What I Shed Today

another year of lightening up

– underground water leak

Though we haven’t posted much lately, we haven’t stopped shedding. One irritation we celebrate ridding our lives of is our recurring underground water leak.

Casa de WIST isn’t all that old; it was built in 1987. That was the year Nimue and I met, in graduate school in Chicago. In the American southeast (where we now live), lots of new homes were going up, and not a few of them were plumbed with polybutylene pipe. It appeared to offer a great advance over copper and galvanized steel: it was cheaper and, since it’s flexible, quicker to install. But out “in the field,” polybutylene hasn’t held up well. The typically grey or blue material gets brittle and develops small cracks that soon widen into large leaks. Thousands of lawsuits about it cumulated in a massive class-action settlement.

We bought too late to get a slice of that, but nevertheless consider ourselves among the more lucky inheritors of the legacy; the pipes inside our house are copper. But between the city’s water meter and our foundation wall, we had a polybutylene supply line.

Nimue keeps a close eye on our utility bills, and thus our consumption of water and electricity. About two years after we moved in, our water use crept up. For one or two months we shrugged it off; maybe we’d washed a lot of clothes or something. But when it continued, we suspected our water line. I confirmed that we had a leak by shutting off the supply (there’s a valve in the crawlspace under the house) and watching the needle on the city’s meter. It kept slowly moving around the dial.

The plumbers we called found the leak handily by casting about for a wet spot in the yard. They dug down and revealed that a tree root had grown around the line and twisted it till it cracked. “You’ve got polybutylene here,” they warned me. “You might want to think about replacing it.” Well, how much would that cost, I asked. About $2000, they said. And the repair? Oh, some $200. Reasoning that we could repair ten leaks for the cost of one water line replacement, I declined.

But two years later, the whole scenario played out again. That time there was no oak tree to blame, just a jet of water shooting out of a hole in the pipe. Again, it turned a few square feet into a wetland and wasn’t hard to find.

But this spring, when our bills rose yet again, our plumbers couldn’t find the leak. They dug, they probed, but finally shrugged and departed, suggesting that it might have to get worse (so they could find it) before it got better. After they left, I probed and I dug, too, till the sweat of my brow threatened to make a wet spot on the earth. (Have I mentioned our soil is Georgia clay, the same stuff that gets baked into bricks?) But after hours of hard labor, I couldn’t find it either.

All the while, Nimue and I—who strive to be conservative in consumption if not our politics—were turning the water off at the meter when we went to bed at night and turning it back on before I made coffee first thing in the morning. It wasn’t all that bad, but it got tiresome quickly, especially with no end in sight. Except the end of doing the right thing and having the whole substandard line replaced. We checked our bank balance, sighed, and gave the go-ahead.

Kevin and Jimmy showed up the next day with a yellow mini-monster of an earth-mover and a will to get the job done. All along I’d feared having to cut our concrete driveway (the line runs under it), but they assured me they knew a trick or two. They found the two ends on either side of the slab, snaked a cable through the existing line, winched a splitter back through it, and then threaded the new line through the tunnel they’d made. It worked a charm. Before the middle of the afternoon they were gone, the driveway was still sound, the bill was $1300 instead of $2000, and we were looking forward to going to sleep without having to make the trek out to the meter in the dark.

In sum, when next we learn that we’ve got a structural issue that tends to lead to inefficiency or waste, we plan to address it sooner rather than later.

shedding style: replace

Comments welcome … have you a story about shedding waste by means of an upgrade?

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– the tandemobile

We’re back! And today’s shed is a rather big one.

1992 Ford Aerostar, "the tandemobile"

1992 Ford Aerostar, “the tandemobile”

I can’t remember how long ago I met the tandemobile—perhaps 15 years past. It’s a 1992 Ford Aerostar mini-van, a really rather useful melding of a passenger car chassis with a light-duty truck frame. My father acquired it as grandchildren began to multiply, so he and Mom could take them all into town to eat out. After complications due to glaucoma took his eyesight, my brothers and I were designated its drivers on those family outings. And when Dad finally decided to sell the Aerostar, Nimue and I bought it, because we’d just planned a big family gathering and we wanted to haul the g-kids to the mountain vistas their fathers and I so enjoyed when we were their age.

We intended to sell it immediately afterward. But one of us wondered: if we took the seats out, would the tandem fit in the back?

Ready, set, swallow!

