Chicago: A City in Review


My wife and I were in Chicago for the past 3 days, and thoroughly enjoyed our visit. We had great food, walked everywhere, took in the culture, saw the Bean, visited the Zoo & Field Museum, and hit up the nightlife. Great times had by all! I wanted to share some of the pictures and highlights from the trip, if you’ll indulge me…

Best Sight 

We loved Cloud Gate, aka “The Bean, so big and shiny! It was smack-dab in the middle of the city, near the water, and Grant Park surrounding it.

Best Food

Deep-dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s, and Breakfast at Yolk. This was less of a culinary journeythan some of our other trips, but these 2 places did not disappoint. We had the Veggie Lou pizza, then massive omelets, eggs benedict, and pancakes at Yolk. Fantastic.

Best Attraction 

Lincoln Park Zoo. I couldn’t believe it’s free, since LPZ is the best zoo I’ve been to period! Very well done, clean, and friendly staff. They had gorillas, lions, bears, polar bears, llamas, camels, and much more. Did I mention it was free?!

Most Frustrating Experience

My bike was stolen within 2 hours of our arrival. We had read that Chicago was a bike-friendly city, so we brought our bikes along for the trip. The first place we locked them up, poof, they were gone, cable lock snipped in half. The Police at Navy Pier did a great job recovering Morgan’s bike, but the thief got away with mine. To their credit, the CPD were very helpful and friendly, but I’ve likely seen the last of my bike.

Best Statue

Bob Newheart and his uncomfortable couch. Which he fake-interviewed me on. I always love these.

Best Place to Stop and Smell the Flowers

Chicago Conservatory, a giant greenhouse next to the Zoo. A really cool place to relax and see an entire ecosystem of plants, including the life-giving coffee bean tree! The picture above is the Crib of Venus Orchid, truly stunning.

Best View of the City

Is from the apex of the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel. Go ride it at sunset, like we did. An incredible view of the city skyline.

Best Way to Feel Like a Kid Again

Ride the ferris wheel and the spinning chains of dizziness (I did not ride the chains of dizziness, Morgan did). Morgan did both of these and claims this “Best of”.

Best Random Sight

A giant statue of Marilyn Monroe in her classic Seven Year Itch “mishap”. Didn’t expect to see that going down Michigan Ave.

Best Picture I Don’t have a Category for

Sunset going through the trees at Grant Park, looking towards the skyline. Love it.

In Conclusion

We will definitely going back to Chicago, with better bike locks this time! It was a fun, vibrant city, with plenty going on, good food, active people, and efficient public transportation. Maybe back for the Chicago Marathon in 2013? Count us in.

Who else has been to Chi-Town? Anything we missed out on? What were your favorite experiences?

22 People Who Are Better Than Me (in a good way!)


Today I got down to thinking about what I really want to write about, and more specifically, where I would want the process to take me. I would love to be able to travel, wrote about nature, the outdoors, make short films, coach football, help those in need, go on mission trips, and work with kids. That’s all (sarcastic/hopeful tone).

Then I considered what I’ve been writing about, and my content didn’t match my hope that well. Since I’m starting out as a writer, I do believe it’s best to keep writing, and focus your voice and content as you get better. At least that’s what I’m going for right now. I have been writing a lot about writing and the creative process, and honestly it’s been easy to use that as a topic because it’s a daily part of my life. I’m basically re-packaging my own struggles and sharing them with you. Hopefully though, it helps in a small way.

One of the main challenges I face is the realization that there are so many people and services out right now who are doing what I want to do, and doing it really, really well. I’m becoming less intimidated by them, because I know that I can do great work as well. The challenge is taking the chance and putting forth the years of work necessary to get to where they are now. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are social platforms or the permission to impact people in a busy world. I don’t know how to write great code, use sophisticated SEO tactics, or create beautiful designs. I tell stories.

Presently though, here are a list of people and sites that I read daily, or will read, watch, or listen to anything they release. I haven’t included any company sites or blogs, they’re in a different category than these 22 run by an individual or small team. They certainly have a voice in the work that I produce, and I hope you enjoy them as well!

Outdoors

Adventure Journal – Steve Casmiro (former editor of Cycling magazine and top-notch photographer) has built the premier site for all things outdoor. News, advocacy, links, photography, gear, food, they have it all. This is the main outdoor site I visit daily, the content is rich and worthwhile. I would visit simply to drool over the Weekend Cabin (which you should as well). It was also just named Outside Magazine’s #1 Outdoor site.

