Friday, December 30, 2011

Favorite Albums of 2011

Only a couple days left in 2011, so it seems natural to write my annual favorite albums piece. Music has been changing a good bit over the last few years with plenty of independent bands getting mainstream exposure and the lines being blurred between mainstream, alternative, progressive, and indie. It's been an interesting pill to swallow at times, but in the end my favorite albums ended up being the ones that made me feel something. No matter how the music is played, at the end of the day I just want to feel an emotion as a result of what I'm hearing. My favorite albums this year made me feel alive in some way. I hope you enjoy!

10. 1, 2, 3 - New Heaven - These gents seem to be catching some fire after forming in Pittsburgh and basing themselves in New York City. They spawned from one of my all-time favorite bands, The Takeover UK, and have kept some of the edge and all of the vocal beauty. Their first track, "Work", gives you that immediate blue collar feel that comes from the Steel City and resonates to the Big Apple. Pittsburgh also looks amazing in the video. I'm excited to see how far they'll go.

9. Owen - Ghost Town - Owen is the brainchild of stay-at-home dad Mike Kinsella. I never listened to Owen until this summer, but Kinsella's Live... video series for Ghost Town put him in everyday places for stationary shots of him playing a song from the album. My personal favorite location is the Graham Elliot Kitchen in Chicago. Look for that one as well as the first one for "Too Many Moons" where his adorable daughter makes a cameo. My favorite track, "I Believe", is in the video below.

8. Frank Turner - England Keep My Bones - I live near Seattle these days. For the birthplace of grunge, the music scene feels like it's lost its edge over the years. Consequentially, I love grasping for anything that reminds me of the east coast, or even the British isle. To be simple, Frank Turner sounds exactly like what he should sound like; a former punk rocker turned acoustic-driven frontman. He's got that scratchy tone that makes you feel like you're sitting in a Winchester pub sharing a pint with Turner's cousins.

7. City and Colour - Little Hell - Dallas Green's side project has become a main attraction with their full band release from 2011. Green continues to bring about subtle introspection paired with an acoustic guitar and tattoos covering his body like battle wounds of days past. While this album may have a cynical title, it is actually slightly more pleasant than past releases most of the time. Its title track is haunting and will get stuck in your head. The simplicity of this album is summed up in this track.

6. The Decemberists - The King is Dead - Possibly the most consistent album of 2011, the Decemberists came around to the idea of a constantly catchy pop-folk album while maintaining their ever-unique sound. This album is full of track after track that you just want to listen to. The hardest part was picking a favorite.

5. The Strokes - Angles - The Strokes returned in 2011 with a healthy mix of old Strokes and new direction. As can be expected with every Strokes album, the guitar riffs are tight, the drums are simple, and Julian Casablancas sounds like he doesn't give a what. All of the elements are there, with a little extra effort given to synths and electronic elements. At its core, though, Angles is vintage Strokes. "Under Cover of Darkness" is my favorite song of the year, hands down. I listened to this song about 100 times when I first heard it last year and it continues to get repeated when I listen to the album now.

4. New Shouts - Sing New Shouts - New Shouts are my favorite Pittsburgh band. Sorry to the other fantastic bands that I do love, but New Shouts just get me going. They have a purposefully-retro 1960s sound that is replicated flawlessly. These guys have fun on stage and clearly have fun in the recording studio. Any time I needed a pick-me-up this year, Sing New Shouts was hitting my iPod. "Hung on You" is one of the catchiest songs I've heard all year.

3. The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow - I resisted the Civil Wars for a while, which was a massive mistake. The Civil Wars come up with some simple, yet beautiful, Nashville music that you just remember. Joy Williams and Jon Paul White combine for a monumental vocal combination to go with White's old school country guitar. Nominated for a couple Grammy's, the Civil Wars deserve all the accolades they receive for their debut release.

2. The Head and the Heart - The Head and the Heart - These folks from Seattle/Tacoma provided me with my personal soundtrack for 2011. My good friend, Andrew Redfield, passed along "Rivers and Roads" well before I realized how big the Head and the Heart would get. That track turned into the anthem for a cross-country move and major life changes for myself and several friends. My heart still drops a bit every time I hear the first chord. Round it out with some beautiful harmonies and catchy, acoustic-driven folk instrumentation and you've got a very impressed debut.

1. Bon Iver - Bon Iver - I've never been more certain of a number 1 album. Bottom line, this is the most beautiful album I've heard in years; maybe ever. Justin Vernon created a masterpiece a few years ago with For Emma, Forever Ago, which made music lovers like me wonder how he could possibly follow it up. Vernon ditched the solo acoustic stuff by adding about 8 members to the band and creating hauntingly complex music that, at its core, still has the soul of Emma. Bon Iver, as a full album, is arranged with near perfection. Each song makes you want the one after it. I mean this in a way that every song is beautiful, yet when one completes you are ready to hear what's next rather than sticking with one or two tracks over and over. When a song ends, you aren't quite sure what you're in need of next, until the next track begins and you realize it's everything you've ever wanted.

Vernon shows incredible vocal range on this self-titled release. From the falsetto we've become used to on tracks like "Perth" and "Michicant" to the extreme deepness of "Hinnom, TX" that must be experienced in-person, Vernon has shown the world the depth of his musicianship on Bon Iver's second release. The album takes you through a journey, winding up in "Beth/Rest", which is so independent that it's the only way to conclude the album.

To fully explain my love for this album, you must know a few things. First, there have been times when I've become physically angered by the music because it is so beautiful that I can't understand it at times. Second, seeing this album played live was worth a 4-hour drive to Washington, DC, from Pittsburgh as well as dropping a nice chunk of change on a sold-out show in Seattle in the same summer. Third, the obsession with this album reached a fever pitch when I drove out of my way off of I-90 through Wisconsin to simply grab a picture of this record sitting on a street corner in Eau Claire, WI; the home town of Justin Vernon. Moving forward in music, every album I ever hear will be compared with Bon Iver. Good winter, indeed.

Honorable Mentions
My Morning Jacket – Circuital
Manchester Orchestra – Simple Math

Adele – 21
Foster the People – Torches
Young the Giant – Young the Giant

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Tree in a Story About a Forest

I love these little ten-minute blog posts. I rarely plan to write my favorite blogs. They are the ones that just happen. What's more, they're usually the ones I write in a short amount of time on the spot.

Donald Miller is my favorite writer. His latest book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, is the definition of a must-read. He encourages people to live stories worth talking about. The experiences he describes are real. He's a real guy living an average life but wanting more, just like all of us. Sure, he's writing books that sell a lot of copies and make him sort of famous in different circles, but at the end of the day he wakes up, works, enjoys friends, and goes to bed, just like the rest of us. His relatability makes him an author worth reading over and over because his simple, yet profound, thoughts can resonate with average people like me.

My favorite chapter of any book is "A Tree in a Story About a Forest" from this book. In this chapter, Miller talks about a gentleman named Victor Frankl who helped people to avoid suicide in concentration camps during World War II. He would illegally give these people hope and keep them alive. During a dark time in his life, Miller felt Frankl whispering to him that he was a tree in a story about a forest and that he had a bigger purpose than his own goals and aspirations.