Ready, set, swallow! (Not pictured: the bar we concocted with a fork-mount block to secure the tandem.)

By about half an inch, it did.

So the Aerostar became the tandemobile. For the last few years, it’s hauled the bike to dozens of rallies and remote ride starts. We’ve even slept in it a couple times when we didn’t want to bother with pitching a tent.

But “entropy happens.” We dealt with it as it arose. I deliberated and decided to spend a day or two crouching on concrete and straining to remove and replace most of the brake system. I signed the credit-card authorization (gulp!) to have the air conditioning system converted to R134a. But replace the whole front-end (that is, pretty much all the steering and suspension parts)? It’s a job—if you don’t have a lift and a shop, or on the other hand a sum more than the vehicle is worth—that requires banging away with chisels and hammers for hours whilst twisted into a pretzel underneath the beast. Not for me, not after some wisdom’s finally begun, however painfully, to accrue.

We spent today giving the tandemobile a bath and manicure before advertising it for sale on craigslist. I told the truth about what it needs. (How could I not?) There are guys and gals younger than me out there, with bodies less worn and spirits hungrier, who’ll be willing to tackle it. But at this point in the adventure of my life, I think I’ll save my hunger for riding and the road.

shedding style: resell
destination: someone else’s life

Comments welcome … what might you shed today?


+ creative destruction (- Sun Mistral rims)

Among the great goods of the bicycle, considered generally, are its longevity. Fifty- and sixty-year-old or older bicycles endure that still serve perfectly well for the purposes for which they were designed. As with the whole, so with the parts, I say. Though I’ll cheerfully change components to adapt a bike to current needs or replace what wears out, I don’t update equipment just to stay current.

On the other hand, innovation has given us better brakes, which are greatly to be desired. For those using bicycles for practical transport, lighting is vastly improving. And though the advance is harder to observe, wheels are lighter and stronger than, say, 25 years ago. Which brings us to today’s shed.

Between a present that’s mostly unworkable but not completely broken down and a future that looks better but, being a future, remains uncertain, I often find I must cross a bridge of creative destruction.

Our “vintage” 1988 Cannondale tandem has given us much joy, but the weak link has been its wheels, which were built of Suzue 7B hubs laced to Sun Mistral alloy rims. Granted that tandems carry more and are subject to more stress than solo bikes, we’ve experienced more than a typical share of trouble where the rubber meets the road. We’ve broken spokes, snapped a rear axle, and had more flats than I can count—often because we blew the tires off the rims.

That, I’ve come to understand, is because the Sun Mistral rims are straight-sided. Even in their day, they were an anachronistic design. All but the lousiest rims are “hook-beaded” now; they have a lip that helps hold the tire on the rim. Consequently, today’s clincher tires don’t have to clench as hard as yesteryear’s. Pump them up to maximum pressure and weigh them down with a tall tandem team, and sooner or later they’re going to come off straight-sided rims with a report like a gunshot as yet another tube is laid to waste. I imagined what we’d go through if we tried them with a touring load and didn’t like the picture at all.

Last summer, I’d had enough. We bought “Early” the Burley to serve as a temporary tandem while I tore down the Cannondale for a total rebuild. I didn’t get started on that as soon as I’d hoped … but now I’ve begun. Over the last couple of days, I’ve “unlaced” the wheels—unscrewed the nipples that secure the spokes to the rim and pulled them out of the hub flanges.

ready for the first fateful (fatal?) step

ready for the first fateful (fatal?) step

Between a present that’s mostly unworkable but not completely broken down and a future that looks better but, being a future, remains uncertain, I often find I must cross a bridge of creative destruction. Even though I long for what’s on its other side, I find it hard to set foot upon it. What’s known is, at least, known. Can I build better wheels on the old hubs with new Velocity Dyad rims? Only trying will tell, an attempt that had to begin with breaking something.

I’ll toss the old Sun rims into the metal recycling collection roll-off out at the county landfill on my next trip there. Old bicycle spokes make good probes and picks. I hardly need 80, though. Want a few? I’ll gladly share.

shedding style: demolish, recycle
destination: community metal recycling collection

Comments welcome … what might you destroy today?


– seedy sheet of paper

I hate to throw a seed away without giving it a chance.

I once received a sheet of paper made with flower seeds pressed into it as part of a stewardship education resource. The instructions suggested that children could tear the paper into bits, press them into soil, water generously, and care for the flowers as they grew.

