Category Archives: Life

6 Questions for a Better 2017

calvin-hobbes-new-years-resolutionsHappy New Year! Welcome to 2017!

Coming off of the tumultuous 2016, I anticipate that many of you, like me, are spending these first January days contemplating hopes for the new year. In customary resolution fashion, we might think about the number of pounds to lose or the novel we want to write or the instrument we’ve always wanted to learn to play. These are all good thoughts, but we know resolutions can be empty words, as proven every February at the YMCA. When resolutions lack resolve, what’s the point?

Over the last few weeks, three things happened that made me rethink our normal approach to resolutions. The first involved prepping for an end-of-year meeting with my design partner. He had assembled a long list of questions to help recap our work in 2016 and plan for 2017. The questions took me by surprise; they were way harder to answer than expected, but this was great. He asked things like, “What did I learn about myself through our 2016 efforts?” and “If I had one word for 2016, it would be…”

The second was developing a similar list of queries for a 2017 strategy meeting for another client, asking questions including “What data are fascinating?” and “What will be the most fun projects for 2017?” Developing these questions meant that I needed to focus on not only what we wanted to do in the upcoming year, but why.

Following suit with this questions theme, the other day I listened to one of Todd Henry’s Accidental Creative podcasts in which he asks the following:

  1. What do I want to experience? (And how do I want to feel?)
  2. What do I want to learn? (What areas of curiosity do I want to pursue?)
  3. Where do I want to go? (Places to travel!)
  4. How do I want to change? (What do I want to be different by the end of the year?)

In all three instances, I appreciated the questions because they probe the emotional reasons lurking behind WHY we want to resolve to do X,Y, or Z. They also create boundaries to help our goal-making more intentional and systematic. This might not sound like a lot of fun, but when the choice is to say, “Losing weight would be nice,” verses “I want to improve my health so that I have more energy for work and play,” the latter intentional approach creates a powerful, tangible ‘so that’ that can motivate us beyond the first few weeks of January.

In this spirit, here are a list of questions I hope can help you effectively reflect on 2016 and plan intentionally for a thriving 2017. Enjoy!

  1. What went well for you in 2016? What do those things have in common?
  2. What are the top three things that bugged you about your work and play in 2016? Why do they continue to bother you?
  3. What took up the most time in 2016? Do you want this to change, or stay the same, and why?
  4. What did you learn about yourself in 2016? Answer for each: emotionally, spiritually, physically, professionally, relationally.
  5. What top five experiences do you want to have in 2017? What has inhibited you from doing them before? What are the intermediate steps to attaining those experiences?
  6. What top three things do I want to learn in 2017? Who, or which resources, can help me learn those things?
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In Search of Silver Linings

I saw (and laughed and cried at) this telling “article” on election day:

sivler lining.PNG

Over a week later, the cloud of tension still looms over America. Though some are relieved, believing that this is the better outcome, others are horrified, foreseeing the doom of many freedoms. Many, if not most, have felt for a long time like they had no good option at all and little hope for the future. But for better or worse, democracy has taken its course, and we are left to pray that there is something…anything… good about it, besides the cop-out reply, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

Now, over a week later, is the answer to whether there are silver linings still ‘no’?

This blog is about creativity. I firmly believe we have only scratched the creative capacity each of us house. In that spirit, I challenge us all to think creatively about our mindsets moving forward as a nation.

Kicking this off, I do see a silver lining or two. To be clear, I have neither love for Donald Trump nor defense for his demonstrated racism, sexism, or any of the other backwards and damaging rhetoric he regularly spews. I pray fervently that hands he inspired to violence are stayed and that the weight of responsibility falling on his shoulders frightens him into a more cautious approach to legislation than his campaign threatened.

Even so, looking beyond the man and the single office he will occupy, I see (at least*) two reasons to hope, and with your patience, I hope you can see them to.

