The corner of my office, underneath the wooden mobile.

Today, I did something I’ve been thinking about for a long, long time. I rented a cello.

I have no idea what I’m doing.

Day one of practice wasn’t quite what I expected. I sat with a pencil, re-reading and feeling out instructions that help you shape your hand for a bow. I learned how to tune the strings, getting a feel for the low tones of it.

Three notes. Aside from the open strings, that’s all I played. I spent thirty minutes, fumbling on the fretless neck to reliably find and hit those notes. Deep grooves formed in my fingers.

To play, you put the cello an arm length out, then lean it in toward your body. Swinging the bow over that low C hard and fast made vibrations swim through my chest.

It’s not so bad to be a beginner.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox

Prompt: “Choose Your Own Adventure. Take a pass on the prompts for a day. Write about whatever’s on your mind.

Kitchen Suite

I love to cook and bake. Sometimes just simple fare will do, while other times I like sinking the better part of a day into preparing thoughtful, multi-course meals.

Today’s cooking adventure: sweet potato soup with crispy lentils, a recipe from the Sprouted Kitchen Bowl + Spoon.


There’s just one problem. The more elaborate the meal, the extras to chop or roast, the more I can work myself into a frenzy. I turn the burner up too high and the shallots burn. Or, I start the rice too late for it to be ready with everything else. Or, my least favorite – I completely space on prepping the salad until I’m in the final throes of searing fish or finishing a sauce.

Then for the rest of the meal prep I curse my kitchen, the recipe I’m using, the dishes yet to be done, and I can’t be bothered to properly set the table.

Recently I discovered a fool proof way to enjoy my time in the kitchen. I just have to listen to classical music, and all is right. My kitchen becomes this zen space where everything falls into place. It seems so simple, it makes me wonder, how did this only reveal itself to me now? It’s not that I won’t make some of the same mistakes. It’s how I respond that is different.

Give me concertos and soft strings, and you’ll find me in the moment with my cutting board and knife. Play Suite for Solo Cello No. 4 in E-flat Major and I might even make pasta from scratch.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox

Prompt: “Hear, hear. Do you hear what I hear? Tell us about a sound. What do you hear in your house or at work?”


Years ago when my Twitter world was smaller, I used to post my #firsttune of the day. Not every day, but often. There were a few others scattered around the country who joined in. It was a fun way to discover new music.

Eventually it faded away. Not on purpose. I just lost steam on posting them, similar to how I had dropped off on posting weekly photos (perhaps something to revive with my new 2015 goal). I still post one now and again, for old time’s sake, few and far between.

Here’s the first thing I listened to today. Slow, dreamy, Cohen-esque (only a lady):

What was your #firsttune?

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Prompt: “Shout At The World. If you could make a # (hashtag) take off…what would it be? What conversation do you want to have with the world? Who are the five people you’d want to hear from first…or last? Is your trending topic personal? Political? Lyrical? Or just random?”

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.

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.”

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.”


In a great show of personal restraint, I was able to keep from embarrassing myself at Day of Innovation – but just barely.

This was supposed to be a business conference, but something about that morning felt otherworldly. The green lighting might have had something to do with that. Or maybe it was the music, that it was too early in the morning to be blowing my mind the way Time for Three did.

They refer to themselves as the world’s first classically-trained garage band, an apt description, I think. The trio had been nominated for an award at the conference, and were slated to perform off and on throughout the day. Everything they played was lovely, but one piece especially floored me.


When I’m particularly pensive and in a certain mood, Leonard Cohen on vinyl is simply the only thing that will do. To say I have a soft spot for him might be a bit of an understatement. So, when Time for Three launched into a stunning version of Hallelujah, I was just in awe. It really did take every bit of restraint I had to not sing at the top of my lungs.

Not the version I saw, but lovely all the same:

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Today’s prompt: “What event or place stood out for you this year? Where was it? Who was there? What did it look like? Did it inspire you?”