I thought, “Come spring, my inner child and I will plant those.” But come spring, it was buried in a pile, and later landed in a file, where it spent about a decade. I totally forgot about it till one of our occasional spasms of file sorting and shedding brought it forth.

“Those seeds won’t be viable,” I told myself. “That should go straight into the recycling bin.” But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I didn’t want to commit valuable garden space to it either, so it’s been cluttering our home office.

Nimue’s mother wisely says that when you give yourself only two choices, you don’t have a choice; you’re stuck. So I decided to re-frame how I thought of that sheet of paper. Instead of (probably) non-viable seeds or something recyclable, I called it compost. I tore the paper into bits, pressed them into soil, trusted them to the generous rain, and will accept whatever comes of it as good.

seedy paper with arugula

seedy paper with arugula

shedding style: compost
destination: front-yard garden

Comments welcome … have you got anything that could use a new name to free it (and you) up?


– shredded paper

Because heaven forfend our identities be stolen (and heaven helps those who help themselves), we shred papers that bear, in one of those phrases that define our times, “personally identifiable information.” Our city-county, however, doesn’t want shredded paper in the recycling collection because it’s too fine for the monster-machines that pick through the single-stream to sort it out. So I’ve been saving our shreds for garden mulch. A friend offered hers as well. Thus, over the winter, a baby mountain of bags grew on our front porch, and what had seemed like a good idea became clutter.

But this afternoon the paper became the foundation of paths between our front-yard garden beds:

a strange snow on a warm, wet spring day

a strange snow on a warm, wet spring day

I’ll cover it with a layer of leaves, and then it may toil with the soil to grow some goodness.

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– the Fuji Steed, part two


Jessica has a new bike!

Actually, it’s an old bike … 37 years old, which is older than Jessica … “vintage,” if you like the term. But it’s new to her, so it counts. And this is the story of Jessica’s new bike.

Jessica used to have a bike, one her uncle gave her. She loved it, not least because it was tall. Jessica is tall, too, and most bikes make her feel a bit like a string about to be tied into a knot. Not her tall Fuji, though. She rode it fearlessly till it suffered an accident that left it looking like a pretzel. (I’m not sure what Jessica resembled, but she looks okay today. Bodies have some advantages over bike frames.)

One day Jessica told her minister (whom she knew was an avid cyclist) about her late, lamented Fuji. She had no idea what an anticipation of satisfaction that set off in him. He had a quite tall Fuji himself, which he loved. But he wasn’t riding it, and felt badly it wasn’t getting used.

For many years his “Fuji Steed” had been his only bicycle. Then he got a racing bike. He kept the Fuji, though, to ride to the store or on days when he didn’t want to bother with putting on cycling shoes. (Which are uncomfortable and look silly until they snap into the pedals that are their sole-mates.) All was well until he built up another frame into a commuter-and-touring bike. Then his purpose for the Fuji was lost … gathering dust in the garage doesn’t count as a use. In a crazy but harmless foible, revdarkwater is convinced that bicycles speak to him. (His wife Nimue might reserve a judgment about the harm or not, however, whenever he brings another stray home.) He felt the Fuji’s sadness personally.

“I’ll offer the Fuji to Jessica!” revdarkwater thought. “But I want to fix it up right before I do.” The Fuji is thoroughly old-school; it has loose bearings in the hubs, headset, and bottom bracket, and they needed to be cleaned and re-packed with fresh grease. The finish had suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (well, it had had some bad luck, anyway). Finally, he had a horror of entrusting his friend Jessica to ancient brake cables. In short—tearing the Fuji down and building it back up took awhile.

on the road again: 1978 Fuji Gran Tourer

on the road again: 1978 Fuji Gran Tourer

But this week it was ready. Last night he took it to Jessica and Dean’s. She’s a little intimidated by the gears, but delighted to have a bicycle again. Dean took it for a quick spin up and down the hill in front of their house and made the Fuji look like a thoroughbred. revdarkwater drove home feeling happier than he’s felt in weeks. He’d heard the Fuji Steed say, “She’s beautiful, I love her! I’ll give her good miles. Thank you, old friend!”

And they all cycled happily ever after.

shedding style: give away
destination: Jessica & Dean’s present and future

Comments welcome … does something that is yours, even something beloved, actually belong to someone else?