Check out these posts to get started:

Cold Splinters – Jeff Thrope has made the outdoors feel all 1970’s again, and I love it. The site in itself is beautifully designed and vintage, the photography syncs perfectly with the site with vintage filters, and he writes very well. Cold Splinters is where I can feel like an outdoors hipster. It’s a general outdoor site, but the Trail Mix posts are very enjoyable, along with any of the well-written posts about doing work with your hands.

Check out these posts to get started:

Semi-Rad – I really enjoy Brendan Leonard’s blog, because he is a regular guy trying to live the dream. Also, he shows up and delivers to his tribe, consistency is king! My favorite part of his blog is the About Me.

Check out these posts to get started:

Dirtbag Diaries – This is really more of a podcast, and maybe the best outdoor life podcast going today. The stories take center stage, tales of adventure and brokenness that mirror our own lives. The Diaries popularity is also helped by the music that Fitz puts together for each episode, then make available in the notes.

Check out these posts to get started:

The Gear Junkie – Stephen Regenold has put together one of the best outdoor gear review sites, and my personal favorite. If you’re like me and want to low-down on every piece of outdoor gear you purchase, the Gear Junkie is a great place to look. He’s also active on twitter, and has responded directly to a few of my gear inquiries.

Check out these posts to get started:

Sports

Smart Football – Chris Brown is a lawyer turned football analyst, and his acumen for breaking down plays, techniques, and game plans is undeniable. If I’m following twitter during a game, Smart Football is definitely on the list. I’m also convinced that a smart person with average football knowledge could turn themselves in to a decent high school football coach simply by reading Smart Football.

Check out these posts to get started:

Only Gators – I graduated from Florida, and Adam Silverstein runs the best insider blog on the interwebs right now. I’ll check in with OG on a regular basis to see what’s been happening, and daily during football season. No links to read, if you’re a Gator fan just go ahead and start following.

Dr. Saturday – This is a stretch, since Dr Saturday is the Yahoo Sports College Football blog, thus not independent. But it is the most consistent, well-written source of news and updates in college football. The previous head guy, Matt Hinton, has recently left the building, replaced by the new head lady, Graham Watson. Looking forward to the new season.

Writing, Creativity, and Business

Jeff Goins – I’ve written about Jeff a few times, mainly here. He’s actually probably getting tired of it. Jeff consistently turns out great content and advice for writers, no matter what stage of the craft you’re in. Begin reading and you won’t be disappointed.

Check out these posts to get started:

Michael Hyatt – Michael is the Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, but on his blog he focuses on the topic of Intentional Leadership. He writes about other topics, but that is the main focus. I really appreciate the honesty Michael communicates with, and his willingness to share knowledge gleaned from many years in the writing business.

Check out these posts to get started:

Seth Godin – Seth is the first author I read who challenged me to think about how I worked. I am continually inspired by his work, and at the root of my amazement is his consistency! In 2009 he wrote his 3,000 daily post in a row, affirming his commitment to spreading ideas and new ways of thinking. He’s also a master at taking an idea or thought that is on the tip of your tongue, and giving it life. Check him out.

Check out these posts to get started:

Daniel Pink – Dan’s site is extremely interesting, and I’ve mentioned some of his work before. The Pomodoro technique came from Dan’s site, and his book A Whole New Mind was very important for me, especially just after graduating college. You can find a wealth of analytical information, presented in a fascinating manner, along with many other topics. One of my favorite running features is emotionally intelligent signage. Give him a look.

Check out these posts to get started:

Garr Reynolds – I read Garr’s book Presentation Zen 4 years ago, and it made me think differently about the way I speak in front of people, communicate information, and design everything. You wouldn’t think of the design and layout of power point presentations as art, but then you haven’t seen Garr’s slide decks. It changed everything for me in those areas. The design aspect spilled over in to other areas of life as well, to websites, my office, home, and really everything.

Check out these posts to get started:

Corbett Barr – Corbett runs ThinkTraffic.com, arguably the best site for bloggers looking to generate more traffic and income. It’s the only site of its kind that is currently in my rss reader, because it’s so detailed and extensive. Corbett has experience with several other successful blogs and websites, which you can find out more about by visiting his personal site.

Check out these posts to get started (on ThinkTraffic):

Christian Spirituality

Donald Miller – Donald is the author of several books, most notably Blue Like Jazz. Another important book in my life, it challenged me in my Christian faith and caused me to think about what my faith really meant to me. He is very human-story focused right now, his latest book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years covering the subject of the creative process, and being able to tell one’s story. All of this is done against the backdrop of what God has done for us and the life he’s called us to live.

