Old Clothes and Their Essence

I recently completed Buddhism and Modern Psychology by Professor Robert Wright on Coursera.org. In the supplemental material, one of the video lecturers was one between Wright and Paul Bloom on Bloom’s book How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like.

In it, Bloom talked about the essence of things. From a review of the book: “What matters most is not the world as it appears to our senses. Rather, the enjoyment we get from something derives from what we think the thing is.” Bloom argues that at the root of pleasure is our reading (or misreading) of the essence of something rather than the facts presented to our senses. 

Like Wright, Bloom traces the origin of essence to natural selection. “We have evolved essentialism to help us make sense of the world, but now that we have it. It pushes our desires in directions that have nothing to do with survival and reproduction.”

Bloom argues that we endow everything including people and items with an essence that gives them a value. This is why a tape measured owned by JFK has more value than the humbleness of the object would suggest. It’s value is inherent in who owned it. It’s essence.

Essence works both ways. Bloom argues that clothing and other items owned by regular people have less value. They are herein tainted by being used.

I think Bloom’s argument is a intriguing one, and I find a lot to relate to. I’ve noticed that used items have far less market value when buying clothing at thrift stores and on eBay. Clothing of all types goes for a fraction of its retail value. Even unique pieces can usually be found with enough patience, and their value as determined by the market is far under retail. If you’re concerned about essence, then, by all means, buy things that have never been used. If you’re not, just wash them, and they’ll be yours.



Coaching from a Spouse

Despite sharing the same rank for a season, my husband is a better tennis player than I am. He played sports in high school. I did not. We both work hard on our games, but I think he has the edge. He’s a wonderful student of the game. He watches videos. He reads books.

So when I decided to put much more effort into my game, I had to decide to give up on that ego and take his instruction. He’s not one to compliment anyone, and I’m historically someone who needs a little encouragement. I had to put that aside, and I did. I’ve been working on growing as a person, and taking advice and criticism is a big part of that growth. It’s not personal. Keep repeating that. It’s true.

Part of my commitment to getting a better game is just playing more matches. There is always a flutter of nervousness for me in a match. Always. I thought playing more could take that edge off, and it has. I committed to three teams and a night class this winter, and in retrospect, that was probably a lot. I struggled mightily on one team in particular, and Jeff asked to come watch.

My partner and I won, but it was kind of ugly. Afterwards, Jeff had an hour discourse on what I did wrong. One of the last things he said was, “your knees weren’t bent. You weren’t ready to move. In fact, no one on that court was ready to move. If you just do that, you’ll be better than 90% of the people out there.”

A lot of what he said clicked, but the knee bend stuck like a barnacle. Playing with your quads engaged will leave you with burning outer thighs, so I upped my yoga practice to compensate. The knee bend and ready position has the side benefit of giving me something to focus on.  The improved concentration has also helped my game.

Sometimes we overlook the expertise of those close to us. We shouldn’t. It’s wonderful to have a personal coach and hitting partner with the kind of availability only a pro could dream about. As my game gets better, I’ve given back in the form of suggested drills and my own observations. We were 2-2 for the fall season, which isn’t too shabby. I see more great play in our future.

How’s the Spanish Going?

Back in July, I wrote a post about learning Spanish. You may be wondering, is that still a thing? Sure is. Since that time, I’m nearly through Duolingo and half way through the beginning course on Babbel.

What did I learn? I learned that I have to be patient with myself. Very patient. 95% of my life is in English. Writing in English is a large part of my income. Given my beginner level, I have yet to secure a teacher to practice production, listening, and speaking. I’ll do so when I have finished with the Babbel course. I fit my lessons in throughout the week, but they still make up a small portion of what I’m reading and learning. Therefore, I forget. Frequently. All the time. I still may not know the word for rain, and I learned it weeks ago.

As the lessons build, I find myself doing each one twice. Some concepts still evade me like numbers and any words involving snow or cold weather. Indirect objects may require me to do a lesson three times to get my head around it.

Am I discouraged? No. I know I’m making progress because everything I learn was literally something I did not know the day before. Language learning is a heavy lift. I knew that before I started. Finally, it’s not a competition. There is no prize for finishing first or being perfect. The prize is in taking my time seriously and making progress, albeit slow, on a long term goal.

Evol rules my world

Since I previously posted about food, let me spend a few minutes talking about a food I really like, evol.