After talking so much about living a better story and having adventures and experiences worth talking about, Miller brings it all back and reminds us that throughout these stories we must remember that we are not the center of attention, which is the complete opposite of what American society tells us. In the movies, we are the actor pursuing the dream job or the dream girl or the dream home or the dream family with two kids, a dog, and a white picket fence.

In life, that's not the story. The story is Jesus. We are characters in the story of Jesus. We are carriers of Jesus to people in this world. We are broken people who have been saved by Jesus' dying to conquer sin. Our brokenness is fixed by Jesus. We are nothing but arrogant for believing that we have anything to do with our lives being saved. We are arrogant if we think that our stories are more important than His.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Autumn Weekends, or, It's Hard Being a Pitt Fan

My sister just had her first article for the Post-Gazette published this morning! It's about growing up as a die-hard Pitt fan, which is not terribly common. You can read the article here:

This article about autumnal Pitt gamedays reminds me of my own youth; growing up 12-16 years behind my siblings, yet still raised as a Pitt fan. When Sue was in college and I was progressing through elementary school, they sucked. It was not fun to walk into school and talk to my friends who were Penn State fans about that weekends games. Penn State usually won, Pitt usually lost, and that was about it.

I vividly remember the days I would be running around the backyard playing football when I'd get called in for the second half of the Pitt games. I remember trying to go to games against Temple or Rutgers because those were the only games Pitt might win. One of my favorite memories was Halloween Thursday night, 1996, when I came home from trick-or-treating to find the best treat of the night: Pitt on ESPN! They beat Boston College that night for their third win in a four-win season. That same season, my brother took a trip to the Horseshoe at Ohio State to see the Buckeyes trounce Pitt 72-0.

I also remember the rise. Pitt had been bad the whole time I'd been a fan growing, so when a bowl game became a real possibility in 1997, it was something to talk about. After starting 2-1, Pitt upset the once-mighty Miami Hurricanes on Thursday night ESPN, resulting in some torn-down goalposts at Pitt Stadium, if I remember correctly. That season they needed two overtimes to beat Rutgers and two wins against perennial powers, Virginia Tech and West Virginia, to become bowl-eligible. They upset the Hokies, then turned around and upset West Virginia in a three-overtime game that I remember vividly. WVU kicked a field goal in the third overtime. Pete Gonzalez converted a 4th-and-17 to Jake Hofart keep the drive alive before another 4th down conversion to Terry Murphy for the win and bowl-eligibility.

Since then, it's been an up-and-down ride filled with higher expectations. A win in the last game at Pitt Stadium against hated rival Notre Dame, a blocked field goal attempt by LaVar Arrington to preserve a loss at Penn State, Walt Harris' Wide Receiver U putting players into the upper echelon of the NCAA and into the NFL, beating rival Penn State, 12-0, in their last meeting, Pitt garnering national attention, and ultimate under-performance by teams we expected more from over the years.

My memory has blurred a bit since my childhood. I've seen so many games on TV and in-person as a student that I am starting to forget details. I remember seeing some amazing things in person, like most of Larry Fitzgerald's catches, QB Tyler Palko (my favorite Pitt player of all time) running over a Boston College safety, and, of course, Aliquippa alumnus Darrelle Revis' silly punt return against West Virginia. Most importantly, I remember the day Pitt kept West Virginia out of the national championship game in a fluke win at my least favorite place in the world Mountaineer Field.

At the end of the day, sports are sports. They're nothing more and nothing less. Everything was magnified when I was a child, so I remember those events like they happened yesterday. I look forward to the day that I'm raising my kids in Pittsburgh, playing football in the backyard until it's time to come in for kickoff. I miss Pittsburgh today for that reason and for the reason that people honestly care about their sports in the Steel City.

No offense, Seattle, but your sports fans are lame and flaky. Watch your Huskies today, but know that you wouldn't care if they were 3-4 like my Panthers. Hail to Pitt!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Band Obsessions

Working in an office gives me a chance to listen to music all day, which is certainly amazing for someone who loves music like I do! There have definitely been days where I've been in moods when I feel like I'm bored with my music selection and I need some new stuff (which I usually indulge in at that point), but lately there have been a few albums or artists that have been able to simply captivate beyond the need for anything else. Let me mention a few of them here:

Fall Out Boy - Take This To Your Grave: These boys have a way of playing their way into my sub conscience and not getting out. They are probably the catchiest band I listen to and Patrick Stump's voice has a way of captivating my attention that few other singers can do. Take This To Your Grave was their first big hit and is one of my favorite albums of all time. It is pop-punk mastery. I loved listening to these guys on my way through their hometown of Chicago on my cross-country trip. Their follow-up album, From Under the Cork Tree is another one of my all-time favorites and is full of catchy anthems. Their last release, Folie a Deux, is one of the most underrated albums of the last 5 years, in my opinion, with plenty of diversity and a few cool cameos (Pharrell, Lil Wayne).

Bon Iver - Bon Iver: In short, this is the best album of 2011. There will not be an album that is better. If there is, I will pee my pants. I did not think there was a chance Bon Iver could follow-up their first release, For Emma, Forever Ago, with anything better, but they reinvented their sound and released a completely different album that is simply beautiful. Every track is stunning. I have a couple favorites, but I rarely repeat songs because each song prepares your spirit for the next. It just makes sense to listen straight through. In particular, though, I have been obsessed with this Bonnie Raitt cover from a little CD of extras, "I Can't Make You Love Me/Nick of Time"

The Tallest Man on Earth - Everything: Kristian Matsson is The Tallest Man on Earth, but isn't particularly imposing in stature. Instead, he's fairly meek and humble. He is one man with no other musicians involved. He is Swedish, but manipulates and utilizes the English language. Most importantly, he controls you. There is something incredibly endearing about him, despite the fact that he doesn't talk much, move around much, or really do anything much to particularly entertain you. He simple plays beautiful music with such emotion and obvious spirit in his voice that you can't help but be under his spell.

Taking Back Sunday - Tell All Your Friends: This is the quintessential teen angst album, which I didn't actually own until I was firmly inserted in my mid-20s. Regardless, this album is full of anger, frustration, and I-don't-give-a-what mentality that it fits any disgruntled mood you might have. Can't find any motivation? Tell All Your Friends? Girls being a pain? Tell All Your Friends. Missed the bus? Tell All Your Friends. It was amazing to see most of these songs performed by the original lineup on their tour this summer. What's more, take a look at videos from 2011 and then take a look at 2002, when the album was first released. The maturity has changed this band quite a bit. The emotion is still there, just in a different form, and with a microphone swinging swagger.

Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend: The most unlikely addition to any music list of mine, I could not figure out people's affinity with Vampire Weekend for years. The songs were odd, cheeky, and not particularly interesting to me. Then one day, it just hit me. Everything was sticking in my head. I wanted to learn every word to every song. I'd listen to the album straight through, then I'd want to listen to it again. The songwriting sounds simple, but is full of changes in time signature and demeanor. The lyrics are intelligent and full of one-liners. I think what did it was "Oxford Comma", thanks to "who cares about details" mentality and its use of the most taboo word in the English language.

