Things Teachers Taught Me

For a long while, I’ve had this idea of authoring a book (I have many ideas for books…) about inspirational things or solid advice that past teachers or life experiences have taught me.

Throughout my career, I have had some great (and some dreadful) teachers and some equally outstanding life lessons both bitter and sweet. Recently, I was chatting with a friend who asked if I would want to be 20 all over again, and was surprised when I said no, I wouldn’t. Which got me thinking: I really have very few regrets. All of the worst moments of my life, and the most difficult challenges have equipped me to handle just about anything. The confidence I have earned was not born, it was bred… and is a hard-won patina earned through wounds and scars.

Similarly, a few years ago, I had a bit of an epiphany. I have a few friends that are more than a few years younger than me and I often find myself mentoring them on big life decisions. NO!, I would think… DON’T do THAT! Because my age and experience gives me a reasonable gauge of how THAT experience might turn out. My intent had always been to save my friends the hurt and anguish of making a bad decision with an outcome made more clear by age and wisdom. But, I realized, it is exactly the many poor choices followed by hurt or misery that fortified me and made me who I am today. Sparing them hurt would be disabling their ability to build coping mechanisms and confidence. Perhaps that is the teacher in me. Perhaps not. Scandinavian parents have an adage: Telling a baby not to touch a hot stove means nothing. However, when a child touches a hot stove, he will feel the burn. He will learn on his own not to touch the stove again. Certainly no parent of the year award there, but some pretty powerful psychology nonetheless.

So further to my goal of writing a book of good advice, here is my top 15 list of things I’ve learned from great teachers:

1. Always ask nicely and acknowledge that people are busy and don’t owe you an answer. When you get an answer, be grateful and say thank you.

2. It is indeed lonely at the top.

3. You pay a price for being a smart person in a stupid world.

4. Communicate. In a communication vacuum, people will make up their own details… which often will be worse than actuality.

5. Success is more often celebrated with a stab in the back than a pat on the back.

6. There is a big difference between being cordial and being friends.

7. The past is not the future.

8. Leadership is about doing the work for others and letting them get the accolades and credit for it.

9. Read everything you can, but read it carefully. Most people don’t read carefully.

10. People learn differently. People think differently.

11. Uniformity and conformity are so powerful they usually self-extinguish.

12. Organization is the key to simplicity.

13. Wealth is relative and ultimately unimportant.

14. Noble aims are unsupported by broken means.

15. Karma is for real.

Branding Matters In Local Government, And Atlanta Is Leading The Way

Place branding was the topic of my dissertation. I’ve continued to research and chart it since my dissertation was published, and it’s interesting to see how the entire branding exercise became so incredibly short-sighted and messy, and how that disorder eventually evolved into a better solution that is both responsible and functional.

From Fast Company:

Not all cities have a budget for design, but Atlanta’s department of urban planning is showing why they should.

Source: Branding Matters In Local Government, And Atlanta Is Leading The Way

Creepy Soviet Space Shuttles Are Sitting in a Kazakhstan Desert

Image by Ralph Mirebs, originally published in National Geographic.

This amazing article in National Geographic charts the story of a brave soul, Alexander Kaunas, and his companion, photographer Ralph Mirebs, who broke in to the former Soviet cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. 

Amazing images, amazing legacy, amazing bravery.

Inside the Secret World of Russia’s Cold War Mapmakers

This article about Soviet mapmaking first appeared in Wired. It’s fascinating that the Soviets were making *very* detailed maps of the United States while it was illegal for Soviet citizens to possess or make maps of their own cities.

Read the entire article at Wired.

A 1980 Soviet map of San Diego naval facilities (left) compared with a US Geological Survey map of the same area, from 1978 (revised from 1967). KENT LEE/EAST VIEW GEOSPATIAL; USGS Originally published at

Happy Third Birthday, Florence!

It’s hard to believe that I’m entering the fourth year of living in Florence! Life in an Airstream continues to be a comfortable dream come true, and I couldn’t be happier that we made the decision to buy Florence three summers ago! 

Happy Birthday, Florence!

You can read the whole original story here.

One Pie Can

I am a sucker for supermarket history and I love to stumble across old-school labels and products. There’s something amazing when a product is so reliable that the label doesn’t change for decades.

I was stumbling around my favorite local store tonight picking up a few items that aren’t available at Aldi (wax paper, washing soda) and I stumbled across this gem. I couldn’t resist snagging a can just because of the great label.

