The Fruit Bin

The day we moved into the house, we found the blueprints on the mantle. The neat pile had been left for us by the former owners, the ones who said, This house has good karma. Five weary, yellowed scrolls. We unfurled them one by one, revealing the original plans for the bungalow when it was built in 1926.

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This is our third home. It’s not the oldest (our first will likely always have that honor, having been built in 1831) and not the youngest (our SoBro bungalow was four years younger), but it’s the first for which we’ve had these artifacts. Something about having these plans make ownership feel more serious, more like stewardship. We’re just the fifth owners, and we’ll likely still live here when the house turns one hundred.

I’m so grateful for those four owners who tucked these brittle papers away into a safe place, and found it right to leave these with the house when their time in it ended. It is because of their stewardship that I know to call the storage room in the basement the “fruit bin.” I love this little detail – it feels like a secret I’m not supposed to know, something I’ve been let in on.

Now it’s or turn to be the caretakers, the keepers of the fruit bin.

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This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Prompt: “Let’s Get Physical. Time to go through your (actual) desktop, junk drawer, or coat pockets and share an artifact from your past. A half-torn ticket stub, once-washed receipt, coffee-stained map, anything in a frame: it’s all fair game. What springs to mind from your artifact? The smells, sights, and sounds? A specific feeling? Hold it in your hand, close your eyes, and go back in time to a moment.”

 

 

Automagic Meeting Manager

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Dear inventor-types of the internet,

I have a very special, super important request. You know that whole thing where you ask people how they’re doing and they say Busy!? Well, I’m here to say that it’s true.

A lot of people are really, really busy. Occasionally, some of those busy people need to meet in places to talk about things, and scheduling it can be an absolute nightmare. Am I right?! It’s really the only part of my job that I don’t like, and the one thing I often say is the hardest thing I do.

All I really need is for some magical, all-knowing being to detect the first sign of a meeting suggestion, and immediately swoop into action synching and cross-referencing calendars. Once a time and place is found, this being (a purpose fairy? Siri?) can book the time and place, notifying all participants via their preferred calendaring systems. Automagic meeting manager to the rescue!

While we’re at it, I have a few feature requests. It would not be bad if the automagic scheduling fairy made sure everyone had clarity on the purpose of the meeting. Another cool feature (maybe after the beta version?) would be a BS meeting detector that beeps and flashes and warns you that you might be scheduling an unnecessary meeting. It could even give helpful hints like, Try a quick standing check-in, or This seems like a time for an old-fashioned email thread!

No big deal. Just a simple platform. You guys are already coding this up, right?

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Lifeline prompt: “Make It So. What one technology do you hope becomes a reality in 2015? Is it helpful? Revolutionary? Or just plain cool?”

No. 1 Word

culture

On the way into work this morning, I heard a radio story about Merriam-Webster’s word of the year. That word? Culture.

The word is chosen based on total volume and percentage increase of searches online. They mentioned multiple uses—from the classroom, to pop culture to company culture—all contributing to the uptick in seeking out this word.

Culture is something I think about every day in my job, whether it’s how to foster healthy culture at SmallBox as we grow, or how to consult with our clients as they look to improve their own. From where I sit, I hear questions about culture all of the time. What is culture? What do we really mean? I’ve noticed some companies try to reduce culture to a picnic or other perks, hoping these things alone will create long-term cultural change. It’s so much more than that.

Merriam-Webster defines it this way:

cul·ture

noun \’kəl-chər\

: the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time
: a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, etc.
: a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business)

This is the meaty part: “thinking, behaving.” Culture for companies is all about how we view the world, and the way our beliefs are brought to life. It’s how a group of people behave when they come together to form a greater sum.

I’ve come to think of core values as one of the best tools a business has for culture building. I don’t mean the kind that an executive went into a black box to write, then post on a fancy plaque. I mean values that were inherent in the business, the kind that people are reviewed on and given praise when they model them. Values can serve as an incredible lens for decision making, becoming a sort of moral compass for the organization. Will this help us be more collaborative? More ______? (Fill in the blank with your own company values).

I love that culture emerged as the word of the year. If it just gets a handful of executives at major companies to think about the work environment they’re creating, then that’s a big win. Year-round I conduct informational interviews with employee prospects, students, recent grads. My own experience is very in line with the increase detected my Merriam-Webster. People are clamoring for workplaces where they can be themselves, find meaning. The chorus has reached a fever pitch: “I just want to be in a place with a good culture.”

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Prompt: “Lucky Numbers. Time to get mathematical – and yes, you may use a calculator. Was there a significant number in your year? A birthday? A first? A personal record? A date now carved in the annals of time? A number that represents a streak, whether winning or losing, good or bad? A bellwether or a lagging indicator or just…three.”

