The Odd & Random BEST of 2016 List!

We’ve posted lists at the end of the year for both 2014 & 2015 and they’ve included some of our favorite foods, experiences, stories, etc. from the year. Here’s our new, curated list for 2016.

It is odd and random, but it is our “best of’s” for sure!

BEST IN-DEPTH CONVERSATION TO HAVE of 2016

I’ve gotten together with many different friends over this last year and asked the question, “Have you heard of the enneagram?” And it is a GREAT and rich conversation to have.

The enneagram is a very old model for understanding human personality. There are 9 different types and it is surprising how dead on these 9 descriptors can be! Here’s a lengthy podcast by the Liturgists that will give you all the info for a great conversation piece with friends and family.
enneagram

BEST NEW GREELEY RESTAURANT of 2016

Royal Nepal is an Indian Restaurant in Greeley that opened this year. I went in for lunch once… then went back 3 more times that month. It is an incredibly affordable buffet with wonderfully prepared food. If you are local try it out!

Here’s the Facebook info.
258s

BEST NEW WAY TO LISTEN TO MUSIC of 2016

My brothers and I don’t really exchange gifts for Christmas or birthdays. But this year my oldest brother, Scott, let me know he sent Brad and I a gift that he discovered this year.

They are noise-cancelation, cordless headphones and they have changed how I can listen to music in our home. Can you imagine that it gets loud around our 6 member household? These headphones allow me to hear the music with intense balance of bass and treble. I’m even wearing them right now as the kids are playing with their cousins in great cacophony.
322886_1_1

BEST LIFE-CHANGING PRACTICE of 2016

“The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. Last January Betony and I read this book together after so many friends suggested it. It takes you through a process of clearing you home of all the stuff that’s built up. We wrote about it here earlier this year.

After doing this practice in January we’ve still had clearing days each month and taken things into Good Will. I would say it added 30% more space to our small home. That’s my favorite thing about it.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

THE FULLY LISTENED-TO ALBUMS of 2016

Anymore I rarely listen through an entire album. I listen to singles and bits of albums here and there. But there were 3 albums I actually listened to all the way through this year!

Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book
Bon Iver, 22 a Million
Moana, Movie Soundtrack
chance_3985e010a81zwixgvtkl-_sl1500_

BEST PODCAST MOMENT of 2016

The Robcast from Rob Bell has been one of my favorite places for spiritual conversation the last couple years. This time he has with Father Richard Rohr is just unreal. As Rohr talks I realized so many of my favorite speakers from churches have been stealing his stuff for years!

BEST READING of 2016

Of the books we read this year these are the ones that stayed with Betony and I:

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
I had low expectations for this play inspired by JK Rowling but written by others. But as I read it I just loved it. Great characters, great additions to the Harry Potter world, and great themes to play on that stay true to the series.
harry_potter_and_the_cursed_child_special_rehearsal_edition_book_cover

Finding God in the Waves
A Christian who turned atheist then turned Christian again (nicknamed “Science Mike”) wrote this non-fiction book. His story is filled with raw honesty and really enriching science. The piece impacted my faith this year, for sure.
url

Illustrated “Wizard of Oz”
Betony read this book aloud to the kids. She would read during “tea times” out on the porch this fall every 10 AM of their homeschooling days. She fondly remembers it as a magical time.
the-wizard-of-oz-the-classic-edition

BEST APPS of 2016

From online suggestions Betony found the DragonBox apps. Our girls are able to do pre-cursors to basic algebra now! They approach it in a crazy, visual way, but it works. The company has about 5 different math apps each for different ages and they are all fantastic.
bnbadge

Betony saved downloading Samorost 3 until after Arlo was born as something for her and the girls to explore together. It didn’t disappoint. The graphics are stunning. It is such a weird and fun world to explore. I would recommend playing it on an ipad rather than a phone if possible.
maxresdefault

BEST NETFLIX AND CHILL of 1985 (kidding, 2016)

Obviously, Stranger Things had to make it onto this list. Betony and I would put the kids to bed and tell each other “We’ll only watch one episode!” Two and a half hours later we’d head up to bed. Slightly creeped out but thoroughly entertained. Great throw backs to the 80’s, great story, and fantastic characters.

stranger_things_logo

 

 

The Bravest Adventure Book Release!!