Check out these posts to get started:

Richard Rohr – I almost didn’t put Fr. Rohr here, he can be so controversial. But he has also pointed me down the path of worrying about myself less (and one day not at all), helping the poor & needy, not seeking fame, and being able to embrace both my strengths and weaknesses. He’s also been significant in his writing on male development and rites of passage in the modern world, a topic that is very important in my work with young men.

Check out these posts to get started:

Ryan Taylor – Man, I really like Ryan. Never met the guy, but no worries. Ryan is the Director of Access Denver, plays basketball, and writes a solid blog. He is another leader who is challenging others to look around and see the suffering in our neighborhoods, and be the hands of God in creating change. I’ve written about him a bit more here.

Check out these posts to get started:

General Interest & Fun

The Art of Manliness – Yes, they have fun posts like How to Make a Survival ShotgunThey have informative posts like How to Carve a TurkeyThey also assemble great lists like 100 Must-Read Books: The Man’s Essential Library. But what really made me a full-fledged believer in the AoM was Brett & Sarah McKay’s research and writing about male development and being a man. Not an ultra-masculine no-nonsense man, or a soft, passive man. A Man; forged out of the experience of those before him, ready to do hard things, think of others’ before self, stand up for what’s right, and be a contributor to his community. Love it.

To get started, click on the articles above.

The Oatmeal – My interest in goofy internet comics really peaked during college, and since then I don’t go searching for such hilarity often. The Oatmeal though, really came to me. I saw the Dear Sriracha comic at Sunny Pointe Cafe, and liked it so much that I hunted down the site. Matt Inman does a wonderful job fusing humor, common sense, plain-as-day irony, and grammar checks in to his brand. Go over there and have a laugh. *FYI, not all comics are squeaky-clean, though the ones I linked are fine. 

Check out these posts to get started:

Zen Habits – Leo Babauta has curated one of the most popular blogs on the internet, and one of the most interesting. I’ve only been reading it for a couple weeks myself, but I’m blown away, definitely one that I can read for an hour and not realize it. Highly recommended.

Instead of linking a few articles, Leo has made it easy for us by creating a Start Here page.

The Minimalists – My friend Bryce told me about this site, as I was telling him about my feelings towards having fewer possessions. “You need to read what these guys are writing” he told me. So I did, and stayed up most of the night reading through their entire 21 Day Journey in to Minimalism page. It lit a fire under me, gave some substance to the conversations my wife and I had been having. Within a week, I had given away boxes of clothes, packed up extra household and kitchen products, and put the TV in the attic. I haven’t missed any of those things, because I am more than my possessions.

Check out these posts to get started:

Tim Ferriss – I have a love/hate relationship with Tim Ferriss’ writing and self-promotion. Mainly, I think he comes off as self-promoting and arrogant. I also think he is quite interesting and has many good things to say about creative ways to live and work. I can respect that. I mainly respect the effort and practice that he puts in to his craft of writing, and his personal blog. The blog is a smorgasbord of topics, enjoy picking through them.

Check out these posts to get started:

Wow, that took much longer than I had planned. When I said “today” at the beginning of the post, it was Monday. I’m publishing on Friday. I went through many temptations to cut the list, not include Get Started links, and leave out the descriptions. In other words, obey the path of least resistance. I’m glad I didn’t, and hope you agree.

Finally, this is simply my list, and it won’t be the last. People are doing incredible, creative work, and I would love to hear about the writers, bloggers, and creatives that inspire you. Leave your suggestions in the comments!

The Bus


I wrote this while Morgan and I were on a trip to California. We decided to forgo renting a car, and do the whole trip via train, bus, and public transportation. It was cheaper, fun, and tough. There was no personal space, schedule, or pace. We also made some new friends, and had more time to read and write. This was something that I wrote on that trip.

 

Life without a car is a pain

It does not conform to my schedule

I must conform to it

The Bus is a great teacher

Schedule

The Bus is not a friend of those that sleep in

Be awake and about your work

For the Bus will not wait

Patience

Be ready with a book

Thoughts to contemplate

A heart open to conversation

Because the Bus will not wait for you

But you will wait for the Bus

Planning

Know where you want to go

And feel sure of it

There is no option of

“Never mind, I don’t want to be here”

Because once you step to the street

You are there

Of course

You could always practice patience again

I learn a lot more on the Bus

Than I do in my car

To be on time, practice patience, and have a plan

But most of all, open to people on the Bus

Instead of shut inside myself, inside my car

Southern Ground: 5 Independent Coffee Shops I Love


I love coffee. I first started drinking it regularly during my summers at Rockmont, but this infatuation did not start in earnest until I graduated college. Coffee has become a welcome daily ritual, something warm, and a drink to gather around. I’ve begun to even have particular roasts and regions I’m fond of, developing a bit of snobbery around it. Hey, if you’re gonna drink it, enjoy it.

