The Making of YAY

For a long time, I had the entrepreneurial bug, but starting my own business was a moving target, always at least a few years out. In the last year, my energy started shifting. Suddenly, it became, Why not now?

When I was younger, I thought it made sense to wait until the timing was just right. I’d baked this ideal scenario where I could have the resources right out of the gate to hire a small team, maybe even have an office space, and vowed not to start until then. Being incredibly team-oriented and an extrovert who gets energy from working with others, I saw my ideal as necessary.

And because SmallBox was a once in a lifetime workplace, it was easy to be content where I was, pushing business dreams into a distant future.

In the last year, the energy shift began, slow but sure. The client projects I was working on had me completely enthralled: helping Regenstrief Institute with their rebrand as they moved into a newly built space, working with the former Partnership for Philanthropic Planning on renaming as National Association of Charitable Gift Planners, redesigning membership experience with the IU Alumni Association and teaching them design thinking methods along the way. Lydia Lodovisi, Sarah Herbert, and I created workshop curriculum and launched an educational offering for SmallBox. It was some of the most rewarding work of my career, and I’m sure will remain milestones for me, no matter what else I tackle.

At the same time, we were going through a long process to pivot the company. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but that process was helping me envision my future business. Jeb, our CEO always encouraged everyone to think like an owner. And I did! So much that I couldn’t let go of the vision I had for what would come to be Yes and Yonder.

Over my holiday break this winter, I had two weeks off for my reckoning. To make the leap, or not. In hindsight, I already knew the answer. It was more about sifting through the emotions of saying good bye to a great team, and starting the process of creating my new venture.

Once I allowed myself to admit I was starting a business, I thought of the name within a couple of days. “Yes and” is used in improv comedy, as well as by design thinking practitioners to build on ideas. This was one of the very first phrases that came to me. I love this positive, generative mindset. I tried it on with other words, but it seemed clunky. “Yes and Collab,” for example.

The other concept that commanded my attention is that generally when an organization hires a creative consulting firm, they have an inkling or spark of a better future, but they need some help getting there. Words like “inventive future” stuck in my mind. Also sort of clunky. “Yonder” emerged as the word that captured that place we want to go that does not yet exist, the one we will build together.

And there it was. Yes and Yonder. As a word nerd, I liked the alliteration. It projects two of three founding values (to be generative and inventive). All the better that the acronym is YAY.

Naming is one of the greatest (yet most fun!) brand challenges. It’s always disheartening to fall in love with a name, and find it is taken, or someone is squatting on the domain name. Having been hired for naming in the past, I can say it’s incredibly rare to choose a name so quickly. Even more so for it to be free and clear, available as a URL and social handles without compromising or changing spelling.

It felt like the universe was saying YES.

For the logo, I considered all kinds of images of adventure. Arrows and wayfinding. Horizons. Knapsacks. The idea of a treasure map led to the finished product. The x marks the spot.

yes-and-yonder-logoEverything else fell into place quickly. While the legal and financial side of things intimidated me, the reality was that for a small amount of money, a lawyer and the CPA handled everything. I simply had to provide a few bits of information and sign some papers. I am still stunned by the ease of the process.

More YES from the universe. And yonder we go…




The universe is always in flux, so waiting endlessly for perfection just means you’ll miss the boat.

Danny Gregory

Danny Gregory’s “Shut Your Monkey” hit at just the right moment for me. The combination of a very challenging year at work and a post-marathon movement slump had me feeling drained. I needed a good kick in the pants, or else my holiday break might devolve into a slovenly mess of bon-bons, sweat pants, and movie marathons.

Okay, maybe I can have a little of that, but…

Oh no! That’s me, possibly missing all of the boats. This book invited me to doodle directly in it. Not really, but I don’t think Danny would mind.

This morning as I finished up this book, I’m feeling fired up. I’ve been drawing ever day since his talk, and the book pushed me even further to reflect on my purpose and what drives me. If you need a pep talk, this is a good one.

Gregory invites challenging the “monkey” that holds you back. Those inner voices, the ones who needle with nay-saying and destructive doubts, can be quelled.

In short, the book says:

Don’t let meaningless distractions get in the way. Don’t expect perfection. Don’t over-analyze or critique your process or the creative output.

Just show up.
Just do.
Just be.

Thanks to High Alpha, who hosted Danny Gregory for a talk about creativity. Free registration to the event included a copy of his latest book, Shut Your Monkey.