Exciting news friends! I have a new children’s book out – The Bravest Adventure – published by Archway publishing. My sister-in-law and I made a book together and it’s beautiful! I have been just dying to share it with you, but until yesterday there was no good way to purchase it. But, it is officially available on Amazon now! There are enough photos and sketches here for several posts, but I have so many favorite pages that I had trouble narrowing it down and I wanted to share some of the process behind the illustrations. The story is poetically written and the perfect inspiration for all young adventurers. I can’t wait for you to read it.

img_7526

Here are some of the sketches, process pictures, and final pages of the book to spark your interest. Hope you like it!

img_1796

open-door

img_1212

 

img_2201

butterfly-page_sized

img_0375 img_0413 img_0421

stage_sized

 

img_2177

img_1814

 

img_2174 img_1820

img_2297

img_1420

kalamazoo_sized

img_1813

timbuktu_sized

img_2329

How to Enjoy the Season: The Practice of Immersion

I love the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. I love the music, the lo-fi lilt and pace of the kid’s speaking voices, and the melancholy. The show starts out with Charlie Brown musing on something we’ve all felt as adults, at sometime or another. He confesses to Linus that he’s just not feeling it this year. He wonders if there’s something wrong with him. He has these ideals of how Christmas should feel and they’re getting overshadowed by commercialism and business.

I know I’ve felt that too. There was a few years ago that I went to a Christmas Eve service and it was really beautiful. We lit the candles, we sang “Silent Night”, we were with family… and after 45 minutes I left thinking, “Man, did Christmas just happen and I missed it?” It went too fast. It’s hard to pack in “all the feels” in under an hour.

I’m sure you’ve felt that too. As a kid, maybe you loved Halloween or Christmas or your family did something special for 4th of July, but now life is too fast and complicated. The days run into each other with no real variation and a quick meal or church service just doesn’t do things justice.

As a family, Betony and I actually love intentionally celebrating the holidays. It’s one of our favorite things- there’s such special activities that come with fall, winter, summer, and spring. It’s a priority for our family to have traditions and things we come back to. For us, it keeps us rooted in the season and helps us mark the passing of time.

So we came up with a way to enjoy the holidays; to set aside time for doing the things we enjoy with each month. I jokingly began to call it:
The Practice of Immersion.

It’s really simple actually. Instead of the holiday being just a day (or a meal or a party or a church service), we make sure and do several things we love and enjoy in the season leading up to the observed hoopla. For example, when October hits we don’t just get dressed and go trick or treating on Halloween… we listen to spooky music, we rake leaf piles to jump in, we make pumpkin bread, we read Poe’s The Raven out loud (I’ve gotten scarier and creepier with it each year)… It becomes a bunch of little things we love to do that slowly happen over the month. When Halloween arrives, we don’t feel rushed or pressured to do just one more house. We’re full. We’ve immersed ourselves in the season and it’s been great already.

(A side note on Christmas, I think this is why the early church leaders made sure Christmas wasn’t just a single event, but a whole season leading up to the celebration called Advent. We just need more than a day for the deepness of those wonderful themes to sink in.)

Below we’re offering some categories of ways a season can be observed. For each of the larger headings I’ll provide a Christmas example and some other holidays as well. The idea would be to pick a few of these you want to do for yourself or your family. Then when the day of celebration comes, it won’t feel like a one-off. It’ll feel like you’ve been swimming in the holiday themes for sometime. And in the immersion you’ll feel like you’ve truly lived in the season!

DISHES / DESSERTS / CANDIES

Around Christmas Betony likes to make a variety cookie plate. Who am I to stop her? In the fall we make sure and make chili and cinnamon rolls . In the summer we cook out on the high, holy days of grilling: Memorial Day, Labor Day, 4th of July…

Here’s a cookie recipe we’re trying this year.

MUSIC

We have a set of Christmas playlists we come back to each year. As well as Halloween, Thanksgiving, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, 4th of July playlists… and so on. As a musician it’s one of my favorite hobbies! Here’s a link to our Spotify. If you follow us you can see all of our seasonal playlists.

