Thursday, August 28, 2014

Like-em August Playlist

Whew! The last month was a busy one. Since I posted the July Playlist my fiancee landed a new job, which necessitated a move across town, which resulted in a new cat, and just about everything that goes along with packing up an entire home and completing an apartment search in 2 weeks while becoming first time pet owners.

I'd like to tell a better story than that to kick off what is a spectacular August lineup, but it was just that much of a rush month. Thus there was no other writing in the month. I'll get that all back on track as we head into September.

Without further ado:

Strand of Oaks - Goshen 97
There's just so much to love about this song. From the air instrument inspiring sound to the anthem-toned "I don't want to start all over again."

Parker Millsap - Truck Stop Gospel
This was my gold standard for August. I played this album many many times while I was hauling endless boxes down a three story fire escape. I'm not always pro-twang, now I think of that avoidance as saving myself for Millsap's work.

Spoon - Rent I Pay
Another great late summer album for 2014. I debated for a long time whether "Rent I Pay" or "Do You" would get a spot on the playlist and obviously went with "Rent I Pay." It's a great rock song with a steady beat and the lyric, "every kind of fortune gets old" is just the kind of rock-styled philosophy to gets you thinking.

Alex Clare - Never Let You Go
I stumbled across Alex Clare in a dark and dingy place with most of you, in a Microsoft Commercial. "Closer" was a spectacular single from his 2011 release. Later I discovered a love for his vocals while enjoying the full release. He adds to that with this summer's Three Hearts.

MS MR - Hurricane
MS MR is not afraid to challenge, as this video proves, and this first track on her new album sets the stage beautifully to explore "the inner workings of my mind."

Weird Al - Word Crimes
This will get one of 2013's atrocities stuck in your head, but you will enjoy it anyway. If you haven't heard this song with the video or, worse, haven't heard it at all, today is your day.

Painted Caves - Painted Tigers: Ballad of the Office Worker
My Milwaukee share of the month. Painted Caves has a great sound here mixing in Mideastern tones without letting it control their sound.

That's all for August. Keep me accountable, I have more thoughts to share as we surge into fall.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Like-em July Playlist

I haven't written much in July. This month has been an absolute rush. 

I kicked it off with Summerfest on the 4th, raced through a crazy week in the office covering a colleague's vacation, and the next two weeks might be even busier. In the past few days my fiancee not only turned 30, but accepted an incredible new job.

First - I'm thankful that God delivered such a wonderful end to this journey. She's been job hunting for three years - in higher education there's usually only a flood of opportunity in the early summers. Going through lead after lead has been incredibly challenging for her and nearly destroyed her confidence several times. I'm proud of her resilience, her growth, and her herself. This new opportunity is a generous step forward in a career that she enjoys. 

Her current position required her to live on campus due to her "on-call" schedule and handling escalations from her student staff even when she isn't on call. That means she has to pack up more than her office in the next two weeks. Oh and we have to find an apartment for her that we hadn't been searching for.

So yes, the next couple weeks will be pretty crazy too.

But that doesn't mean that I've not been soundtracking this whole month. I've got another handful of great new tunes to share. 

Robert Plant - Rainbow

I've never gotten into a Robert Plant song quite like I have with "Rainbow". It's the single for his forthcoming album. 

Milky Chance - Stolen Dance

Is it right that mostly put these songs here in the order that I decided to add them to my personal monthly playlist? "Stolen Dance" was one of those songs that was love at first listen for me and has probably the most plays this month. I actually threatened to leave my sister's upcoming October wedding early if this wasn't added to the reception playlist.

SOHN - Artiface

"Artiface" took me some time to get into, but I think that's mostly because the rest of SOHN's album of the same name still hasn't caught on with me. "Artiface", though, is worth more than a few plays. 

Got a Girl - Did We Live to Fast

Here's a sound that totally different from most of what I listen to and it stuck to me like crazy. It features a mashup of talents in Dan the Automator and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. With a slew of my most anticipated albums already released this summer, Got a Girl's release is high on my want list.

Hozier - Take Me to Church

Yes, there's an official video. Yes, it makes an incredibly strong statement. Yes, I have referred to Like-em Playlist Rule 72 and posted the unofficial lyrics video instead so you could enjoy your own interpretation first. 

