this weekend i did a number of small things that i’d like to think must be part of some grander solution. perhaps you’re doing some of these same sorts of things.

on saturday morning, we woke up to a pile of new snow. so i shovelled our house and six or seven neighbors, plus the park on the corner and the lawrence avenue bridge across the chicago river.

later that day, we bought faucet parts from a tiny little local 30-year-old family shop where adam runs a service counter almost buried in every imaginable faucet part, old and new, as a steady stream of customers line up six deep for his help fixing or finding parts for all kinds of old faucets. on the way home we stopped in at the riverbank neighbors mid-winter planning meeting. then we loaned our folding chairs in support of a baby shower across the street.

tonight, i wrote and mailed a letter to our new governor recommending somebody for appointment to the metropolitan water reclamation commission (the folks who manage the river at the end of our street). this week i’ll send out an email reminder for our block’s next monthly potluck dinner. last weekend i distributed 1000 neighborhood newsletters to 30 block delivery people. it’s also time to make and distribute flyers for the neighborhood winter social event.

less locally, this week i’ll also have conversations about organizing meetings for the future of buffalo new york, the future of the credit union industry, and some other important projects where i might make some small contribution to others’ larger success. more personally, we’re still chipping away at a number of plumbing projects (with some borrowed tools) as we refinish an old house, still slogging away at the triathlon challenge mentioned a few posts back, and just getting started on painting the kitchen so we can finally order cabinets and counters.

mostly this doesn’t seem so much like working as just living. and when i stop long enough to notice, it seems quite lucky that i’m able to do any of these things.


it’s been almost 20 years since i ran three marathons in 12 months, but i haven’t worked out regularly since i fell of a small cliff ten years ago — unless you count bicycle transportation (sporadic and seasonal, at best) or all the demolition and rebuilding work i’ve done around the house in the last 18 months (not exactly cardio).

so running a real ironman triathlon is just totally out of the question in this lifetime. even my new gym’s invitation to cover ironman distances (2.4/112/26.2 miles) over the course of three weeks is going to take some pacing. in the last three days i’ve managed almost a mile in the pool, six miles running and 10.5 miles on the bike. not breaking any speed records, but hoping i can keep it going through this little contest. by then the new routine should be well established, anyway, and spring should be inviting running and riding along the river.

better, faster, stronger… or bust.


Being visible in the practice of open space technology brings a number of inquiries and requests for training and coaching and such. Being visible on this web, these come from everywhere around the world. It’s been a fun way to connect with people, or sometimes, discover connection.

Today I was chatting with Pete terHorst about open space and invitation. I mentioned that some of my approach to that comes from what I learned from my Dad, who worked at Ford in Governmental Affairs and Public Relations. He used to write things ended up in state legislation or on the bronze marker at Henry Ford’s birthplace, stuff where words really matter. So this is some of the sensitivity I bring to the crafting of invitations.

Well, it turns out that Pete’s dad worked for Ford, as well. Same group, different city, a ten-year overlap with my dad. I call home and ask, and sure enough, Pete’s dad is somebody well-known to my people. And this is some of why I don’t blow off any of these random requests for training and coaching.

Home Again

It’s just past our first anniversary in the house here and it finally feels like we’ve arrived someplace.

Some weeks ago there was a NYTimes story about a 17-years-running monthly neighborhood potluck “supper club” in New York City. I shared it with a few neighbors here. They shared my interest and last night we had our first dinner. We had positive responses from about 20 of the 28 households we invited, which we thought was pretty good. And by the miracle of potluck, we had entrees, salads, fruit, veggies, and desserts, all totally unplanned. A success by all accounts. At several points through the evening I thought, “I should get up, get around, see all of what and who is here.” Sort of “conference” mode kicking in. Each time followed immediately by the realization that there was no need to rush. No plane to catch. We all live here. And the party’s just beginning. At home.

In a year of busy comings and goings, we’ve met a number of our neighbors, but almost all the conversations seem to take place as one person is just about to walk or drive off to something else. After a night a just hanging out with folks, I came home last night thinking, “What a bunch of good and interesting people.” This morning I’m remembering that this “good people” view shows up over and over again in a volume of favorite life stories my Dad wrote down a few years ago. So the new party feels a lot like the continuation of an old party. Home again.