 

ACTIVITIES

This is a pretty big catch-all category.

But our trip to buy a tree and then decorate it is always a Christmas must. Before Halloween we find an enjoyable pumpkin patch then later carve the pumpkins we picked up. (We try not to just go to King Soopers for pumpkins, you know?) On St. Patrick’s Day we have people over for a meal and sing drinking songs and tell jokes.

RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCE

This Christmas we’re doing “Slow & Sacred Advent”. We’ve been enjoying how it’s written in a way we can do it as a family. For Thanksgiving we have a “tree” and we add cut out leaves written with things we’re thankful for on them. That becomes our prayer. Also, I know families who have an advent wreath and light candles with scripture verses each week this time of year.

SCENTS

This one is strange category, but Betony and I go to Bath & Body Works every change of the season for candles. With Christmas we buy the Balsam Tree or Winter ones. For summer Cut Grass or Pomegranate are wonderful. Smell is so closely tied with memory and nostalgia that we LOVE to do this at the beginning of each change of season. It preps everything else in our minds.

CLOTHING

I don’t get into this one but my girls love finding matching outfits and go all out pretty much every holiday. I say I don’t do this but I do dress in all black on Good Friday. And I’ve been eye-ing an ugly Christmas sweater that is The Legend of Zelda themed. haha

DOCUMENTING

I don’t know if this would count as a category in and of itself, but Betony loves taking photos of all these different moments we’re experiences and then when New Years rolls around, we have markers for our memories!

In fact, a big thing I’ve heard people talk about lately is FOMO. Have you heard this term? It stands for “Fear of Missing Out”. When we do the Practice of Immersion and document what we’ve done, we can look back on the activities we’ve done. We can be comfy saying no to loads of other things to do.

 

Thanks for letting us share with you our method of enjoying the holidays! Hope you have a wonderful Christmas and catch a good sense of the holiday magic!

 

 

 

November’s Adventures in Homeschooling

This year we began homeschooling Lucy (7) and Hattie (5). We’re including this on our Giants & Pilgrims blog as all our family adventures seem to impact our art & music so much! Also, we just like sharing the stories. So we’ll be sharing posts on the themes we’ve been covering each month and calling the adventure “ABACUS”! Our hope is that these posts will help spark creative direction and inspiration for your family as well as giving us somewhere to be document and record our experiences.

November was such a beautiful and memorable month around here. Most importantly, we welcomed the newest addition to our family on November 18th – sweet Arthur Thaine. A Boy! Heavens!

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Processed with VSCO with c3 preset
We are still adjusting to what it looks like to have one more around here, but mostly things are going well. Momma needs more sleep, all the girls are in need of a little extra snuggle time, and chaos is reigning just a little bit more in our house, but it is all so good and everything feels right. And we are all relishing the tiny ears, coos, and fluffy hair of  our tiny Arlo.

Here is where we have been during the month of homeschooling –

COOKING and MATH:

Since November is meant to be about all things feasting, we took a break from our normal Math rhythms and learned about fractions, addition, and measuring through the very practical handicraft of cooking. I found this highly reviewed kids cookbook on Amazon. (And these inexpensive but very practical aprons  – the kids each picked their own color). We also got these fraction sticks to help explain how fractions work – very helpful when measuring ingredients.

004956-r1-015-6_2 img_7159

The girls – with very little help from me – made ‘grab and go’ granola bars, popcorn balls, homemade orange juice, breakfast sandwiches, yogurt parfaits, perfect grilled cheese,  parmesan chicken bites with dipping sauce, and more. Lucy especially loved the independence of doing everything herself. And all the recipes were tasty! The cookbook also has lots of fun stickers and punch outs in the back.

img_6484 img_6536

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Processed with VSCO with c2 preset

Our cooking month’s finale was of course a grand Thanksgiving feast.

Processed with VSCO with c3 presetProcessed with VSCO with a6 preset

One other little note on Math –

We have LOVED the new BigNumbers Ap from Dragon Box. It sneakily teaches lots of cool long addition and subtraction.

img_6792

GAMES GALORE:

Our second theme for the month of November was Games!!