Monday, October 10, 2011

100th Post

This is my 100th blog post. Initially I wanted to type "I can't believe it" or "I remember my first post like it was yesterday", but the fact is that it seems like an appropriate amount of time. Lots has changed since November 2008. I've grown immensely and in ways that I didn't expect, but in a lot of ways that I did expect. I would say that I can't believe where I'm at, working and living in Tacoma, WA, but I can believe it. It's been a natural progression. I've had to prove a lot of things to myself by getting here, like the fact that I would actually pick up and leave Pittsburgh.

Since that post three years ago I've written about getting back to the city, falling in love with the Northwest, working through graduate school, and working through a difficult job search. The things I've learned along the way have not been surprising. Patience and humility were certainly virtues that I did not possess remotely when this blog started. I haven't developed these virtues nearly as much as I'd like to, but I've grown a lot. 

I was extremely impatient on a micro and macro scale three years ago. I was short with people when I waited tables. I was rude to my parents and others when I would get upset about having to live at home. I was especially impatient with God's plan to get me into my next life stage. I think I knew that God would take care of me, but I didn't want to wait for it.

I was extremely arrogant about feeling like I should have a "real job" just because I had a Bachelor's degree, which I'm learning more and more was an extremely prideful and foolish stance. Just having a Bachelor, especially in a field like History, doesn't guarantee anything. I did have a salaried job in youth ministry, but God showed me that was the wrong direction. Waiting tables for a living is extremely humbling as you offer selfless service to people in hopes that they'll offer compensation for your work. Sometimes they would take care of you and sometimes they wouldn't. In the end, I learned to rely on God's provisions to carry me as far as I needed to go. I even had a chance to share my faith with co-workers who noticed my relaxed attitude with regard to making money. I never expected that people would learn about patience from me.

God got me to where I needed to be on his timetable. I learned what it means to be humble, patient, and rely on God as my provider. I'm still learning, for sure, but things seem clearer now. The last month has shown me so much about relying on God for safety and company. It's been very lonely here at times compared to my life in Pittsburgh, but God has provided people in His time and He has shown me to rely on Him in times of need rather than other people.

Thank you for reading, for whatever reason! I look forward to continuing to share my journey with you in the next hundred posts, however long that takes. God finds ways to show Himself to me every day, so I look forward to sharing my experiences with you and hearing the same from you.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Failure and Success

If there is just one single solitary thing that I've learned in my life, it's that every single time I try to do something on my own and without God, I fail. Every single time I seek God, I succeed. Success may not look like what I expect it to, but it is success nonetheless.

Monday, September 26, 2011

When the Story Ends

Moving to the Northwest has been a dream of mine, for any of you who have not been following my blog the last few years. It has been the goal for so long. It's been a dream I've had in my head since I first visited Seattle two years ago. This summer's job search gave me the opportunity to move here as I'd been hoping for. The dream would be realized. Pack up the necessities in Marie Antoinette and hit the road heading west until the road ran out.

So I did it.

Now what?

That's been the question. I've been reading through my favorite book again, "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years" by Don Miller. In one of the chapters, Don mentions the idea that we rarely think about: what happens to the characters when the story is over? We all know about John Cusack holding the stereo in the girl's yard, or Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan on the top of the Empire State Building, or Rudy making those unlikely tackles in his first-and-only playing time for Notre Dame. But what happens next? People don't live happily ever after because there is always a new goal, a new challenge, a new endeavor to navigate. I'm starting to learn what it really means for this to be the start of a new chapter rather than the end of a story.

This move has been the toughest thing I've ever done. Some days I wake up with debilitating homesickness that makes it difficult to function normally and enjoy my day. Some days I don't, though, and I thank God for those days. Things will get better, but for now I'm still just handling the homesickness day-to-day.

The most difficult part of this move has absolutely been finding community. It's not that I'm struggling to meet people or find places where community is, but it's just that I'm struggling with not having any support system in place here for me to rely on as I venture out for new places to call home. I don't have that one go-to friend to talk to about everything. I'm still finding ways to get my emotions out and feel refreshed. It's been a real struggle to lay in bed at times and process my thoughts by myself because sometimes it's hard to talk to anyone about them, even if they know what I'm going through.

Things are getting better, though. This weekend I spent time with some people who made me feel like they are genuinely happy to have me here. I do have a need to feel appreciated and I think the last 48 hours have made me feel that way consistently for the first time since I left Pittsburgh.

This is a journey. The past month has been an amazing journey that I'll never forget. Yesterday was a journey. Today is a journey. Tomorrow is a journey. Every day we learn new things about ourselves and others. Each day we get more comfortable than the last. One day soon Tacoma will start to feel a bit like home. 

No matter when that is, I know that I need to take advantage of the opportunities I have while I'm here. I want to go to shows weekly. I want (need) to start a band and play a shows around the Sea-Tac area. I may even want to live in Seattle for a year before my time here is done. Until then, though, I am living in Tacoma, finding community, and filling the voids that have been left from my move. I'm also creating new experiences that would not happen in Pittsburgh.

At the end of the day, God has placed me as a tree in a story about a forest. The story is ongoing and purposeful. There is a reason for me to be in Tacoma right now and it doesn't have as much to do with me as I'd like it to. I'm just a tree in a story about a forest.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Day 7 - Tacoma

Well, that's it!  I'm here.  I've made it to Tacoma in one piece thanks to Marie Antoinette.  It's late now, I'm tired, and I start work in the morning, so tonight may be more brief than I was hoping.

I woke up this morning next to Gonzaga University in Spokane.  I woke up pretty early since I'm still physically on Eastern Standard Time, so I rode my bike around campus.  Every time I was reading to turn back, I decided to go a little further and it paid off every time.  Their basketball arena, the McCarthy Athletic Center, was beautiful. There was a bridge crossing over to some dorms that provided the most amazing view of Gonzaga across the lake.  Then I rode around on a trail around this lake, providing more breathtaking views.  I thought the campus was fine last night when I rode around (catching a few minutes of Back to the Future on the lawn en route), but I'm sure glad that I experienced the beauty of Gonzaga this morning because it was a spectacular campus.

It'd be beating a dead horse to tell you about how amazing this trip was or how beautiful this country is.  Every day was better than the last as far as scenery has gone.  South Dakota was amazing, Wyoming was even more amazing, Montana seemed second-to-none, then I hit a brief/unbelievable stretch of Idaho, followed by the incredible contrast of Washington.  Desert, desert, desert, mountains.

I was wondering how things could get any better once I got to Spokane and had just experienced Idaho, but I forgot about the water!  Oh, the water.  I randomly decided to stop at one of these "scenic overlooks" today, which was probably the best thing I've done on this trip.  The Columbia River came out of nowhere to be what seemed like simply beneath me at one point.  I snapped a few simple pictures of its unreal beauty, then descended to a bridge that came down so far that I could have touched the water if I'd have reached over the railing.  Seriously, the only comparison is a National Geographic.

Now, the hard part.  I'm here, I'm settled, and tomorrow starts work.  Now I have to start over.  I sure do miss all of you back home, but I can't think about you much because it'll only make things hard.  I'm a sensitive, emotional, nostalgic person, so the last thing I want to do as I start this next chapter is to worry about who is not here.  All I can consider is what's ahead of me; my new chapter.  I look forward to developing relationships with my roommates and co-workers as well as finding a new church home.  I look forward to this challenge, but know that I love and miss you all in PA!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Day 6 - Spokane, WA

I'm so close, I can almost taste it.  In fact, it was a shock when I rolled into Washington today because I realized that this physical journey is almost complete.  Tomorrow morning I'll wake up and head west one last time for a short 5-hour jaunt to Tacoma; my final destination.

