Lara Schenck

Lara (not Laura) is a web consultant, teacher, and cocktail enthusiast in New York City. She teaches front-end development for designers, facilitates corporate trainings with Decoded, and builds WordPress sites with Timber. She grew up on a llama farm in Pennsylvania.

More at notlaura.com and @laras126.

Published Thoughts

The time a bird shat on my laptop.

Before I get into the bird poop story, let’s talk about guilt.

Guilt is my method of self-discipline. When in moderation, guilt keeps me on track; it keeps me working on what I should, and it keeps me from ordering Indian food when I really shouldn't. But when unmoderated, guilt is crippling, particularly when it comes to sunshine.

Wait, sunshine?

Winters in New York City are miserable. Well, I can’t speak for Minneapolis or Chicago, but they’re still bad. You can’t cross a street without picking your way through ankle deep, black slush. The warm breath steaming from the subway grates is a toasty treat. Cancel your plans if there’s a snow storm; the trains won’t be running, you won’t get a cab, and the Uber surge will render you unwilling to purchase the dinner for which you are en route. You’ll have many an evening with Netflix, and the aforementioned Indian food will adjust your midriff accordingly...assuming the bicycling delivery person doesn’t slip on the ice (which happened to me before, talk about a guilt trip).

As you can imagine, when spring and summer finally come around it’s downright euphoric. New York is alive. Everyone is happy, the sun is shining, and cold-brew iced coffee is back on the menu. As long as you avoid the sweaty, shoulder-to-shoulder L-train situation, it’s bliss.

Back to guilt. I spend the majority of these precious sunshine-filled hours in the air conditioned sanctum of my coworking space, watching the perfect weather pass by through a window, emerging only to purchase lunch to eat back at my computer. I glance out the window and think, what am I doing?! I work for myself. I should be outside, catching rays because I can but…I want to work. I love to work. And working necessitates outlets and WiFi, amenities associated with the indoors. Catching rays isn’t really an option.

Or is it?

One particular day, on the way to said coworking space, I thought, I’m fully charged and it’s sunny as hell. I’m going to work outside. I’m going to catch those rays while writing HTML. I’m going to have my cake and eat it too.

You can probably see where this is going.

After scoping out the perfect, sun-soaked bench in the illustrious Tompkins Square Park, I whipped out my MacBook Pro and assumed laptop posture. The park even had WiFi. It didn’t work, but it’s the thought that counts, right? No matter, I connected to my hotspot, and my cake eating was underway. I was stoked.

I soon realized some flaws in this plan. First, the heat. Not the sun per se, but the actual laptop. It was scorching my thighs. Again, no matter, I moved my bag to beneath the laptop and on top of my sweaty legs. Problem solved.

But then the major flaw: battery life. The sun was strong, and my brightness was at max; I had ripped through about 40% in 20 minutes. My phone was quite warm as well, and the hotspot was crushing battery life. All of a sudden it was at 11%, and I hadn’t brought a cord.

Dark thoughts ensued. Is this really worth it? What have I accomplished so far? Am I, god forbid, wasting time? Did I make the wrong decision? Why do I torture myself when it comes to sunshine of all things? My mind started to wander, and I enviously eyed a happy, bagel-eating couple a few benches away.

Then it happened: a light colored something dropped right in front of my face. I see on the left of my laptop, below the screen, a wad of white and green bird shit. And with that shit, a waterfall of expletives, shoulds, and guilt. I had wasted my golden hours of morning productivity, and all I had was a shit-laden computer to show for it.

should have gone to the coworking space as usual. I shouldn't feel guilty for wanting to work instead of romping in the sunshine. In my short 26 years, it’s a huge accomplishment for me to even know what I feel like doing in the first place.

Yes, it’s important to be outside. Yes, it’s important to spend time away from work and the computer, to be in the sunshine, and to select work locations that are not under trees in a park. That being said, after this bird poop incident, I have a slightly different perspective.

The reason I’m not romping in the park right now is because I love to work. Isn't that the ultimate goal anyway, to love what you do? To enjoy work so much that it becomes play; to blur that work-life line? I don’t think it’s New Yorker workaholic thing, I’m going to say it’s a happy-person-thing.

But in conclusion, as my very wise mother always says, everything in moderation. Blur the work-life line, but not so much that a bird shits on your laptop.

On cocktails, websites, and originality.

Cocktails are my thing. When one spends all day on the computer, it’s very important to have a non-computer “thing”. A few years ago I had a very good friend who was a cocktail bartender, and even though I learned how to spot a properly made Negroni vs. a disaster (one does not shake a Negroni), the act of making the actual drinks was a mystery to me. I knew there was some logic to it, but I was still in awe when I saw a bartender mix something up off-menu. Ah, the magic of the “mixologist” – which, for what it’s worth, is a term most bartenders consider a bit of a joke.

Anyhow, sometime last year I decided to start making my own cocktails instead of just snootily commenting on others’. I spent my pocket money on spirits and liqueurs, took an online course, and started a cocktail blog. I became quite obsessed, and was just about ready to drop the websites thing and get behind a bar (that hasn’t happened, but I still flirt with the idea).

Back to my point. Cocktails are about patterns. It is really not hard to make a cocktail, and it’s not hard to come up with a new cocktail on the spot. Really. It’s all been done before (I mean, there are exceptions, but for the purposes of this article bear with me).

Let’s talk sours.

Take a daiquiri for instance. First of all, a daiquiri is not a frozen strawberry drink. Here’s the classic recipe:

2 oz white rum
3/4 oz fresh lime juice (you better squeeze your own)
1 oz simple syrup

Daiquiri
A classic daiquiri. Image courtesy Christopher Buecheler at DrinkShouts.

Yeah, not pink and frozen with an umbrella. And now a margarita, also not frozen and no mix involved:

2 oz tequila
3/4 oz fresh lime juice (again, squeeze your own)
1 oz Cointreau

And a sidecar:

2 oz cognac
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
1 oz simple syrup

See what I mean? The standard formula for a sour is two parts spirit to one part sweetener and to 3/4 sour. Now you can make literally hundreds of drinks by substituting other sweets, sours, and spirits. Way to go, you mixologist, you.

Now, let’s bring it back to the web. Look at a few websites and tell me how often you see this pattern:

Logo on the top left
Menu to the right of it
A hero
Some content
A footer with additional links

Every time I make a website and use these patterns, I feel like a cheater. Yet, when I create an off-the-cuff sour during my weeknight home-bartending ventures, I’m stoked! What’s the difference?

I’m a designer, that’s what. I’ll speak for myself, but we designers have a ridiculous streak of pride. By nature we want to make original things, we want to innovate, and do anything but copy.

Now, here’s how I like my daiquiri:

1 1/2 oz white rum
1/2 oz Smith and Cross Jamaican rum
3/4 oz lime
3/4 oz simple syrup

Different, but the same. I cut down on the syrup a bit, but after you drink a certain number of daiquiris you realize what you like. And Smith and Cross? Stole that idea from a bartender at Dutch Kills.

I like to think of design that way - there are certain formulae that work. Let’s use those as the foundation, and add our own flavor. Take them and make them your own. Substitute and synthesize. Instead of avoiding these patterns because of my scoffing, inner designer, I’ll make my websites like I make my daiquiris.

P.S. Life Pro Tip: To make friends with a (cocktail) bartender, go solo on a slow night (Sunday-Tuesdays are best) and sit at the bar. Ask them how they like their daiquiri, and order that. Then ask how they like their Negroni and order that. Then say, “I’ll close it up with a shot of Fernet, and one for yourself if you like.” Odds are you won’t pay for the shot.