The Well-lived Life and the Intertidal Zone

Once again, I’ve fallen off the blogger wagon. I can blame it on work getting very busy and visits from a few friends, but the truth is, I’ve been worn down once again by a the struggle to live well. Volunteering in forest park, going the extra mile at the office, eating right, working out, writing for fun, staying in touch with friends and family; all those things slipped as I grew tired and sore over the course of a month. Instead, I nestled in to my couch and listened to the bemusing rants of Jeff Van Gundy and the NBA playoffs.  I thinks sports provide far more than escapism, but I’ll admit there are times when that’s what I seek from them most.

As usual, my conscience is fully aware of when I’m mailing it in when it comes to living well. It says, ‘look at you with those gray hairs sprouting, those inflamed knee tendons, those strained and neglected relationships, and that growing list of unfulfilled aspirations. I thought we were going to volunteer once a week, learn Spanish and sign up for guitar lessons. Instead we the weekend’s big adventure was heading to Target for socks and light bulbs. What gives?’

Umair Haque recently wrote an intriguing article for the Harvard Business Review questioning whether a “well-lived life” was we in America define it is worth anything. He describes an “Grand Canyon-sized” gap between what our economy produces and the fulfillment we’re seeking (namely debt, obesity, ecological devastation, pollution, addiction, misinformation, over-stimulation, and the kicker, social pressure that results in apathy toward all of the other issues on this list).

I think he’s right; our economy functions on the notion that the answer to all problems is to work harder and add more. Are the drugs you’re taking are making you depressed? Try taking these other drugs, and double the dosage. Spending too much time driving from your house in the burbs to your soul-sucking downtown office? You probably just need to spend that commute in more luxurious car. We believe these absurd notions because we tend to prefer the Devil we know. After all, change is hard. In this case, it’s also entirely necessary. Even if we thought  conventional economic indicators, like GDP, for living well were accurate, we’d have to admit we’re not exactly thriving.

So how do we change? What are the new units of measure?  Of course we’re right to question Charlie Sheen’s perception of what “winning” means, but it doesn’t seem like we have the definition pinned down. Haque offers some solutions, such as making things that are better, not just bigger, depth, not just immediacy, and creating and building rather than simply trading and plagiarizing. Once again, I agree, but think there’s a simpler answer: Live closer to (and learn from) Nature. You may now commence eye-rolling.

I know this is a topic that tends to rile people up, but hear me out; perhaps we’re in need of a good riling. One of the founding principles behind the mission of the non-profit I work for is Biomimicry, the notion that we can look to systems in nature for solutions to human-made problems. Ecosystems, after all, don’t have energy crises, despite existing in a complex and delicate balance of thousands of interconnected organisms. The exception is that invasive species, those abruptly introduced from other ecosystems, take more than their fair share. They upset the balance. A naturalized species, in contrast, is a generous species. It gives something back into the system. Janine Benyus, mother of Biomimicry, offers this point, suggesting that we humans tend to play the role of invaders. We’ve forgotten how to be generous in our quest to out-consume one another. Instead, we’ve blown through precious resources, altered the physiology of our planet, and marginalized the species with which we were meant to share this world.

Years ago, in an attempt to try my hand at the life of a biologist, I signed up for a Marine Ecology course while studying abroad in New Zealand. For a lesson on the inter-tidal zone, I found myself perched precariously on a rock ledge just a few feet above crashing waves of icy-blue seawater.  With massive strands of kelp swirling below me, I surveyed populations of dozens of minuscule animal species, including worms, barnacles, sea stars, anemones and mollusks. This seemingly inhospitable outcrop was teaming with life along a thin strip of rock where ocean and air met at varying levels through the course of the changing tide. On those rocks,  a cocktail of nutrients, exposure, competition, and an endless barrage of waves created an environment that as dangerous as it was diverse. It was beautiful and chaotic. I read in a recent National Geographic article that John Steinbeck once described the intertidal zone as, “ferocious with life”.  (Who would have thought studying both ecology and English Lit would have ever come in handy?) He also drew the same conclusion about the intertidal zone as I do now — that this ecosystem is an analogy for our fragile existence on this planet.

We are clustered along the shores of our environment (80 percent of the human population is located within 60 miles of a coastline). As space becomes more limited, competition becomes more intense, and only species those who learn to coexist, or better yet, develop symbiotic relationships with their neighbors, will thrive while improving the overall health of the system. To extend, or perhaps muddle the metaphor, the results of our selfish efforts (such as changing sea levels and ocean acidification) have the power to sabotage our chances for survival and fulfillment in this enchanting and ever-changing pool of life.