I work 30 minutes from my home, and the distance makes it impossible to go home for lunch. I don’t want to spend too much on food, and the options near my workplace are limited. I also am sometimes limited on time for lunch, and I rarely cook dinner so have few leftovers. What to do? Frozen dinners.

evol frozen dinners
evol has a lot of vegetarian options include two versions of ravioli.
evol frozen dinners have points
Save the points on the box for cool tshirts and goodies. What a great branding idea.

Hey, I know it sounds awful, but they’ve come a long way. When I first started eating frozen food, the pre-made dinner options were pretty awful – high in calories and fat. Since that time, they’ve come a long way. The brand I especially like is evol. They have a variety of vegetarian options that I dress up with low calorie goodies like hot sauce, fresh tomatoes, and green peppers. They are relatively low in calories with each dinner clocking in under 400 calories. The lasagna and mac and cheese are higher, so consult the box.

Finally, they have an evol community option. Each box contains points printed on the box. Collect the points, and you can send your points in for cool t-shirts and other neat stuff. It’s great branding, and the community gear options are very nice.


evol hoodie
I traded in 200 box points for this awesome hoodie. Even more great branding. Now I’m wearing their brand.

Weight Loss Technology

I have two dogs, Pom and Baby Cow. Pom’s entire life is moved by food. He’ll do anything for it. It makes him exceedingly easy to train. Baby Cow likes attention. She likes food alright, but it doesn’t move her world. I am much more Baby Cow than Pom.

However, one curious thing about my relationship with food that is probably not unique: for every decade I’m on this earth, I can eat less food.  If I ate the same way I did when I was 20, then I’d be overweight now. My metabolism seems to change every few years now, and I’ve used the Lose It App to banish stray pounds over the years. Try it. It’s easy.

Lose It has a vast encyclopedia of foods. Punch in your current height, age, and weight and what you would like to weigh. Finally, give it a goal. I want to weigh X in 3 months. It gives you a calorie budget, and you punch in everything you eat every day. It gives you encouragement along the way. It’s discrete, positive, and super easy to use. Plus, it’s free. If you need more details, access to data, and meal plans, you can buy a premium plan.

Eat frozen dinners for a work-day lunch like I do? Scan the barcode. Lose it has you covered. You need to do a bit of calculating with fresh foods, but it is very easy to do. Build in a little margin every day, and you’ll reach your goals in no time.

Keep Growing

Recently, I had a tennis friend fix something for me that I had been struggling with for years. (Keep that left arm up when you’re serving. It helps you sight the ball.) I’m sure someone else had given me the same advice, but I didn’t hear it. When I was ready to hear it, it stuck.

This is how I felt after completing Lighting for Photographers at the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design (PCAD). The basic concepts of photography finally came together and made sense in my mind. The class was twice a week for five weeks with an audience of five and one professional instructor, Ole Hongvanthong, of PhotoOle.

Ole graciously allowed us to use all his lighting equipment for the entire class, and now I have a firm idea of what I want to buy and full-on camera envy. That 5D Mark III will be mine someday! Every class was experiential. We learned by doing. When I lined up my photos from the first class to last, it was obvious that the lessons had been absorbed.

For the final night of class, we were invited to hear Ole speak to the League of Women Voters at the Candy Factory in Lancaster. More lessons. He was asked about removing scars in the final image and noted that he tells clients to embrace their imperfections because it makes them who they are. He talked about his own camera envy for a Canon Rebel owned by his cousin, and that she ended up giving him the camera and even named his business for him.

Ole Hongvanthong speaks at The Candy Factory, August 10, 2017. Photo by Justin Zook.

Finally, I couldn’t end this post without talking about the people. Justin was a passionate landscape photographer and the cousin of a good friend of mine. Mary Ellen was a reporter with LNP who was frequently tasked with taking her own photos. She was looking to improve. Rick was a former stay at home dad and teacher who once ran his own photography business. He was the most natural teacher of the group and was hoping to become an art instructor again now that his children were grown. I hope he does. At 19, Cameron was the baby of the group. She had started freelancing taking photos for friends and had some mad Photoshop skills. Her mom accompanied her to every class because she had seizures regularly and could not drive. She was a sweet and wonderful human.

This class ended but another one will begin shortly. Provided I can secure some equipment, there are two I am considering for the fall.

Get yourself out there and learn something new!

Alis volat propriis

I had dinner with a former colleague, Ben, last month at a charity golf tournament. I was the event photographer, so I arrived near the end of the tournament for a quick tour of the course, portraits, and dinner photos.