Heidi Spencer and the Rare Birds - Nebraska

My Milwaukee pick of the month. Heidi has a great sound and several tracks make me want to call in sick to work and walk to the local coffee shop where she would be playing live and the dark roast would be flowing freely.... anyway, I also love the twangy sound she brings in "Nebraska". 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Milwaukee GI: Toyota Emblem

I'm starting another new series for Like-em. Milwaukee GI (Google Investigator) is part of a writing development idea for me to get better at doing online research and sharing my findings. Tonight I'm sitting on my back porch, listening to Wisconsin's next big thing in music, PHOX's debut album, and drinking a Smith and Forge Hard Cider. #HenryDavidThroeaustyle. 

As I'm imbibing (speaking of PHOX, the cider is more like juice) and pondering things to research, Toyota pops into my head. They have one of those logos that looks like it's supposed to mean something - clearly a man in a sombrero - but with some double meaning that the general public will never be able to decipher. 

For any of you who have ever wondered along with me what exactly Toyota is trying to tell us with their cryptic logo, you already know that this is a relatively easy mission for a GI. In less than three quarters of a second Google returned some 13,400,000 results, the first being a collection of amateur answers on rival Yahoo!'s Answer forum. 

That seemed like a natural lead to follow, it was almost too easy. The most "thumbs up-ed" answer indicates that "The current Toyota Mark consists of three ovals: the two perpendicular center ovals represent a relationship of mutual trust between the customer and Toyota. These ovals combine to symbolize the letter "T" for Toyota. The space in the background implies a global expansion of Toyota's technology and unlimited potential for the future."  

Not satisfied with such a quick answer for my first real GI investigation, I dug deeper. On Toyota's official website I learned that Toyota introduced the logo in 1989 to commemorate their 50th anniversary. The site confirmed Yahoo!'s answer and added further symbolism - it's not only a "T", but also a steering wheel. Clearly that was an add on by some high ranking executive who cheered gleefully at the cleverness of the steering wheel being incorporated and, in compliance of some 80s Japanese social rule, was never corrected. On a more serious note, Toyota also indicates that each circle uses a different brushstroke thickness which is a nod to a "brush" art known to Japanese culture. Now that's clever!

That prompted my first spin off GI mission - just seconds after my very first mission! "Brush" art seemed to most closely tie to Sumi-e. It's a form of art practiced all over Asia, but in Japan it's called Sumi-e or Ink Wash Painting. The key to Sumi-e is not to try to closely replicate the physical traits of the object, but the spiritual ones. Now we're learning boys and girls! Several sources noted how artists would spend significant time in mediation to prepare themselves to truly understand an object and its spirit before setting to work.

The rabbit hole goes deeper. Sumi-e uses sumi ink. Naturally! Sumi ink is made by a process that generational wine makers would appreciate. Made from soot of pine branches from select Japanese forests the process often includes a few "secret" steps that make an individual artist's sumi ink its own unique art. It's done at certain times of the year and includes purification and aging before the ink is ready to use. 

The work is fantastic. I'm including only Japanese work here as the style more closely relates to the original GI mission. Knowing the spiritual intent and preparation that goes into this art sucked me into a whirlwind when looking at some of these pieces. 

So there you have it. Toyota is significantly more creative that just throwing a dude in a sombrero on their cars and calling it good.

I learned something there. No I'm going to surf Google images for a while.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Like-em June Playlist

It's time for my June Playlist. I started this series back in April and have worked each month to find fresh tunes to share with you. Even though I'm always trying out new artists and exploring new music, I have to say this monthly post has pushed me to do that even more. I love it. That said, June was an awesome month for music.

Jungle - "Busy Earnin'"

One way to measure a song is by the way it makes you dance. I had been working on this dance for a whole month before I even saw this awesome video. Yes... I dance just like this by myself at home...

We the Wild - "Electric Blue"

I loved the whole new EP from We the Wild and hope to hear more of it when they do a full release. "Electric Blue" is a great tune that I just never want to end. Also, what is up with the video?

Broken Bells - "Holding on for Life"

Another one of my favorite short releases from earlier this year, Broken Bells recently dropped the full album titled After the Disco. Your whole day will be awesome if you just play it over and over. Broken Bells is one of those bands right now for me that brings out some of those old sounds - this offering is BeeGees-esque - with a fresh feel.

