Monthly Archives: October 2015

4 Tips for a Capotastic Halloween

Happy Halloween! It’s time for the creativity junkies to come out and glory in giant messy projects!

Halloween is always an intensely nostalgic time for me. For one thing, we grew up in Sleepy Hollow, as in The Legend of. Every year we would anticipate the town’s elaborate Halloween events, especially the ridiculously fun Haunted Hayride. We would pile onto the itchy haystacks in the back of a trailer and bump along through the famed cemetery in silence. Ahead, we could hear yells and ghoulish sounds coming from the woods where, once we entered, we were taunted with haunted spectacles and the obligatory appearance of the Headless Horseman.

Nearer and dearer to my heart are the Halloween traditions my family developed. Our house always became an explosion of creativity during the Halloween season, and thanks to the genius of my uninhibited mother, our house was the best house in the whole neighborhood for trick-or-treating. Not only were our costumes always awesome and homemade, and our pumpkin carving ambitious and impressive, but we would rig our front door with stunts every year to entertain the kiddos. Favorite pumpkin memories include the political caricatures of Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, and Arnold Schwartzeneger, among others. Favorite door stunts include the spider that flew out from the stairwell, the witch that flew down from the tree on the side of the house, and the Phantom of the Opera that inflated out of a flower pot.

As I think back on a wonderful childhood full of fun, creative memories, I think about the deep impact these traditions have on the way I see the world. For instance, my future children will never be allowed to carve a normal jack-o-lantern. They will be taught, as I was, to seize the opportunity for going above and beyond and being as creative as they can be. I am extremely proud of my family’s zany projects–all of which were before Pinterest, mind you. Likewise, I want to encourage you readers to be as creative as you can be with Halloween, because it is a terrific excuse, assuming you need one, to stretch your creativity muscle. To this end, here are some Creative Halloween tips learned from years of Capo Family goofiness. Enjoy!

  1. The best costumes are sometimes just pieces of fabric.
    A few years ago my dad was getting rid of junk in an effort to sell the house. When he got to the costume bin, all three of us kids intervened. The contents of that bin had proved far too useful over the years for them to be discarded. The funny thing is that there were actually very few complete costumes in there. Most of it was just strips of different colored fabric. We knew from much practice that a few safety pins was all it took to make extraordinary costumes ranging from Lord of the Rings Elves to Egyptian Pharaohs to Renaissance courtiers.
  2. Pumpkins: How to go the extra mile
    You know those pumpkin carving kits that come with those little books of designs? You don’t need those. Just draw or print out whatever you want to carve, tape it to your de-gunked pumpkin, and with a poker tool trace the image with dots to transfer the picture onto the surface of your pumpkin. Decide which parts you want light and dark, then hack away. With this technique you can celebrate the year’s biggest blockbuster or mock the politicians up for election.

    From the 2008 Election

  3. These are a little cutesier than the bugs my mom made, but you get the idea. Unfortunately, the photos of our originals are in storage.

    Eat Bugs.
    My mom was one of those class moms that made all the other class moms jealous. She would come into to class and demonstrate elaborate science experiments or bring homemade comic valentines or, at Halloween, impress the kids with bug sculptures made of candy. She developed a whole system for these bugs. The flies were the most impressive because she would cut out wings from wafer cookies and attach them with icing. Again, she figured this out without Pinterest. Today, as we all know, the internet is full of ideas for this kind of thing, but I encourage you not to be a copycat. Use your creativity and, like my pioneering mother, experiment with your own Halloween themed snacks.

  4. Get Interactive.
    There is nothing quite like the joy of opening up a door to a gaggle of little trick-or-treaters and surprising them with a little trick of your own. I don’t remember how this idea came into my mother’s head, but the original trick we set up involved opening our double doors with fishing twine and having a spider swing out at the trick-or-treaters. I think there was music too. We made the spider out of an old T Shirt and socks stuffed with crumpled-up plastic bags. We rigged it with fishing twine through some i-hooks in the ceiling and pulled it back into the stairwell where it sat, poised, ready to be released for the next victims.

    A few years ago we pulled our last stunt at the house where I grew up. It was our most interactive one yet. Here is the video. Enjoy.

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Why No One Understands You: an epiphany in good communication.