  1. We have the opportunity to affirm the best things about our government structure. My brow furrowed many times this past week as I saw, via social media, people on both sides predicting what would happen with Trump as president. Many of these comments showed a profound lack of understanding of how our government works. More tragically, these comments ignored the marvelous design of our constitution to limit power of any one branch or individual. A system with checks and balances, division of powers between branches, and a bicameral legislature were built into our American experiment precisely for the purpose of preventing tyranny. Indeed, these features of our constitution continue to make me proud to be an American (even today), and are likely the primary reasons for why our experiment has lasted as long as it has. If you, therefore, are anxious about the threat of tyranny, whether you feel it with Trump or from some other source, take heart! There are, and always have been, structures in place to prevent a lot of what we fear. Is the system perfect? FAR from it. But we can take solace that our constitution has gotten us as far as it has, and we should cherish the constitutional structures that protect our inalienable rights, because we know that individuals won’t. When a president wants to bypass congressional protocol with executive orders, we should be prepared to vigorously question those decisions. When Congress wants to entrust authority to unelected bureaucrats, we should take serious issue. When the Supreme Court decides on issues constitutionally left to the states’ jurisdiction, we should object. Limiting government’s reach is the reason for our longevity and the hope for the future. As John Adams once said, we are a country of laws, not men; this should be exceedingly comforting and empowering to the average citizen, provided we can protect those laws and their authority over all Americans, especially those in power. We have an opportunity and the incentive today to reclaim and reaffirm our Constitution, and I pray we do.
  2. We have the opportunity to look beyond our institutions for our wellbeing. As painfully divided as America has become ideologically, an overarching theme to this election season has been the feeling that the institutions have failed us. Reasons for why they failed us differ greatly between left and right and everyone in between, but many of us can unite in a growing distrust of the powers at play. Ladies and Gentlemen, this crumbling institutional trust might feel like the end of all things, but it is in fact excellent news. If necessity is the mother of invention, then we can expect great things from our dire circumstances. The same nation that brought the world the airplane, the light bulb, and the M&M can certainly continue striving for new and better ideas. If we necessity calls to look outside of our institutions to solve our problems, then we can hope to find solutions to social and economic challenges within our own spheres that achieve progress beyond our greatest hopes for government. After all, why should we act like flies hitting a window, believing always that we will make it through? That is the definition of insanity, after all. If America wants change, then lets ride this wave of motivation to make it happen ourselves. We can improve our schools, our medical care, issues of social justice, our poverty levels, among any number of challenges, through our own ingenuity and scaling our solutions accordingly. We do not, and should not, wait for federal institutions to do it for us.

Again, my hope in writing this post is that it challenges our doom and gloom mindset, no matter where we fall on the political spectrum. There is still hope, and I invite you to be creative about finding it and sharing it with others.

 

*I used this space to speak of temporal reasons to hope. Ask any Sunday School student for the other, infinitely more effective answer to our problems. Ephesians 2, people.

 

 

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Been Busy Making Things

I’m making progress on my 30×30 Makers List. To recap, I challenged myself to make 30 things before my 30th birthday. I have just under two weeks left. I’ve come a long way. Got a long way to go.

Here is some stuff I’ve been working on…

  1. PEKING DUCK. 
    That’s right. I did it. I made a Peking Duck at home. I dried that sucker out and coated it in a maltose solution and roasted it vertically. The last part I managed thanks to a tip from Serious Eats to stuff a beer can full of water up the cavity and stand it up in a roasting pan. 1.5 hours later, we feasted on delicious Peking Duck with all the fixings. And a side of snow pea tips in garlic.

peking duck abovepeking duck bun1peking duck spread 2peking duck bun 2

2. SHADOW PUPPET
I started this shadow puppet years ago after returning from Cambodia inspired by the art form. I don’t know why I decided on a flamenco dancer, but I was pleased to find this recently and add it to my maker’s list.

3. Recipe for Josefin
My friend Josefin, when she last visited the US from Sweden, had a brilliant idea: that she and I exchange recipes with the stories behind them, and perhaps one day assemble them all into a transatlantic cookbook. Naturally, I agreed. When I listed the first recipe on my maker’s list, my cousin provided this fantastic start to the challenge: my grandmother’s recipe for rye crackers written in her handwriting. The story is below.

mimicrackers1mimicrackers2

Our grandmother, Mimi, was an anomaly in our family. Mimi, you see, was always very proper, very feminine, reserved, and clean. She cared very much about appearances, much to the chagrin of the rest of us. My mother, by contrast, was very much a tomboy, always valuing athleticism, ingenuity, and silliness over traditional feminine attributes. Her grandmother, Mimi’s mother, was creative and affectionate and pleased to get dirty (or so people tell me…I never really knew her). My mom once told me the story of how she and her grandmother were in a row boat and my mom got out to swim alongside. She remembers her grandmother peering down at her from the boat above, shaking her head and asking rhetorically, “How did you ever come out of your mother?” All of us in the family laugh at this story. The idea of Mimi swimming in a lake, or even just messing up her hair, tickles us in its absurdity.