Spanish Gold - "Out on the Street"

It's going to kill me all year that these guys performed a live show in Radio Milwaukee's studio and I didn't call in sick to work. I did listen to the recording later where they shrugged off being called a super band - the members came from My Morning Jacket, City and Colour, and Grupo Fantasma. In my heart they're still a super band and this might be the album of the year for me. 

Benjamin Booker - "Violent Shiver"

Do you ever have that dream where your favorite steakhouse and favorite cheesecake joint become one restaurant and you get to eat there as often as you want? Benjamin Booker will be playing ahead of Jack White on tour this year... 

Foster the People - "Coming of Age"

From the band that put Pumped up Kicks in your head for like 12 months - their 2014 album has dropped. Supermodel overall is a better offering in my opinion with tracks like "Are you Who you Want to Be?" and "Best Friends." "Coming of Age" is a great single whether you like singing along or just air drumming.

Big Boi - "Mrs Vandebilt"

Comprised of half the Outkast crew, Big Boi remixed Paul McCartney's classic wonderfully. I'll share both just for you.

Vinyl Theatre - "Breaking Up My Bones"

A late entry for this month, I have to confess that I only discovered Vinyl Theatre last week. They are a local Milwaukee band and instantly impressed me with their clean, polished sound. They have a fair share of good tracks out over the past year, but "Breaking Up My Bones" has my most plays thus far. I get to see them live in two weeks so I'll be playing a lot more before then. They have a great Jack's Mannequin-type sound and I hope to hear some similarly timeless hits.

That's it for this month. Thank's for listening along.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

For Father's Day

Ah Father's Day - a day for new ties, BBQ, and a trip to the local golf course. On a day when all sorts of accolades will be shared on the interwebs, I'll chime in with a few of my own. Please note: the pics clearly have nothing to do with a golf course.

I'm happy to know my dad in a number of capacities. He's been a life coach and a professional mentor. He taught me how to pray and how to be a father. He's given me relationship advice and helped me fix less complicated things too. He picks up the phone when I need to lean on someone. He taught me to flip pancakes and how to care about how the lawn looks when I'm done cutting it. He plays in my fantasy baseball league and makes regular trips across the state and a half that separates us to share time in person. My 'sconnie fiancee tells me that my Minnesooootan is never so thick as when I'm talking to Dad. We've shared the hobbies of cycling, golf, camping, and hiking, as well as the fine arts of grilling and craft beer. If his title wasn't dad, he number among my best friends.

I've shared this story elsewhere before, but wanted to share it here at Like-Em as well. It's one of my personal favorite stories with Dad. It's the story of the first time I shot par while playing golf with Dad.

I had been playing the best golf of my short career and was enjoying the game like never before. I was working at the course and when I wasn't on the clock I was out playing. I was often at the course from sun up to sun down. I didn't get in a lot of rounds with Dad and when I did I put a lot of pressure on myself to show him just how good I had gotten that summer. Of course that meant my game collapsed every time we played together. I don't remember how many times we had played together already that year, but I remember that it was enough to make me edgy about the round that day. I guess in a way I was looking to validate myself and my game. I came home raving about scores that I hadn't been able to prove. It was and still is just a game, but as a teenager it somehow meant more than that.

I started out with horrific tee shot. That much might have been predictable. I swung over the top of the ball and watched it race up the middle of the fairway for about a 125 yard shot to open my day. I recovered with a long iron shot up around the green, a chip, and a couple putts to make a bogey. The next hole, a par five, offered redemption and I took advantage rocketing a tee shot up the middle, laying up, making a nice pitch shot, and the putt for birdie. Back to even par. Holes three, four, and five went smoothly and I was still even par headed to the sixth tee.

Another duffed tee shot. The most dependable part of my game had now tripped me up twice this round. Like the first hole, I played a long iron, chipped, and missed a putt to make bogey. We had three holes to play and I was back at plus one. It was already a victory. Dad had never seen me play even this well, but now I had a real chance to shoot even par for the round. The final three holes offered one good chance to get the stroke back with a short par five eighth. 

