#heartmyhood: a Monon ode

I moved this summer, after a good, long house-hunting. Our exhaustive and detailed list of musts included proximity to the Monon Trail. The Monon is my city artery – it gets me to work, to home. It’s my frequent path for long runs.

The trail connected me to the city in a way I never expected. I remember thinking how Carmel seemed like a distant land, such a far drive away. Things look a little bit different after running the trail across city lines. The Monon made the city smaller, closer – like all of Indy is my neighborhood.

These runs along the trail during autumn are a sight to behold. Some of the trees are all spent, others have just gotten into their fall groove. Seeing these changes unfold never gets old.


#heartmyhood is a collaboration between SmallBox and Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center to spread neighborhood love in Indy

Sketchnotes from MWUX14

About this time of year, I begin to reflect on the goals I started with in January, and what I’ve accomplished so far. My inventory of completed creative projects is coming up short. I’ll need a pretty intense few months of making to create a dent, and so I’ve adopted a new rally cry:

For goodness make

Fun in the Make Space

Given my current thinking and plotting along those lines, Midwest UX 14 came at a good time. Immersing myself in a couple of days worth of tinkering in the Make Space, taking in a screening of the Maker documentary, and all kinds of talks about design and creativity was just what I needed. Here were a few of my favorite takeaways:

Making begins in the real world.

Not in Photoshop. Not in web-based tools. Before even booting up the digital tools, you’ll likely follow the Maker Continuum:

1) Idea in your head
2) A sketch on a page
3) A conversation with others.

As if I needed an excuse to want to step away from the screen! My sketchnotes from Todd Zaki Warfel, Make. Mentor. Learn.



Perspectives are awaiting discovery.

When you’re solving a problem, the blank slate is a little bit scarier if you fool yourself into believing you have to invent something brand new. Steve Smith made a great point about how other perspectives are all around, you just need to look for them.



Image credits: Steve Smith, from Producing Creativity.

More of my sketchnotes from MWUX14.


Outtakes from an Innovation Triad

For the past couple of months, I’ve been learning a new framework for problem solving. Jeremy Houchens, Jenny Banner and I formed an “innovation triad,” or so we’ve been dubbed by Culture Sync, the group that is facilitating our process. Here’s what I knew when we got started: we’d be learning from the minds behind Tribal Leadership, Dierdre from Culture Sync would be showing us the ropes, and we’d be working as a team to solve a problem.

While I’m learning a lot, this post isn’t about the methods (though perhaps once we wrap, I’ll write more about that), but rather some of the fringe lessons I’ve learned while participating in this process.

1) If you haven’t worked with people outside your normal sphere, go forth and do it!

I’ve worked at SmallBox for four years. Until about a month and a half ago, we hadn’t hired anyone for a year and a half. That’s a long time to go without introducing new collaborators into the work world. I’ve been really energized by learning from Jeremy and Jenny, their processes and approach.

2) Your perspective is unique. Guess what? The same is true for everyone else.

Part of our work has been interviewing people in our community. We record the interviews, then listen back to what we heard. One of the methods has us breaking down what we heard and pulling out words and ideas from their responses. It’s been fascinating to see what different things we “hear” from the same recording.

It was a good reminder to me how we all perceive and experience the things before us in our own unique way. And really, how cool is that? No one else sees the world like you do.

3) There’s liberation in silliness. It doesn’t have to be all serious, all the time.


Jeremy had been doing a little extra credit for the group, including trying like hell to find a fitting name for our triad. Early in our sessions, we took an inventory of skills, and one for Jeremy was humor. When it came to the name, he was definitely leaning on that skill.

For his naming process, he went back to some of the shared experiences we had. There was a walking meeting when we discovered a trail overgrown with mushrooms. In another session, we tried to tap into our collective outrage to frame up our problem, and we discovered are three of the least angry people on the planet.

The names he came up with pulled from those stories, things like Angry Mushrooms and later, the name that began to stick, the Mushroom Taco triad. I didn’t necessarily think the rest of the group gave a lot of validation to the name ideas at first. Angry Mushrooms and the like just seemed too silly to be the name for an official thing.

At some point I was won over by Jeremy’s investment in the naming process, and I made the mushroom taco image as a way to provide the validation I don’t think I’d given previously. It’s a good thing to be forced to reckon with my seriousness bias.