Growing up with Mimi, I hear, was much less funny. My mother constantly felt burdened to impress Mimi. Despite her efforts, she never seemed to escape the shadow of unachievable perfection she believed her mother sought from her. Whether or not Mimi actually desired perfection, or felt any disappointment with my mother’s choices, cannot be known until Heaven, and possibly not even then. However, my mother’s paranoia to please Mimi was transferred to me, and the unfortunate result was that I never felt comfortable around my own grandmother. I too always felt the need to put on a show, to dress well around her, and to hide my messes and shortcomings. It was stressful. We had so very little in common.

Very little, that is, except eating.

              After Mimi passed away my aunt asked us for any happy memories we had of our grandmother. As I look back on my fonder moments with Mimi, almost every single one of them involves eating. She was no chef, but she definitely appreciated delicious things. I remember sleeping over at her house during those years she lived near us in New York. Our ritual was to go out to a fancy Chinese restaurant for dinner and then in the morning she would make blueberry pancakes with kumquat marmalade and bacon. For family dinners, she would make a beef pot roast and serve it with gravy over fluffy dinner rolls baked with significant quantities of butter. As I got older, I began to cook for her, and very much enjoyed watching her eat my handiwork. She would close her eyes and make funny little grunting noises which, from her, somehow came out dainty. She would save chocolate to regift to me, knowing I would appreciate it, and she regularly had a tin of cookies and a tin of crackers ready for snacking during our visits.

It is the crackers that I share with you today. She enjoyed eating them with cottage cheese and tomato slices for lunch. I don’t remember enjoying the crackers much as a child, but my uncle brought a tin of them to Mimi’s memorial service and I gave them another try. As strange as it sounds, tasting the crackers that day made me smile. I remember the day was sunny and breezy and everything was green. We sat outside the church, munching away. They were Mimi crackers. Despite grieving her loss I felt, for me, that they manifested in a small way a celebration of her life.

And the crackers are scrumptious.

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30 by 30 Challenge: Make 30 new things by my birthday

So……I have 39 days left of my twenties. To put it diplomatically, I have mixed feelings about this.

As I wrestle with the “should haves” from the last decade, one wish is that I had spent more time making stuff. Growing up, when we asked our mom to buy us a treat of some kind, more often than not she would say, “We can make that.” This shaped all three of us siblings, even if many of those times we never made the thing we wanted to buy. Today, we all approach needs that arise with the question, “How might I make that?” It meant so much to my sister, in fact, that she tattooed “I can make that” on her wrist, a permanent reminder of her identity as a creator.

Making more things, I think, will be a goal of my thirties. I want to spend more time doing than just thinking about stuff I could do, more time creating than consuming.

megamaker-logo-3dEnter the Mega Maker Challenge.

The other day my friend Tony pointed me toward a podcast by designer Justin Jackson who is undergoing a challenge to make 100 new things in 2016. He is inviting his audience to take part, and it seemed fitting to ramp up to year (gasp!) 30 by likewise making a bunch of stuff. This makes a lot of sense to me because…

1. I feel best when I am doing creative work.
2. Because Todd Henry, author of the Accidental Creative, advocates for unnecessary creating, i.e. creating that is not required for an assignment, to ensure our passions are fed and playtime is incorporated into our routine.
3. Because I want to build a habit of making things regularly, and according to The Happiness Advantage author Shawn Achor, you need to do something for at least 21 days to build a habit.

With these reasons in mind, I am going to challenge myself to make 30 new things before turning 30. Below is my list with a few explanations. For the record, I reserve right to change list items, so long as I complete making 30 new things by March 4.