Seven is a 150 yard par three with sloped green that just never seemed to play nice with me. At that age, I had been prone to getting extra distance on my middle irons and too often played my second shot from behind the seventh green. I was also plenty jumpy coming off a bogey. To this day I can still walk on that green and tell you where the pin was placed that evening within about two feet. My tee shot stuck inside of that, just six inches left and back of the hole, and I was back to even par.

I knew that the longish uphill ninth was a threat to finish so I didn't hold back on the eighth, but ended up with a tap-out par after reaching the green in three. The final hole did not provide a challenge that night and I wrapped up with an even thirty-six at the turn. I've faced more adversity on the course and I've overcome more than a pair of bogies to get back to even, but never had two bogies been in my head as much as that night. For that reason I still consider it one of the best rounds I've ever played.

I would say that it was special to share that round with dad, but really it was special because I shared it with him. The role that he plays in my life led me to seek his approval in something as trivial as that round of golf. He'll tell you that I shouldn't need that, but I say that it shows the great impact that he has on me. 

Cheers to you Dad!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

One Year with Google Play Music

I'm approaching one year with Google Play Music All Access (it's also approaching its one year anniversary). I switched the week it was launched from an Rdio service that I loved for one that I quickly felt offered a similar experience at a better value. I think I'm probably a power user. I've listened to 115 songs 20 times or more (196 hours), another 286 songs 10-20 times (241 hours) and 1446 songs less than 10 times. Those only count the songs that "made the cut" to be added to my library. For someone who doesn't even have streaming access during my 9-5 I think that qualifies me as something of a power user.

Before I run through my wish list, I'd like to say that I love the service. I seldom have issues with playback. I feel the quality is good. I think the layout both on the web and on my Android app are great. I'm a big proponent of subscription music services (see playback hours above) and think that Google has built a great overall product with Play Music. 

That said, here are a few things I would like to see from the service as it heads into its second year:

Link Devices Better

Nearly every morning I use Play Music on my Chromebook while I have my morning coffee, peruse the news, and get ready for work. When I leave the house I often fire up Play Music in my car, but there is no way to just pick up where I left off. This was something that Rdio did well. Another impact of the failed linking is that my "Listen Now" tab is completely independent between my phone and computer - recent plays are remembered by device rather than by account. 

Better Music Discovery

Google Now tells me daily travel times to things through an incredibly intuitive process, but Play Music regularly misses when artists I listen to release new stuff. I often hear about new releases on blogs or even from the Rdio "New Music From Artists You Listen To" email before Google recommends it. The "I'm Lucky Radio" is often a good place for discovery, but direct recommendations are lacking. 

Better Recognition of Subscribers

I'm a paying monthly subscriber of All Access. So is my fiance. But when I share music with her, Google only manages to share a preview and link to buy the song/album. A better sharing experience would encourage more people to get on board with subscriptions. Sharing is social, and if sharing was better for subscribers it would make the All Access more social and generate more music sharing and discovery. The lacking feature makes it pretty clear that Google makes more money via selling music than subscriptions. I get that, but an increase in the volume of subscribers has some value too.

Dream Idea

Dear Google - You make a lot of money via advertising and local search and events get more and more prominence via Search and Now. Instead of recommending 4 "radio stations" to me (I've never once clicked on one) please recommend bands that are coming to my area and then, when I play them, make sure they show up in Now. You will help me discover more music and I'll probably buy the occasional ticket. For example - Jack White is coming to Milwaukee in July, I listen to a bunch of Jack White, bands he's been a part of, and numerous, similar artists. If you are going to recommend anything to me it aught to be Jack White a little more often for the next couple months and then make sure I know I can click your link to buy tickets.

Some people might say they don't want Google to "doctor" the results that much - that they want recommendations to be purely driven by some algorithm that has identified the perfect music for their tastes. I think this is the type of example that blows that out of the water. I already listen to plenty of Jack White and similar music and it would improve my experience to get recommendations for more of him (both his new album and some old things I may not be familiar with) as the concert nears and to complete that experience with a live concert by a band that I enjoy. If Google just partnered highly powered marketed bands and recommended Miley Cyrus to me before she came to town that would be bad as I have never played her or a similar artist via Play Music.