A couple of new favorites that we added to our collection:
gmc2-1 sum-swamp-2 pic38668 51u2tp9c1pl-_sy355_
img_6478 img_6481 img_7129

CURRENT EVENTS:

A day was spent on our political system, voting, and elections.

A thank you note written to the president for his service.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Watching election results come in –

img_1533

A visit to our city hall

img_6605

And dropping off our ballot.

img_6603

READING AND LITERATURE:

Here were our reading books for the month:
taleofdespereauxbookcover  the-pilgrim-stories-new

Plus ALL the Thanksgiving books (especially thanks to Read Aloud Revivals beautifully curated list):

Processed with VSCO with c2 preset

Tea time mostly had to move inside because it is starting to get CHILLY here! Not nearly enough snow yet though…
img_6573

Art and Handicrafts:

Especially while passing the time waiting for the newest addition to our family, Lucy, Harriet, and I all worked on our own little illustration projects.
Me on a whole series of Alphabet Letters (the first part of are available here).

img_6490

Lucy on a whole series of Christmas Reindeer to sell at Indie Arts Greeley (a wonderful local craft show that has become a family affair)

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

And Harriet on a whole series of Christmas Trees that she also sold at Indie Arts Greeley’s Winter Market.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Here is their practice set up for the market –
Note: I love this tradition. I feel like they are learning so much through the process – talking to customers, making change, money math, etc.
img_7064

We made concrete candle holders and poured soy candles (which Tim’s scented in various wonderful Christmas scents)

img_6944

15196086_10153880909290706_6125340426821684027_o

The girls rolled beeswax candles

img_6763img_6771

And we got out our little loom and started work on a colorful scarf (alongside our Native American study)img_6790

History and Culture:

Instead of choosing a country to study this month, because of Thanksgiving, we decide to read about and explore Native American stories and culture.
Here is a sampling of the library books we found –
img_6774

Good old fashioned audio tape books are the greatest –

img_6777

An unseasonably warm November made for perfect teepee building weather – and the perfect location for tea and stories.img_6780
img_6782

Our history study of Jamestown lead us to creating a lego reenactment of Jamestown, John Smith, and Pocahontas.

img_6472

Nature Study:

This month’s nature outings weren’t anything grandiose. Just simple quiet times visiting and playing in some of our favorite spots and soaking up the last warm days.

Processed with VSCO with c2 preset

Processed with VSCO with c2 preset

Swinging on willow branches

img_6625

Weaving willow branch baskets

Processed with VSCO with c3 preset

Colorado sunsets

Processed with VSCO with c2 preset

img_6668

Processed with VSCO with c2 preset

And a little moss collecting from beside our house made into a simple terrarium.

img_6674
Sketches of what moss looks like through a microscope.

Processed with VSCO with f3 preset

And leaf jumping of course.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

CHARACTER:

For November, we continued our family tradition of making a Thanksgiving tree table altar.

Processed with VSCO with c2 preset

And finally, to get into the spirit of Christmas/Advent, we put together a box for Operation Christmas Child together.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Processed with VSCO with c2 preset

The Things We Do to Remain Inspired

Betony and I and several of our friends had dinner a few weeks ago with Wes Sam-Bruce and his wife, Emi. He had just gotten back from doing a HUGE installation in the San Diego Children’s Museum. It had been half a year of work that had just reached completion. We had a lovely dinner and Wes told us stories of the adventure and shared all about his process, the headaches, and how everything came to be.

photojun2360444pm

As we were leaving another friend of ours said, “Wes, your attention to the process is just unbelievable.” And that’s what’s special about Wes’s work. Your first encounter is incredible, but then layer after layer you realize just how thoughtful every move and decision and icon is. It comes through subtly as a great depth you can get lost in.

So Bet and I started thinking, how are we doing in our own creative process? Are we giving intentional attention to it? With a large family and other full-time work it’s difficult for that to happen.

So we took some notes and did some fun dreaming as we talked. Listed here are bits and pieces of Betony and my creative process. This is where we find inspiration and also what helps us fine-tune the work. Feel free to add to our list in the comments. Hearing how different people approach making things can only aide us all in our creating.

