Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Few Words on Bicycle Repair & Diddling

Hello Everyone! This is Leland and I'm doing a little guest posting. This blog has become less about the Adventures of Anna and Leland and more about the Emotions of Anna in Regards to Cute Animals. So I'm going to talk a little about my recent forays into the world of bicycle repair and diddling.

Like most people my age, I grew up riding bikes of the great age of generic mountain bikes, often referred to as MTBs. I believe it was in the 1980's when the movement started and continued throughout the 1990's. I think most people my age (and their parents) would easily recognize something like this as a very standard bike (this, by the way, is not mine, but something from the interwebs):

And so my life was not all that different and somewhere around the age of 14 I acquired a red Schwinn Clear Creek mountain bike. It served well enough for any suburbanite child and lasted into the college years where I found going down the steps in front of Stapleton Library at IUP was a rather enjoyable activity. Though, that really is as far as my adventurousness on a bicycle would go (I'm no daredevil). But in my heart of hearts, I always wanted a road bike. I've always felt that road bikes look like they're moving fast even when they're standing still. Plus, and let's be honest, they're sexy. In fact, for the sexiest bikes around, check out these babies.

Well, life goes on and in the later years of college, bike riding went by the wayside and it wasn't until Anna and I were living with her parents that I pursued the road bike dream. Anna's parents are pretty avid cyclists and Jim had a crusty old machine hanging from the rafters in his garage. After some discussion, we went through the effort of bringing it down and assessing its viability. It turns out this bicycle was bought second-hand by Jim in the 1980's and he rode it until the early-mid 2000's at which point he got himself a shiny new machine. Anyway, he said I was welcome to have it. So I had it. I took it to the local bike shop (a pretty sweet place) and had them do a little sprucing up. I was thrilled and as soon as most of the snow melted, Jim and I hit the trails and had a good time.

I was interested in the history of the bike and did some checking out. Though I haven't nailed down an exact year, it is a late 1970's Lotus Excelle, of Japanese origins. Originally built as a racing bike, it certainly seems outdated compared to modern speedsters the likes of which the Manx Missile rides:

Anyway, as close as I can tell, my Lotus originally looked a little bit like the following. Unfortunately, I never took any pictures of it before I started tinkering, so I have to show another internet-begotten picture:

Those of you out there interested enough, my Lotus has a sweet set of components. It's got Shimano 600 series downtube friction shifters and derailleurs, 500 series brakes, a sweet crank, chainrings, and cassette. Well, all of that was a great bike, but it needed some care and I was in the mood for tinkering.....and badness ensued. After moving here to flat eastern North Carolina, I noticed that I rarely shifted gears and so it occurred to me that turning it into a single speed was a very real option. So I went about doing this and it proved very difficult, challenging and ultimately a pretty rewarding and interesting experience. Here's a few shots of my makeshift bike shop. Wine always helps:

So just this morning I finally finished the transformation and I'm very excited to use it. I striped off the old paint and repainted it white; removed the rear brake; shortened and flipped the handlebars; added classic cork handlebar tape (in Bianchi celeste blue!); repositioned the front brake; and the most struggling of all, redid the chainrings and cassette to make a single speed. The Lotus has vertical dropouts, so the rear wheel is incapable of being moved horizontally. This is opposed to the horizontal dropouts that most purpose-built single speeds employ in order to obtain proper chain tension. Since I did not have this luxury, there was much messing with different gear ratios, chain lengths, swearing and throwing. Finally, Jim suggested that I file the dropouts a bit to the rear in order to gain the proper distance between chainrings and cassette. What do you know, it worked! Worked beautifully. So, I present to you the new Lotus, loving christened Indefatigable (in honor of the Royal Navy frigate and the fact that this bike just keeps going):

I'm pretty happy with the way things turned out. It certainly could have been better, and it could have been a little more professional. But this was my first attempt, and I don't think things turned out too badly. I will use Indy as a runabout/commuter type of deal that I'll use mostly for going back and forth to school. This brings me to my next project, the aforementioned Schwinn. She will become, what I hope, a touring bike. I've taken every single piece apart from this guy and am in the process of stripping the paint. It's not too hard of a task, but time consuming. This project will also be one of length because it will be more costly than the Lotus. But, the steel frame is a great start. Once I'm done, it will look mostly like a road bike, but have little larger tires and be capable of carrying me and my gear as I drink my way through Belgium (muhahahaha!). I've got the new handle bar and will slowly bring this guy back to life. Here's a shot of the not-yet-totally-stipped-of-paint frame:

I hopefully will have the constitution to kept everyone updated as this project continues.

Which, brings me to my next project. The Miyata. This beautiful bike I acquired FREE OF CHARGE from my department at ECU. It had been in the basement literally for decades and a professor knowledgeable of my interests suggested I ask the director (who just happens to be the father of the owner of the bike shop I frequent) if I could have it. Well, things went swimmingly and I now am the owner of what I think is an early 1980's Japanese made Miyata. My plan for this bike to do as minimal sprucing up as possible, mostly cleaning and replacing a few bits like cables, breaks and maybe a new set of ergonomic handlebars and turn this thing into my distance bike. I'm really excited about this one because it doesn't seem like it will take a lot to fix it up. It certainly needs help, but even if it only lasts for a few years, it was free! Check it out:

I love the smell of Chromoly in the morning!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Kittens: A Retrospective in Cuteness

We took the kittens home in November, and now in January they are old enough to be up for adoption. They went back to the shelter last week and I think I handled it pretty well. I didn't cry, though I was a bit upset when little Thistle had to be in a cage by himself (lucky Poppy and Chicory got to share a cage). But it's ok, because soon someone will adopt each of them and love them tons and Thistle won't even remember that for a few days he had to be in a cage by himself.

