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

Urban/Rural Divide

Interesting article on the urban/rural divide from New York Magazine. Cities always faced formidable challenges including deindustrialization well before rural areas, but their concentration of activists and ability to share solutions allows them to overcome setbacks and tackle problems effectively. I know I felt a strong pull to rejoin our fair Northeastern city when we bought our home in the NW end in ’05.

“For most of us, living in cities means living close to those who are both like us and not. Even just walking down a city block means having no idea who will cross your path, what they believe, or how they will behave. Strolling is a succession of chance meetings, the vast majority of them superficial. At times, a dense neighborhood can feel like a village, where you bump into friends or revive dormant acquaintances. At other times, it means confronting a vast and entrenched homeless population. Urbanites take this haphazardness for granted. We have the ingrained habit of sharing space, of encountering difference, of swimming in the collective soup.”


Weeks of to-dos

Weekly to do list

My hack for getting all things done even on a lazy weekend? A list. Always a list. This one just has at least two weeks of to-dos and even includes some spare math problems I encountered. Stay on track and enjoy the sweet relief that comes with crossing something off.

Be Awesome

I just completed a successful job search, and this is one thing I learned. Be Awesome. To Everyone. All the Time. Awesome is your currency. Every interaction you have in life matters. So be kind. Be Awesome to everyone you meet. People want to work with Awesome. They want Awesome Around. Awesome wins every time.

Preventing IE from using Compatibility View

In the past few months, I completed four web sites, three for my full time job and one for a freelance client. The first one I completed actually launched last, and this week, our IT department pointed out that the site doesn’t work on several computers within the network because those computers had IE set to compatibility view so they could use other apps.


I had built in backward capability but hadn’t planned for this wrinkle. I tried adding this META tag, but IE still ignored it:

<meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" IE=EDGE" />

Luckily, I found Dale Lane’s blog, and he gave me the answer. You have to put this META tag right under the head tag or IE will ignore it. Why? Who knows.

If you’re using WordPress, open header.php and paste this under the opening <head>tag.

<meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" IE=EDGE" />

Refresh, and you’re done.

Thanks to Dale Lane. I was unable to find contact information for him, or I would have thanked him myself.

Finding Focus

For the past year, I’ve been obsessed with improving my focus. For all of us, time is limited. How can we better make use of the time in our lives to achieve our goals. I found this effort to be of two parts:
Literally better manage your time
Better manage your expectations and attitude

How are you using time?
To better manage my time, realize how you’re using it. How long are you spending on social media? Watching television? I manage social media accounts for a series of companies, so I can’t completely unplug. However, I can control my time after I make my work-related posts.

Literally better manage your time
Better manage your expectations and attitude

Duolingo on a dark day
Duolingo on a particularly dark day. This app works intuitively to teach you vocabulary and grammar in your target language. Plus, it rewards you for the time you spend learning.

Finding goals and rewards
I’ve always wanted to learn another language, and in December 2014, I found Duolingo. An obsession was born. I funneled time I would have spent watching TV or reading Facebook into level 20 French. What I love about this app is that it rewards you for working with it every day. It’s addictive in the best possible way.

Stop beating yourself up
Nothing is more demotivating than angry self-defeating talk. Don’t do it. If you spend an entire evening on Instagram, brush it off. Get back to your focus without bemoaning the loss of it. This works especially well if you play sports. Missed a shot? Throw an INT? Forget about it. You have to. Focus on what you do well and realize mistakes are part of the process.

Find your own mentors
If you lack actual people to help mentor you, worry not. The internet is full of good advice. For me, podcasts helped me enormously. The Deeply Graphic Design Podcast was especially helpful for career insights.

Get out of your comfort zone
I joined four Meet Up groups in 2015 and started attending networking events I previously would have avoided. The result: a much more satisfied Cher. I’ve had wonderful experiences, met awesome people, and gathered some powerful personal and career advice. I look forward to more in 2016. “Find your people.” #doit