If anyone is curious about the triad or our process, I’m happy to talk more. Just drop me a note.


(Sort of) home

Going back to Chicago is like going home. Sort of.

Heading to my old neighborhood, all the store fronts are different. A rotation of businesses, of spaces, lives and details changed. But from a 30,000 foot view, the city looks the same as when I left in 2005. It feels the same. The old fixtures remain.

Snapshots from a weekend (sort of) home:





(1) I managed to get in my miles – not an easy feat when traveling. A five miler on Saturday, ten on Sunday. Running flies by with such a view. I’ve always been captivated by the lake. It’s perhaps the thing I miss most about the city. So expansive. Endless it seems. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking with my eyes fixed on its waves.
(2) To know me is to know that popcorn is my favorite snack. From the Oak Street Beach murals, the scenes of a Lake Shore run.
(3) Cappuccino art from Intelligentsia. Part one of my favorite Intelligentsia/Reckless Records Lakeview combo.
(4) Wrigley, Louie and I.

Not pictured:
Dinner at Senza. Highly recommended if you’re looking to splurge on a 10 course meal. An incredible experience – creative food, cool, yet comfortable environment. It took a fair amount of restraint to not photograph every course, each its own piece of art. I didn’t want to spoil the meal with low grade iPhone pics. Here’s the menu we enjoyed.

Knowing and Not Knowing

Though I’d been searching for a painting for above the fireplace for years, I’d gotten used to that expanse of white. When we finally found the one, it took a while before I got used to its presence. I’d walk through our door and feel a bit startled by its beauty. In it I saw an incredible floating island, a place that, like a vivid dream, skirts the lines of something you know, but can not know.

Contracted by Susan Hodgin

I didn’t know the artist – not really. We exchanged a few words once in her studio on a First Friday. On hearing of her passing, I didn’t know what to do with my grief. I wouldn’t expect to feel this ache for someone I haven’t actually met.

It didn’t occur to me until today, but I suppose there’s a strange intimacy in owning art. The painter, having made this singular creation, chooses to let it go into the world. The collector, in accepting stewardship, builds on the story. Between them, an invisible thread.

Rest in peace, Susan Hodgin.


I’m experimenting with writing on Medium – my first post is live!

Vulnerability + Business

It’s an exploration of vulnerability at work. It’s a post I tried to write for the SmallBox blog back in March, but never published because it didn’t feel finished. For whatever reason, the words came much easier this morning. Maybe it was the months of distance, but perhaps it was that Medium was the right space to publish it.

For more of my writing with a more business slant, you can also check out my SmallBox blogs.


New client kick offs are always exciting. When it includes a spring trip to Phoenix, that’s a pretty major bonus. After the crazy winter and chilly spring in Indy, the break times spent in their sunny courtyard felt like quite the retreat.

We got to do a bit of exploring. Of course Jeb made sure we found a record store, and we ran into a familiar brand at Stinkweeds. Look at all that Indy-based Joyful Noise faced out.


Luckily one of my travel partners is wired for adventure. Lydia and I woke up before the crack of dawn to go walking each morning at Papago Park.


Spotted one of my favorite birds in the dessert. The North Flicker looks entirely different on a cactus than it does on my backyard bird feeders.


I still have red sand in my shoes, and I’m ok with that.


Winter’s Last Hurrah

Louie and I have long held a debate about winter – I’m pro, he’s con. Or maybe I should say was pro-winter. This year has challenged decades of preference. As another snow fell yesterday, I couldn’t help but hope that this might be winter’s last hurrah.

As I cleared my car for another slushy drive home, I was feeling pretty sour. I needed a few reminders on why I love winter to pull me out of that funk.

  • Coffee never tastes as wonderful as it does when it’s twenty degrees outside.
  • Only in winter, can you see something like this:


  • And then there’s the sound of snow underfoot. I like to think of it like an Eskimo might, making up a sound-word for the snow. Each makes its own distinct noise. Sometimes a snowfall goes squench. Sometimes kroosh.

The drip-drop of icicles melting hold the promise of spring. Soon it’ll all be gone. And while it’s hard to imagine it now, I know by mid-summer, I’ll miss it again.