The Cultural Implications of The Great British Bake Off 

This is not my post, but a re-port of a fine article that captures not only the success of this great show, but the cultural reasons for it… it’s the sort of post that piques my American Studies background in a curious manner.

From the original post from Luke Dempsey at The Kitchn:

Tonight PBS airs the Season 3 finale of The Great British Baking Show, the stupendously popular show that taught Americans the meaning of a proper sponge, and introduced them to the steely gaze of Paul Hollywood and cool evaluation of Mary Berry. To mark the occasion, we asked English expat Luke Dempsey to explore his complicated relationship with England past, present, and fantasy. If you had a happy early childhood, as I did, The Great British Baking Show takes you right back to it, to a place where people are uncomplicated and kind and careful of each other. There is no ego, only fun for the sake of it (and there’s a lot of sugar). Set in the grounds of a stately home, in a big tent reminiscent of those used for a local fair (note, there has to be a tent—this is Britain, where the climate is made up of weather, not seasons), the show reeks, to some, of a halcyon time that never existed. Which is why it’s so powerful.

Read the entire original article at: My Complicated Relationship with The Great British Baking Show — Feature Story | The Kitchn

How to wash anything made from wood.

A long time ago, my grandmother taught me how to do a deep spring cleaning and we washed hardwood floors and all the wood furniture in the house. I still use this method to this day, and it’s easy, foolproof and keeps wood from drying out.



You’ll need:

  • 3-4 rags. Old flannels or old towels cut into 12 inch squares work best.
  • Two buckets filled about 3/4 of the way with lukewarm water. (I remember the day my grandmother showed me this method, I didn’t know what lukewarm meant, so if you don’t know: it means it’s warm to the touch, but not hot.)
  • About a cup or so of white vinegar. Pour it into bucket #1.
  • Murphy’s Oil Soap about a 1/4 of a cup. Pour it into bucket #2.

Wash down the wood with the water vinegar solution and while it’s still damp, wash down with the Murphy’s Oil Soap solution.

After the wood has dried, buff to a shine with a dry rag. You can use polish (like Old English or Pledge), but it’s not necessary.

I’ve learned, over time, that other cleansers tend to attract dirt over time. This method won’t, and the oil in Murphy’s keeps wood nourished and looking great!


Happy 2nd Birthday, Florence!


It is incredibly unbelievable to think that two years ago today, Dan and I drove—on a whim—across Southern Ontario, across New York State, and across Massachusetts to look at an Airstream.

The dream started when I was in architecture school, and I fell in love with the 2001–2006 CCM Series designed by Christopher Deam, husband of Dwell magazine founder, Laura Deam. I remember looking at the Airstream catalog (!) and thinking: one day, I want to live in one of those. At the time, the price seemed impossible, but I never stopped thinking about it.

Arriving—exhausted—in Massachusetts, we fell in love instantly. (The picture above is proof: me sitting on the bumper, as we were “kicking the tires.” You can tell how happy I am: a.) because I rarely smile, and b.) because I never have my picture taken.)

We had a quick meal at Chipotle (around the corner from where the Airstream was then living) and decided to do it. The snap decision was not only uncharacteristic for me, but for Dan as well. A week later, she was delivered to my parents driveway (for a thorough cleaning) and soon after to her current home.

I remember how nervous we were. All of the fears and reservations (and outright worries) we had, all of the minor difficulties that seemed sure to become insurmountable impossibilities. Moments after arrival, the ease of ownership melted all of those fears quickly, and the first (arctic) winter froze any lingering fears: the Airstream was comfortable, formidable, rugged and lived up to the promise of “easy living in a land yacht”

Looking back, I couldn’t be happier that we took the leap. Florence (our Airstream) has proven to be a happy second home and is, truly, a dream come true.

Happy Birthday, Florence!

Spring Cleaning

Time for a little bit of spring cleaning. Now with Molly living in Florence part time, there seems to be evidence of cat everywhere. In such tiny quarters, a little mess goes a long way, so I brought out the big guns: my grandma’s vacuum cleaner (that I have had forever.)

Angie's Eureka Empress Vacuum Cleaner

This vacuum cleaner will be 60 years old next year. It is—without reservation—the most trusty appliance I own. It needs zero maintenance. Works like a charm, and cleans really well. Most amazing: I can still find bags that fit!

In any case, Florence is a little more tidy and ready for summer… at least inside. Outside maintenance starts happening next week. That’s when I’ll tackle the hot water tank that seems to have stopped working.