We’ve made a grave mess of things, to be sure. But we can change if we’re willing to learn. The intelligence of Nature’s design is far greater than we can comprehend, but we can still learn from its principles: generosity, community, discernment, perseverance, beauty, and a power far greater than our own.



A Little old place in Southern California

Kim and I loved our stay in San Francisco. There was a diversity in the people, the places and the food that made me feel like we just scratched the city’s surface.  That said, a big reason for our trip to California in mid March was to absorb some sunshine, so we were anxious to head just north of the border.

I walked out of the baggage claim in San Diego’s airport and immediately stripped off my sweater, boots and rain coat. I could barely keep my eyes open in the bright afternoon sunlight. Kim asked me if I remembered to bring sunglasses, and I realized that I wasn’t sure if I even owned a pair.

Our friend Lainy, who was Kim’s college roommate, picked us up and drove us around the San Diego Bay to her apartment. We promptly exchanged our jeans for shorts and headed to Pacific Beach to catch up over fish tacos. Like us, Lainy left the familiar surroundings of DC for the prospect of a western adventure. We knew very little of her new life in San Diego since her departure from the east coast two years ago.  Lainy introduced us to her boyfriend, who kindly offered to take us out on the bay in his sailboat. Despite being boarded by the Coast Guard for a random safety inspection five minutes into the trip, we enjoyed a very relaxing afternoon of sun and sea.
The next day Kim and I drove up to La Jolla, a beautiful neighborhood just north of the San Diego Bay. The morning was dense with fog and the green surf was unusually rough as we walked along the oceanside. Fortunately for us, the waves drove a large number of harbor seals to a seek refuge on nearby beach. Together we observed the seals of all shapes and sizes resting warming themselves in the sand. With each wave that encroached on their resting places, the seals raised their heads and tails in unison. It was odd to see marine animals recoil from water with such disdain, but having just escaped the drenching rains of Oregon and Northern California, I could relate.

After a great brunch in La Jolla, we head back to Pacific Beach and did our best seal imitations by nestling ourselves into the sand and listening to the surf. With the afternoon sun on my face, I fell fast asleep and woke up feeling more refreshed than I’ve felt in months.

The next day, Lainy joined us in the afternoon as we cheered on our alma mater in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. The game quickly turned into a drubbing but we were happy just to be reminiscing about college in a beachside bar 3,500 miles away. Rather than romp around the city in a vain attempt to hit Sea World and every other tourist destination, Kim and I decided to spend another afternoon on the beach, frequent Taco Surf, a legendary taco and burrito shop, and take a scenic drive to Kate Sessions Park.  Perched atop a low-rising coastal mountain, the park overlooks downtown San Diego and the rest of the bay area. As Kim, Lainy and I lay in the green grass with the sun drifting down toward the sea, I started to wonder just what life could be like living in seemingly eternal sunshine.

We also traveled to nearby vista at the Mount Soledad Memorial for an even more expansive view of the surrounding hills and coastline. Aside from some rather unattractive rows of gated communities, the views were stunning.

In the end, we didn’t manage to see the Hotel Coronado nor Balboa Park, nor the San Diego Zoo before heading back to Oregon. I’m sure those places are beautiful and fun in their own ways, and I’m excited that they give me a great excuse to return at my next opportunity. In the meantime, I’m more than content to have relaxed over California burritos and frozen yogurt with my friends.

Kim and descended from sunny skies into rain clouds as we landed back in Portland, but we landed feeling restored and, deep down, glad to be back in our new hometown. After all, in two in a half months, we’ll be enjoying an Oregon summer.

Watching the Tide Roll Away

I’m back home in Portland after taking a week-long respite in California with Kim and I can’t help but feel like some one cranked the color dial on my life back down to black and white. Still, I’m grateful to have accomplished my mission of catching up with old friends, making new ones, and restoring my skin to a more familiar shade of tan.

We started off last weekend with a quick flight down to San Francisco. It was quick enough to make me wonder why Kim and I don’t do it much more often. I had been to LA on a few occasions, but never to the city by the Bay, so I was excited to take in the new sights, sounds, smells, tastes and geography (I’m a little bit of a map nerd). Upon my arrival, I went to work trying to locate all of the place names that I had always crudely lumped together as San Francisco.  San Fran, Marin County, Berkeley, Oakland to Sac-town, the bay area and back down; all the names started fall into place after a couple of days.

We stayed in the Mission district with Kim’s friend from her study abroad program, Eric. A former offensive tackle, Eric was had a massive frame and sported a reddish-blond beard. The name Erik the Red came to mind upon first meeting him at the airport. On the day of our arrival, the three of us grabbed some food and drinks then relaxed in the fresh green grass of Delores Park. Kim and I let the sun wash over us, inert like lizards on a stone. This strange radiant ball in the sky started to seem vaguely familiar.