“No one cares about your feelings,” the professors told us on the first day of class. “If you have come to write about your feelings you can get out now. We are not kidding.” This class, unofficially dubbed the Fascist School of Writing, was the most wonderful class I ever took in my life and, incidentally, this jarring banishment of emotional baggage led to the most valuable lesson of communication I ever heard.

Whether you are a writer, filmmaker, politician, nonprofit guru, or entrepreneur, if you’ve ever tried to ‘improve your impact’ or ‘extend your reach,’ I expect you regularly hear platitudes like

  • “Produce audience-driven communication”
  • “Always answer the question, ‘Why should I care?'”
  • and “Start with Why.”

Each of these true directives points to two implications: first, that we tend to be terrible communicators, and second, that good communication has something to do with understanding our audience.

As to the first dour implication, I recently read on the blog The Creativity Post this passage about our communication handicap:

“Schools don’t teach communication. They teach math, (not very well), some science, history and give rote instructions about rigid grammatical rules, but give very little guidance on how to express ideas clearly. When we enter professional life, we immerse ourselves in the jargon and principles of our chosen field and obediently follow precepts laid out by our respective priesthoods. Yet we rarely put serious effort toward expressing ourselves in a language that can be understood by those outside our tribe. Then we wonder why our ideas never get very far.”

 As the post describes, our dysfunctional communication skills inhibit our ability to connect with others and realize our potential for innovation. It’s one thing to have ideas to share, but if no one can understand us, we limit the value of our ideas. Therefore, we have a deep incentive to pay attention not just to what we communicate, but how we communicate.

This passage also points to the second implication, the idea that communicators need to pay more attention to those with whom they communicate. Who are they? What is their context? What matters to them? Is it similar or different to the communicator’s context? Good communication demands that these questions be addressed.

Even if the communicator asks these questions, though, it does not guarantee that the answers will be applied. This is where the Fascist School of Writing drops its epiphanic bomb. The reason our feelings were not wanted in that classroom was because feelings were not going to persuade anybody. Feelings are one-directional and un-directable; they come out from us and land wherever they land. When we share our feelings, we are getting something off our chest. In other words, it is all about us. When we share ideas, by contrast, we want those ideas to germinate in the minds of others. If we seek to disperse our ideas well, we need to take control over how they get disseminated and understand more about where they take root.

On the first day of my writing course the professors explained that readers think differently from writers. Writers are obsessed with things–stuff that needs to be organized into a logical flow. Stuff is made of nouns. Writers love to arrange sentences around nouns. The problem is that readers look for actions. They want to know what’s happening, where things are going, the movement from A to B. They look for the verbs. Acknowledging this distinction confronts the writer with a critical decision: Will she depend on the readers to figure out her noun sequence and risk losing their interest and/or comprehension? Or will she adjust her approach to make it more reader-friendly, i.e. action-oriented? The answer is obvious in terms of what she should do, but as many readers know, few writers reorient themselves enough to make it easier for the reader to read, let alone more pleasant.

The big takeaway from this lesson is not only that readers and writers think differently, but that the burden of communication (i.e. getting ideas across successfully and comprehensively) lies on the writers, NOT the readers. Communicators need to reorient their whole message to begin from the audiences’ context and communicate in ways our audiences think. Why? Because we can’t afford to delude ourselves that our audience will stick around if we bore or confuse them. We also shouldn’t fall prey to the temptation of thinking they are too stupid to understand us. They are not stupid, but neither are they patient. The responsibility lies with us to escort them through our argument, beginning with something that our audience believes to be important. If we want to move someone’s point of view from point A to Point B, then we have to start at Point A. This might sound simplistic, but reflect for a moment on how many times you’ve read an article or watched a presentation in which the writer or the speaker assumed you agreed with him from the beginning, or used jargon without defining it, or spent your valuable time in the weeds of irrelevant details. Annoying, isn’t it? Learn from such instances. After all, no one is useless; as the saying goes, everyone can serve as a bad example. Do what these communicators failed to do: respect your audience.

Good communication, therefore, is about taking responsibility for your message and stewarding/manipulating/reshaping it in ways your audience can appreciate. This means making it easier for your audience to receive and comprehend your ideas, instead of making them do backflips. This involves starting where they are starting. It involves getting out of your own head and into theirs’. It is about carrying them along step by step. Oh, and heaven forbid you make the path enjoyable for them.