Snow in March

It’s snowing again here in Chicago, even though Spring started last week. It’s probably not going to amount to anything, nothing to shovel. Not like last week, when I did finally have to get the shovel back out of the basement. (Ever the optimist)

Don’t get me wrong. I love snow. Really. And… I’m noticing that it’s not nearly as much fun or beauty in March as it is in December.

And now, back downstairs to work on a window box. Someday Spring will come, and the front of our house will BLOOM.

Outward Bound Again

Nineteen years ago this week, I graduated from the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business, having studied Finance and Healthcare Administration. After two years of working long weekdays to crunch financial projections for huge hospital projects and working long weekends training for and leading Chicago Center Outward Bound programs for high school kids, I quit my “day job” and went north to Ely, Minnesota, and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, to lead wilderness trips for the summer.

The plan was to return to Chicago and run corporate programs to support the youth programs, but the Chicago Center closed a month after I returned from Ely. With only two years of “real” work experience, I dared to be self-employed rather than unemployed — and that’s what I’ve been ever since. After corporate programs work, with New York City Outward Bound and Chicago Center founder Steve Proudman, I eventually lost any formal ties to Outward Bound.

That said, the picture atop this post is from the first Michael Herman Associates homepage, in 1998. When Katrina hit, I sketched out a community preparedness curriculum/plan under the heading of “Ready for Anything.” It’s still here in my draft blogposts, never posted because I realized that I was essentially recreating Outward Bound. Another time, as we stood reading HRH The Duke of Edinburgh’s explanation of Outward Bound on the wall of an OB school in Scotland a few years ago, my wife, Jill, exclaimed “That’s what you do!”

And so it was an Outward Bound homecoming of sorts, as I worked with other alums this past weekend, to build raised beds for the students of Polaris Charter Academy to grow food this Spring. Polaris is one of 160 “expeditionary learning” schools that are grounding in neighborhood elementary and high schools the experiential learning principles of Kurt Hahn, refined through more than 60 years of Outward Bound wilderness practice. Polaris students, grades k-2 (so far), learn by doing. By getting out and exploring, finding out for themselves where food comes from, and where garbage goes. Learning to read and write and count and present in the process of exploring the World.

In many ways, from personal backcountry tripping and seventeen years of sole proprietorship, to my frequent framing of Open Space as a sort of wilderness expedition inside of organization, I really have been Outward Bound all along. To see my OpenSpaceTech and OpenSpaceWorld sites, I’ve certainly been educator. But I’m Outward Bound all over again these days — coming home from the wilderness, coming home to the wilderness, and wilderness coming home to Chicago, all at once. Confidence and Community. Ground touching ground. Breaking new trail in rugged old boots.

There is talk of two more expeditionary learning schools coming in Chicago. And of restarting the Chicago Center. I’m looking forward to an organizing meeting next month.

Land Connecting

Terra Brockman, founder of The Land Connection to save Illinois farmland, sends out one of the first signs of spring around here: an invitation to RampFest.

Ramps are the first edible greens to appear in our Midwestern forests each spring. They are in the allium family (along with onions, garlic, and leeks), and were called chicagoua by the native Miami and Illinois peoples. This was also the Indian name for the Chicago River, along which ramps grew abundantly. In the late 17th Century, French explorers began referring to the area at the mouth of the Chicago River as “Chicago.”

The foliage, stems, and bulbs can be used raw or cooked — in salads, soups, on pizza, or in sandwiches. They are especially good in omelets and quiches. Many chefs say that ramps are the best-tasting member of the entire onion family.

We live six houses from the River, on land once held by the Miami people. My guess is that it’s probably not a great idea to go foraging for this sort of food along the cleaner-than-it-used-to-be, but not as clean as it should be, Chicago River.

Even so, it’s good to be thinking about fresh food, garden and growing. We’ve got several inches of snow that might just disappear this weekend and a bungalow landscaping workshop tonight.