Ben’s second wife, Mary, has a daughter that lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and several children. Between them, Mary’s daughter and her spouse have seven degrees. When Ben first met them, the couple were both working in the university system but rapidly moving to a frontier lifestyle. Now, they’re fully off the grid and teaching others the ways of self-sufficient living that extend to making their own mayonnaise.

“What does homemade mayonnaise taste like?”

“Terrible,” Ben reported and then listed a litany of labor intensive things the pair only make themselves.

“There is no bartering. No trading of services? No one they know that makes better mayo?” I asked.

“No, they make it themselves. I bought some at a store, but they threw it away,” Ben noted.

I think what confounds Ben is that the pair have made such an investment in their education only to spend their hours doing things that are more easily and expertly completed by others.  It’s the sunk cost that irritates him.

I tend to think of division of labor as one of the most wonderful things about modern society because each of us is endowed with different talents and interests. Currency allows us to trade services so that I can give you my labor in exchange for money or for equivalent labor in a field that I do not excel at like masonry, medicine, or mayonnaise making. We both gets things of value completed by experts in their field, and the time spent not learning to poorly build a brick wall can be better spent in leisure or another pursuit of interest. Everyone wins.

But here is another school of thought that says, I can do it better myself no matter what. I don’t understand it, but I don’t have to. I’ll continue to learn new things but rely on experts for those pursuits I have no interest in but still require. Like mayonnaise. I do like a good mayonnaise.

In writing this post, I looked up the state motto of Oregon. It is Alis volat propriis, “She flies with her own wings.” Portlandia, indeed.

Mucho Gusto

I’ve been fascinated by language for a long time. On my way to earning my MA in English, I completed four semesters of German as a graduate student and passed an equivalency exam. This was as close to a real language experience as I ever had. I started to think in German. It was lovely.

However, German is a tough ask. It’s a level two language, which means it requires more time for a native English speaker to master than French or Spanish or, curiously, Romanian. It is also rarely seen or heard in the United States. Unlike Spanish, and to some extent French, products and advertisements are rarely translated into German in the States.

New technology has made languages easier to learn, and so a few years ago, I felt my moment had arrived. Duolingo is a great way to start, and it’s free. I went entirely through the French version and am halfway through the Spanish course. I learned enough French with Duolingo to read passages and news stories, but my listening comprehension and ability to explain grammar are lacking. I still subscribe to French Facebook and Twitter feeds, which are great ways to incorporate the language into your life.

Babbel and Rosetta Stone now offer online courses with more grammar and culture coverage, and there is a trove of help available at Udemy, Coursera, and on YouTube. To take my Spanish to the next level, I subscribed to Babbel and will work my way through their Spanish course in the coming months. I have already secured a language buddy at work when my production ability improves.

While language learning is a life long goal, it is also what I plan to do in retirement. I’m 20 years from that day, but I have a plan. I’d like to help new arrivals to the U.S. learn English, and what better way to prepare than to learn Spanish now. Wish me luck.

Making Peace with Oil Based Paint

More than 10 years after buying my home, I may finally have made peace with oil-based paint. The last time I painted this metal Bilco door, I got a big assist from the paint team at Lowe’s – specifically one knowledgeable woman behind the counter than gave me the scoop on how to make it work. Sand that surface lightly, clean it well, don’t mix the paint too vigorously, and take your time.

Sherwin Williams paint and Purdy brushes are my favorites, but I had purchased a cheaper brush for this job thinking I wouldn’t be able to clean it to my liking. With a little patience,  I have been able to reuse it. Take your time cleaning it. Soak it, rinse, soak again. When I thought I had as much paint as possible removed, I took a bit of Dawn and rinsed out the brush one final time. Dawn was used to clean bird feathers after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. It works.

Painting Metal Surfaces


“I’m always amazed at my commitment and preoccupation, obsession, with little bullshit aggravations. I know what is going on. I know why my brain does it. It’s sort of like the opposite of spirituality but seeks to serve the same ends. When things are terrifying and out of your control, which is most things, why not get completely preoccupied for a few hours with a scuff on your new boots and obsess about what an asshole you are for not paying more attention to walking and what you do with your feet? Then, over time wrestle that attack on self and events that are natural and out of your control into some kind of acceptance. Boots get scuffed. They’re boots. Stupid.” – Marc Maron