I traveled through Montana for most of today.  Montana was, by far, my favorite state to drive through on this trip.  First, it hits you with the wide open spaces that I wrote about yesterday, then it starts crushing you with mountains.  I started getting a taste of the Rocky Mountains when I was arriving in Bozeman yesterday, which created an excitement to hit the road again this morning.  By the time I got to today's midpoint, Missoula, I was fully immersed in the Rockies.

I love seeing college campuses, so I punched the University of Montana in my GPS for the Missoula stop.  I was driving up and down around 8000 feet of elevation (probably higher at some point, but I didn't notice a sign).  I thought the mountains would open up to allow Missoula to emerge, similar to other Montana cities, but it didn't.  Instead, Missoula is situated right in the mountains, creating the most beautiful natural location for a university that I've seen.

The university was crawling with bikes.  Students were riding all over campus and clearly have mountain biking opportunities because this was the model of choice.  I got on my bike to ride around and take some pictures while I had plenty of time to kill.  The U of M has about 16,000 students, making it a similar size to Pitt.  The campus, however, is as different as can be.  Their campus is set apart from the city of Missoula with breathtaking scenery thanks to its mountainous terrain.  I asked the information desk girl where I could get a t-shirt (the book store was closed) and she told me Wal-Mart, but she also pointed me in the direction of the Oval as the best place to get a few good pictures.

The oval hosts the grizzly statue (UM's mascot) and University Hall, its oldest building.  Behind University Hall is Mount Sentinel, which features the M trail; switchbacks leading up to an M near the top that is common for student hiking.  You can see a picture of the scene here.  The campus was fantastic to bike through because there were so many paths going in several directions, so there was plenty to see.  I got a really great vibe from the campus and even feel now like this could be a stop during my career if I decide to venture away from an urban atmosphere for a while.  A community of hiking and biking is something that I will encounter in Washington, so I may develop more of an interest when my career is ready for the next step after a handful of years.

Driving through mountains is one of those several things on this trip that simply cannot be adequately described with pictures or words.  You'll see my pictures trying to tell the story.  I can also tell you things like how many expletives I used per hour in simple amazement of my surroundings, or how when I was reaching the crest of the road in the mountains I started to wonder if there would be more road on the other side to catch me, or how terrifying I think it'd be to actually drive as fast as the speed limit coming down some of the winding roads in Idaho.

But these things won't do it justice.  You need to see it for yourself.  I have been driving through a National Geographic documentary this week.  Seriously, you need to see it live and in-person.

Like I said, the physical journey has almost concluded.  This week has felt like an eternity in some ways.  I've had so much time with just me and the road this week and it's felt wonderful.  The road and Marie Antoinette (my car) have been my best friends this week, so every morning I've been excited to wake up and spend more time together.  That time ends tomorrow, which I'm sure Marie is excited about so she doesn't have to drive 95 mph ever again.

It's sad to think about this trip ending.  I've enjoyed being a vagabond this week, going with the wind and exploring the United States by myself.  I've enjoyed being unemployed this summer and having time to do whatever I've wanted to do every day.  That time ends and I'm sad to see this unique experience end.  I'm also scared about actually doing exactly what it is I've wanted to do.  There's a certain excitement and joy that comes with the anticipation of an event or major life change, so now that it's actually happening I have a lot of pressure for this experience to be exactly what I've hoped it to be.  I've known that the grass isn't necessarily greener, just a different shade of green, but now it's up to me to make this experience in Tacoma exactly what I need it to be.

In a way that will be difficult, but in another it won't.  This trip has given me a craving for the outdoors.  I'm looking forward to buying some camping and hiking equipment and using it.  I'm looking forward to spending some time on the Puget Sound on a kayak.  I'm excited to bike around Tacoma and see how far I can go.  All of these things I've daydreamed about can be done if I just get out there and do them.  Life is what you make of it.  Opportunities come and go, so we need to choose to take them.  I've chosen to accept this inciting incident and make the move to the Pacific Northwest, so now I have to take the reigns and let the Lord lead me, as they say.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Day 5 - Bozeman, MT

Let me start tonight's post by explaining that I cannot adequately describe the beauty I've seen in this country. Every state is more beautiful than the last.  This drive has been absolutely surreal and I feel so blessed for having the opportunity to cross this country by car.

I woke up this morning in South Dakota and began my trek toward Big Sky country.  It is amazing how distinct each state really is.  As soon as I crossed over from South Dakota into Wyoming, it was a clear change from the rolling green hills to the wild west.  Wyoming was full of pastures and open space for roaming purposes.  Going along with the "small world" theme, I had lunch with a friend (Hannah) of a friend (Jeremy) of a friend (Kallie) in Sheridan, WY.  

As I've described, it's been amazing to see real people living real lives in these locations that I've only heard about.  While I was hoping that Hannah lived in a little 500-person town off the beaten path, Sheridan was a big oasis of a town in a vast western expanse.

As I said previously, each state is better than the last.  Last night, my favorite state was South Dakota.  Tonight's new favorite is Montana.  Pictures and words cannot accurately explain how vast the sky is in Montana.  Imagine being able to see in every direction for 10 miles, then imagine what that clear blue sky looks like above.  At one point I recall seeing a wall of clouds with clear sky to the right that looked like a literal sea.  I crept over the hill to see this ocean of sky, wondering what body of water was approaching.

I remember reading an article that my friend, Dave Mesing, posted a while ago about the experience one has in a town when they ride a bike versus driving.  When you drive, you simply enter your vessel at one end and emerge at your destination.  You see the things in between, but they just seem like scenery on your way.  

The same can be said for traveling across the country in a car versus a plane.  If I would have flown from Pittsburgh to Tacoma, I'd have been there a few days ago and would have missed an immense collection of beauty that cannot be described in this post.  Driving through Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana has given a face to these locations.  I've interacted with people who live in these places and learned that life happens here.  People grew up here, worked here, lived here. 

I arrived in Bozeman, MT, tonight with some daylight and a desire for a coffeeshop, dinner, and a beer.  Bozeman is an awesome little college town, hosting Montana State University.  As I rolled up to the coffee shop (Wild Joe's Organic Coffee and Tea), I was immediately asked if I had a doobie to spare.  Sad to say, I didn't.  I guess if you roll up to an organic coffeeshop with your life packed in a Honda Civic and a bike strapped to the back, you can expect to be asked about having pot.

I had dinner and a couple beers at the Montana Ale Works, which was a cool ale house with some good food and a packed house.  The beer selection was fantastic, including mostly local Montana brews.  Dinner and beers were great and I rounded out the night with an old friend; Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Tomorrow I have a place to stay at Gonzaga in Spokane, WA, so I've got about 6 hours of driving tomorrow before 5 more on Monday to arrive in Tacoma.  I'm so thankful for safety and smooth sailing so far.  Thanks for your prayers and I look forward to another enjoyable trek tomorrow. 