One Bowl Eating Meditation

Revisiting this

…ancient Zen practice is called the one bowl eating meditation. In this practice, you find a single bowl that becomes your eating vessel. For each meal, fill this bowl with any foods you want to eat and eat them mindfully. Do not eat anything between meals. This practice is harder than you might expect and even if followed one day a month, it will change your attitude toward food and the way you eat.

What to Expect

As you develop a relationship with your yi and work to heal and strengthen them, you will notice changes in your life. You may, for example:

* take on less but stay with the projects you start
* be able to say what you think and express yourself more clearly
* take the time to listen to your own inner voice and take their messages seriously
* feel more centered in your own self and be less thrown off balance by other people’s problems, needs, demands, or opinions
* begin to feel a sense of solidity; when you meet an obstacle, you stay clear on your intention and work to find a way to solve the problem and move ahead with your project
* hold your ground
* begin to feel as if your actions in the world result in a bountiful harvest; the world becomes a fertile ground for your ideas and actions

Thanks to Five Spirits.

Permaculture Seminar in Chicago

Bill Wilson of Midwest Permaculture says Permaculture is a creative and artful way of living, where people and nature are both preserved and enhanced by thoughtful planning, the careful use of resources, mimicking the patterns found in nature (bio-mimicry) and a respectful approach to life. Thus embraced, these attributes create an environment where all may thrive for untold generations.

We’re intrigued. So Jill and I are signing up for the upcoming seminar here in Chicago. Join us?

Saturday, March 29th – 2:00- 5:00 p.m.
Hosted By: Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center
1246 West Bryn Mawr Avenue, Chicago

Fee: $50 Door -or- $35 with Pre-registration (by March 26, 2008)
To Register – Call Yoga Center: 773-878-7771 (MC/Visa)
You may call or email the center if you have questions.
The Sivananda Yoga Center is in the early stages of creating a permaculture design for their urban location.

Evening Meal and Discussion 5:30 – 8:00
Topic: Spirituality and Permaculture – Exploring the Connection?
Stay into the evening for an open discussion. Share your thoughts.
Suggested Donation for Dinner and Talk: $20

A Walk in the Park

Three parks actually. Last night Jill and I went for a walk along the River. Walking only for walking’s sake. Strolling back through a grove of giant cottonwoods it suddenly felt like a very grown-up thing to be doing. Hooray for us.

Terra Cotta

Well, I’ve done it again. Changed my blog skin. Not the formatting this time, just the name. Maybe it’s just the name finally catching up with the format.

This blog started as GlobalChicago, a place to link global movements and learning with Chicago people and practice. When I went to London for a year, everything got a little murky and the blog became PeaSoup. Returning home and refocusing on Inviting Leadership Practice, the blog took on many names, until it came sort of full circle to Inviting Chicago.

Since March, I have immersed myself in the renovation of an 80-year old Chicago Bungalow that for its first 50 years sported a terra cotta roof, ultimately replaced by red shingles. I’ve done much of the work myself (between client calls and business trips) and am hoping to replace the old roof with a new set of terra cotta shingles. (Still trying to talk Jill into the latter!)

Along the way I wondered what “terra cotta” actually means. I like to know where words come from. Terra cotta, I find, is old. Baked Earth. Hmmm. I might call blogging Cooked Experience. Terra cotta’s timeless, earth used forever for cooking, construction, works of art, and symbols of strength and practice. Not too far from some of the main themes here. And besides, it fits the colors I’ve used for 10 years of writing about Invitation and matches the color of my roof. So terra cotta it is — for now. I’ll see what I can do about a proper photo.

Moving Meditations

…we’re three days in the new old house and i think i’m using everything i know… backcountry camping, financial planning, cleaning up, building out, design, meditation, meeting and greeting, parntership, muscles, brains, care, rain and shine… have all been marvelously swirling and practically applied these last few days. it feels good to be fully deployed.

some interesting finds… “millions of nazis surrender” from may 21, 1945 newspaper lining back porch floor… only key to the back door lock is an old skeleton key… and smashing apart a basement bathroom wall i find 2-3 feet of old level built into the wall, nailed in as structural member, glass and bubble intact — scrappy!