*Inspiring Media

There’s a website called This is Colossal that continually posts unbelievable projects and finds. As I am writing this today’s post is titled “The Milky Way reflected Onto the Largest Salt Flat in the World.” Right?

It’s sites like this that stoke something in me. Honestly, it’s media that takes a bit of effort for me to digest… like watching a documentary rather than a summer blockbuster (we’ll talk about “twaddle” further down). But after navigating this site for a while you begin to come away from it inspired and full, like from a big, nutritious dinner.

*Journaling

My wife always keeps a sketchbook. It’s where the beginnings of ideas are born and others are completely framed out. It’s the place she keeps inspiring words and ideas and experiences. She’s constantly drawing and writing from the environment, capturing moments with our kids or something someone said. It almost as if she carries an external processor for life!

Another friend of mine keeps this practice of journaling as well. He talks about how if he’s keeping a journal everything has so much more clarity and even his understanding of himself is enriched. When he lags on the practice, things get murky.

Makes me want to keep a journal! I haven’t for years but I’ve found similar experiences in prayer, myself!

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

*Quote Keeping

Betony has been doing this for some time. We actually have a list of favorite quotes that are mantras we come back to;  greatest hits if you will (and Betony will sometimes randomly illustrate them!)… My favorite quote of all time is included on this list, one on empathy (probably because I’m not a highly empathetic person so I need the reminder). It’s,

“Always be kind, for everyone you meet is going through a great battle.”

So true of life.

So we remind ourselves of these sayings often, but we also send them to each other too. I just sent Betony this quote from Wendell Berry someone posted on FB: 

No, no, there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
You have become a sort of grave
containing much that was
and is no more in time, beloved
then, now, and always.
And so you have become a sort of tree
standing over the grave.
Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes, young, to disappear
forever, and yet remain
unaging in the mind.
Every day you have less reason
not to give yourself away.

Doesn’t reading that fill you with a sort of quiet, peaceful inspiration?

On a last, funny note. While writing this I’ve realized Betony has inspired me to send quotes all the time. Just this week I sent a friend this quote from Addams Family (the movie). Mortitia Addams is talking to Fester about their family motto:

“Sic gorgiamus allos subjectatos nunc!”
We Gladly Feast on Those Who Would Subdue Us”.
Not just pretty words…

I knew I had to send that one off to someone.

*Avoiding Twaddle

Betony just began homeschooling our kids and this term “twaddle” comes from a homeschooling guru named Charlotte Mason. (Mason wrote about children’s education methods in the early 1900’s and has seen a big resurgence lately.) “Twaddle” is kind of hard to describe. But I’m referring to it here as hyper, titallating media that is weak and diluted; it feeds on our lowest intelligences and is generally poor quality.

So avoiding twaddle would be: choosing to watch Mr. Rogers over Power Puff Girls. Or reading a classic over a pulp novel. Or engaging a music documentary rather than New Girl. Not letting hours of your day be sucked up reading facebook comments and twitter feeds.

Honestly, I think some twaddle in life is good. At the end of a good and full day I’m tired! Raising children and doing substantive work takes it out of you, so a brainless sit-com is just what I need sometimes.

But (another food metaphor) just as having a frozen pizza for dinner is easy and habit-forming, so is consuming twaddle. Over the years I’ve realized that when I take the energy to read some poetry over skimming Facebook for example, my art thanks me for it. In the same way that my body thanks me when I partake in a real dinner and not another frozen pizza.

*Community

A strange thing happens when I play a new song live for people. I can immediately tell whether it’s working or not. I can sense the weak parts and where I want to change lyrics… all before anyone gives me any actual feedback.

And so I try to workshop songs with people I love and trust all the time.

Sometimes it’s as simple as a friend coming over and sharing the tune. Sometimes I have seasons where Betony and I will actually have an arts small group. In that space we share our work with each other and give feedback. I’ve found these settings to be terrifying at times! It’s so vulnerable to share work that isn’t completed yet. But it’s also one of the most valuable ways of shaping work.

When we share our art in a trusted community it is an amazing litmus test and a real catalyst for taking the art to new places.