Before I call it a night, let me try to explain how valuable a GPS, smart phone, and good stereo are on a cross-country roadtrip.  I don't know where I'd be or even how much I'd be able to handle this trip if it weren't for these modern amenities.

I leave you with this tonight: These places are real.  I've driven through the documentaries.  You absolutely must see this country.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Day 4 - Rapid City, SD

Today was easily the most enjoyable day of driving I've experienced.  Not only that, it was certainly the longest at about 10 hours and 600 miles of driving from Minneapolis, MN, to Rapid City, SD.  I'm sitting in a plush hotel in Rapid City right now, for which I am very thankful because I've slept on a couch, floor, and futon since my trek began three days ago.  I'm looking forward to dinner and a beer before a big, comfortable bed takes my exhaustion away.

My journey from Minneapolis was accompanied by the city's own The Hold Steady.  I listened to Stay Positive three times in a row without boredom.  The album is so good and there is something amazing about listening to a band singing about the city you're traveling through.  It was cool to roll up Hennepin, knowing that Craig Finn sings about living on this very street on "The Sweet Part of the City" from their latest release, Heaven is Whenever.

Before that, though, I must gather my thoughts.  South Dakota has been my favorite state, thus far.  The vast expanse of space is simply impossible to explain with words.  Some described SD has a very boring state, but I was constantly amazed by the miles and miles and miles of space to become bored.  SD is so lacking of people and places that any time you saw one or the other it was reason for excitement.

I was racing against the clock, in a way, which made the drive more exciting.  I am thankful that Marie Antoinette (my car) could handle driving 85 mph for most of those 600 miles.  My only goal was to leave Minneapolis around 11am and get to the Badlands by sundown, which would give me about 8.5 hours.

Jack Kerouac kept me company with On the Road for a significant portion of the ride.  This is an absolutely perfect audiobook for a road trip because Kerouac continues to travel back and forth across the United States, finding work and characters along the way.  A book like this gives me motivation to take advantage of every opportunity and make the trip memorable.  It's been a safe trip to this point, staying with friends and keeping to major cities, but the next few days will be traveled through Big Sky country without a familiar face in sight, so adventure may be right around the corner.

This transition in my life has shown me equally that the world is a very small and a very large place.  I've made connections with people in Tacoma that I'd never expect, which makes the world feel small at times.  On the other hand, driving for hours along a near-empty highway across what didn't seem like an enormous state has reminded me that I am a very small person in a very big world.  Looking from side to side on I-90 gave your eyes massive amounts of green and space to devour.  Look upwards and it is simply sky.  For the most part, that sky was cloudy and dark, which I was thankful for because it was so hot the previous two days.

I stopped in Sioux Falls, directly between Minneapolis and Rapid City, for lunch.  I made an incredible realization here that my urban mind never really thought about.  People live here.  Not only do people live here, but people probably love it here.  South Dakota is home.  They work here and shop here and their kids play baseball here.  It so often seems to me that life does not happen outside the city, but it does.  People love the open spaces and farm country.  It was simply amazing to be in this small city in the middle of nowhere and realize that people call this place home.

As I approached the Badlands, it was a race against the sun.  It was setting and my time was growing thin.  To avoid beating around the bush, I barely made it.  The Badlands come out of nowhere.  You're driving a couple miles away from the interstate then, all of a sudden, there it is.  These colored mountains stretching for miles and creating magnificent terrain.  They reminded me of the little painted desert in Arizona.  I rolled up listening to The Wild Hunt by The Tallest Man on Earth because the album reminds me of these big expansive spaces.

I didn't have much time, so I snapped a bunch of pictures.  The sun was setting quickly and darkness was falling.  My car was the last remaining at this pullover spot and the depth of the night was setting in.  I was moved to tears when I realized the enormity of God in this place.  The landscape changed so drastically over a 20-minute time period from when I arrived to when the sun was gone and I was on my way.  The pictures tell a better story, but still don't do justice to this natural wonder.

So that's the end of today.  Tomorrow I trek through Wyoming into Montana.  My timetable will open up and I'll be able to stop more without worrying about timing.  I look forward to that.  This trip has been amazing and I could type more and more about it, but I'll save some more reflection for tomorrow.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Day 3 - Minneapolis

My third day of traveling started in Milwaukee, WI, and landed me in Minneapolis, MN.  I took a tour around Marquette University with Jamie this morning before heading out.  Marquette has a beautiful campus with a mix of very old and very modern buildings.  It's has a great, warm urban/residential vibe and a lot of beautiful landscaping and architecture.

The road was a lonely place today and I was struggling to stay focused and alert.  I made a few stops to keep things fresh, but the 90 degree heat was weighing on me.  As I drove across Wisconsin, my one goal was to hit Eau Claire and drive down the streets Justin Vernon used to inhabit before Bon Iver.  The town was great little suburban spot with families and a quaint downtown area.  People were walking around downtown in bathing suits while carrying inner tubes for spending the hot day on the river.  I set my Bon Iver album on a street corner and took a neat little picture.

I'm visiting with my friend Rachel in Minneapolis and staying overnight with her boyfriend, Jon.  They go to North Central University in downtown Minneapolis.  It's a nice little urban campus within walking distance of a lot of cool spots.  We had dinner at a brewery a mile or so away with plenty of outdoor seating, then walked down to the water for my first view of the Mississippi.  Minneapolis is pretty picturesque and offers plenty of bike lanes all over the city.  I'm definitely jealous of how bike-friendly Minneapolis and Milwaukee are, combined with their flat terrain.  Those are definitely two things that Pittsburgh was lacking.

Tomorrow and Saturday are my longest days of traveling.  Tomorrow I drive about 10 hours to Rapid City, SD, with a stop in Sioux Falls on the way.  I'm hoping to hit the Badlands right around dusk to get an amazing sunset.  Thank goodness for gaining an hour when I change time zones!  Tomorrow is definitely Rapid City or bust, but the following day I'll have some options as far as how far I'd like to push into Montana.  Today is the last day I'll see a familiar face until I hit Tacoma, so it's going to be an interesting few days of traveling.  I'm enjoying the trip, but will definitely be looking forward to the end pretty soon.

I'm extremely thankful for this trip, though.  I can't believe I'm actually taking a solo trip across the country.  It's been fantastic to see so many states that I wouldn't have seen otherwise and to really interact with people in these cities that I'd only seen in pictures and TV.  Cities like Milwaukee and Minneapolis aren't necessarily "must-see" locations, but they're great American cities with real, genuine Americans that remind me what this country is all about.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Day 2 - Milwaukee

Day Two was more of a physical challenge than the first, for sure.  I was on the road for much longer; about 7 instead of 3.  Today's journey had me saying farewell to the Prats girls and heading towards Indianapolis before venturing north through Chicago and into Milwaukee to visit Jeremy and Jamie Ault, who have recently moved here for Jeremy to start his fellowship with Marquette.

I didn't hit the road as early as I should have, but thank goodness that I didn't account for Central time because I got an extra hour and took time to stop for lunch at Bub's north of Indianapolis.  This place was featured on Man vs Food on the Travel Channel for their burgers, so I had a quarter pounder and it was delicious!  The seasoning was fantastic and medium rare was certainly the proper temperature for their juicy burgers.  They provided group games at each table for entertainment and offered a picture on the wall to anyone who ate the Big Ugly one-pound burger.  It was touristy, but I'm a tourist, so lay off.