Last Line

Walking our dogs, Louie and I talked about endings. What would the last lines of our story be?

Louie: Depends on my mood.

Isn’t it true that one day can shape your whole world or life view? Even if it holds court for just one day. The power of perspective.

Louie: On a lot of days, I think my last line would just be: “Life is good.”

Me: Yes, We’ve been lucky.

I’ve always liked Edward Abbey’s funeral requests: bagpipe music, dancing, laughter, hollering, a cheerful and raucous wake. If funerals are for the living, then let there be some joy in it.

How’s this for a last line?
After the sing-a-long, they cut into the sugar cream pie.

Sugar Cream Pie from Locally Grown Gardens. Also known as the best pie in the world. Period.

No matter where life takes me, this seems a fitting bookend. I believe in happy endings.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox

Prompt: “Last Line. We started with a first line, so let’s wrap up our month with the last. Give us the final sentence, paragraph, or chapter of your life story.”

Wild Thoughts

Yesterday I had plans to go to an Owl Prowl event at Holliday Park. It promised meeting an owl up close and personal with park handlers, dissecting owl pellets, learning the call of the Eastern Screech Owl, and a night hike.

Owl seeking. I’ve done this before, and it is transporting. Like there’s some wisdom transfer. I have seen you, and I now know things.

My first Barred Owl sighting, at Eagle Creek.
My first Barred Owl sighting, at Eagle Creek.

The unexpected death of a friend of our family brought my parents in town for a funeral, so I canceled my Owl Prowl plans. This morning over coffee, my mom and I watched woodpeckers go after the suet I had just filled in our backyard feeder. We talked about my great aunt, who has just been diagnosed with stage IV cancer. A mash up of birds, loss, and legacy.

My parent’s friend was the principal who has been all over the news, the one who was killed by a bus. Thousands of guests at her visitation and funeral were a testament to her impact. A life dedicated to educating and inspiring others.

I wondered, if I were to go today, what would my legacy be? Even having been the architect of my own path, it’s hard to see clear lines. I haven’t gone all in on much. I’ve dabbled lightly, drinking life up. Trying this and trying that.

It occurred to me that if I had any capital built up in a legacy, it has been purely accidental. A rush of questions caused some panic. Shouldn’t legacy be more intentional? But what should I strive to be known for? What am I waiting for? Do I really need a legacy?

Maybe I should be one of those who makes a quiet impact on just a few, and that is enough. I started this blog post, then decided to wait and think about legacy during a five-mile run.

I procrastinated. Instead of heading straight out for my run, I opened the window and sat back down in my kitchen to read. It felt freeing to have the window flung open in January, the sun beaming in and the chatter of the chickadees calling back and forth. Chick-a-dee-dee-dee.

I stumbled onto an article about a teenage eagle huntress in Mongolia. This is not a thing I knew existed. She is the first female to train for this type of hunting, bucking 2,000 years of tradition.

A still image from the documentary The Eagle Huntress.
A still image from the documentary The Eagle Huntress. Asher Svidensky/Kissaki Films

I took this story with me to the trail for my first run since a chest cold side-lined me Tuesday night. My probing and anxious questions fell away. I just ran with visions of Mongolia and soaring eagles.

My thoughts turned wild. Like this was some sign. To be more brave. To take some grand adventure. Just keep living and trying and giving and being. It will be enough. I never landed on a legacy.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox

Prompt: “Legacy. What do you want to be known for? Maybe you want to change the world. Maybe you just want to make the best cupcakes known to man. Go all in and give us the deep life-long goal, or share a smaller mission.”

Facing the Page

Think Kit asks: What have you learned by facing the page?

1. If I stop writing, even for a short time, those muscles start to atrophy. Getting back into it after a hiatus is much harder than pushing through some bad writing.

2. Writing every day is do-able. It’s the daily publishing that is the harder part. I am ready for a write more, publish less phase.

3. There are a lot of reasons why I write. To make sense of the world. To reflect and remember. And, oh… because I must. Not in a “I will fall into despair!” sort of way… Read more

4. I should illustrate more of my blog posts. Like the cakes I made for the post I wrote for SmallBox today (linked above).
Cake illustration by Sara McGuyer

5. I need spell check as much as ever. Darn.

6. I am now really hungry for cake.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox

Prompt: “Write On. Why do you write? What have you learned by facing the page? Did anything surprise you about your reflections this past month?”