You can actually see in history that great works have been born more because of a good community than genius. Melville, Hawthorne, Emerson, and Thoreau all ran their works by each other. The impressionists all new each other and started the movement together. Stravinsky, Copland, and Phillip Glass all had the same composition teacher in Nadia Boulanger.

We want to attribute greatness to individuality, but that simply is NOT the case! So often these waves in literature, art, and music comes from a great community.

Along those lines, Betony and I are BRUTAL with each other when we critique. We’ve learned over the years how to do it so it doesn’t hurt feelings… Sometimes I’ll walk by a piece she’s working on and she’ll say, “Don’t say anything yet! It’s still coming together. I’ll show it to you soon…”

*Chasing the Spark

This one is written by Betony – I am starting to realize that when an idea hits or a fascination is discovered, it is best to see where it leads. I call it chasing the spark. Tim and I have this funny ongoing argument/joke about the way I work. I will have major deadlines and projects due and instead of doing what I am supposed to, I find myself making concrete candle holders or weaving willow baskets. Asking questions like – what am I going to do with a bunch of concrete candle holders? Or will anyone actually buy a picture of a giant grasshopper? – can get in the way of my creative energy and innovation. One of my favorite definitions of creativity is the “Art of Making Connections”. I am constantly finding that my itch to quilt in November, my love for baking for friends, that sudden need to explore a vast field, or to try my hand at a new craft – are not wasted. I rarely know how those handicrafts and time spent will feed into my work, but they do. The connections made and soul-filling time spent doing what I am most excited about always pay off.

*Live Experiences

Lastly, a great live experience can wonderfully affect process and inspiration!

Betony and I went to see the musical “Once” this year. I came away wanting to try a host of new things: in songwriting, performance, even in how I lead worship experiences… all from a musical.

Often high-quality live experiences can be expensive. From Cirque du Soleil to a family vacation, these are outings that require some budgeting. But we’ve found they can be well worth the money, creatively speaking.

Processed with VSCO with g3 preset

What would you add to the list? What practices enrich your creative process? Did you resonate with one of the processes listed? Feel free to comment here!

 

A Post-Election Liturgy

A liturgy is a guided prayer that takes you through song and poetry and meditation, etc. I put this together after I couldn’t sleep last night, all stirred up from the election. What a difficult season it’s been!

I hope you find it centering for your soul, friends. I prayed through it this morning… It was good.

https://theliturgists.bandcamp.com/album/a-post-election-liturgy

(BTW, I partnered with The Liturgists for this. They do incredible work for the spiritually frustrated and homeless.)

It Seems Like Some Thanksgiving Goodness is Needed Today

Last night is still sitting heavy in my heart this morning, so we are taking pause to just be quiet and thankful for the goodness and beauty that is around us. As I am writing this, my three girls are sitting in the sunshine making a strand of beads for our Thanksgiving tree. I am listening to one of our old Thanksgiving mixes and watching the flurry of activity out on my window bird feeder. I’m feeling like we need to be a little extra gentle with each other today. Here are some little bits of re-centering Thanksgiving goodness that are bringing me joy today.

A New Thanksgiving Playlist we put together for 2016 –


These really wonderful Chocolate Chip Zucchini muffins. Warmed up with a little butter, they make everything feel like its going to be OK.
img_6622

A lovely stack of Thanksgiving books from our local library inspired by this reading list.

Processed with VSCO with c2 preset

Write a note to someone today to tell them you are thankful for them. Here is a thank-you-note-printable I designed to get you started. Print as many as you like 🙂
(Click the link to open a printable pdf that is already sized and ready to print. I think it works best on cardstock paper, but whatever you have on hand will work.)

thank-you-card

How Do You Define Success? (I Needed a New System)

How would you describe being successful? What is “success” in your field of work? in your family and relationships? for yourself, personally?

I’ve been asking myself questions like this for years. “What is success?” or “How do I know when I’m successful?” or “What’s the main goal here?”

This question has been in the back of my mind especially when it comes to being a singer-songwriter. Probably because, according to the definition I’ve been using, I’m a failure! Here it is:
I have a hit song or album and have a tipping point of critical mass and make lots of money and am famous with lots of people loving my music and I make a good living from the sales and tours and acclaim. 