– the Fuji Steed, part one

Thirty years ago, I entered a pawnshop in Bloomington, Indiana, intending to buy a bicycle—not my first bike, but the first I purchased myself, as an adult. I’d decided I had to have a bike because my Pontiac’s transmission had shredded its innards in tiny shiny steel bits and the car looked to stay sidelined for at least a month.

I spent $100 for a maroon Fuji. the best-looking of the mostly sorry lot chained to the bars over the windows. A couple years before I’d visited a local bike shop which sold Fujis, so I recognized the manufacturer’s name and reasoned it must be a good one. As ignorant as I was, I was fortunate in my choice (though I probably paid too much).

It was a Fuji Gran Tourer with a 25” frame (tall, as I am). I know now that the Gran Tourer was a mid-level “sport-touring” model, aimed at casual riders who nevertheless wanted a fairly good bicycle. Mine was stamped with its serial number in December, 1977. The original dealer sticker is peeling, but I can still make out “Schoops Bicycle Sales” in La Porte, Indiana. They likely sold it sometime during 1978. I wonder sometimes about its first six years and how it came to the pawnshop.

scan from a 1978 Fuji catalog ... original at http://www.classicfuji.com/GranTourer_1978_PageB.htm

scan from a 1978 Fuji catalog … original at http://www.classicfuji.com/GranTourer_1978_PageB.htm

I’d grown up riding in southern Indiana on single-speed bikes with coaster brakes—had loved riding, but like so many North American males suddenly quit as soon as I got an automobile (or the car got me). So I had to check books out of the library to decipher the mysteries of derailleurs. Some of our first miles were a mutual struggle. But the bike got me into town to work and back to the farmhouse where I cooked and slept. A friend joked that it was my “Fuji steed.” The name stuck.

When the transmission shop finally released my car, just three gears no longer enough seemed enough. I kept the Fuji Steed and kept riding it. When I left Bloomington for Chicago’s south side, I managed to stuff it into the Vega that replaced the Pontiac. I reasoned it would be easier sometimes to ride than find parking for the car. But really, I loved the promise of seeing the city from its seat—a promise both the bike and city kept.

Down through years, wherever I moved, the Fuji Steed went too, and got me around my new home at least occasionally. But less and less as its condition deteriorated. I’d had to park it in damp basements and unheated sheds, and hard knocks took their toll. One day I realized the Fuji Steed wasn’t safe to ride. I told myself I’d eventually acquire the skills and special tools to make it right. For then, however, I just leaned it against a wall.

Then another wall. Then another, as years passed … sad times for the Fuji Steed.

But ten years ago, my friend David (appearing in the role of the Fuji’s fairy godfather) invited me to ride with him. “I would,” I said, “but my bike’s in terrible condition.” “Let me take it to my mechanic,” he offered. “Huh,” I said as the sun of insight dispelled the darkness of unknowing. “I guess bike shops do work on bikes, don’t they?”

Replacing the rotting tires, fitting new brake blocks, oiling stiff pivots and generally making everything serviceable cost as much as I’d originally paid for the Fuji, but it was worth every penny. We were riding again! I rode with David. I rode by myself. I rode with my associate Diane, who’d made cycling the foundation of her “get fit” program. We started holding our staff meetings on bicycle, and they instantly became more productive. —A happy ending, right?

It’s coming. But not before a plot twist.

Comments welcome … would you shed cliffhanger endings if you could?


– bread machine pan & paddle

Our old bread machine is dead, but not all that long ago we purchased a lightly-used replacement pan for it on eBay. Perhaps someone else has a Regal KitchenPro model 6773 that’s still cranking, but who needs a pan and paddle. We can help with that! Back to the great auction house in the cloud it goes.

Sorry for the murky photo … trying to get this up before Earth Hour! https://www.earthhour.org/

Sorry for the murky photo … trying to get this up before Earth Hour! https://www.earthhour.org/

shedding style: resell
destination: eBay

Comments welcome … if there were “freeBay”… a site for free-cycling, with the only costs a modest service fee and covering the shipping … would you use it?

Leave a comment »

– three-ring binders

You know this plot. You have papers. Maybe you’ll look at them again someday. Anyway, it took so much work (or cost so much, or seemed so important to someone) to create or acquire them that, obviously, they must be kept! So you punch three little holes through every sheet and snap them into a binder. Ah, what a feeling! You’re organized! Satisfied, you slide the book you just made onto a shelf (or close it up in a file drawer, or balance it on top of a pile because your shelves and file drawers are full).