Unfortunately, the fog and rain set in after than afternoon and persisted through the duration of our visit. We ventured across the Golden Gate Bridge to the jagged coastline Marin County with the hopes of hiking in Point Reyes State Park, only to be turned away by sheets of cold, stinging, sideways-falling rain. Despite the weather, Kim and I managed to see a number of San Francisco’s storied neighborhoods. We ventured through the vibrant Castro, up to the Haight  (the nexus of the Summer of Love), and the massive Golden Gate Park.

Haight and Ashbury. I've heard that you used to be required to have a flower in your hair in order to live here. Or something.

Obligatory San Fran shot

Within the park, we explored the Academy of Sciences, which was well worth the price of admission (though the price gave me a renewed appreciation for the free Smithsonian Institution museums in Washington, DC). We explored a four-story sphere that contained the closest thing to a tropical rain forest you’ll find in an exhibit. We even looked up at arapaimas and other Amazonian fish from a fulled immersed glass tunnel.

Sweet green and blue rain forest bird. That's actually its scientific name, look it up.

treefrogs in a bromeliad. They lay their eggs in the water stored at the base of plants.

This is what the Amazon looks like from a catfish's point of view, except it'd probably just be a brown muddy blur in real life.

Eventually, museum fatigue set in and we rested on a railing overlooking a shallow coral reef. After gazing at clownfish and anemones for about 20 minutes, we noticed that a large, psychedelic-looking coral abruptly clamped shut when fish swam too close. It was actually brightly-colored  football-sized clam! You might think Kim and I are nerds for being giddy at the discovery of a monster clam. You’d be absolutely right, but you also would have thought it was pretty cool if you witnessed it. Trust me.

The wavy purple thing at the bottom is a clam.

That's amore

That's amore.

In addition to exhibits inside, the Academy offered educational experiences on its exterior. Kim and I toured the building’s nifty, hilly green roof and natural ventilation system, along with its impressive array of solar cells. I was happy to see a venue for educating the public about the virtues of green roofs and the importance of sustainable building practices. After all, every single kind of extraordinary living creature featured within the Academy has in some way been negatively impacted by the extraction of natural resources we use to build our homes, drive our cars and maintain our lifestyles. If nothing else, it’s important to understand that we are all connected.

A green roof with porthole windows that open and close for ventilation. Very cool.

The next day, Kim and I switch from science to history and criminology with a tour of Alcatraz. Yes, it was a very touristy thing to do, but it was also a very well-crafted experience. The award-winning audio tour succeeded not only in making throngs of tourists look even lamer with big headphones and lanyards, but also in instilling a very real sense of gravity. Much like the battlefields at Gettysburg, the crumbling walls of Alcatraz gave me a distinct and eerie feeling that I was standing on ground still heavy with dark and deep emotions.

In the words of Red, these walls are funny.

Remnants of the Warden's house.

The audio-tour’s raspy narrator and accompanying soundbites of escape sirens and prison fights helped my imagination re-occupy narrow halls the prison blocks. I wondered how long I’d keep my sanity pent in a 9x5x7 ft. cell. The worst part, the audio recording informed me, was that inmates could hear the joyful voices and laughter of free people just across the bay in San Francisco, a mile and a half away; a constant reminder of the lives they forfeit.  I felt a tiny sense of relief just boarding the ferry back to the pier.

So close, and yet...

The next day Kim and I bid our gracious host farewell and boarded another plane for “San number 2”,  San Diego. I’ll get to that bit another day.

Suspended Animation

I do my best to slant the truth in ways that suit my tendencies toward complacence. I suppose most of us do.  The unmitigated truth is that Portland is a small, remote, and dreary city; work is, well—work; and the pain of living apart from my closest friends and family is getting harder to bear.

I moved here last June with a notion that I was charting a course toward a sense of purpose. The excitement of exploring a new setting proved ephemeral. I’ve searched oceans and mountains, rivers and roads, and I still feel just as adrift as I did when I left the east coast. To borrow a line from the Avett Brothers, I just want to decide what to be and go be it. I feel like I’d have an easy time with the second part, but the first has me in a state of suspended animation.

At least spring is on its way.

I’m befuddled. In a given week I consider applying to law schools, business schools, MFA writing programs, enrolling in art classes, and even taking off on a trip around the world. It’s clear that I feel the need to start learning again in one way or another, but I’m paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong choice.