  1. latteLatte (Already done! I’m not a big coffee drinker so this is a big deal. I made it with brown sugar, by the way, which was very yummy.)
  2. (Finish making) Peter’s music video. My friend Peter McKeown, also known as Woodferd, and I have begun producing a second music video. See the first here 
  3. Shadow Puppet. I’ve wanted to make one since seeing a performance in Cambodia. I started one a while ago. I’m gonna finish it.
  4. Story infographic. In my quest to understand Story, I want to create a graphic that illustrates the necessary components of a story arc. Plus I’ve always wanted to make an infographic.
  5. Artsy map of Nashville. These already exist, but they leave all of Donelson and Southern Nashville out. For shame. We live in Southern Nashville on purpose, thank you very much.
  6. Standing soufflé. Julia Child done me wrong. I can’t get a soufflé to stay poofy. I will prevail!
  7. Short Story
  8. Tiered Cake. Never made one. Always wanted to. Fortunately I have a renaissance party coming up soon that will need a cake, as well as a…
  9. Renaissance Costume
  10. Children’s book 
  11. Food Prep video. Edible wants to begin experimenting with these. Game on! 
  12. Photo Essay. This might be way harder than I want it to be, but we will see. Anyone have ideas for subject matter?
  13. Recipe + Story for Josefin. My dear Swedish pen pal and I are going to start sending each other recipes with the stories behind them included. Maybe one day we will have enough material for a cookbook!
  14. Swedish Meal. My dear Swedish Pen Pal gave us a Swedish cookbook for Christmas. We need to get cracking.
  15. An Epic Poem. This will be epic mostly in style rather than length. Ideas for subject matter?
  16. Side Table. I need more of these.
  17. Song for ukulele. How hard could it be? 😉
  18. Peking Duck. One of my favorite Chinese dishes.
  19. Creative Writing Portfolio. Need to compile my best stuff in one place. Any nominations for past blog posts?
  20. Logo. Never made one. Want to try.
  21. UofC swag. Proud of my alma mater.
  22. Continent Cutouts Photo Project. I painted our bedroom blue with the idea we could cut out shapes of the continents in wood and connect photos of the places we’ve been to their corresponding locations.
  23. Lamp. Need more.
  24. Wood carving. Might try to start a nativity scene.
  25. A hat. 
  26. Mocumentary
  27. Comic Strip. Drawing scares me, especially when it comes to cartoonish styles. This will definitely stretch my comfort zone.
  28. Kintsugi. This Japanese concept involves repairing broken items, usually pottery, in beautiful ways. I have a bowl I love and I want to give this a try.
  29. Musical instrument 
  30. Jewelry, preferably from some unusual raw materials.

Here goes! Wish me luck and join the challenge yourself!

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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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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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Stop Telling Me to Follow My Dreams: 3 pitfalls of life advice

#BillWatersonisagenius

If you have ever sought out career advice, you were probably told one or more of the following:

  1. Follow your dreams
  2. Live out your passions
  3. Do what you love
  4. Work where your greatest passion meets the greatest need
  5. Find your inner voice
  6. Perseverance is key
  7. Embrace your unique story

During my time of soul searching for my own professional next steps I heard these platitudes over, and over, and over again. In short, these statements are all true. The problem is that they lack context. In search of this context, I attended many networking events for creative professionals like myself. Many of them feature speakers sharing about their experience in their creative fields. Like a fly bumping into the glass and believing the next time will be different, I come to these events anticipating, if not something life-changing, then at least something useful. Alas, I often leave heaving a sigh.

Put another way, these speakers fall into one or more of the following traps:

  1. The speaker forgets he/she is making an argument. 
    Any communication you create–article, letter, lecture, film, etc.–in which you want your audience to think differently by the end is an argument. In the case of these network lectures, the speaker’s goal is, or should be, to empower their audience, and make them believe that they have the capacity to do great work. Most of the time, the speakers forget that they need to persuade. They cover the WHATs of the conclusions they’ve drawn, but neglect the HOWs and WHYs. You can tell me THAT your string of accomplishments was hard to come by, but I won’t care and I certainly won’t be helped until you tell me WHY it was hard, WHY you were driven to persevere, and HOW you solved the problems that hindered you. Without these critical elements, it would be faster if you just sent me your resume.
  2. The speaker fails to tell a story. 
    These days it feels cliche to say that the best way connect with an audience is through story. I couldn’t agree more, but like Inigo in The Princess Bride, “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.” Stories require conflict. Think about it–all stories recount something that went wrong: Nemo gets stolen, Dorothy and Toto are stuck in Oz, Bernie is dead. Stories involve pivotal moments, dealing with change, and the decisions that make or break the protagonist(s). At the last networking event I sat through, the speaker told the “story” of how he really wanted to join this band so he worked really hard and practiced all the time and beat out 99 people to get the one spot. Face:palm. Story:fail. There is no conflict in this anecdote, and therefore it is not a story. Life, and the pursuit of creative success, is full of conflict, and if you are going to tell me about your experience I want to hear the juicy details of the obstacles in your way and how you made the decisions that shaped your path.
  3. The speaker edits his/her story and loses his credibility. 
    There are (at least) two ways in which speakers edit their stories and, in so doing, ruin their credibility. The first is similar to my point about conflict, in that the speaker leaves out the parts they’d probably wish to forget, i.e. how hard something was, how long something took, or how they never really knew what they were doing. These details about doubts, fears, and failures create an empathetic connection with the audience. After all, most of the audience is there to be comforted and encouraged. We need to know we are not alone. If the speaker glosses over the harder times, I begin to doubt their story altogether. This leads me to the second way speakers edit their experience: they are not forthcoming about when they were lucky. Being in the “right place at the right time” is not a skill, it is an accident. Knowing the “right people” is not only a function of diligent networking, but it is also luck of the draw. Access to the right tools–education, technology, an uncle in high places– can make all the difference, but access is rarely something we gain by merit. As Malcolm Gladwell tells us in Outliers, both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs gained access to computers way earlier than other mortals, and at a time when they were both unhindered by restrictions or responsibilities and allowed to experiment. While extraordinary innovators in their own right, the argument stands that Gates and Jobs owe much if not most of their success to this unusual good fortune. Likewise, if you are going to preach platitudes with your advice, you should have the humility to point out that you were blessed with great business partner, or with a professor who gave you a job recommendation, or with a pile of gold you found in a ditch, or whatever else helped you leapfrog towards your goals.

