Life’s Better When You’re Making Things

If quarantine time has taught us anything — and it’s taught me many things — it’s that we humans are inherently driven to make things. When gazing at our little goggleboxes grows tiresome; when we are limited in our ability to gather at restaurants, bars, gyms, or offices and distract each other, eventually we will say to ourselves, “I would really like to make something.”

Maybe we will start small with a loaf of banana bread; maybe we will aim a bit higher with sourdough. Maybe we film an elaborate tiktok with our family. Maybe we will tear up all the carpet in the upstairs bedrooms and refinish the hardwood floors. Maybe we will design an app for timing the maturation of a sourdough starter or create a home-built drone out of Lego blocks and a kit bought online. Maybe we’ll finish the scrapbook we started two years ago or take up knitting.

At some point just sitting there and taking it all in just isn’t enough. You got to make something. What is satisfying about creating things, even if they’re not Martha-Stewart-perfect? I’m not sure, but it feels so elemental, it must be encoded in the human genome. “I made this!” cried the cave-person who painted on the walls in Altamira. “And so did I!” shouted the much-later human who created the wheel and axle. “As did we!” said the various people who invented and improved the telescope. Leaving aside questions of who got there first, and whether these creations were solo or group projects, or even whether these creators knew their work was going to be problematic for the “higher ups,” you just know that they felt fantastic about what they had done.

Same thing with banana bread – on a slightly more modest scale. The endorphins are released, and the baker feels, “I am here. I have forged rotten bananas into sustenance for myself and those around me. Huzzah!”

When our distractions and entertainments are whittled down to a precious few, we realize that life is better when you’re making things.

So let’s go make some stuff. Even after we get vaccinated.

web business

How do I find a web designer?

  • Go local, that’s just my preference. Local designers know the market, may know the competition, have local resources and — most important — can actually meet with you to go over details. Doing absolutely everything over the phone or via email is okay, but it’s not always ideal.
  • Get a reference. Do you have a neighbor or friend or colleague who has a website you like? Ask them who they worked with and were they happy with it
  • Check out the websites of competitors (of similar size) Very often there’s a credit link to the design firm at the bottom of the page
  • Check your local chamber of commerce or better business bureau
  • There really is nothing wrong with doing a google search for a local web design firm. Your first problem will be an overwhelming number of choices.
    • Look for a portfolio. Do you like the work? Do they work in a style that meshes with yours?
    • Does their portfolio have examples of the kind of work you need? Like shopping carts or animation or blogs?
    • Many companies (but not all) now put pricing plans on line. This can be very helpful in finding out if you can afford their work, and if they work on projects like yours. Just because the pricing is not posted, doesn’t mean you can’t afford it. Contact them with a brief description of your project and ask for a typical price range for projects like this. Whoever you work with, be sure to talk to them in detail about your work and get it in writing.
  • Things to beware of:
    • A portfolio with hundreds and hundreds of websites. Real companies only put their best work online. Hundreds of websites = webfarm. Don’t expect too much.
    • A portfolio that is full of errors: spelling, grammar, pages that don’t load, images that are over there when they should be over here. Your site will not be any better
    • A firm that gives you a price without asking about your project
  • Things that you may be surprised about, but shouldn’t be.
    • Most of the best design firms will not do work ‘on spec’. That is, they will not not provide free sample pages and then hope you choose them to design your site. Students or companies who are just starting out may do this in order to build their portfolios … but the business relationship will not be there.
    • Most professional design firms require installment payments once a mutual agreement has been reached to start a project. That is, xx% up front, xx% midway, and xx% on completion. Scope of work and payment can be a challenging area to navigate, and it is always advisable to clearly explain the what is provided and what is expected.

No matter what kind of project you’ve got, there is a web designer for you. From the one page “Get to Know Me” site, to the next, there’s a firm out there who can do the work. And if you take a couple of wrong turns while you’re looking for them, so what? Education is never a waste. When you speak with potential designers, ask them what kind of work they do best, and beware of folks that only seem to be paying lip service. You’ll have a more productive relationship with a designer who will be honest about what your expectations should be, gently but firmly push you out of your comfort zone, and who will be forthcoming about areas in which they are not an expert. You should always look for a vendor who asks lots of questions about your business and — even if they are not an expert in your field — understands your overall mission and goals. Trust me, the designer wants you to be happy with their work. They want to add your site to their portfolio, and they want you to tell all your friends! They have lots of incentive to do great work for you.  You’re the expert on your business, and they’re the experts on web design. As long as everyone keeps that in mind, your project will be  golden.


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Why I Started and Stayed with Aaptiv

Some time just before Thanksgiving I read an article about Aaptiv, an audio-based training app. Aaptiv has pre-recorded training sessions for different activities: some in the gym, some outside, some strength, lots of cardio, and tons of coaches. There is also a real music (not muzak) soundtrack behind every session. Truthfully I think I had subconsciously been trying to create this app on my own for years. I would make workout ‘mix tapes’ and then write down training routines I had seen in magazines. Then I’d plug in and try to do them without dropping my cheatsheet in the grass or just losing my place and giving up.

I signed up for a month-long trial membership with Aaptiv, and was pretty much hooked after two weeks. To my surprise I committed to a six week program called ‘Walk to Run One Mile’. I am not a runner. I probably hadn’t run a mile since junior high school. But I did it. The feeling of elation when I completed the program was overwhelming. I had run almost two miles without stopping, no asterisks! And the reason I did it was because of the coach’s minute-by-minute instructions and encouragement. Even on the days when working out was the last thing I wanted to do, I would remember the rewarding feeling of the coach saying, “You are a-MAY-zing!”

I have never met an Aaptiv trainer I didn’t like, but so far my favorites are Ben, Ackeem and Jade. Ben is like the energizer bunny and was particularly good at getting this self-doubting athlete to “just try.” Ackeem is like a spiritual drill sargeant. You definitely don’t want to let him down. Jade is no-nonsense mellow, and always helps me to reboot my mind. In every workout, whether it’s walking or yoga or meditation, I am grateful for the the positive messages I can take into the rest of my day. They are almost more important to me than the workout itself.

I am not shilling for the app, although I am obviously a fan. TBH, the strength workouts are harder for me to follow. I don’t always know what the moves are, and the verbal descriptions can be confusing. (A half turkish get-up, wha?) but I flail around anyway and google it later.

So what are the results so far? I’m still working out with Aaptiv three or more times a week. I’ve lost some weight and toned up a bit, but the biggest change is in my confidence. I definitely look forward to the “me time” of working out. Deciding what session to download is almost like shopping for shoes!