Secret Transmission

As I was cropping and editing photos for our holiday card, a strange thing went down. Photoshop started freaking out. Every time I tried to do anything within the app, the photo re-mixed into new psychedelic arrangements.

Sometimes it would be an extreme closeup of me. The next time, the dog. Back to me. Then Louie. Always with the bright colors, repeating boxes, wiggly lines.


Was an alien trying to transmit messages via my Photoshop? Had I stumbled onto a secret door to an unknown universe? Maybe this was a digital wormhole into a land with brand new planes of color.

No door ever opened, not all the way. No time travel or grand adventure. No decoded message leading to world peace or secrets from the beginning of time.

Just a peek into something unexpected, distant, unknown.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox

Prompt: “Untold Stories. Share the photo(s) you almost posted, but never did.”

Garden Mapping

Every spring for several years, I have made tiny stakes to plant alongside seeds, little markers to help me make sense of new sprouts in the garden. And every year the marker bleeds or fades, and I’ve been flying blind. Weed or plant? What kind of pepper?

This year I tried something new. I drew a veggie map:

It may not have been to scale, but it was enough to help me keep tabs on what would be popping up.

I love moments like this. When recognition of repeating a pattern that no longer works leads to seeing a new way of doing things.

I’ll be garden mapping again for sure.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox

Prompt: “Doodle Up. Scour your notebooks and share some random doodles. Or, try a #doodleaday challenge for a week. How’d it go? Did a doode theme emerge? Share your drawings.”

A Suggestion

As one does when in Seattle, we spent the better part of an afternoon roaming Pike Place Market.

Pike Place Market gets mail too.
Pike Place Market gets mail too.

We bought a lb. of hazelnuts, crammed into a restaurant and ate some hearty clam chowder (good, but not award-winning, truth be told), and eyed a lot of produce and fresh fish that we had no place to cook.

No grazing!
No grazing!
Pike Place Peonies.
Smelt pretty fishy.

Amidst the iced-over fish eyes and neat rows of flower bouquets, the aisles were tightly packed with locals, chefs, street musicians, tourists with cameras. It’s an experience in people watching as much as in food.

Because of my obsession with Lunch at the Shop, I knew I wanted to visit Peter Miller Books. It’s walking distance from the market, so once we’d had our fill there, we headed over.

Despite knowing better, we arrived near lunch time and had to mill about the neighborhood until the shop reopened. We could have gotten lost in the book stacks for hours – it’s like taking a design and architecture world tour within a couple hundred square feet. Not wanting to carry a lot of heavy books back (plus we had a Powell’s trip on the docket), we ended up with some Japanese award-winning pencils, smooth erasers that look almost like stone and heavy brass pencil sharpeners.

As we checked out, I was too shy to gush as I wanted: “OH MY GOSH. I LOVE YOUR BOOK!” so I said nothing. Peter was quite friendly and struck up a conversation anyway. He asked where we were from and to my relief didn’t talk RFRA (which was all over the news). We asked for a lunch recommendation, and he recommended a Middle Eastern place called Mamnoon, which sounded perfect.

Lunch at Mamnoon.
Lunch at Mamnoon.

We had quite a feast, and doodled with our new pencils while we ate. Seattle International Film Festival was running, and over fattoush, we chose a french fashion documentary to see later that day.

Doodling on the SIFF cover.
Doodling on the SIFF cover.

Peter had made a second suggestion. “If you’re going that way, there’s a small church worth seeing…” After lunch, our friend Jenn met us, and we took the second half of our two-part directions and ventured together to find the church.

By this point we’d walked a lot, but we it seemed wise to listen to a fellow who owns and curates a shop specializing in architecture books when he suggests seeing a building. It was the Chapel of St. Ignatius, on the campus of Seattle University. It was well worth the extra jaunt to find it.

St. Ignatius by Steven Holl

Pops of colored light pierced through the white plaster, a strange play between serenity and joy. I hadn’t known then that architect Steven Holl’s guiding principle for the space was “a gathering of different lights.” Mission accomplished – you feel the color. (None of my images fully capture that magic, but you can see some that do here.)


We took a break on the benches outside, gazed into the reflection pool.


Somehow, it’s like he’d known we’d need this restorative stop, a peaceful oasis within the bustle of travel. You just can’t beat a good recommendation from a local.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox

Prompt: “Influencers. Did you witness someone influence others? Perhaps you experienced it directly. Share a tale of persuasion.”