Moving Day


Our new home, as of today. You can see from the listing picture taken in the snow, it’s been a long Spring waiting to get into this place. We’ve got drawings, tradesmen, budgets and such already in place. Now we finally have our stuff inside. Come visit! …and bring a hammer a scraper or a paint brush!

Inviting Chicago, Mountain of Care

In the beginning, there was Global Chicago. Then the Global Chicago weblog, started three years — nay, four years ago (!) this month.

When I went to London for the better part of a year, it became Pea Soup. Then Small Change News grew up next to it, and eventually merged in. In the last two years, it’s flown under a number of headings, including various combinations of Inviting, Practice, and Leadership.

Recently, you may have noticed, it’s become Inviting Chicago, as my professional Inviting practice begins to settle into a new (and permanent?) home at the edge of the Chicago River. I continue to work nationally and internationally, with near-term focus grounded in updating an 80-year old classic Chicago bungalow.

In conversations about developing a new Open Space website, in Korean, Stanley Park shared this phrase — Mountain of Care — to describe Open Space. This describes so well what I aspire to in this blog, my professional practice, and now in this new house, that it feels just a bit silly that in four years of hacking about here, I couldn’t name it for myself.

Slowly, slowly… I get there. In the practice and in the house. Met with an architect yesterday. Blew up the budget. (!) Back to work… piling up Life and plans and things as Mountain of Care.

Our New Backyard


This trail is about 200 feet from the back door of the 1924 bungalow we now have under contract. We’re thrilled about the new place and totally immersed in the logistics of moving and rehabbing, on top of all the usual business. Before we move, I’ll also be heading off for ten days in South Africa, to work with corporate and community groups.

Expect slow blogging ahead. But here’s a remarkable piece of music to watch in the meantime. Stringfever, the world’s first genetically modified quartet.

Inviting Winter in the City


The end of a long week left me crazy restless Friday night. Needed to move. I told Jill I wanted to go ice skating (of all things) but the big City indoor rink doesn’t rent hockey skates. So that was out. As a last resort, I went out for a long walk along the Lake, in 4 degrees of cold, not counting the windchill.

Walked all the way downtown to Monroe, about 3 miles, where I was suddenly inclined to turn back into the City. At Michigan I turned back north, with no conscious destination in mind. Two blocks later I stumbled onto the new Millennium Park rink! I had only a light pair of cotton socks, so I couldn’t skate. But I dragged Jill back, in that same freezing cold, for her first-ever skate, last night. I loved it so much I went back today for four hours.

I grew up just north of Canada… in Detroit, that is. Dad used to flood the backyard for us to skate. Later we skated at a local rink. Must have been sixth grade, my family went to a Superbowl party at an ice rink. I spent the whole time trying to learn to do crossover turns. I fell a thousand times. Never did get the turns figured out. But the next time out, like magic, I could do them.

Same magic this year. Last night felt a bit stiff and unstable. Today, I’m bobbing and weaving and turning all over the place. As good as ever. What a blast.

And what is it about this crazy machine? Such fun to watch all the little kids mesmerized by the magic of it. This kid too.

Inviting Aspen Again

aspen daily news

We did a second round of Open Space, 10am to 3pm, on the Entrance to Aspen on Saturday. Another 50 people showed up, reviewed the posters summarizing Wednesday’s conversations, posting another dozen or so issues. The focus was more squarely on asking the questions and bringing ideas that might “change the conversation” in the direction of resolution.

Where Wednesday had seemed to be focused on establishing positions, among perhaps a dozen or more different possible solutions, Saturday’s conversations were more about connecting and cross-pollinating. Several people remarked that they had changed their positions as a result of Saturday’s conversations. Skeptics from Wednesday offered that they were grateful and heartened by the quality of this second round.

Going forward, the City of Aspen will help keep the newly-spirited conversations going with a kit they call a ‘meeting in a box’ which will offer informtion, discussion questions, and citizen comment forms to anyone in town who would like to host a conversation on this 37-year-old question of what to do with the highway coming into Aspen. Then on April 12th, they’ll host and evening of keypad voting on questions that will be shaped by all this community conversing.