My goal with this post is twofold: first, I hope this encouraged other soul-seekers like myself in their quest for thorough advice, and second, I hope anyone who is giving advice can adjust the content and delivery of their thoughts to be most advantageous for their audiences. Please comment below and keep the conversation going!

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How to Make Easy, Decadent Tomato Cream Sauce

It’s a weekday night. You had a lousy day. It’s already late in the evening; do you really want to cook?

YES! ALWAYS!

DSC_0106

Cooking always makes my day better. One of my favorite quick and decadent go-to dishes is a creamy tomato sauce served over angel hair pasta. This meal is a great choice for a weekday because it uses items I regularly have in my pantry–no shopping, no fuss, just delicious. My husband likes it so much his plate gets literally licked which, though rather unseemly, proves how tasty it can be.

Em’s Creamy Tomato Sauce

1 large shallot, diced
2 tbs garlic
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 tsp kosher salt or sea salt
pepper to taste
1 tbs balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup parmesan or goat cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tbs chopped fresh basil

pasta, preferably angel hair

Heat olive oil in a skillet. Saute shallot and garlic until translucent. Add tomatoes with juices along with salt and pepper. Simmer for 10-15 minutes for sauce to thicken. Lower heat and add cheese. Stir until melted. Remove from heat and stir in cream. Once combined, stir in the balsamic.

Serve over pasta and sprinkle with fresh basil.

Devour.

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Photo Friday, Inspired by My Swedish Pen Pal

A few years ago our dear friend John got married. Over the course of the time we were in town for the wedding, we got to know another friend of the groom’s who had come all the way from Sweden. It turned out that she and John became friends while they were both living and working in Palestine. As we ogled at Josefin’s photos of Scandinavian paradises, she invited us to visit her in Sweden. I said, “Don’t mess with me, because I will come.” She was serious. And just to prove it, a few months later she Facebook-messaged me asking if and when we could come that summer. So Josh and I went to visit Josefin and her husband, and it was the start of beautiful friendships.

Given, however, that Sweden is very far away, Josefin and I make due with writing to each other between visits. In our world of fast-paced communication, I can’t describe how intensely refreshing it is to have a pen pal. I love how the letters allow for more intimacy but also more structure. Most of all, I love reading Josefin’s writing. She is quite an extraordinary writer, and I can only imagine what she is capable of in her own language. For example, in her last letter, she talked about her recent trip back to Israel and Palestine. Josefin, I hope you don’t mind, but I was so struck by your description I wanted to show it off:

It was wonderful and amazing but also awful and ugly to be back. The region of contrasts. Workshops about peace, stories giving you hope – and others making you lose it. Seeing old friends, getting to know new ones. Expensive wine mixed with cheap falafel. Almond trees flowering in the day, teargas shooting at night. Dear Israel and Palestine. Maybe it’s the contrast and the presence of life, and death, that hooks me there. I both hate and love that place. Keep longing to go back. Always.