Further, since Google shows that selling music is more profitable than subscriptions, this would be a way to improve profitability from the subscription service and ensure the long-term offering of the product.

Just my two cents, but as a daily user of the service these would definitely be welcome additions.

Monday, May 26, 2014

About the Food I Eat

I decided not to say diet in the title because I know that if you're literate - I'm guessing you are by this point - you skip a lot of posts titled diet just like I do. So, full disclosure, I'm going to talk about diet a little bit here today. This is going to be a little background into my recent diet changes to lay the groundwork for a some future posts.

Steak, is a red meat.
Quick English course: Diet can be a noun or a verb. The two noun meanings? 1) the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats. 2) a special course of food to which one restricts oneself, either to lose weight or for medical reasons.

Most of us forgot about number one decades ago. Insert your own joke about how predicable it is that our society abandoned meaning one for version two. I feel the first definition contains a really interesting word that is missing from our diets today: habitually. I could write 1000 words about what I think about our fondness for fad diets, but this is going to be about how I've been shaping my diet in recent years. I'll share more about where I'm at now and where I'm trying to go in a future post; today is more about the journey.

About three years ago this month I started transitioning the way I looked at health. For a couple years before that I had gotten very focused on trying to build muscle mass in the most at-home, mid-20s, desperate way. I was lifting a lot of gym-rat type weights and transitioned my college diet to a protein focused one. It wasn't all stupid, I learned to put priorities into my meal planning and cut out wasteful calories in favor of the protein that I felt would help me attain my goals. Finally I accepted my body type and realized that being bulked up had zero benefits for my lifestyle. I started transitioning my workouts to more functional strength types: cardio, core, dynamic movements that combined multiple muscle groups. And with it I slowed down my protein goals and started thinking about healthy eating overall. 

The first step was simply trying to eat "healthy." I followed all the conventional tactics and cut down on sweets, ate a little more produce, etc. Around May of 2012, Beth and I started cleaning up the grains in our diet. That meant a switch to conventional wisdom's whole grains. It meant updating our breads and pastas, but didn't really require any new menu planning.

The following January, after doing some reading on Paleo eating and discussing the benefits with family we deciding to switch from cleaning up to cleaning out grains entirely. There's a lot of information out there about Paleo - I strongly feel like there's a difference between what has become the Paleo diet and what has always been a Paleo methodology to eating. I'll cover that in the future too.

In our transition to Paleo we went completely clean for a short time, maybe 45 days and then introduced a few things back to see how they impacted us. Since then, we've been enjoying the best health of our lives along with a flood of awesome and creative new menu options. 

The journey through the last few years is really goes back to diet's first meaning. It's about how we habitually eat. We have never adhered to a fad diet that we've forced ourselves into overnight. We've never gone through the kitchen and thrown out boxes and boxes of foods that "we're no longer allowed to eat." Each time we've made incremental changes in our diet we've focused on the menu staples that most needed to be addressed and found solutions that would allow us to be successful. By consistently making sustainable changes to our diet we've improved the way we habitually eat in a significant way. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Like-em May Playlist

We're back for the second installment of monthly playlists. The weather is starting to turn here and the energy along with it. We've finally attained the type of outside warmth where you need to crack a window whether in the car or at home and you're not sure if you should wear shorts or pants so you just wear shorts and tough it out.

Jack White - Lazaretto

I'm a huge fan of Jack White's music. I considered taking a day off of work just listen to the new album when it drops in June, but I decided to just spread it out over every evening that week. OK, maybe not, but I'm loving the sound of the new offering's already released singles, "High Ball Stepper" and this:

The Whigs - Modern Creation

We need a word for one of those songs that you're singing to in the car long after the song has ended. I've greeted colleagues with a "it's just a moderrrrn creation..." and a nod. If you have a word for that already let me know.

The Bleachers - I Want to Get Better

Here's a great catchy tune - the single The Bleachers released earlier this year. I would write more, but I'm still processing what the video was trying to tell me. Anyway, still like the song.

Kaiser Chiefs - The Factory Gates

I've been playing a lot of the whole album the Kaiser Chiefs dropped this year. I hadn't ever really gotten into them previously, but I'm digging the sounds here.

TV on the Radio - Mercy

TV on the Radio tends to have one song in every major release that I just play like crazy.  You know that circle thing with the arrow that you hit to replay a video? You're going to need that in about 3:18.