[Three, four, or more years go by.]

You notice the binder, open it to check what’s in it, snort, “Well, that’s useless now,” and dump the contents in a recycling bin.

But what to do with the binder?

Shrugging, you stick it in a storage cabinet with the collection of other three-ring binders that have been emptied and kept against the possibility you’ll need a binder someday.

[Three or four more years pass.]


You open the cabinet and a dozen or twenty binders fall out, smearing you with dust on their way to the floor. “Huh,” you think, “are they breeding in there?”

[In fact, they are. Having recognized that the waning of modernity could make them, if not endangered, at least into little more than museum objects, three-ring binders have committed themselves to a population growth program that should, by 2035, make them one of the dominant species on the planet.]

You gather up the pile and take them to a thrift store. After all, someone always needs a three-ring binder, right?

shedding style: give away
destination: Goodwill

Comments welcome … are we bound by our binders? Shall we set the captives free?


– the bread machine is dead, + long live the bread machine

More than once during the decade of my twenties, as I attempted various economies, I tried to learn to make my own bread. Then as now when seeking a new skill, I “looked it up” … first in Irma Rombauer’s joyous great chronicle of cookery. I had a good teacher and an auspicious setting, an enamel-topped kitchen table in a 200-year-old Indiana farmhouse. But my loaves, alas, all turned out dry and hard as brown bricks. (I know now that I took it too seriously. I think my anxieties stunted the yeast.)

A couple years later, after relocating to a graduate school dorm in Chicago, I picked up a copy of Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery from a bookstore’s remainder table. “This might make good light reading before I fall asleep nights,” I thought, “when I can’t handle any more Hegel.”

I devoured Ms. David’s amazing book—half history, half cookbook, and all celebration—as if it were bread. And learned from her the critical secret, the deft touch: don’t worry. Yeast are resilient. All they need is time, plenty of time. Cut the amount in the recipe in half, and let the dough rise all night.

Suddenly, the magic worked for me. I could make bread! And bread I made: hearty chewy rolls that sustained me and amazed and fed my grateful friends. Which (rolls and friends) were honored guests at the rehearsal dinner before the wedding Nimue graciously consented to appear at with me.

A year later, we moved to a tiny town downstate, where I was called as minister of a congregation that gathered for dinners with religious frequency and vigor. I knew I couldn’t fry chicken that was safe to eat, and my scalloped potatoes turned out tough as shoe leather, but hey, I could bake happy little loaves that even farmwives hailed. “Our preacher makes homemade bread,” they bragged to the Methodists.

And come our first Christmas there, the church-folk honored my craft by giving us a bread machine.

It was generous—bread machines were new-fangled and expensive then. I said all the right words of thanks. In truth, I was grateful for my congregants and their gift. But I thought to myself, a machine? Weren’t the kneading with one’s hands, the patient proofing, and finally the watchful baking the point? I predicted to Nimue, “We’ll never use this beyond a time or two.”

I was so, so wrong.

I can make better bread than the bread machine. But in our busy lives that seek to balance many goods as we pursue the Good, the machine makes acceptably good bread much more often than we would by hand. Over twenty years, it cranked out hundreds, possibly thousands of batches. Twice we replaced the pan (the shaft at the bottom is a weak link). The bread machine kneaded on … till now.

Snow it goes (to be honest, a month ago)

Snow it goes (to be honest, a month ago)

The mandrel about the main drive shaft has worn enough that it binds. Repair parts are unavailable. I took it apart, but without recourse to a machine shop, I couldn’t see a practical way to fix it. Our faithful bread machine is, in a term that says much about “consumer goods,” B.E.R. … Beyond the cost of Economical Repair. To the electronics recycling dropoff at the landfill it shall go.

Perhaps I should turn in my minimalist merit badge. My fingers and arms remember how to mix and knead bread. But they cheerfully helped me pick out a used bread machine at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. (Cost: $6 and an hour of scrubbing.)

The new (used) bread machine is smaller and fussier than the old. We’re still growing accustomed to it. But it’s making bread, and we’re eating it. It may not be best, but it’s better than buying bread in a plastic shroud.

shedding style: recycle, replace
destination: local electronics recycling dropoff

Comments welcome … what compromises do you find yourself accepting in order to enjoy a “less is more” life?



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