. As I get more experienced with blogging, perchance I will someday be up to posting a real tutorial!

Friday, March 9, 2007

My Walk Home

I've been walking home a lot lately. For me, getting exercise just doesn't work for its own sake. It has to also serve some other purpose, like transportation. I could wax gross about the practicality and economy of walking, but really I do it because I like it. Today I was thankful for the rubber overshoes Libby got us at Fleet Farm last weekend. It was slushy!
I used to bike a lot, and probably will again when I get my bike overhauled someday. Still, there are many things that I don't notice about my surroundings even at a bike's pace that are an enjoyable part of the walk. This great doorknob, for instance, I would have never noticed while biking. It's kind of like how I don't often wear headphones in public. I want to be aware of what's around me. While walking I'm most aware.

The walk can be a great prayer time, too. I think I'm best able to be present with someone while having some minor task or habit to do. Drinking a cup of coffee works well while talking with Libby or another friend. Walking works while talking with God. Like I said, noticing things is a big part of the walk. Here's where my new little digital camera comes in handy. Today I realized that it can be my form of sketching. For any kind of artful photography I'd hang on a wall I'm still a big believer in traditional film photography and hand printing in the darkroom. What's digital good for in my mind? Every day photo-doodles.

I've always chuckled at "fine art" pictures of architecture and sculpture, etc. What makes it a good photo is the painstaking work of the architect or sculptor, not the photographer. Sure, you've got to compose the image well, but it still seems like a cop out to me. Nevertheless, here's a nice picture of a wooden sculpture I found on my way home.Sometimes I see stuff that's just weird. This abandoned origami in the snow is kind of visually odd. It's not the weirdest by far, but interesting for today.

The last picture is the view from the footbridge over I-94 on Mackubin Street. It can be exhilarating walking over the flowing river of traffic. It makes this small town boy feel very urban.
Just a couple more blocks after the freeway and I'm home.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Over the River, Through the Woods

This weekend we went to visit my family in Menomonie, WI. Here you can see Ezra held by his Great Grandmother Veronica. It's kind of funny that in order to get to where my mom and dad live, you do have to drive over the St. Croix river and through the woods of western Wisconsin.

The visit started out with an adventure of our car getting thoroughly stuck halfway down my mother's long snow-packed gravel driveway. It took at least an hour of work and the skillful help of my mom's Gary to get us out. We just walked up the drive from that point on! Libby and I got to go out without the kids that evening, and then came back to celebrate my mother's birthday a day early.

Since neither of my parents have a place for us to stay at their respective houses, and because my mother is generous, we stayed the night in a hotel. Gibbie was excited, though somewhat disappointed that there was no one for him to watch in the pool.

In the morning, since it was a Monday and my parents were working, we decided to go to Eau Claire. It's about a half hour drive and always has greener grass than Menomonie, if you know what I mean.

I was also curious to go back to Racy's. I mentioned it in my last post about latte art. I guess it was one of my early coffee house influences and is still somewhere I think of as an example of my favorite kind of coffee shop atmosphere.

Hey all you coffee geeks: do you recognize what kind of espresso machine is in this picture? (You know, you can click on it go get a better look.)

Yes, the drinks were excellent. We also ended up eating a delicious, reasonably priced lunch there. Still, in some ways it seemed a little soul-less compared to the Racy's of old (which had worse coffee, more weird furniture, more dirt, and a constant cloud of cigarette smoke). Why do great coffee and great atmosphere rarely mix?

While we were at Racy's, there was a young mom with her 16 month old daughter as well as what seemed to be her whole extended family. What stuck out more than the mom's tattoos or the dad's punk hoodie was the utter delight she had in her child. Why do I mention this? Simply because it was beautiful to see in another parent, and hopefully somewhat reflective of our family experience this weekend.

Friday, March 2, 2007

The Rosetta Quest

I first started drinking coffee in the summer of 1999 when I worked at the Acoustic Cafe in Eau Claire, WI. At that point I drank flavored brews ("highlander grog" being one of my favorites, partly for the name's sake). My introduction to the espresso machine for that job lasted less than five minutes and consisted mostly of, "warm the milk here and press this button for the shots." I cringe when I think of the hideous drinks I served people back then simply because, like so many baristas, I didn't know any better.

That summer I visited Libby in St. Paul. (We were decidedly "just friends" then!). She took me to a small, dark, somewhat pretentious coffee shop called Amore. I remember I ordered a short vanilla latte. After just a couple of sips, I realized that the drink I had in my hand was far more delicious than anything I knew how to make. I had encountered a whole new level, and it was exciting.

Three years later, after graduating from college and moving to St. Paul, I started working at Amore Coffee. Chip, who owned Amore at that time, took a much more studied approach to barista training. He spoke of quality, consistency, and hinted of his own past studying with some guru in Seattle. I learned how to make drinks as good as the latte that amazed me a few years ago.

Things stayed the same for a long time after that. I thought we had the best coffee in town, and we very well might have. I knew other good baristas, but nobody that knocked my socks off. Then one day we hired a cocky post-modern preppy kid named Billy. I made him a latte. He wasn't impressed. He made me one. I was impressed. He could steam milk finer than I could. He could free-pour perfect, pretty lattes with just the right amount of milk and no spoon. He left town within a few weeks, but he'd made his mark. Again, I'd encountered a new level.

After that, I started running into others whom I thought of as "rock star" baristas. On a return trip to Eau Clarie I had an amazingly beautiful latte at my old favorite place, Racy D' Lenes Very Coffee Lounge. It turns out that while I'd been living in St. Paul the business had been bought by someone who'd spent time in Seattle.

The biggest encounter for me, though, came at Kopplin's Coffee, where I got to know two guys named Andrew who could pour the prettiest lattes I'd ever seen. I got particularly hooked on a video my buddy Pat took of one of the Andrews pouring a leafy design called a rosetta. I watched it over and over again. I wanted to be able to do that! I looked at instructions online and chatted with both Andrews. Within a couple of weeks and a lot of reworking of my espresso machine techniques I started pouring a few sickly little rosettas and serving them to costumers. They were impressed because they'd never seen anything like it before, but I just wanted to make them look more like the amazing ones I'd seen examples of!

So here I am, just barely stepping up into my latte art adventure. The picture on top of this post I took yesterday. It's currently got four stars on I want to get better. Maybe I'll even compete some day. Does it really matter? I'm not sure, but I'm having a lot of fun.