Communicators, take to heart the words of Lady Galadriel: This task was appointed to you. If you do not find a way, no one will.

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Photo Friday: Happenin’ HOTlanta, Part II

Two weekends ago my sister showed off her adopted city. She should start a tour company; she has some serious skill in this arena. We ate exceptionally well (Indian Street food and artisan ice cream!), visited the High Art Museum, walked the new Beltline path, and explored the Ponce City Market. Atlanta, way to be.

pipes b&w

ponce interior

josh spiral stairs

pots b&w

pepper meg

There’s pepper in it! Freesshha pepppaaa…

market underpass B&w

market sign b&w

bike path

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Photo Friday: Happenin’ HOTlanta! Part I

Went to visit the sister in Atlanta and she showed us the sights, including the High art museum, the new Beltline bike path, and the Ponce City Market. Here is the first installment of photos from the journey…enjoy!

brick building bw

graffiti underpass

fence flowers

skyline

meg black painting

beltline path

market lights bw

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How to Move to a New City: 6 Lessons after 1 Year In Nashville

This week marks one year of living in Nashville. Wow, even just typing that feels surreal.

discover TN sign

For both of us, this is the first time we moved somewhere where we knew no one and had to start entirely from scratch. We had to find a new church, a new group of friends, new work opportunities, new grocery stores, new restaurants, new coffee shops, etc. On the one hand, the changes have been invigorating. My inner explorer treasures each little gem whether it is a great farmers market or a fun hike or a tasty cappuccino. On the other hand, the truth–so easy to forget– about moving to a new place is that it is exhausting and emotional. Both of us feel like the move was the right decision, but we can’t say we’ve loved every minute. We have, in fact, felt frustrated a lot of the time.

Despite the ups and downs of this new city roller coaster, I can’t deny I learned a lot. With this blog I try to chronicle tidbits about creativity and learning, so in that vein, here are some lessons learned which I hope fortify you through your own migrations:

  1. Say Yes. 
    Remember that Jim Carey movie, Yes Man? The gist is this guy wants to improve his outlook on life so some happiness guru tells him to say yes to everything he is offered. He ends up living a whirlwind life of adventure and risk. Though he eventually realizes that “no” sometimes is the best word, “Yes” still opens doors. When in a new place, around new people, saying “Yes” more often, or at least slightly more than your instincts tell you, can be healthy. Not everything you try will change your life, but you never know. One of the best examples of this from my last year in Nashville was trying out the Design Thinking meet-up group. Last fall, the group met at 7:30am, and I am NO morning person. I was very ready to blow it off. After all, I wasn’t convinced it would be “my kind of thing.” But that attitude, I knew, would never help me meet new people or find more work gigs, so I wrenched myself out of bed and made my way across town. Since that first “Yes,” I’ve been an eager attendee every month, relishing the creativity exercises and group interactions. The monthly event has also enhanced my professional network more than any other conduit, and even led to my gig with Edible Nashville (Thanks, Colin!). ‘Yes’ works.
  2. Discomfort is temporary. Treat challenges like a scavenger hunt.
    Puzzles are fun. Traffic, loneliness, and paying $4 for a cup of tea are not. When presented with frustrations, we have two choices: we can wallow or we can get creative. Unfortunately, I must confess I have done a lot of the former. Trust me, it doesn’t pay. Therefore, treat each aspect of discomfort as something you can overcome. It is all temporary; it’s only a matter of time until you discover a faster route, find a friendlier group of people, or locate a reasonably-priced cafe.
  3. Space Matters: hang up some pictures.
    Because of the Nashville population boom, we really struggled to find a decent place to live when we first moved here last year. God provided with our first apartment; it was clean, well located, and relatively cheap. Even so, we knew we would only be there for a little while because of its small size and lack of sunlight. Knowing it was temporary, we could easily have gone for the whole lease without hanging pictures or buying a table. But we didn’t, and in retrospect, I’m really glad. The transition to Nashville was hard enough on its own. By hanging up some pictures and purchasing comfortable, functional furniture, we achieved a sanctuary. Cramped as it may have been, we made a home, and it did wonders for our troubled spirits.
  4. Food matters: find some comfort food to make you feel at home
    If you are a glutton like me, this goes without saying. But I know there are people in the world who can forget to eat a meal, and while I can’t fathom such a thing, these people might also require reminding that some good food really stimulates warm fuzzy feelings about a new place. See last week’s post on Top 5 Nashville Food Moments.
  5. Start it yourself. 
    If there is something you want to happen but isn’t happening, you might just have to do it yourself. One of our biggest frustrations from our first few months in Nashville was the difficulty in finding a small group Bible study. I was shocked to visit church after church and not be invited to a single group. Some people looked at us like we were weird for asking. (NASHVILLE CHURCHES: step up your game! Honestly.) When we finally landed at the church we now attend, it turned out that there were almost 50 people in their 20s-30s who likewise felt disenfranchised and lacked community. I told them flat out that the best way to make friends was through a weekly study. I felt like Angelica from Rugrats demanding that the games go a certain way. “My house, this wednesday, be there and I will make cake.” Twelve people showed up the first week and all of them have been coming ever since. Clearly, we weren’t the only ones with this need, so it really paid off to get the ball rolling myself.
  6. Ask Questions
    Curiosity makes the world go round. You can’t expect to improve your attitude until you become more curious about where you are, how things work, and how you can participate. Where are your favorite places to eat in Nashville? Have you been to the full moon blue grass jam? Where are the good hiking spots? Where do I find a decently-priced couch in this town? Is there a Harold’s Chicken Shack in Nashville? YES THERE IS! Good things come from asking questions.