Max Frost - White Lies

For the life of me I can't figure out what is bringing White Lies back like it's a new release. The single was released in 2013. There hasn't been much more from Mr Frost. More Max! We want max Max. Anyway, I'm happy White Lies is getting played everywhere again. Clever lyrics alert: "I'm picking up really sketch vibes" will go to the lyric HOF.

James Vincent McMorrow - Caviler (and Kiings cover)

We're wrapping up with a double feature. McMorrow's voice seductively draws your attention all the way throughout this song. The Kiings are local Milwaukee guys and covered this amazingly well. You know how a good chef makes that dish you thought you mastered at home just a touch better. The Kiings did that here.

That's it for May. Play them loud.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Be Interested

I have a customer with whom I've never been on the same page. He is several generations my senior. He's criticized me for not having a pencil at the ready and being too dependent on my computer. He marches his way into my office as if I've just been sitting around waiting for him. He wants business to be done the way it was done decades ago and has decided that as the local face of the company, I'm going to hear about it. Naturally, he does a fair amount of business with us. The other day he came in needing a minor service. Shortly after sitting down he set a new iPhone on my desk and mentioned that he had just picked it up last week. Yes, the same customer who refused to use ink over lead. Happy to find common ground I asked how he liked it. 

We spent the next ten minutes talking about how he had become the unofficial photographic historian for the city. He had some 11,000 photos of historic buildings and homes, new builds, landscapes, events, and everything in between. Most of the photos had been taken with a more professional camera, but he had moved all the storage to the cloud for quick access when he was out and about. 

As a person who prides myself on my talent in cultivating relationships, I must say I learned a great lesson about people during that conversation. No matter how busy I might be, or what important things might be on my agenda for the day, none of it is as important as the people. 

A number of years ago, I'd guess I was in college, I read some great advice that applies here. Unfortunately I don't recall the source, but it amounted to a simple concept: be interested. The story had been about someone who was struggling to enjoy settings with numerous new people because they felt others simply droned on and the conversations were boring. The advice was to "be interested" and to really listen to others and appreciate the diversity of people. 

I forget that lesson from time to time, but when I remember to put it to work it's amazing how different interactions with others feel. You learn how often you get caught up in your own agenda and how you really don't give others the time and attention they deserve. I relearned that with my customer the other day. When I could lay aside my work for ten minutes and really listen to who he was, it was surprisingly easy to find something I found interesting about him.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Bulletproof Your Diet Efforts

Google stopped counting "best diet tips" after getting to 313,000,000 in a little more than half a second. I didn't read any of the results, but I'm guessing most of the results include lists. Anyway, there are a lot of strategies to help you meet your diet goals. I'm just going to talk about one today. It's my own. I stumbled on it trying to eat better myself and I know it will help you. Most tips you read or hear about are about trying something new. This might be a new idea, but it's designed to keep you from going back to something old. 

Change your staples.

That's it. Change your diet staples and you'll have just as hard of a time going back to your bad habits as you had cleaning up your weekly menus in the first place. Many people make the mistake of trying too many new recipes when changing diets. I love to cook and I love creating in the kitchen and trying new things. But being a full time chef when you get home from work is exhausting. If you're not careful, it's easy to pick up an old staple one night on the way home from a long day of work and that's too often the beginning of the end for healthy intentions.

There was a time in my life when I could leave work late, stop at the store, blindfold myself, grab some fresh chicken, a package of those Buitoni tortellini, a jar of marinara, and head home. I didn't actually use the blindfold but I could have. Today, it's zucchini instead of tortellini and if they kept it in the same place every day I could probably do that blindfolded too. In the same way, it's automatic for me to pick up ground hamburger and some sweet potatoes or a spaghetti squash. 

When we first dropped grains in early 2013 it was a challenge sometimes to stand in the grocery store and try to find a quick meal for a Thursday night. But as we swapped out pasta nights for squash nights, pizza nights for hamburgers and salad nights, and pancakes for egg frittatas it's gotten much easier. And now that we have new staples, I'm not sure I'd immediately know how to switch back.