Saturday’s conversations were perhaps “less focused”, but that seems to be just what was needed for folks to soften their positions and start to listen and connect with others’ ideas and interests. After 26 ballot initiatives, this year might yet deliver real resolution to this question.

I worked with Claudia Haack on this one and together we wrote a nice set of finishing questions. These might be my new default set for closing circles. We asked participants to reflect on these things and then offer one short comment, maybe just one line, what might be their response to a friend asking “So what happened at that meeting, anyway?”

  • What was your experience here?
  • What are you taking away?
  • What did you learn? Any a-ha’s?
  • What was strange or different here?
  • How might you/we keep this going?
  • What new or next questions might make a difference now?

Meanwhile, I can also report that I skied all afternoon at Snowmass on Friday. Great snow, freezing cold (zero degrees, before counting the wind) outside, toasty warm in old hacker gear, no wrecks, but totally wore myself out. Some serious motivation for making body stronger this year.

Inviting Aspen


This was the scene last night at the high school in Aspen, Colorado, in the first of two open space meetings to address a set of transportation issues that has generated 26 ballot initiatives in 37 years. This is the kind of space that you do the opening, unplug the microphone, and keep it with you, just in case. Participants posted 27 issues, which after combinations generated 18 working sessions. The Aspen Times (photo) and Aspen Daily News both had good things to say about our progess on their front pages this morning. We’ll have another round on Saturday.

In the meantime, today was my first time on skis in 10 or 12 years. Let’s just say that nobody skied the Greens at Buttermilk as hard as I did today! Hoping to make it a big Blues day tomorrow at Snowmass.

Inviting Again

To blog or not to blog? Well… okay… blog. It’s been a grand experiment, but there are things I put here now that I don’t have any other place to put. Much to my surprise, and chagrin, there is more to say. So without further ado, here is where I’ve been, mostly gladly, spending big piles of attention these last four months…

  • Four weeks of being very much out in the world, in India and Nepal, honeymooning, retreating, and training in Open Space (notes for the latter, totally redesigned, forthcoming)
  • Learning to use a cellphone. Yes I finally caved, converted my oldest landline, so the number remains the same. And yes, learning… still catching myself listening for the dial tone before dialing. (grin)
  • Rebuilding the best bicycle I ever had (1981). Photo forthcoming, when it gets launched on the first good bright sunny day of Spring.
  • Tearing around Lincoln Square area on foot and on my other bicycle, learning to ride in the cold again, for first time since high school — and looking for a HOUSE.
  • Learning to ride the bike and talk on the phone.
  • Long holidays with the WHOLE family.
  • Facilitating the 2nd Annual Chicago Area Food Policy Advisory Summit, especially rewarding as this is the most lively growing edge of what started in a statewide Summit I facilitated in 2001.
  • C3 summit project, C3 weblog, green dinners, WorldChanging, and Massive Change in the City.
  • Updates to and
  • Opening Space projects, including one for the City of Aspen, a community-wide affair to cultivate broad community support to resolve a decades-old debate about what to do about inbound traffic there.

The Aspen events happen later this week, so I’m off to the airport. Inviting Again. Call me on the slopes, I’ll think I’m going to need the rest breaks!

Inviting Everything

All at once, Life seems as chaotic and coherent, pressured and peaceful, stirred up and stable as I can ever remember. All of my energy and attention seems fully deployed, into three nested spheres and three separate blogs — Open Space World, Chicago Conservation Corps, and here Inviting Life — each one a tidy list and squirming heap — of thinkings and meetings and doings.

The strangest thing now is how all three lay claim to being my center of everything. I’m Body alive, radiating energy and taking action, in Chicago communities and a global Open Space movement. I’m facilitating Open Space meetings, inviting leadership in community, and practicing intimacy with Life. And I’m balancing it all on my bike. Most everything that’s really working and getting done these days has some sort of grounding within riding distance.

Of course, the big exception to that last one is that Jill and I are leaving on Sunday — for four weeks in northern India and Kathmandu, Nepal. We’re going to eat and explore, to see old friends and big mountains, for a practice retreat and a honeymoon, and (another) bit of Open Space work with NAINN. Go figure. I guess we’re going for everything.

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