More Cowbell

Before seeing their live performance at TedxIndianapolis, I had heard several people rave about Sweet Poison Victim. I listened to a track on Musical Family Tree and liked what I heard, but not to the level of over-the-topness I was getting from others.

And then I saw them on stage—the horns, the drums, the dancing, the energy.

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Image credit: TedxIndianapolis

The video hardly does it justice because of the sound, but just watch the female vocalist. Here’s a person doing something she was born to do, bursting with vitality and joy. (The other time I noticed someone doing what they were born to do this year was at the Buckwheat Zydeco concert at the Jazz Kitchen. Maybe it’s a musician thing?) Their performance was absolutely infectious.

I couldn’t help but think I hope I someday bring that kind of energy to something I do. When Jeffrey Cufaude came to give a training at SmallBox, he said something that struck a chord: Be the Presence & the Energy. He was referring to facilitation, but I’d like to apply that much more broadly. I may not be at cowbell level intensity right now, but perhaps I can cultivate that over time.

Sweet Poison Victim EP on MFT:

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Prompt: “Look Outward, Look Inward. By telescope or microscope, or no scope at all – what did you discover? A new aspect of yourself? A favorite artist, musician, or variety of cheese? Did you discover something about a loved one? A familiar or new-to-you place? Be broad, be narrow, or be surprising.”

Namaste, C’est la vie

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During today’s run along the Central Canal Towpath, I saw two ducks wildly splashing in a tail spin. One duck was clearly dominating, but both violently stabbed at one another with their beaks. It was gut instinct to break it up, and not knowing what else to do, I started clapping loudly in hopes it would spook them.

I learned about how clapping scattered birds when I was a kid. My grandmother has a great tree in her front yard. I remember how it would fill up with black birds. I never knew what drove her so crazy about them—their cacophony of twitters and caws, or the blueberry-stained droppings they left all over. She’d go after them, “CLAP, CLAP, CLAP” and they’d take fright-flight, startled up into the sky, the sound of hundreds of flapping wings.

So I stood on the banks of the Canal, “CLAP, CLAP, CLAP.”

The ducks just kept circling after each other, thrashing their wings in the water. A female duck tried to intervene, with slight beak nudges to the two fighters. There was biting of tails and wings, then the stronger of the two started taking the other down, plunging its head under water.

Horrified, I thought, I’m going to stand here and watch this duck murder happen. Is there something I can throw toward them? Should I jump in?

I cracked my hands together harder and faster, until my hands hurt from clapping.

Finally, the submerged duck managed to get his head back up for air. They nipped and splashed a bit more before the weaker bird broke free.

And this is why I can’t watch nature programs. Universe, sometimes I can’t handle your cruelty. One day you make my heart swell with beauty and goodness, then you crush me with your harsh realities.

Namaste, C’est la vie.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Prompt: “Put Down Your Blog… And pick up a pen! Or pencil. Heck – we’d settle for a crayon. You don’t have to stay in-between ruled lines, but we do want you to write something by hand. Sure, a letter comes to mind. But so does a recipe you discovered this year. A poem. A series of tweets that is a poem. A contract with yourself – or someone else. Whatever you get on paper – write it, then photograph & blog it. Cursive or manuscript, we promise not to grade on penmanship.”

Mulligan Balloons

IMG_8698.JPGI remember the first time I heard the word mulligan. I was volunteering at golf outing for a charity, and a re-do on a bad swing could be purchased for a few bucks. I knew nothing about golf, but I liked the word, and that each mulligan was represented by a helium balloon. Once purchased, the mulligans were tied to the back of the golf cart, where they bobbed around in the wind until set free by a bad swing.

Of course, real life doesn’t work that way. We just have to push through the bad stuff and hopefully learn from our mistakes. But if I could have a mulligan, I’d use it for stuff like this:

Earlier this year, in a moment of complete lapse in judgment, I decided Velveeta cheese was a good idea. The weather had been brutal, polar vortex-y, forcing us to hole up inside. Comfort foods beckoned. The Super Bowl was happening.

Somehow that slippery-sloped into craving drippy, gooey queso dip made with Velveeta. There were rumors, a purported Velveeta shortage afoot. Despite those reports, we found neat stacks of the signature golden rectangle box piled high. (A marketing ploy? Proof that Indianapolans are discerning folks with superior taste in cheese?) I think they were actually BOGO, because somehow we ended up with two blocks, all of the processed cheese a girl could want. Or, never want to see again ever. MULLIGAN!