Since I travel a good bit, I also have come to enjoy the coffee shop, especially local places with funky art on the wall and banana bread from down the street. I’d much rather give them my $2. It’s great to track these places down, and return each time I visit the city. To go back gives a sense of place that helps me settle in. Along with a cup of coffee.

Here are the top 5 I have frequented over the past 3 years.

Dynamite Coffee, Black Mountain, NC:

This is my hometown roaster and shop. It’s a small place, because most of the building is dedicated to the roasting process. Fine with me, because it smells fantastic. Favorite blends are Suplicar Clemencia and Winter. They take mail orders if you’re interested.

The Frothy Monkey, Nashville, TN:

Frothy is the best coffee house I’ve been to, meaning the actual building, warmth, and decor. They also make great specialty drinks, like the banana hot chocolate. It’s located in the fantastic 12 South Neighborhood of Nashville, I could spend all day there shuttling between Frothy Monkey, 12 South Taproom, Burger Up, Mafioza’s Pizza, and Corner Music.

Jittery Joes (on Broad St), Athens, GA:

Athens is perhaps my favorite college town, even slightly moreso than my beloved Gainesville. There’s good food, the music scene is great, and locally focused. Jittery Joe’s is one of the big reasons for that, you must swing by and grab a cup if you’re in town. I recommend the main roasting site on Broad St, because of the smell, the building, and it’s not overrun by college students. Plus they make the best coffee labels, great art!

Grassroots Coffee, Thomasville, GA:

I really like this place. It’s in the historic district of Thomasville, very old, comfortable spot where I can relax and get plenty of work or reading done. Like most of these places, they also roast their own coffee, giving the shop a great vibe. Last time I was there, they also had a book-borrowing service set up, which I like.

Volta Coffee, Gainesville, FL:

A fantastic and modern coffee shop in Gainesville, FL. As you can see from the picture, Volta has a very clean, sharp look that facilitates stuff getting done. The folks at Volta take their coffee very seriously, which I am a big fan of. The other great thing? They are involved with UF and their community, hosting Pecha Kucha nights and UF MFA poetry readings. Gotta enjoy that.

Honorable Mention:

That’s my list, what’s yours? I would enjoy hearing about some places that I have missed.

Road Warrior: Travel clothing update


Last week I wrote about how I’m traveling lighter these days, and some tips to go about doing so. You can read the full post here.

I recommended that any clothing you bring should have a use each day, and clothing that has multiple uses should definitely have a place in your bag. For the business traveller set, who have a higher standard of dress code, this can be difficult. Thanks to clothing companies like Nau and Outlier though, that obstacle has been obliterated.

For a blazer/jacket, I had suggested the Nau Riding Jacket, and I stand by that. It looks great, functions like a soft shell jacket, and will stand up to repeated wearings.

Now, I didn’t suggest any pants, because I hadn’t found any that met the criteria:

  1. Great looking
  2. Multiple uses
  3. Weather & odor resistant

For now, that question has been settled. I present to you the Outlier 4Season OG Pant ($188).

Outlier 4Season OG Pant

This pant fits all the above criteria, and then some. It’s durable, flexible, and just dressy enough. Pair with some Ex-Officio boxers and you’ll have it made for the week!

Bill Strickland of Bicycling Magazine calls them “The perfect bike-to-boardroom pant. But that doesn’t begin the cover everything you’ll do in these”

Jeff Thrope of the New York Times declares “They’re meant for biking, but I have yet to find a better pair of hiking pants than Outlier’s 4 Season OGs. They wick water; repel light rain and dirt; and stretch so much, you’ll forget they’re slim-fit”

So you can take their word for it, especially since they have worn and tested the pants. I think Outlier hit all the right buttons, but since I haven’t worn them, I’ll just have to say I suggest them. I’ll have to wait until I can afford a pair, unless Outlier wants to send me a pair to test?

I do apologize that I have recommended some pricey items, I know money is tight and $188 pants probably aren’t on your purchase list. But, I do believe that there is a case to be made for buying fewer items, that are well-made and long-lasting, for a bit more money. I know when I get around to my next pair of dress pants, these will be on the list.

For our suited brethren, any other suggestions for clothing that is great looking, functional, and good in bad weather? Would love to hear about YOUR recommendations!

Road Warrior – Tips When Packing for Business Travel


Good morning everyone! This week I hit the road in again in my recruiting travels for Camp Rockmont, and thought I should pass along some tips for travel packing. When I first started doing this, in September 2009, I brought way too much.