Indiana kinda sucks.  It's bigger than you'd think and pretty stinking boring.  The most interesting part, however, was a sea of windmills.  I'd have to estimate close to 1000 windmills in a 10 mile stretch.

Thank goodness for audiobooks.  I was listening to On the Road by Jack Kerouac for most of the trip today. As I began to approach Chicago, I listened to my favorite Chicago band; Fall Out Boy.  I went through their whole discography, which kept me alert because I was wailing every note right along with Patrick.

Arriving in Milwaukee was a nice result.  It's great to see familiar faces.  Jeremy, Jamie, and I rode bikes around the city to dinner and had some beers.  My favorite cheap beer, Pabst Blue Ribbon, is a local product so I had to have one.

Nothing too insightful today, unfortunately.  I'm pretty tired and hoping that my body holds up.  I will say that it's been a blessing to have places to say and to possibly have a connect in Montana so I may only need to get one hotel on the whole trip.  Also, I mentioned my desire to Skype to Lindsay and she gave me a web cam that Mike got for her and didn't work on her computer!  One less thing I will need when I get to Tacoma.  Thank God for these simple blessings.

Minneapolis tomorrow!  Maybe stopping in Eau Claire, WI, on the way to say hi to Justin Vernon.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Day 1 - Columbus

It feels like I'm entering a period of intense blogging, so brace yourself!  Today was Day One of my cross-country trip from Pittsburgh to Tacoma.  My first leg was a short trip from Beaver County to Columbus to visit Mike, Lindsay, and June Prats.  

Although Mike and Lindsay had to get to bed early, it was nice to spend some time with these close friends and relax before a longer day of driving tomorrow en route to Milwaukee.  Lindsay cooked us a delicious dinner of chicken, brussel sprouts, and corn on the cob, which was a forgotten bonus about staying with friends along the way!

It was hard to leave everyone today and I get emotional when I see pictures taken at my parents' house because I get nostalgic.  Life is progressing, though, and I wasn't going to stay in Pittsburgh forever.  I'm thankful that I have felt 100% peace about my choice to take this job at UW Tacoma and start a new chapter.

I think this week will be an enjoyable adventure at times, but my lengthy periods of time on my own will produce a lot of idle thinking time.  I need to take advantage of these times and pray, pray, pray.  Savoring this trip is important because life will restart upon arrival in Washington.

The Avett Brothers kept me company on the road today.  It seemed appropriate for my visit with the Pratses, who are both big fans.

Check out my blog from earlier today, prior to the road to Ohio: Heading West

Heading West

This afternoon I begin my trek west.  I'm sitting on the porch at Beaver Falls Coffee and Tea with some of my closest friends from Beaver County.  It's a surreal experience.  So surreal that it really doesn't feel like I'm leaving.  Today, it feels like I'm just about to take a little drive to Columbus to visit friends.  Tomorrow will just feel like a trip to Milwaukee.  I don't think the reality will set in for at least a week that I'm really going to live in Tacoma, WA, and not Pennsylvania.

That's something interesting I've discovered about life while approaching this day.  When I talk about being nervous about leaving or being sad about not getting to stay, friends would encourage me that I'll be back to visit and I can return for a new job in a few years.  I used to think that that fact was still a big deal and that three years was a significant amount of time.  It still is significant, but I think I'm beginning to realize that life will go on, I'll keep in touch with friends and visit for vacations.  When I come home, life will resume.  If I move back to Pittsburgh in 3, 5, or 10 years, I'll return to a different set of people, but a life as similar as I choose to make it.

The big difference will be that I'll have an amazing experience under my belt.  This move will be the hardest thing I've done to this point.  I've lived in the Pittsburgh area for 26 years and now I'm venturing out to a new place with very little familiar places.  This will be a growing experience that is completely necessary for me to become the man God's created me to be.

I recognized recently that I need to leave Pittsburgh at some point and try something new.  It is clear that this chapter in Pittsburgh is coming to an appropriate end.  People are transitioning into new lives and settling into new situations, so it's time for me to do the same.  I'm ready to potentially be a pioneer for friends who want to join me in the Pacific Northwest.  Or maybe I'm ready to start a new life on my own.  Or maybe I need to just get away from PA for a while to recapture its mystery in my heart.

No matter what the case, God is sending me to Tacoma for a reason.  I'm excited to see what that reason is.  I've got a few ideas.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Simple blessings

God has been blessing me in the simplest ways lately.  He's taken potentially complicated tasks, like finding a job and housing, and has made them extremely simple and logical.  We don't pay attention to or thank God for these simple blessings often enough, so take time to do that today.

It's interesting how God's plan seems to make so little sense until we get to a resolution and realize that things worked out exactly as they should.  With my job search, not only did I find a great job in a location that I'm excited about, but God also blessed me with little things along the way.  He blessed me with a job before the school year begins and higher education jobs become sparse.  He blessed me with the entire summer to enjoy in Pittsburgh before I start my next chapter.  He's blessed me with a calm assurance that it is the right time to make this move.  He's blessed me with more patience than I was aware I could muster throughout the whole job search process.

In addition to these things, God has also blessed me with a great housing situation in Tacoma a month before I even move out.  He's taken these big situations and made them manageable.

Today, look at the small complications in your life and how God makes them simple.  For example, yesterday I wanted to go to the South Hills to replace the old speakers and stereo in my car, but I didn't want to sit around the shop for 3 hours waiting for them to finish.  My friend, Ed, lives in the South Hills, so I called him hoping he would be off because youth pastors are usually off on Monday.  Ed was off, free, and lived 10 minutes from the shop, so we hung out all afternoon.  This was just one of those simple, everyday occurrences of seeing God's hand in my life.

Take time to thank God for making things simple that we don't notice.  He's making your life easy without the fireworks and fanfare.  These are the everyday miracles that we should be praising God for!

Monday, August 8, 2011

What will you miss?

I've been asked a pair of questions recently that make a lot of sense for someone in my position.  My friend, Josh, asked if I have a Pittsburgh bucket list of things I'd like to do or places I'd like to go before I move to Tacoma.  My other friend, Lisa, asked what I will miss most about Pittsburgh.  I don't have a bucket list nor will I miss any one thing in particular.  While the answers to these questions naturally differ, they are fundamentally driven by the same idea: the thing I love about Pittsburgh is my friends and family.

Sure, there are places and things about Pittsburgh that I will miss.  Primanti Bros, the incline, all of our sports teams, Hough's, and of course Suncrest Camp.  But in the end, my memories are of people.  I don't do many things by myself because I like to enjoy experiences with others.  The coffeeshops, the dive bars, the restaurants; these things exist everywhere, but it's the people I'll miss.

I won't miss Ambridge, PA, but I'll definitely miss Sunday morning breakfast with my family.

I won't miss Silky's and their too-expensive-to-go-on-weekends prices, but I'll miss shuffleboard, darts, and late nights out front with good friends.

I won't miss Schenley Park disc golf, but I'll miss those intentional conversations with Jordan, Dustin, or Greg.

I may not miss my room, but I'll miss living with great friends and the potential for jam sessions with anyone who's lived here.