Some tips on replacing staples:
  • Write down a list of your go-to meals
    • Choose the ones that least fit the healthy diet you are trying to attain and work backwards
  • Find comparable options and swap when possible
    • When we cut grains we used zucchini and yellow squash to make the same dishes. We dropped hamburger buns and put our burgers on a bed of salad.
  • Menu plan and shop less often (at least for a while)
    • We're not great about this, but we often shop for the first half of the week on Sunday afternoons. It forces us to focus on shopping a little less often and doesn't set us up for failure on one of those quick stops on the way home from work.
After a couple months you'll start to feel like your grocery store trips are more automatic. You'll be buying familiar things every week and maintaining your diet switch will be a lot easier. Give it a try. Good luck and happy eating.

Monday, May 5, 2014

On Trail Running and Maybe Meditation

I've mulled all sorts of ways to write about my love affair with trail running.

I have bits of writing about my transition from a shin-splinted sidewalk sprinter to the river-side runner I am today. I have bits down about how trail running is more spiritual than physical or mental. I've written about the added challenges of navigating tree roots, rocks, puddles, narrow passages between trees, steep banks, various depths of mud and how they make me love running even more. 

Some day I'll share some of those with you. Today is about the mental benefits of trail running. You can read all about how nature is a good stress reliever and how activities like camping and hiking, visiting state and national parks, and enjoying a good campfire are some of the greatest pleasures in life. It's all true - and that's why I run in it.

I'm a really bad meditate-er (I'm OK with illegally hyphenating a word if I'm making up the work to begin with). Like probably at least a few of you, I have tried to meditate a handful of times and I suck at it. I can't sit still. I can't clear my mind. Thinking about my breathing is one of the few ways I can actually bore myself. I like to think it's because I'm imaginative. When I manage to stop thinking about all the stressors in my life, I fill it right back up with something new. I could probably do it with some practice and instruction, but I haven't figured it out yet.

When I'm running the trails however, I'm forced to put everything away. The challenge of navigating the path and the cardio effort require intense focus. I'm pretty good at worrying about all kinds of things at once, but out there it's not physically possible. If you zone out into thinking about a conversation from work or with your spouse you will trip over a tree root and roll down the bank into the river. If you think about your bank account you will stumble on a rock and drive your shoulder into a tree. If you think about chores that need to be done in the house you will miss your turn and find yourself stranded on the end of a long peninsula with a the flooded river around you.

Like the stories that I have heard about from my mediating friends, I reach a point of emptiness in my thoughts that doesn't really feel empty. It feels peaceful. It feels clear. It happens naturally because I've put myself in a place where my stressors can't follow. Whether or not it's the same, I guess it's taught me about the importance of taking time to do something, to go somewhere, for yourself once in a while. I think more people need to take that seriously be it on a mat in a quiet room of the house, on a trail in the woods, or anywhere in between.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Wolf Of Wall Street and Income Producing Activity

I won't really spoil anything from the movie here - instead I'm going to spoil the post a bit right now. Most of the inspiration for this post is from the first few minutes of the movie while we are being introduced to Jordan Belfort and his budding Wall Street career. I would write a movie review, but... well trust me, it's better that I don't start that.

At the beginning of the movie, Leonardo DiCaprio's Jordan Belfort makes his way into his first Wall Street gig and meets a number of extreme characters. His lunch with Matthew McConaughey's Mark Hanna was, for me, one of the best parts of the movie. Hanna spoke about everything he did to be successful, clearly he was motivated by money and showed that he would do literally anything to get more of it. He offered that he was doing everything from alcohol to drugs to a number of other things to keep his edge every single day.

Moral notes aside, as the movie had its off-putting moments if you're the kind of person who has ever even driven past a church, Hanna's depiction of serving money was interesting to me. I say "serving money" because it reminded me of Matthew 6:24 - "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." I'm not going to try and enforce any moral code on Hanna, Belfort, or anything else that happened in the movie. Good stories inspire me to think about myself and Hanna's high level of success and the extreme choices he made to achieve it left me thinking about my own professional and personal success.

This isn't going to be about Matthew 6:24. The passage is another one that gets you thinking about how you define success, but it's a topic for another day. Rather this is about how Hannah forced as much income producing activity into his day as possible.