Bad processed cheese decisions? Fine. But I don’t really believe in mulligans for the big stuff. A do-over would erase knowledge gained from past mistakes. Sounds like a sure-fire way to get trapped in an infinite Mulligan loop. Life is full of forks in the roads, unexpected detours, hard choices. You set a course. You live. You react. You learn.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Prompt: “Mulligan. We’ve put another quarter in the slot – free play! Hit the reset button on a moment this year: what would you do over? Whether or not you analyze your actions – how would you act differently? Would the outcomes shift, or stay the same? From a single sentence to a whole day (and everything in-between), feel free to explain your choice, from how you felt immediately after the moment passed, to any thoughts that ran through your mind beforehand. Take a mulligan!”

Whoooo’s there?

owl

Meet the Barred Owl. This was my first sighting. A couple of expert birders and Eagle Creek devotees led Louie and I to this spot. There were no guarantees we’d find one, but they knew the regular haunts of the owls. We ventured off trail, sank through snow half-way up to our shins.

We were given tips to help scout. In the winter, Barred Owls will likely roost in evergreen trees. Their feather markings blend with the tree, so we should look out for a strange lump on a branch – we’d likely notice the shape being off before really “seeing” the owl. Finally, they’d be higher up in the tree, around 20′ up or so.

Louie had his pair of binoculars – he’s had them since he was a kid. I looked through the zoom lens of our camera. I forget who saw the owl first, but someone called us over, pointed up at the sky. Even then, it took a while for my eyes to focus in and find him. Looking at the picture, it seems obvious, but this is with the benefit of zoom. Without the expert birders, I doubt I’d ever have noticed this quiet soul resting up there.

Getting to know birds helped me understand the power of awareness in a new way. Louie and I put up backyard bird feeders in January. With the help of a guide book, we’ve learned the names of a lot of new birds. Some of them, being both common and distinct, make me wonder how in the world I never noticed them before. Now that I know what a Nuthatch looks like, I see them all the time as I walk the Monon Trail. I’m beginning to recognize the calls of some of the birds too. Now that I know these things, I see and hear them everywhere.

I can’t help but wonder what other secrets of the universe my brain is hiding from me. What happenings am I editing out? What other beings share my space, undetected? I know my mind is just trying to parse out what’s important and protect me from being overwhelmed. Birds helped me realize just how much I’m capable of filtering out. They’ve pushed me to see what I don’t see, or at least to try.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Prompt: “Hi, I’m ______. Nametags and punchbowls aren’t necessary (but we’re okay with that!) – who did you meet this year? Was it awkward? Enlightening? Was your first impression correct? Was it accidental & meant to be, pre-arranged, or somewhere in-between? Whether you found a soulmate, held a new baby, or finally trusted someone to style your hair just so, write about a new person (or people) in your life.”

Early Warning Sign

Just after the new year, I had an early warning sign. I saw Neko Case at the Vogue. She performed an a cappella song I hadn’t heard yet. Go ahead and press play (this will all make more sense if you experience this):

Her words weighted me down, my eyes closed, in hope that by not seeing I might hear more. It seemed brave of her, serenading us with this haunting pill to swallow. I was almost completely transported, except for the occasional shout or guffaw pulling me back to the beer-drenched Vogue. So many inebriated and/or self-absorbed people were loud-talking, oblivious to what was happening on stage. And there you have it: the first time I wanted to shush people at a concert.

This was something strange and foreign for me. The beginning of becoming the curmudgeonly one. That was in January, and it was just the beginning.

Of course this is the inevitable change, the aging. It comes faster now that the door is open. Over Thanksgiving break, in her kitchen, my mom told me it accelerates year after year. I get whiplash just thinking about it.

The evidence mounted. I bought decaf coffee for the house for the first time. Louie and I brought the average age down a solid 10-15 years at the Eagle Creek bird walk. My co-workers’ eyes glazed over when I mentioned Buffalo Stance, subjected them to bad eighties videos of L’Trimm and Sir Mix-a-Lot’s Buttermilk Biscuits.

And the real kicker. I caught myself saying, “In my day…” And not in jest.

But no, really! In my day…

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Prompt: “Weird. Wild. Wacky. Time to get weird. We want to hear your strangest story from the last year (or more). Will it make us raise an eyebrow or three? That’s what we want. Whether it’s a tale of colliding coincidences, a strange Saturday you just can’t shake, or if it makes you squirm just to remember: get weird.”

These Three Things

When I thought of the top three things I’m looking forward to in 2015, my list shaped up like so:

1) A real vacation.
We were so focused on house hunting and buying, that we never took a proper vacation. We visited family out of town, took a weekend trip to Chicago, and I traveled for work a couple of times. So while I got to travel a bit, it wasn’t enough to sate my wanderlust. I took a brief stay-cation, and my only extended vacation was dedicated to moving. You know, the thing where you pack and clean and haul stuff around? It’s a lot of work, and not remotely vacation-like. We haven’t decided what trips we’ll take, but I’m being called westward. Any recommendations?

