The Fixers’ Collective: Pro Bono and Next Level DIY

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by Ruby Samuels

If you walk through the unmarked door and narrow stairs of Brooklyn Commons on the first Wednesday of any month, you will find at least one pro bono fixer waiting for New York’s broken objects to arrive.

This is the Fixers’ Collective, a group of hobbyists who fix and repurpose the objects  of everyday life. The group was founded in response to the Great Recession of 2008 by Tammy Pittman and David Mahfouda, enthusiasts who want to teach people how to fix things for themselves. Originally, the collective met in Proteus Gowanus, a now closed art space in Brooklyn, where it attracted fixers from the Maker movement and other subcultures organized around DIY and resource sharing agendas.

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Now, the Fixers’ Collective meets once a month at Brooklyn Commons, a “movement-building space” where the wifi password is “compost” and the groups who meet there are often Marxist. They also meet monthly at Hack Manhattan, a makerspace on 14th street.

On this particular Wednesday, the only fixer present is Vincent Lai, a grocer by day who hopes to monetize his handy hobby soon. Vincent embodies his passion for repurposed materials via his Harry Potter-esque glasses, which are held together with plastic that he melted himself. His expected partner for the night (a college professor by day, Project Runway tech engineer by night and pro bono fixer in the wee hours) cancelled last minute.

From 7 to 9 pm we watch Vincent take apart the broken computer we’ve brought in, leaning in to examine every aspect of the gutted machine as others walked awkwardly into the room holding defunct devices. With a mixture of obscure technological terminology and dad jokes, Vincent gives everyone a sense that their objects are safe in his hands.

IMG_3390When a disheveled woman comes in with an antique plant-shaped lamp that she purchased at a yard sale 20 years ago, everyone watches in fascination as he tinkers with it for a few minutes, screws in a new socket and bulb and turns it on to fill the room with circulating rainbow polka dots. “The disco bulb is our tester,” he says with a grin.

Although we brought in a laptop that really needed fixing, it seems as though most of the people visiting this Wednesday have come more out of curiosity than urgency.  One woman comes in with a super 8 camera that her parents found gathering dust in their garage; another man brought in an old light meant for an aquarium that he no longer uses.

Whatever the outcome for a device, being part of a late night fixing session is exciting. The idea that there are people out there who want to know how the things that we use every day work is hopeful. The fixers mission, as stated on their website, is to “increase material literacy in our community by fostering an ethic of creative caring toward the objects in our lives.”

With more creative caring comes more self-sufficiency, more art and less waste. Plus, who doesn’t want to meet someone whose face lights up when confronted with your broken computer?

 

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Russian Tea Cakes: The Best Cookies for Any Occasion

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By Collier Curran

I distinctly remember my first interaction with these mildly sweet, perfectly crunchy, and admittedly messy cookies. My family and I were on vacation in the beautiful Cayman Islands in the winter of 2016, and our hotel had placed a display of these cookies out for guests to enjoy. Never one to turn down free food, I tried one, unsure of what to expect underneath the thick powdered sugar coating. Immediately, I was hooked.

I went back for more cookies repeatedly throughout my stay, and began scouring Pinterest for a recipe as soon as I was on the plane home. I am delighted to announce that this easy homemade version may even be better than the ones at the hotel (but don’t tell them I said that). These cookies have a mild buttery and nutty flavor that pairs perfectly with a cup of coffee or a glass of cold milk.

Full disclaimer: I found this recipe from the blog Crazy for Crust over a year ago, and have loved it ever since. I use a mix of pecans and walnuts that I blend up finely before adding to the cookies. As the recipe notes, there are many options for the nutty component, though I love the subtle but delicious taste I get from both pecans and walnuts.

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These cookies are so simple to make, and rolling them in powdered sugar is one of the most satisfying moments a baker can experience, in my humble opinion. 

They are great to bring to parties or to make for guests, because they can easily be made the night before the big event (if you can manage to resist them for that long!). I have made these many times both for my friends and for friends of my mother’s, and I am always asked for the recipe.

Russian Tea Cakes

Makes 48 Cookies

Ingredients

1 cup butter, softened

½ cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 ¼ cups flour

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup finely chopped nuts (I use walnuts and pecans)

Powdered sugar for rolling

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375º F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Mix butter, ½ cup powdered sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add flour and salt and mix until the dough comes together. Stir in the nuts. If the dough is too soft, chill it until you can work it easily with your hands.
  3. Scoop 1 tablespoon balls of dough and place on prepared cookie sheet.
  4. Bake cookies for 7-8 minutes or until bottoms are just slightly brown. Remove from oven and cool for just a minute until you can handle them. Fill a small bowl with powdered sugar and roll each cookie in sugar until coated. (My tip: definitely take this time to make sure the cookies are not only cool enough for you to handle, but also firm enough that they will not crumble when rolled in the powdered sugar. The first time I made these cookies, a few of them fell apart because I did not allow them enough time to sit before rolling in sugar.)
  5. Place on a rack to cool. (You may want to re-roll them after they’ve cooled for the maximum powdered sugar content, which is highly recommended.)