I may not miss Tazza D'oro or Commonplace, but I'll miss the mornings spent there with Robby.

I may not miss Suncrest Camp itself, the 50 year old mattresses, the constantly uncomfortable weather, or the most forgiving rims in basketball history, but I will miss every camper, counselor, musician, and director I've spent time with over the past 10 years.

For me, life has always been about experiences and who you spend them with.  When I shed tears on my journey, it will not be a result of places or things I've left behind, but for people I hope to encounter again.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Two years ago I visited my friends Jenn and Ron in Seattle for a week before I started graduate school.  I fell in love with the city and the Pacific Northwest.  Upon starting school I decided that I would move to Seattle when I finished school.

Two years later, I will be moving to Tacoma, WA.

I accepted a job at the University of Washington Tacoma yesterday and will start in early September.  My job search process has been a test of patience and faith from day one.  I have grown and understood God's plan in a more serious way that I ever expected!  Throughout the process I had plenty of exciting job opportunities come and go.  I even turned down two very good opportunities that simply were shown to me as positions that were not good fits for me.  It was difficult to watch my cohort of graduates move on to their new positions and to hear many professionals question my decision to turn down jobs, but in the end my faith in God's plan has resulted in the opportunity that excited me more than any other!  I've debated several different locations, only to land in my number one choice in the end.  While it's not exactly Seattle, it's very close, a more manageable size, and a more affordable location that will be a much better fit for my first city after Pittsburgh.

Without getting into much detail, I am very excited for the entire opportunity.  The position, Student Services Specialist with a focus on Career Development and Education, is an exciting and versatile position that will give me plenty of opportunity to develop career services at UWT as well as develop me as a young professional.  My colleagues are a young and exciting group that I feel like I'll look forward to working with every day!

Much more will come as I blog about my last month in Pittsburgh, my week-or-so-long roadtrip across the country, and the next chapter in Tacoma, so I look forward to sharing this journey with you!  Thanks for your prayers and support.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Head and the Heart

Yes, I listened to this band because they sorta share a name with my blog.  Their lyrics, though, are introspective in the way you'd expect with that sort of name.  Check out the review I wrote for their self-titled album here at Ear to the Ground!

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Remember when you were a kid and someone would ask what you wanted to do when you grew up?  What did you say?  I wanted to be an athlete.  I probably said other things, too, like astronaut and firefighter (you know, the jobs that very few people I know actually do).  We were idealistic then.  Our parents told us we could do anything we put our minds to, which was good advice because it probably got us over several hurdles in our lives.

At some point we realize that you're topping out at 6' and won't play in the NBA.  Sure, that day was sad, but you saw it coming, and for that reason it was a simpler pill to swallow.  Lives change over time and we adjust to what seems reasonably possible.  

I realized that my career interests were in a far lower-paying field than one would dream of (education) so any thoughts of some big extravagant house, new car, and eating at Salt of the Earth every week basically went out the window.  That's okay, though, because my circumstances have prepared me for frugal living and enjoying the little things.  I commute on a bike, try to cook for myself instead of going out, and save my money for the occasional splurge on a good concert.  I'll make more money some day, but my circumstances have allowed me to enjoy a life where money is not a driving force.

This idea extends further.  In the job search, you will get turned down for interviews and jobs, but the only thing you can focus on is what's in front of you and not that great opportunity that wasn't given to you.  That girl or boy that isn't interested in you, it's time to pick up and move on to find that person who is interested in you and worth your time.  There's no sense crying about friends who have left, so we must enjoy the ones who are here and take time to visit the ones who are gone.  We have to deal with the circumstances that are given to us.

One of my strongest character traits is that I keep things in perspective.  I've mentioned plenty of times that God teaches us not to worry because He cares for the birds and the grass and everything in between, so surely He cares for us.  Worrying does not get us anywhere, no matter how hard that is to hear.  We could mope about the job we didn't get, the girl who doesn't like us, and the friends who have moved all over the country, but mourning our losses won't get us very far.  For this reason, I handle death and funerals better than most people.  They're gone, so there's nothing we can do now except celebrate the life our friend has lived.

I've been dealt some unfavorable circumstances over the past few years, but the only way to move on is to move on.  Things are the way they are, we may not be able to change them, so we have to take the cards we are dealt and move forward.  It's a scary concept, but God has our best interest in mind and will carry us through whatever arises in our lives.

Here is a beautiful song by The Head and the Heart singing about the way things change; Rivers and Roads

Friday, June 17, 2011


I have faith.  More than I realized.  You really learn how much faith you have when you take a "leap of faith" and make a risky move.  In my job search, I've had two campus interviews for jobs so far, been offered both jobs, and turned them both down.  They were not good fits.  The locations were not appealing and the work was not what I've been looking for.  The people were fantastic and I hope our paths cross again, but in the end it was a strong feeling of comfort when I turned the jobs down.

So I'm crazy right?  Well, maybe I am.  The fact is, though, that whether I should or not, I'm waiting for a good fit to take a job, even in this rough job market.  Sure, I'm young and have my whole life in front of me, but I'm not the type of person who will sacrifice a good place and good friends for what seems like a lateral or downward movement.  Give me community and I'll go.  Give me an amazing city (ahem, Seattle) and I'll go.  I'm young and single with what feels like the world in front of me.  I guess I'm just not as willing to sacrifice as I should be.

But that's how God created me.  He wants me to live life to the fullest and enjoy every moment, not sacrificing a second.  I felt so overwhelmingly comfortable turning down each position that I did not question for a second whether it was the right move.  I have an awesome community in Pittsburgh, Beaver County, and Philadelphia that I'll only leave for an exciting opportunity.  But have no fear, employers, I am committed to only applying to jobs in exciting locations from now on!

In the meantime, I continue to pray.  I'm praying for the right opportunity to come at the right time.  I'm praying that I can soak up every second I have in Pittsburgh in case God leads me to a new location.  In the end, all we have is today, so enjoy it.

Also, enjoy this jam about Faith by Taking Back Sunday:

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Saxifrage School

The Saxifrage School was featured in the Sunday edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on June 5, 2011.  You can read the article here.

Basically, the Saxifrage School is the brainchild of a friend of mine, Tim Cook, who I met at Banjo Night at the Elks Club on the North Side in the summer of 2010. After telling Tim that I was studying Higher Education Management, he told me his idea for a stripped-down, bare essentials college that would be committed to developing a student's real-life skills.  Being a very recent student myself, this struck me as a project that I wanted to contribute to, so I have been serving on the initial planning team since February.

As Tim has learned, along with the rest of us, starting a college is not simple, but our fearless leader has committed himself in a way that is inspirational.  We don't need to be encouraged to power through to make the project possible; it is already beyond possible.  This school will happen, it's just a matter of making sure this project is the strongest project we can create.

As the PG article describes, students will learn things like how to grow their own food or do house construction while reading literature, mastering Spanish, and living in community with a neighborhood of Pittsburgh.  Here's the basic idea: a valuable, low-cost college education.  As described on the School's homepage, the goal is to have dual-majors in an "academic" and a "technical" field and Spanish fluency for 400 students.  (Read more ideas about academics here)  The School plans to have 40 instructors whose salaries will be paid by a vast majority of the incoming tuition dollars.  The Saxifrage School will operate with a nomadic campus with one or two administrative buildings while hosting classes in underutilized community spaces such as churches and bars.  Students will rent living space in the community and work part-time jobs alongside their neighbors. The frills of student affairs will be cut down (or completely) as needed.  This conservation of resources will result in an education-and-community based model that will cost students only $5000 in tuition.