2) Redeeming myself in the marathon department.
I finished the Flying Pig in May, but it wasn’t pretty. This experience merits its own post at some point. I’m still surprised I made it, truth be told. Given my running plans between now and the end of the year (I am registered for the Santa Hustle Half Marathon), I estimate I’ll have run 700 miles or so this year. It sounds like a lot, but I thought I’d be more on pace to run 100 miles most months, or at least 1,000 miles total. In 2015, I’m upping the number of miles, but I mostly want to enjoy the marathon I run in 2015 as much I enjoyed the one I ran in 2013, and decidedly unlike the not-so-enjoyable outing of 2014.

One of my favorite running pics from 2014:

Accidentally timed that out perfectly. Mile 10 of 12.

A photo posted by Sara McGuyer (@sara_mc) on

3) Destination racing.
For the last couple of years, since I started running, I’ve been talking with friends from college about meeting up for a race and reunion. While we’re all scattered across the country, many of us have came to running on our own. I know that sounds weird that marathoning is part of my ideal vacation plan, but I’ve become the sort of person who travels with running shoes. This year I managed to get in 15 lakefront miles in a weekend to Chicago. I ran in my hometown over Thanksgiving, a lovely turkey and pie-fueled 5-miler. Packing running gear has become my default.

After I wrote these three things out, I realized how much they coincide. It’s my brain telling me it’s time for a break. Vacation is critical for head space, and running long distance is the best meditation I know. To another year of pounding the pavement!

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Prompt: “Just Can’t Wait. The calendar still says 2014, but let’s push forward. What are you looking forward to in 2015? Is there an event, special occasion, or reunion that you’re counting down the days until? Planning a trip? A life change? A move? Or maybe it’s the simple pleasures – the release of a movie, something or someone hitting a stage near you.”

Books, Meet Vinyl (Please)

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Fair warning:
I’ve been on my soapbox about the book industry since 2010. A recent shopping trip dredged up all my old rants. I think I’ll keep shouting until I get a call from a publishing giant wanting to hire me as a consultant to help with digital strategy.

Oh! Better make one more disclaimer:
I worked at Barnes & Noble for seven years. I loved working there (or I wouldn’t have stayed so long) and I still adore them. I write this out of love for books in printed form, and from a place of some knowledge about the industry.

Now for a bit of background:
In 2010, I made a conscious choice to rekindle my vinyl-collecting habit, after years of going the download-only route. I am just old enough that I had a tiny vinyl collection in the eighties. Thriller was the first album I recall having, but my sister and I also had gems from Tiffany, Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam and more. In high school and college, I started collecting again, albeit sporadically, as indie rockers started releasing interesting stuff on vinyl. It wasn’t until 2010 when more and more releases bundled vinyl with a digital download that I amped up my collecting. I love the best of both worlds, what can I say? Having the collector’s item and superior listening experience of vinyl, while still being able to listen on my iPhone? Win-win.

I’ve been saying since then, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the publishing industry followed suit? If you bought a hardcover or a trade paperback and you got a digital download code as well?

Cut to the winter of 2014, to that recent shopping trip I mentioned. I spied this little sticker on a book at B&N:

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Buy this book, get the eBook for $4.99

Okay, that’s a start… bundling the two. It’d be better if it was just bundled into the price, no separate purchase required. But progress is progress.

Then there’s the fine and even finer print. Uh oh. Things start to fall apart…

Limited-Time Offer
Valid in story only.

So, if I buy the book as a gift for someone, they can’t add the download later. I must choose right then and there, or lose the option altogether.

Here’s a chance to think bigger, beyond increasing the average ticket sale. The digital download shouldn’t be some few buck upsell, it should be a key part of the product that keeps people buying print. My fear is that this experiment with the add-on download option will fail, not because it’s a bad idea to bundle them, but because asking for a second purchase won’t jive with a world where free downloads are all around.

In the Neilson SoundScan 2014 Mid-Year Music Industry Report, overall music consumption, both sales and streaming, was down 3.3%, while vinyl sales were up 40.4%. For now, print books are still outselling digital books, but why wait for crisis? Could the book industry see similar hardcover sales percentage gains as vinyl, if the industry plans for the reader of the future? This is no time for heads in sand.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Prompt: “Rants & Raves. Get on your soapbox. What issue, idea, or stance were you vocal about this year? Or did you let it internally build up? Was there an event, person, or time that triggered your strong reaction? Or was it a slow-burn? Why do you feel so strongly – is it personal? Emotional? Strictly reasonable? Show us some passion – make your argument from the mountaintop!”