And there you have it: delicious, easy, and crowd-pleasing cookies for your next event or for a relaxing weekend with friends. Physically resembling snowballs, they are perfect for the cooler months ahead and are a great way to impress friends and family when returning home for the holidays!

I made this batch for a holiday party and they were a hit!

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One Week in The Social World Has Me Rethinking the Basis of My Identity

 

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By Sinead Hunt

This semester, in a dual attempt to a) become a much more well-rounded student and b) fulfill Barnard’s “Thinking About Social Difference” requirement, I enrolled in “Introduction to Sociology: The Social World.” Although it is still early in the semester, this class has already managed to challenge my most fundamental conception of my identity.

As an economics major, I’m used to grappling with difficult mathematical concepts, to stripping people of their humanity and viewing them as the mere sum of their economic transactions. If economics is cold and calculating, then sociology is the diametric opposite. In order to understand the forces that drive individual human behaviors, sociologists fully integrate themselves into people’s daily lives. They infiltrate churches and schools, hospitals and boardrooms, camouflaging themselves in order to produce writing that is both academic and intimate.

sociology.pngThis week, as part of our examination of the development of the self, we studied the work of George Herbert Mead, who is best known for his theory that a person’s identity is developed through their social interactions. At first I was rather resistant to Mead’s idea of identity formation through “social experiences and activities,” mostly because I have always tended to avoid social interactions. However, one thing I have learned thus far is that regardless of whether or not you subscribe to certain social norms, they nonetheless govern your life. Just because I was an anti-social preschooler doesn’t mean that I am the rare exception to Mead’s theory. Even as a four year-old, my fierce independence was fueled by the self-aggrandizing delusion that I was somehow above my peers, above my teachers, and most of all, above the patronizing institution of pre-K.

2f242f718d575fbc3adf7e286cb47095Mead believed that play is integral to children’s formation of identity, as it allows children to take on different roles, thereby adopting the perspective of others. I remember distinctly that one day I was playing with a friend of mine, Amanda, when she imperiously announced that she would play the role of a princess and I her servant. I               still remember bitterly choking down tears as

I began to feel an acrid mixture of rage and resentment. I also remember feeling unbridled glee when I turned the tables on Amanda by channeling my pent up feelings of injustice into revenge. Play allowed me to experience of wide range of perspectives, all from the comfort the comfort of my home.

Mead posits that at a certain point, children’s conception of “self” is transformed by what he refers to as the “generalized other.” This is to say, when you are a very young child, your sense of self is predicated upon how your family members and caretakers perceive you. As you move out into the world, however, and begin to interact with those outside of your family circle, your identity is increasing influenced by how you think others perceive you. Your sense of self is increasingly predicated upon what you believe society expects of you.

In class, our professor asked us one simple question: “Who do you think you are?” She instructed us to summarize our identity in one word and write it down in our notebooks. As those around me diligently obeyed her directive, I couldn’t help but pause. The first thing I thought to write was “smart.” For about as long as I can remember, I have identified as “smart,” predicating not only self-worth, but the very essence of my sense of self upon my intelligence. When I was very young, I had no conception of my own intelligence or abilities. I felt no ambition, no desire to achieve, no impulse to prove myself to anyone: I simply just existed. Mostly I was content on fulfilling my own preschool version of hedonistic desires, which mostly consisted of fruit snacks.

It wasn’t until second or third grade that I began to internalize what my teachers thought of me. My teachers expected me to achieve, so in a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, I began to achieve at high levels. My mother once recounted to me a horrifying story about her coming home, only to discover that nine-year-old me was stressing about an upcoming state science exam. When she asked me why I felt so anxious, I responded that I had heard the teachers talking about me, and they had expressed a certainty that I would get a perfect score. Suddenly, I felt not only an obligation to perform well, but to perform perfectly. My intelligence, my achievement and my sense of self became inextricably and dangerously linked.

The moral of the story? Sociology will fuck you up.

 

New Yorker Cartoon linked here

Edited by Ruby Samuels

 

Natural Disasters Don’t See Red or Blue

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      AP Photo/David J. Phillip

By Grace Armstrong
Most of my memories are from Houston, Texas. I wasn’t born in Houston, but about a year after I was born in Atlanta, Georgia, my family hiked it to Houston for my mom’s new job. I’ll never forget the time we had a class field trip to the Alamo; the pure joy I felt that one December when it slightly snowed for four seconds; seeing a police officer pursuing a car on horseback. But the things I remember the most are the hurricanes. Read More »

Letter From The New Editor

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By Ruby Samuels

Allow me to introduce myself: I am Ruby Samuels. I enjoy writing, running, boxing, talking to strangers and long walks on the beach. I also enjoy being part of the Barnard Bite, which I am proud, excited and nervous to announce has elected me Editor-in-Chief.

Whether you worked a 9-5 internship, traveled the world or started a lemonade stand over the summer, the school year has inevitably returned and the Barnard Bite is ready to write all about it. As the new Editor in Chief, I can’t wait to post new articles, meet new writers and reach a bigger audience than ever before.Read More »

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Kadaja Brown is a Senior and an Editor for Barnard Bite Blog