A Modern Meld: Lessons from Vinyl + Digital

I had a conversation this week that reminded me of this old post I wrote back in 2010, so I decided to transfer it here to my blog. I’m still waiting for hardcover books to include a digital file in the purchase price…

free mp3 with record sticker

At first it seemed so convenient and full of instant gratification to buy music online, or even from my phone. I’ve been purchasing music via online download almost exclusively for the last four years. This was fueled in part by my green side telling me I’m saving on packaging materials and the transport of the product, and also by the fact that I had moved away from my favorite record store in Chicago.

Recently, I began to feel more disconnected from the music I’ve purchased. I missed checking out the album art, the process of browsing in the store and the recommendations you can get from shop employees. I had also read two blogs posts that got me thinking about buying vinyl again – this one about digital readers and this one about tactile user experience. So, I broke my digital download streak and headed to LUNA in Indianapolis, an actual bricks and mortar shop.

The last time I had been vinyl shopping, maybe one out of thirty records offered a free digital download with purchase. But this trip, they filled the shelves. How awesome is that? You get the quality of vinyl, plus the ease of a download to enjoy the music the way we do – on the go, in the car, on our phone and iPods.

I am fascinated by this idea of combining old and new school. This movement toward vinyl+digital manages to satisfy the collector and the demand of current market trends. It forgoes forms that are often treated as disposable. Vinyl is typically bought for keeps, cds or other formats less so. How many people do you know who ditched their cd collection after downloading all of the music to iTunes?

Think of the other creative products that could benefit from a similar melding. I would love to see books go the same route. As a former bookseller, I personally had a hand in preparing hundreds, maybe thousands, of mass market books for the incredibly shameful practice of pulping (which is no different than the fiasco of H&M over disposing unsold goods, rather than donating them). That doesn’t even include magazines, which suffer the same fate when they languish on the newsstand. When a product is seen as so disposable by the very publishers of the material, it begs the question: Isn’t there another way?

What if publishers offered a free audio download or ebook version for your choice of electronic reader with the purchase of a hardcover? We can apply it to magazines as well. In bookshops and newsstands, we want glossies to thumb through. Maybe the shop could carry a few copies to browse and then serves as an access point to buy a digital version. With a year subscription, give readers a monthly online version that includes all of the ads and short articles, then provide one annual, high quality print version. Think coffee table book with the best articles and photos of the year, the features that merit a second look.

Despite declining sales in multiple sectors of the music industry, vinyl actually showed significant growth in 2009 according to statistics released by Nielson. Whether other products adopt this model remains to be seen, but there is a lesson to be learned from the vinyl+digital movement. There’s always a fresh outcry when magazines and newspapers fail. Who really wants to see the end of print? Or the disappearance of music and book shops? Consumers still crave these spaces where we can engage with products, rifle through them and talk with proprietors who know the products well. And we will spend dollars on the products that fit with our lifestyles, that come in the form we want to consume. If you’re in an industry with shifting markets, can you find a way to please our nostalgia and modernity at once?

Originally published on Wise Elephant on Mar 23rd, 2010

Soundtrack of 2012

I may have a tie on my hands. Forget about a top 5 list. There were a few honorable mentions, but nothing else new in 2012 approaches these two albums in my mind.

A man & his violin.
If I were to go on iTunes counts alone Kishi Bashi would hands down win my favorite album of the year with 151a. NPR has given him plenty of love, and even if you haven’t heard his name, you might recognize a few songs that have been used in commercials from some mega-brands.

During his show in the intimate Joyful Noise Recordings space in the Murphy Building I could only think how sorry I was for all of the people who weren’t there to experience it. This man gives new meaning to the one man band.

Then there’s Hospitality.
My music picks last year almost all had a harder edge. This namesake album may sound light and breezy, but the lyrics are a perfect twisted balance. I can listen to this album pretty endlessly, and it’s become one of my go-to picks when I really need to get work done.