We got to see them change from little babies with fat baked-potato bodies and wobbly legs into animals that could play and jump and climb up legs with their clever claws.

So here they are, from beginning to end... the Kittens: A Retrospective in Cuteness.

~2 weeks

~5 weeks

~9 weeks


~3 weeks

~5 weeks

~9 weeks*

~3 weeks

~5 weeks

~9 weeks

We were lucky to have them and I can't wait to have more!

*Chicory has his third eyelid pulled up in this pictures, which can be a sign of illness. He was eating and behaving normally and the proper people have been informed of the symptom, so don't be alarmed!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Christmas fun

OMG you guys it's Christmas!!!

Well, it was Christmas. Several weeks ago. Ahem.

Before Christmas, it was a complete lunar eclipse!

I am rather proud of this picture I took with my little digital camera of an object 200,000 miles away. Although naturally the camera ran out of battery just before the total eclipse actually happened. But I couldn't get too worked up over that since at least I could see the eclipse, unlike a lot of you. We had a beautiful clear night and hot chocolate with marshmallows in it. Leland did whine quite a bit about getting up in the middle of the night, but I bullied him until he was semi-awake.

A full lunar eclipse of the full moon on the winter solstice? Now that is something worth getting up to see.

Later in the week, Leland's parents Mark and Phyllis showed up and they brought Christmas with them. Literally, they pulled bags of presents and food and booze from their car. It was like the Cratchits being visited by Scrooge. You know, at the end of the story when he brings them the goose.

Merry Christmas to us!

This is what they brought for a 6 day visit, mind you. And I think we had already opened one of the bottles by the time the picture was taken.

Phyllis sprang into action to fix us the traditional Italian Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes. In our case, squid, shrimp, smelts, clams, squid again, and shrimp again. Oh my goodness was it good. I forgot to take pictures of it all, it was so good.

Leland, weeping because he is physically incapable of eating more fish.

But Phyllis was not done yet, because she pulled out all the stops for Christmas Day.

Oh. Yes. Prime rib. Now, Leland and I don't eat a lot of meat normally. We try to get the meat we do eat from a local farm where the animals get to do things like, you know, walk around outside and eat grass. So when we do eat meat, it is a special thing. The holidays were several glorious days of meat consumption.

Phyllis finally gets to sit down and eat some of her wonderful food.

I wasn't a complete lazybones failure as a hostess. I set the table. Isn't it pretty?

Five minutes after I took this picture I spilled my red wine on my. Grandmother's. White. Linen. Tablecloth. The very first time ever that I had used it. But thanks to some more of Phyllis' instruction, the stain came out!

So I was a total failure as a hostess but at least the house was spotlessly clean when they arrived, for about five seconds before all of the animals caused little fur explosions and then we returned to our normal state of fur dust bunnies in every corner.

On December 26th we had big plans. We were going to check out the fancy Whole Foods knock-off in town, go to the coffee shop that Leland works at, take in a movie, and finish out the day with dinner at a nice restaurant that we haven't tried yet. But we woke up to this.

Snowpocalypse! 6 whole inches!

Some of you reading this live in areas where it snowed more like 20 inches. Well, six inches for Greenville is sort of like 20 inches for Minneapolis. Everyone commenced to freak out. Without any problems we drove through the unplowed roads to the grocery store, only to be informed that they were closing in 15 minutes "for the safety of the employees". At this point there was only about 3 inches and it was still snowing. We went to the coffee shop. Closed. We went to the movie theater. Closed. Flabbergasted, we headed home.

We did end up going out later to see "True Grit" when the theater finally opened at 2 in the afternoon (very good, by the way, and it was nice to see a little girl get to have the adventure for once). On the way home, our thoughts turned to dinner. Leland called every half-decent restaurant we could think of, and then moved desperately down the list to less and less decent restaurants. Everything was either closed or closing within the next hour. The pizza place was closed. The grocery stores were closed.

Luckily we had enough leftovers to choke a pig. And we spent the rest of the day doing things like this.

See Fletcher the cat cleverly camouflaged there? Fletcher lived with Mark and Phyllis for a year so he was excited to see them again and their relationship, as you can see, picked up right where it left off.

The snow-related comedy continued the next day. Things were open, including Super Mercado El Rancho (the best Mexican place I've ever eaten in, aka the most wonderful place in the world, more on that in a future post) where we ate lunch. The temperature warmed up and the roads were cleared with no snow on them at all. Yet the University was closed to all but "essential" staff. This is a University that will close pre-emptively the day before snow is forecast, after all.

My favorite thing that happened was a road closure just beyond our house. As far as we can make out, the road for about a block was closed because of a slight hill. We're talking about a 20 foot rise over 200 feet. Maybe a 5% grade? Too dangerous to drive on in the snow! The road was closed for three days.

Somehow we all survived. We bid a sad goodbye to Mark and Phyllis a few days later. But we did enjoy their Christmas gift on New Year's Day.

We have a shiny new grill! Isn't it cute? Note how all the snow is gone, just over a week after Snowpocalypse.

And after these delicious ribs it's back to meat once a week for us. We have to enjoy it while we can.

We're in the post-Christmas blahs now, and it's made even more blah by the fact that we have to give Mama and the kittens back to the Humane Society tomorrow. :( We had lots of fun with them, and it was neat to watch them grow. And now some lucky people get to adopt them and love them for life!

I asked Leland if we could get some more kittens. He said, "we'll see". I kind of want to do a post on the devastation the kittens caused our spare bedroom. How such little kittens can make so much noise I will never understand.