In honor of my Swedish friend’s love of the Holy Lands, on this Photo Friday I am delighted share a mashup of photos from Stockholm and Israel. Enjoy!

Stockholm at Dusk

Sea of Galilee

At the Market.

At the Market.

Fixed!

Change.

Buddies and a Castle

Siblings in the Promised Land

Click on the photo to learn the concept of FIKA!

Wilderness.

Sweden!

Jesus was here.

 

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Sciopero

A wise buddy of mine named Lance once said whilst we were stranded somewhere in the northern mountains of Spain, “It’s ok. The worse it gets the better a story it makes later.”

I thought about Lance on this recent trip to Italy as I stood in a long line of angry travelers at the Ravenna train station. Lance’s motto made the situation not only bearable, but it even helped it seem more interesting than infuriating. Why was everyone so upset? One little word: sciopero.

What is a sciopero? An Italian word I will never forget: STRIKE. Strikes in Italy, we learned from a side note in the Rick Steves Italy guide, are not only frequent but scheduled. That’s right. Scheduled Strikes. They typically last 24 hours between Saturday evening and Sunday evening and affect local and some regional train traffic. You can find these schedules on the internet. And it’s not only trains…many of the service industries of Italy schedule their strikes as well. We read online that the bus drivers and flight attendants would be getting their turns in the upcoming weeks.

I can’t fathom what purpose these limited, scheduled strikes serve. I think about that line from The Princess Bride:“You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.” What are they trying to prove? What do they gain? It just seemed like a splashy way of getting a day off to me.

That Sunday we were trying to get from Ravenna to Florence with a change in Bologna. We arrived with plenty of time for a 3pm train, but when we got there the board read CANCELLED. Ok. We got in line to learn about our options for making our connecting train. We waited and waited. People tried to surreptitiously cut in line, but those who were caught were harshly abused in Italian by people in the queue, not that it made a difference. When we finally got to the man behind the window, the language barrier made things tricky. We eventually understood that we could change our connecting ticket in Bologna and just take the next train 2 hours later. Ok, well, I like reading books, so 2 hours isn’t the end of the world. We camped out for that time in the grass in front of the station. I should have known that wasn’t the end of it. 2 hours later, same thing: cancelled train, long lines, people cutting, Italians yelling (One person even threw a telephone at the ticket window he was so mad!). This time, however, the man behind the window looked at our tickets again and said, “Tomorrow. You go tomorrow.”

The problem was this wasn’t an option. We had a non-refundable AirBnB reservation in Florence. I had sent the owner an email saying we would be late, but I knew cancelling was not possible. Be Creative, I thought. I started listening around me. Did I just hear American voices say, “Taxi to Bologna”? Time to whip out the small talk.

It turned out the couple behind us were in an even bigger pickle. They were trying to catch an overnight train to Germany from Bologna that night. They really had no choice to wait to the next day. They weighed their options and it seemed like taxi was the best bet, but it would cost ~100 euro. I waited, and was rewarded. “Would you be interested in splitting the cab?” Heck yes!

As my Dad once told me, life costs money. This seems inane, but it has profound depth. A little quick thinking and bit more money got us out of a nasty scrape, and we were the better for it. Do I wish it hadn’t happened? Of course, but it’s just a fact of life that–pardon the phrase–sh$t happens, and sometimes it takes your money. The trick is to accept it, be slow to anger, and be creative with your options. You might just be able to save some money, meet some nice people, and sleep in the place you intended to sleep*. And hey, for some perspective, we were in frickin’ Florence.

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*On a side note, a warning to AirBnB fans: I wish we had had reservations at a hotel. For starters, the address given was incomplete. Florence has separate commercial and residential addresses, so 70 Via Del’Angelo in red is way down the street from its blue counterpart. When we got to the right place, the correct name was not on the door buzzer as promised. This didn’t matter because no one was home. We had to find wifi to make several calls and send several emails before connecting with the owner, who couldn’t show up until 11pm. Then, it turned out our AirBnB host was so merciless as to charge us 20 euro for being late even though I had sent her an email explaining how the sciopero was completely beyond our control. Any hotel would have been understanding. This gal also went on to take our sheets and dishes before we were done using them on the last day. She also responded to my honest review by calling me a liar and saying she hoped that when my husband finally realized what he married that I would not return to Florence on my divorcee trip. Real nice. Is this a good story, Lance? I’m not so sure. I’m just glad I get to warn all of you.

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