  • A shirt a day
  • Boxers for each day
  • Dress pants, and a shirt for each show
  • 3 pairs of shoes (dress, casual, athletic)
  • Daily workout clothes
  • Jacket and/or fleece
  • Plenty of socks
  • Entertainment: 3-4 books, a couple movies, my journal
  • Mac and long extension cord (for coffee shop power)
  • Sometimes my guitar
  • Various hygiene items (toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, shaving cream, razor, deodorant, hair cream, sore muscle rub)

Ugh, I was toting around and expedition’s worth of clothes and accessories. Because hey, I wanted to have clean clothes, didn’t want to wear the same shirt twice, because heaven forbid that someone in Atlanta sees last night’s show picture in Chattanooga on the website and realizes I’m wearing the same shirt that night! O, the shame and embarrassment!

It was ridiculous. Now for a 3-4 day trip, here’s what I normally take.

  • Dress pants, 2 nice shirts (in case I spill BBQ sauce on one)
  • 1 set of workout clothes
  • 3 pairs of shoes (they’re all used every day & have a function)
  • 1 pair of Ex-Officio Give-n-Go boxers ($25)
  • 2 pair of Smartwool socks (1 dress & 1 athletic) [$10-20]
  • 1 casual shirt (see below)
  • 1 book & journal
  • Fewer hygiene products (toothbrush, toothpaste, 3-in-1 soap, razor, deodorant, hair cream)
  • Jacket or Fleece pullover
  • Mac with short cord

That may still seem like a lot, but it’s much better than what I was doing. I can easily fit this all in one small duffel and my Timbuk2 messenger bag. So, what are my tips for those hitting the road?

  • Pack less: People in Atlanta don’t care if you wore the same shirt yesterday in Chattanooga. Also, it’s fine if the clothes aren’t dryer fresh every day. But, that does lead me to…
  • Pack and wear breathable, wrinkle-resistant clothes: I have a couple shirts that are my staples. They breathe, are comfortable, and resist wrinkles. Especially in the South, breathability is key. Here are my 2 favorites.

Patagonia Three Trees Shirt ($75)

Arcteryx Peakline Shirt ($75)

  • You may be thinking, “That’s nice, but I have to be in dress clothes or a suit all day”. If that’s your game, then I recommend that you check out Nau. They make great clothes that look great in a meeting, yet still function like outdoor gear. It’s a perfect fusion. If I had to wear a suit regularly, look hip, be functional outside, follow the multi-use rule, and had more money, then I would shop here and buy something like this.

    Nau Riding Jacket ($225)

  • Be willing to do laundry in the sink: One of the side benefits of quick-drying fabrics is that you can wash something in hotel sink with a dab of Dr. Bronner’s soap ($3-60), then hang it to dry overnight. Not an ideal wash, but good in a fix. This is actually the recommended method of cleaning for the Ex-O boxers.
  • Pack items with multiple uses: This is where I like to save some bag space. If you like wearing athletic shoes casually, do it (I don’t). If you can wear a workout shirt the day before you use it, go ahead! I’ve recently gotten hooked on a 3-1 “man” soap. Body, shampoo, shave. It’s great, leaves me so fresh and so clean clean. I was skeptical about how it would be as shaving cream, but it worked like a charm. The company is Shea Mouisture, and they sell at Target & Walgreens ($5). Looking at their Facebook page though, I am the only white guy to use their products.
  • Only bring 1 book and piece of technology (as your type of work allows): I used to bring 2-3 books a trip, usually from different genres, and then not even pick up one of them. Now just pick a book and go with it, and only if I’m very close to being finished will I bring another. Owners of a Kindle, Nook, or Fire don’t have this problem. My piece of tech is my Mac, but I was bringing the battery cord extender, which takes up space and weight in my bag. I thought it would be good for when I was in a coffee shop or Barnes & Noble, and had to reach for an outlet. Turns out most times they’re all being used, or I’m close to one, or I’m not going to be there long enough to worry about my battery dying.
  • The most important aspect is that be sure everything you’re packing will definitely be used. You probably saw that I still had 3 pairs of shoes listed, and that’s true. But I use each pair every day, and they serve a different purpose. I run, I work, and I dress for the show. I’m not a guy that wears tennis shoes with jeans, ala Steve Carell in Crazy, Stupid, Love (or my friend Kevin). I’m not in the Ryan Gosling dress code either, but a nice in-between. The frustration I had was packing 2 books, 3 shirts, socks, and boxers that never left my bag. Use what you pack.

Mostly, I had to let go of the worry that I needed to have something “new” to wear each day, and that I needed to bring stuff “just in case”. You’ll be fine, as I am now.

Any travel tips you would like to pass on?