Louie asked for a bird feeder for Christmas. I didn’t know it, but we were standing on the edge of a slippery slope. One feeder turned into six. We set our first feeders up January first and waited. It took about ten days, then our backyard exploded with activity. The gallery above features some of our backyard birds from January 2014.

Featured (I think! I’m still learning): Dark-Eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, Northern Flicker, Red-Bellied Woodpecker, European Starling, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Purple Finch, American Goldfinch, White-Breasted Nuthatch, Mourning Dove.

Tales from the Polar Vortex

Funny to think, a week ago I had never heard of such a thing as a Polar Vortex (which also goes by other equally incredible names: polar cyclone or circumpolar whirl). Another funny-not-really-funny thing, who’d have thought all those winters in Chicago wouldn’t have shown me the toughest cold I’d ever felt? That Indy would earn that honor?



There had been warnings. Go to the store. Stock up! There may be outages. Eight to 12 inches, etc. The snow was falling thick and fast, like the kind of snow they try to recreate on movie sets.

Our power outage came early. Before four o’clock. Louie was hopeful we’d be back up and running in time for Downton Abbey by 9 p.m. I didn’t share such high hopes.

We walked the dogs. I shoveled the walk – round one, at least. Louie cleared out a path to the grill for a dinner of chicken and veggies (it was supposed to have been dumplings, but when you have just a grill to work with, you compromise).

Life lesson #1:
Things that work well by candlelight: dinner, a neck and neck game of Trivial Pursuit.
Things that don’t work so well by candlelight: washing dishes. Ah well, they got done. Close enough.

We took stock of our neat, small pile of firewood, decided to save it, in case we really needed it. With an extra sweater, it was still warm enough inside. We weren’t yet wearing hats and gloves. Early to bed.

Louie was resourceful, ground our beans with a mortar and pestle and made coffee on our camping stove. It was tough prying myself out from under the down blanket, but there was hot coffee, and it wasn’t that cold yet, not really. Before the power died, Louie had made a coffee cake. I begin to realize my survival odds, if things came down to that, are greatly improved thanks to him.

I needed to check in with work, and the only way to charge up our phones was to dig out the car. We piled on clothes until I felt absolutely Stay Puft – quadruple shirts, triple pants, double socks. I re-discovered the inferno that is this vest I knit long ago, had deemed too hot to wear inside. It’s a miracle my coat buttoned. Still…

Life lesson #2:
No amount of layering prepares you for negative fifteen degrees. And we’re not even getting into wind chill, which went into the minus forty range. Instant numb.


We started losing a degree per hour in the house. By 2 p.m. it was 38 degrees inside. Irrational fear of losing the indoor plants to frost set in. One of my two dogs actually started shivering. In the house. We’d been waiting, conserving, but gave in and built the fire.

All five of us, Louie and I, the two dogs and the cat, piled into a five by two foot space directly in front of the blaze, camped there all night. We played games, ate piping hot brats and kraut from the camp stove. It wasn’t half bad. We had each other, and that fire. It all felt like an adventure, one we knew would come to a close.

The temperature had mostly leveled out. When it was time for bed, we were down to 34 degrees inside. Truthfully, we fell to sleep, and deeply, between the quiet, the dark and the incredible power of down feathers.

I woke fitfully at 3 a.m., absolutely burning up. And, man, did that feel good. I ignored any notion of decorum and yelled: The power’s back! We were already up to a balmy sixty degrees. As I peeled off hat, mittens, wool sweater and vest, I realized the television was fuzzing away in the other room.

The rattle of the heater pushing hot air through the grates, the blue glow of the clock from the cable box, the low-grade hum of all that stuff that’s sucking electricity through the walls.

After de-layering and a quick trip around to turn off lights, the tv, we tried to get back to bed. But that blue glow, that clock we’d gotten used to. It seemed blindingly bright after two nights of dark. Louie yanked the cord.

Life lesson #3:
Unplug things. It’s incredible how hard silence is to come by. Finally, a bit more sleep, then back to normal.

Well, sort of.

Made it into work, and we all shared our own polar vortex stories. Some never lost power, but there were tales of 40 foot felled pines and burst pipes too. I heard someone say driving down College was like driving on the surface of the moon. There were stories of firemen knocking icicles off buildings downtown. Strange days, these.

First thought upon waking: We still have power! YES!

Life lesson #4:
I am, it seems, not as tough as I like to think, and I’m far more fortunate than I credit.