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Top 5 Nashville Food Moments

We are coming up on the one-year mark of living in Nashville. As I look back in the year with all of its ups and downs, some of the biggest ups have to do with food (naturally). While I still miss the foodie paradise that is Chicago, Nashville offers an impressive array of tasty options to soothe the Music City soul. Here are the top five food moments from the past year, shared with you in the hopes that, whether a resident or a visitor, you likewise can delight in Nashville’s bounty.

#5  My new go-to taco truck 
Working with Edible Nashville has its perks, one of which is finding out about other peoples’ favorite haunts. One of its recent articles focused on hot spots in my neighborhood, and my eyes widened at the mention of Taqueria El Dollar #2 with 99 cent tacos and, get this, walking distance from my house. I don’t often crave Mexican food but when I do the craving is fierce. During one such yearning, I remembered the taco truck and set out to find it. We pulled into the gas station wherein sat an unassuming, permanently-parked taco truck. No one else was there when we arrived, but by the time we got our tacos our car was blocked by the swarms of taco lovers clamoring for their fix. When we finally freed ourselves from the car throng and got home with our tasty loot, we understood why this little truck had so many fans: the meats were bursting with flavor and the pickled carrots paired beautifully with the cilantro-packed fresh grilled tortillas. Aw man, now I need some tacos!

#4  The Franklin Chili Cook-off 
The lovely historic Franklin downtown puts on some excellent festivals, including the pumpkin fest in the fall, the Dickens-esque Christmas fair, and art shows in the Spring in the summer. The festive atmosphere is contagious and the local artists are impressive. The pumpkin fest positively charmed us last fall, what with all the kids decked out for the costume contest, the smell of fresh donuts, and a gorgeous golden fall day. We heartily enjoyed tasting 15 different chilis provided by local restaurants, each of whom vied for our votes and bribed us with extra fixins’. Needless to say, it was a very difficult decision.

DSC_0574#3  Bowling and Brunch
My family came to Nashville for the Christmas week last year and it was my good fortune that I had just met someone who worked at Pinewood Social, a hip restaurant and hangout joint located in a renovated factory building just outside of downtown. Pinewood Social boasts all local ingredients and artisan cocktails, as well as two small swimming pools, outdoor yard games, and several antique bowling lanes you can rent for $40/hour. This new friend arranged for my family to enjoy a Christmas Eve bowling and brunch, complete with farm fresh eggs and shoe rentals. We spared no expense. Way to strike gold for a new Christmas tradition. (Too much? 🙂 )

#2  Best Indian Food I’ve Ever Had
The first time we went to Taj Indian was last fall a few weeks into our move to Nashville. Our hearts were heavy and homesick for Chicago and our favorite restaurants there. Yelp pointed us toward Taj, so we decided to give it a go. The food was so good we not only agreed it was the best Indian cuisine either of us had ever had but we also felt so uplifted we began to believe Nashville might work out after all. Thank you, Taj Indian, for giving us hope. And thank you for being so delicious. We now live two minutes from your door. Expect to see us often.