I’m being a little facetious. And, to be fair to myself, this definition always seemed like it was lacking something; like it was based on realities only involving economics and importance. Surely my being a singer-songwriter has been about more than that?

To push the point, by that definition I have been unsuccessful. So was all this a great waste of time and energy? What about all the great things that have come from making music? The stories and moments of connection? What do I do with those? If I should I have gone into a different field where I could have been more successful, what would that field have been? Where would that have taken me and how would I define success there?!

And this is just in the small part of my life as a singer-songwriter. Let’s go bigger- What about the other things I do and love?

During a quiet, reflective day a few weeks ago I started asking those questions again. “What is success?”

And I decided to approach things differently. I began to boil things down to a single word for each of the main roles I play in my life. A word that answers the question of “Was I successful here? Did I do all I could to shoot for this as success?”

I’m sharing this because I’ve struggled with definitions of success for years. No doubt, it’s very self-focused but I think there are things that go beyond just me here.

Here’s what I did:

1. I named the roles I play in my life. This is something I’ve heard from business books or self-help material. Understanding your energies in terms of the roles you have in life is helpful. We usually have 4 or 5 roles and if it gets beyond that things get strange. Here are my personal roles:

*Spiritual Being – Being a Christian I view one of my roles in life as being a human who longs for connection with his creator. At my core I am a spiritual being and that part of me needs attention and intentionality.

*Husband – Being a married man one of my roles as husband is that, again, attention and intentionality needs to be given to my marriage.

*Father – Having 3 little girls and a boy on the way means I have the awesome role and responsibility of “dad”.

*Producer – My life’s work can be summed up in this word. Whether I am in charge of a church service and creating that space in which people encounter God, or whether I’m gathering musicians to release an album I’ve written or whether I’m releasing a line of colognes I made in my basement… I view my work as “Production”. It often involves creativity and events and communication, and relationships, but in the end I think producer is the best word for it.

What 4 or 5 roles would you say you play in your life? 

bet-and-i

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

 

in-church

2. I came up with a word that summarizes my end goal for each of my roles.  This is how I hope to define success for each of my roles in the seasons to come. What words would you come up for the roles you have in your own life?

Here’s mine:

*Spiritual Being – ABIDE
If I abide in God then I have achieved success as a spiritual being (it’s an ongoing process isn’t it?). So I listen to podcasts, I read books, I pray, I take communion, I have quiet days every other month… all so I can approach this idea of abiding. It becomes the healthy foundation, really, for my other roles.

*Husband – TOGETHER
The word I really had here was symbiosis. But together is prettier and cleaner. Betony and I are completely a symbiotic relationship- when she’s thriving I’m thriving, when I’m down she’s down and vice versa. I want to approach my role as husband with this word in mind. If I’m working towards her flourishing and she mine, it’s a solid dynamic in marriage.

*Father – PRESENT
It took a lot of thought for this. I went through a lot of words but, in the end, I’m not primarily a guide or protector or shaper or any of that. I simply want my kids at the end of my life to feel like Dad was always present. Engaged. Listening and completely reliable. When they want to share an anecdote I turn my attention to them. When one of them comes in from a nightmare, I rise and make sure they are comforted.

*Producer – GOOD
That word is too simple isn’t it? The way I’d really put it is “Good & Substantive Work”. For example, if I produce an album I want it to be GOOD. But I don’t take that word lightly. I mean good with a bass note. I mean good as in a dinner at your best friend’s house is good. It’s rich and thick and has layers and depth. Does that make sense? When I get done with a worship service I first ask myself, “Did our work honor God?” But the second question is “Was it GOOD? Did it have great substance to it?”

So I’ll be leaving some of my old definitions behind (like the ones I had for singer-songwriter). This how I’m defining success this next season: As a spiritual being I want to ABIDE in God, as a husband I want to reach for living life truly TOGETHER, as a father I want to be fully PRESENT, and as a producer I will be making GOOD & substantive work.

Again, this is all very self focused. How would you define your roles? What do you find yourself heading towards in those roles that define your success?