During a typical work day for me, I might spend 2-3 hours seeing clients, another 2 hours doing follow up, an hour reading on policy or product changes, an hour talking with colleagues, thirty minutes completing trackers and checklists, thirty minutes getting myself back on track after an interruption or after completing a task, and an hour at lunch. It would be easy to argue that all of those things have there place and that I appear to be pretty efficient at managing my time and getting a fair amount work done each day. You could also argue that spending just 25-40% of my time meeting with clients (the highest probability of income producing activity) is simply not enough to maximize success.

So how do I gear my day to shed more of the non-income producing activity in favor of more time with clients? Here are two things that I've made a habit in my work day that have made the difference for me:

Daily List

I already set a daily list of important items everyday when I first sit down at my desk. I look at items from the previous day that went undone and the items that most need to be done today and make a list. I try to keep it short. I first started this after hearing about the "6 Most Important Things" idea. Some days I have four, others eight, but I try to always have a list. To drive more income producing activities, I need to focus on what items are filling up that list. Half or more of those items should be about driving new production.

Personal Accountability

It comes down to me. I could ask to be managed, but like anyone else on Earth, I hate that. Being managed is a demotivator to me because I like knowing that I did something of my own volition. Simply then, I just need to decide that I'm going to push away service activity and adhere to more sales activity.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Like-em April Playlist

I've loved listening to a wide breadth and high volume of music since people were confused about the legality of pirating digital music - pirating is a word with many connotations. Well OK, since mixed-tapes but I don't always admit that. Now I'm a happy Google Play Music subscriber and listen to all kinds of music. I would like to share some of them with you every month.

This is my April Playlist - the songs that I played most this month whether or not they are new releases. I'm not going to write exciting critiques because I lack nearly ever bit of musical training that would allow me to do that. I'm just a guy who loves fresh tunes. Here's this month:

Arcade Fire - Normal Person

Reflektor was the first single I saw and didn't hit home with me right away, but Normal Person is my favorite song of the year so far.

The Black Keys - Fever

When this single was released I was pretty disappointed. I love The Black Keys for the "dirty" rock sound they've always had and felt this picked up on more trendy sounds. After hearing it through a couple times I've picked out the classic Black Keys sounds and like how some of the new sounds mix in. I am really excited for the full album release in a couple weeks.

Neon Trees - Text Me in the Morning

This won't be the biggest hit off the album, but I thought it was one of the more fun. I wish they would have actually tucked it back a bit further in the album because I felt they needed a little more energy in the second half. There was no YouTube release for this one, so I'm share the Play Music link.

Neon Trees - Text Me in the Morning

James Blunt - Postcards

I almost went with Miss America which is what got me to even try out Blunt's new offering, Moon Landing. Postcards is a fantastic track though, and won my heart. Clever lyrics are the key to my heart and sending his feelings on a postcard because he "doesn't care who sees what I send" is the kind of unabashed feeling we all wish we had about something from time to time.

Arctic Monkeys - Knee Socks

You knew I was going here when I said the clever lyrics thing about Postcards right? She's strutting around the house is his sky blue Lacoste and knee socks!!! This album has probably had the most plays for me this year and I plan to be in attendance when these guys play on the lake this summer in Milwaukee.

American Authors - Trouble

I played the EP like an addict when it came out last fall, so it was hard to get back into songs that I willfully overplayed when the full album came out. But Trouble is fresh and awesome and I'm glad they saved it.

St. Vincent - Digital Witness

The sounds all the way through this song just keep me coming back for more. This whole album is great, but Digital Witness was the song I first heard and it certainly earns cornerstone status on the album.

PHOX - Slow Motion

I've taken great satisfaction in listening to local artists in the past year and PHOX has me excited for they debut album with this great single. I'm anticipating my go-to hammock soundtrack.

I hope you enjoy April's Playlist!

Back to Public Writing

I'll keep this short as sort of a bookmark showing a return to public posting.

I've been writing privately much more than ever before for the past year, and as a result feel the most prepared to write publicly that I ever have. I've been working on a number of writing projects and hope to start sharing some of those soon.

As for today, I'll get the ball rolling with a new thing I'd like to do - sharing a monthly playlist of songs that I just couldn't get enough of each month. They won't all be new songs, just the songs that I played over and over all month.

Hope you enjoy!