What were your top pick(s) of 2012? It’s about time for a music shopping spree, so keep ’em coming!

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
I wrote To Freedom and Health! about today’s official prompt on the SmallBox blog, and so I chose one of the lifeline prompts for today’s Think Kit. “What band new or old did you discover this year?”

On Repeat

Much of this year, I dipped into old flames musically – I fan-girled it, front row style for Sebadoh in a tiny venue, 15 years after first seeing them in Bloomington. Another icon of my youth, Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks played Earth House (I saw him around ’96 as Pavement). These rockers releasing new music and touring unleashed a memory lane that led me deep down a path to Archers of Loaf. I probably listened to All the Nation’s Airports 3 times as much this year that I did when it was first released in 1996.

Alongside this weird revisit of late 1996, a few records, all female vocalists, really grabbed me and hung on for dear life. Apparently the theme of the year is ethereal vocal with a side of noise. I’d be hard pressed to choose which of these I’ve repeated most.

Asobi Seksu:

St. Vincent:

In the end, I might give the edge to Mr. Gnome. As much as I reach back for the stuff of my youth, I love exploring too. This two piece out of Ohio hit me by surprise with some seriously unexpected song architecture.

Mr Gnome

Listen on bandcamp.

This post is part of Think Kit, a blogging project by SmallBox.

Tamale, Glass & a 45

Yesterday at SmallBox, my coworker Justin Shimp started playing some songs from his youth. It sparked a conversation about music we bought when we were kids. There was a brief time in my early music-buying days when new releases were still pressed on vinyl. My sister and I had some great albums – Madonna’s True Blue, Thriller, and some true eighties gems like Debbie Gibson and Tiffany.

When I think of my early music obsessions, I always think of a 45 I had of Suzanne Vega’s My Name is Luka. On the flip side, she sang a Spanish version of the song. As a young midwestener, it was exotic and mind-blowing – and in hindsight it was pretty darn progressive for the time.

Reminiscing about that 45, I’ve decided I’ve got to have it again. I’ll be scouring used record bins, and I’m pretty excited about this new vinyl mission.

depression glass bowls, suzanne vega album

See, here’s the thing. I don’t like to mindlessly shop for things. One of the reasons I love going to antique stores is because I have an almost complete set of light blue depression glass. Five tea cups, six saucers, six side plates and three dinner plates. Four pieces away from completion. I’m sure I could find them on eBay, but then I wouldn’t have the satisfaction of the hunt. I love going in to places like this with a mission. I have others, like finding the best tamale, and now, an old Suzanne Vega 45. I like attaching purpose to the things I do.

It has me thinking about vision and mission in business and life too. I recently went through an exercise with the Indy Film Fest board to revisit our own statements. Like so many businesses and organizations, ours didn’t really reflect our identity. The statement was stiff and boring and verbose. As a group, we brainstormed. We stared at each other a little. We had a hard time finding our voice, feeling okay adding personality into something so official as the MISSION statement. We wrote several lines, mashed them up, crossed some out, narrowed it down.

It was liberating. And awesome. I can say our new mission statement in conversation and feel like a real person, not a talking head reciting some lofty, meaningless phrase.

I’ve read some personal mission statements here and there on the web. Often, I don’t feel like they say much of anything about the person they’re meant to describe. I’ve never gone through the process for myself personally. Maybe it’s time, but I’m hoping for something bigger, more defining than the little missions I assign myself.

If I write it, will I use it? Will I put it here on my blog or my resume? Will it guide the choices I make? I’m not sure, but I think I’ll enjoy the process either way.

Until then, placeholder: ‘I seek the best tamale in the world, an old Suzanna Vega 45 with My Name is Luka en español and blue depression glass plates and tea cup.’

Image credits: Suzanne Vega – “Luka” photo by Geoff B. via Flickr | Untitled photo by nosuchsoul via Flickr