Academically, the dual-majors will be a combination of two fields; one academic and one technical.  The academic field choices are World Literature and Writing, International Systems, and Religion and Philosophy while the technical fields are Organic Agriculture, Computer Science, and Building Design and Construction.  Students will have the opportunity to expand their intellectual horizons while learning practical skills that can be applied every day at home and the workplace.

The uphill battle is still ahead.  Four teams have been developed to focus on the academics, fundraising, logistics, and community for the School.  Between now and the anticipated opening in 2014, the Saxifrage School will choose a community in which to start, develop relationships with their neighbors, recruit instructors and students, develop academic programs, and raise a couple million dollars, among other items on the check-list.

A buzz is developing in the city of Pittsburgh, though, with special thanks to the Mattress Factory who has provided a complimentary headquarters for the Saxifrage School to use through at least mid-June in the old Firewaters location across from PNC Park.  The General Will, as it's now called, has hosted a couple concerts combined with community conversations, a pair of shantyboating classes (the second of which is this Thursday), and will host an open IPO (Initial Public Offering) Party that is FREE to the public and scheduled for this Sunday, June 12 at 7pm.  For more information on this party, check the Facebook event here.

This is the project in a nutshell.  It's an exciting project being discussed by a group of young people who care about the future of education and Pittsburgh.  Who knows how long I will be able to continue being a part of this project in Pittsburgh, but I'm thankful to have been here at the beginning and hope to contribute in any way I can, wherever I end up!

You can also read more about the Saxifrage School at our website.

You can also follow our Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Just checking in

Life has been a whirlwind lately, so I'm sorry that I haven't been keeping up with the blogging like I thought I would!  I'll be starting an intense 30-day blog challenge series, similar to the one my friend Abby has been doing, but I'm creating my own list to start.  Look out for a blog coming about the ever-growing love for my favorite band, the Avett Brothers.

In the meantime, here's a new jam by those boys that they brought out at Stage AE in Pittsburgh last week.

Follow me on Twitter for more daily banterings: oh_hey_jake

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Start of Unemployment

My extreme extroversion feels like the death of me at work the last couple weeks.  Things are slowing down mightily at work as students finish up classes and head home for the summer, so I return home every day completely drained of energy because my little back office with no windows in the basement of the UC at CMU is keeping me from any social interaction and driving me nuts!

I need some interaction, so how about you comment some answers to these questions?

What is some music I NEED to listen to today?

At the moment, I'm jamming a stream of the new Manchester Orchestra album (out yesterday) as well as Arcade Fire's performance at Coachella.  These two bands are reminding me how much I need to create music, but I need some energy and inspiration first.  I want to start a band so badly, but have no idea where I will live at the end of the summer, so it's virtually pointless to try at the moment.  That will be one of my first endeavors in my new (or old) city!

What are some cool (cheap) things I should do while I'm unemployed for a while?

Tennis, painting, playing music, disc golf, cooking, and reading are already on the list.  Give me some other ideas!  I'll be poor, so the cheaper the better.  I'm about to be unemployed for a yet-to-be-determined amount of time, so I could use some simple or elaborate ideas to utilize in Pittsburgh.

What makes you impatient?

My attention deficit is not designed for long periods of idleness, so my patience is being challenged by my lack of tasks in front of me as well as my job and future uncertainty on many levels.  I know that I need to put my need for patience in God's hands or I'll continue down a slippery slope of insanity due to lack of stimuli.

Friday, May 6, 2011


Lord, bring us patience to wait on your direction, for Your will is far better than ours.

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. - Romans 12:12

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Life on Hold

I haven't been writing as much as usual lately.  My life has really been in limbo with the shock of graduation setting in.  I have been so busy working on my last projects that I didn't give much thought to the fact that it would all be over at some point.  Life is certainly different and I'm trying to figure out what those changes mean.

The moral of the story is that I'm in the middle of the waiting game for a while.  I don't know where I'll be in July, August, or September.  I should be starting a new job by then, but Lord only knows where that will be at this point.  I cannot make plans that far in advance (although I did get a ticket for Taking Back Sunday and will get one for Death Cab for Cutie, too!).  It's very unsettling to not know where life is going to take me, but I've never been one to wait for something to happen.

Fortune favors the bold.  This is a statement I've written on my board at work and have been subscribing to a lot lately.  I'm not one to put life on hold if I don't have to, so the fact is that this time of unemployment in Pittsburgh is about soaking it up and enjoying every second I can, not holding anything back.  I plan on surrounding myself with important people in my life and doing all the things I've wanted to do but never had time for.  Painting album covers on a cornhole set, checking out Pittsburgh restaurants, going to free summer events around town, riding my bike everywhere.  This is the stuff I'll miss out on if I don't do it now.

I do not regret the things I've done, but those I did not do. - Lucas, Empire Records

In the end, I need patience.  This time of uncertainty has to result in my reliance on God to take me where I'm meant to be.  Otherwise, I've learned nothing.

Let the morning bring me word of Your unfailing love,
   for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
   for to You I entrust my life.
  -Psalm 143:8

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Facebook Fast Epilogue

Well, the Facebook Fast has come and gone without much fanfare.  In a move that has apparently become pretty popular, I gave up Facebook for Lent, lasting 40 days and culminating on Easter this past Sunday.  Basically, I was spending too much time on the site doing nothing productive (looking around at pictures and checking statuses) so it was time to cut back.  


To be honest, I did not miss the program much.  I was wasting a lot of time on the site and wasn't really even using it to connect with people except new friends and to accept event invitations.  My blog readership certainly went down because most people were clicking the link I'd put on Facebook before I quit.  Aside from those things I really did not notice my life changing much.

In fact, I'd say it improved quite a bit!  My feeling of needing to keep in touch with people was cut off immediately on Ash Wednesday when the fast started.  I enjoyed being "off the map" as far as the Internet was concerned and preferred that people could not reach me as easily as they once could.  It gave me a sense of freedom.


While the point of Facebook is to bring people together, I felt more connected with people once Facebook was removed from the equation.  If I wanted to see someone, I had to call or email them.  If I didn't have something to do, I'd have to text a few friends to see what their plans were.  If an event was coming up that I didn't know about, I'd have to rely on friends to tell me or go out and find it.  As a result, I started dispersing the duties of Facebook to other things like Twitter and simple word-of-mouth.

When Death Cab for Cutie announced their Pittsburgh date yesterday, I heard about it on Twitter because that is the site that is giving me my breaking news now.  My friend's going away party that was advertised on Facebook?  Other friends told me.

Did I miss stuff?  Probably.  You know, like all those concerts and open mics that I am invited to and never attend.  And all those people who had babies that I was not aware were even pregnant.  Something's telling me it won't matter much if I missed that some girl and some guy from high school that I haven't seen in 7 years are now engaged or dating or complicated or moving to Kansas or back in town or starting a new communist state in the south of Nova Scotia.  If it's important, someone will tell me.