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

 

 

Big 33 List

IMG_4196

Every year for my birthday I have this funny little tradition of making a “Big ___ List” (insert number of years old). Each year, I make a bucketlist of goals/activities to try for the following year. There is one list item for each year old I turn.

(By the way, the Garden Arch picture is up there because it was an item on my Big 32 List!)

BIG 33 List:

  1. Get a Hammock
  2. Plant a fruit tree
  3. Read a Classic (I always put this one on the list, but I need a suggestion)
  4. Have a baby boy/4th Child (pretty inevitable this November… 🙂
  5. Make homemade croissants
  6. Go Camping with the whole family
  7. Have a “no spending month”
  8. Get awesomely fit after pregnancy
  9. Go see a musical in Denver
  10. See another cirque du soleil show
  11. Visit a new place
  12. Finish the Bellwether series
  13. Create/design a “sacred space”
  14. Go to the KS State Fair
  15. Finish the dining room redo
  16. Have a great solid first year of homeschooling
  17. Keep moving towards “Clearing” and minimalism in our house
  18. Complete the UNC tree walk and learn some new tree names
  19. Do the Nature Pal Exchange with the kids
  20. Finish my braided rug
  21. Finish my sunshine quilt (I hate to admit but this has been on at least 4 years of lists)
  22. Always make a double batch when cooking
  23. Be a better friend when it comes to birthdays/gifts
  24. Get something published in Uppercase Magazine
  25. Stop texting and looking at my phone while driving
  26. Redo my kitchen countertops
  27. Keep in monthly blog log of our homeschooling adventures
  28. Learn how to wire a light.
  29. Drive the Poudre Canyon road during the peak of fall colors.
  30. Eat at Acorn in Denver (or….. other suggestions?)
  31. Eat more vegetables/Get my kids to eat more vegetables
  32. Apply for an artist in residence program
  33. Don’t cut my hair so I can actually grow it out

An Update on Beatrice & on Us

IMG_5334-e1463275995300-1024x1024

How’s B doing?

A few weeks ago our 1 and a half year old, Beatrice, caught a stomach bug and threw up all night and the next day. The following day she had four seizures in about 20 hours.

After the third seizure Betony and I found ourselves driving to the Children’s Hospital emergency room at 4am. We watched an incredible moon-setting and sunrise on our drive. I remember humming a hymn and Betony praying. I’m sure we were quite sleep deprived as we cried and felt so much fear for B.

They let us know at Children’s that this was actually normal; that when a child is coming out of a stomach virus it can cause a seizure or cluster of seizures to occur. We’d never heard that.

beatrice eeg

Since then the CT-SCAN, EEG, and EKG have all come back normal. We are watching to see if B has these continued problems after stomach bugs or it also could be linked to her getting really upset and holding her breath.

The important thing- she’s doing great and feeling better.

We are so relieved.

IMG_5336

How We are Doing 

This medical emergency actual came at the end of a really difficult month for the Coons family. While readying everything for Easter (I’m a church worship director) we found out two big things: the pastor I work for was leaving so my job’s future was uncertain and we were pregnant with our 4th child. In the midst of this uncertainly and these hard discussions is when B had her seizures.

So everything has somewhat come to a halt for us. All our energies have gone towards these big things: Making sure Beatrice is okay, coming to grips with a new future and processing having a fourth little one, and vocational questions. (Another good update: it looks like I’m remaining at St. Andrew, continuing the work of the church service we’ve started but also getting involved in other areas too!)

When this year started we decided we were going to choose a theme each month and let that guide our exploration of belief, the subject of our next music & art project for Giants & Pilgrims.

This month’s theme we’ve chosen? Re-awaken. After so much to process, figure out, and re-imagine, we are simply letting ourselves re-awaken to dreaming the new future. It feels a little like we’re just about to leave a holding pattern.

We are taking our time and I, personally, am beginning to feel those great warmths of hope and optimism.

An ending note: We’re SO thankful for all of your prayers and well-wishes and calls and encouragements and Facebook comments during this time! The care and concern for Beatrice and the Coons family was so tangible. It was humbling.

Thank you.

Here’s to this May being about “re-awakening”.