#1  Falling in love with The Cookery
We arrived at The Cookery on a wet winter’s day to find the door locked and no one inside. We turned to walk away just as a voice with a strong Australian accent beckoned us back. “I am so sorry we are closed today,” he said warmly. “Our guys have just been working so hard over the Christmas holiday I thought I’d give them a week off to rest. But I don’t want you to go away empty-handed. Can I bless you with some dessert?” I tried to form words of polite decline, but they didn’t come (no doubt quelled by my persuasive sweet tooth). The man smiled and went to fetch the treats. A minute later the man with the accent returned with two ramekin cups. He firmly pressed them into our hands and said, “Turn your oven to 425 degrees and throw these in there for 12 minutes. When they’re done, flip them over onto a dish for your chocolate lava cake.” We did so. The cake was fantastic. We found out that The Cookery is actually a training ground for homeless men to learn the culinary arts. Brett Swayn, the founder and chef, once homeless himself, believes firmly that these men don’t need a hand out–they need hope. A new skill set gives these guys a new outlook and the belief that they are capable of more than they imagined. I recently had the honor of meeting these gentlemen and writing an article about them for Edible’s Nov/Dec issue. I also got to taste their handiwork, and boy, do they sure know how to craft some serious flavor.

cookery staff ext group

 

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Lessons by Dog, part II

It’s early in the morning and my husband is leaving for work. He leans in to kiss me goodbye and says, “Archie pooped twice.”

Life is a little different these days.

Archie 2

I am now five months into dog ownership and everything that goes with it: controlling his energy levels, contemplating his bowel movements, and trying to outguess his next little mongrel move. I have learned a lot about the lifestyle changes and emotional swings a puppy incites. I vacillate between feeling mad as heck at the little turd monster and utterly smitten with the little sweetie.

Dog ownership has certainly come with its share of surprises. Here are some lessons by dog I did not anticipate. I hope you find them useful or at least entertaining…

  1. The Clean House Pipe Dream
    Obviously, I anticipated messes and occasional smells, but generally when people think about pets, it’s easy to forget that they are animals. We have an animal in our house. When I told my dad we were getting a dog, he said, “Good. You will build your immunity with all of the germs he brings into the house.” I laughed at the time, but man, I’ve really had to adjust my expectations for how long my house can stay clean (i.e. about 3.27 seconds). On top of the dirt and grime Archie brings into the house, he also seems to go through periods of increased shedding, during which you can’t touch him without a cloud of black fur erupting off his body. We sweep a lot these days. While it takes a little more work to maintain my standards of hygiene, the lesson is this: Life’s short and dogs are fun so lighten up and enjoy the ride.
  2. Tiny crate = Happy dog
    Early on, Archie struggled with separation anxiety. His first crate was a big wire cage like the one my childhood dog had. Archie wanted none of it. We had to coax him in there with many treats only to listen to him squeal bloody murder each time we left the house. When it came time for our summer visit to Chicago, I bought this cheap, little traveling crate for the trip, though I worried (a) that it was too small and (b) that I would spend the 7 hour ride dropping kibble through the slats every 30 seconds to distract Archie from his fate. Much to my surprise and delight, that night I put the crate on the floor and Archie hopped right in. He’s been totally chill in his crate ever since, including on the car ride (Thank you, Jesus). Whodathunk.
  3. A New Side of Me
    Dog ownership brings out an unexpected set of behaviors in me. I now have a list of things I never, ever, ever thought I would do:
    a. Kiss my dog (but not on the mouth). Gross? Yes. Fun? Totally.
    b. Pick up the dog and squeeze him as a little girl squeezes a teddy bear. I pretend he likes it.
    c. Utter phrases including, “Stop licking my pants” and “oh good, he’s pooping, I was worried.”
    d. Buy a dog a sweater. Yes. I’m afraid it’s true.

Archie sweater 2 Archie sweater 1

See Lessons By Dog, part I here. 

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