A few years ago, my brother and I were back at our old homestead in Pennsylvania, and we were undertaking our usual task of going through our childhood belongings and telling our mom what we wanted to through away. “All of it” never seemed to be an acceptable response. We were in my old bedroom going through a flat-file of artwork from grade school, and in my brother’s case, college. After flipping through stacks of charcoal figure studies and sketches, Lee unearthed a pile of construction anthropomorphic paper dolls I made as a kid. He burrowed further still, beneath a green paper frog with a bow-tie and a deer with a top-hat, and grabbed a third grade project covered in cartoon figures. From what I could tell, the project an illustration based on a prompt typed across the top of the page. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  My answer, scrawled in crayon, was succinctly, “Cartoonist”.

This answer both made perfect sense and confounded me. Sure, I could remember spending hours on the floor drawing crude, misshapen animals and creatures. I embraced the opportunity to be an artist, a satirist and a goofball all at the same time. Still, up until the moment I rediscovered that third-grade artifact, I had considered myself one of those unfortunate people who would never be sure what he wanted to do until it was too late. I never had “doctor” or “astronaut” or “professional football player” stamped clearly into my subconscious.  I figured I would just have to stumble upon the answer through a process of elimination.

As a young man in his early twenties staring down the reality of an abysmal job market, the notion of being a cartoonist for a living just seemed absurd. It’d be decades of work for lousy pay, with very little chance of ever paying off. I had already written off journalism for the same reasons. I told myself to be practical. Finding some sort of office job made worlds more sense than taking a blind leap into a dying industry.

Four years later, and I’m about as practical a person as I can stand. I have a practical job and apartment. I eat a packed lunch almost every day and I don’t own a car so that I can improve my carbon footprint. I figure my life is overdue for some scribbles and silly jokes. Absurdity is good, and there’s freedom in embracing your inner goofball. I owe it to that little curly-haired dreamer who thought “cartoonist” would be a fun career. Over the past few months I’ve picked up some new ideas. This weekend, I picked up some art supplies.  I’m going to see if I can’t start a new project. I hope you’ll all enjoy it.

Please stay tuned.

This guy knows what I'm talking about.

Mid-Season Report: Part 1

Well, it’s winter here in Portland. It’s been 6 months since Kim and I moved to out to the West Coast with a vague sense that we heading for a more fulfilling, happier lifestyle. Our lives in Washington, DC were far from miserable; in fact they were pretty great. We just felt like we had more to see before we settled down. It was a risky proposition, considering I was abandoning a good job and a great network of friends for unemployment and isolation. When we visited Portland on a scouting visit last March, Kim and saw a dreary, soggy, run-down, industrial town and panicked. We thought we were about to make a terrible mistake by moving. After scrambling to figure out a way to avoid moving out to Portland, we compromised by deciding to give Portland a chance, for a couple months.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how much our outlook as changed since then. Did we make a mistake? Are we happy to be here in Oregon? Are we here to stay? Is Portland home or just a experiment in travel? Can we handle the weather? Let’s take stock, shall we?


The Good: So far, talking about the winter weather here in Portland is a bit like talking about the fact that your pitcher has a no hitter going in the 6th inning.  There’s a lot of innings left to play, and there’s a good chance you’ll jinx everything just by commenting on it. I’ll probably regret it, but I have to say the winter weather here is pretty fantastic. While snow storms and blizzards have pounded the East Coast, Midwest, and even the South, Portland’s been pretty great. We’ve just had a week of straight sunshine, and when it rains, the temperature hovers in the mid 50s. For some reason, the only time it really starts to pour is when friends come to visit. To make things better, there’s snow in the mountains, so Kim and I can play in it, but not commute through it. I’m starting to get why so many endurance athletes live in Oregon. You can train year-round and never deal with biting cold. Crocuses are even popping up along my running route already.

The Bad: Having said all this, I’m getting the sense that spring is when the city’s collective mood turns grim. While the rest of the country get’s to play in the sun around May, Portland’s rain keeps coming until mid-June. We’ll see how it shakes out over the next few months.


the Good:  People are generally friendlier here than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. Almost everyone asks how you’re doing and most even stick around to hear your answer. Most Portlanders bond over the fact that they’re not actually from Portland. When Kim and I explain that we moved here for a change of pace and to spend more time playing outside, we’re received by nodding smiles rather than the quizzical stares offered by East Coasters. Folks on the streetcar or at the gym are helpful and kind, almost to a fault.

Our neighbors. It's a small town. And we put birds on everything.

The Bad: It’s actually a bit frustrating to walk around Portland because at 4-way stop signs, drivers smile and wave each other on, then all cautiously advance at the same time and slam on their brakes in unison. Being a pedestrian in this town would be easier if someone was the slightest bit aggressive.  Our friend Liz likes to say that sometimes it feels like we live in the Shire.  It’s quaint and relaxing, but a little mischief wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

The view from our front door.

The Setting

The Good: I love that Portland is small enough for me to feel like I live on main street in a small town, yet big enough for me to take the streetcar downtown for a movie, a concert or even a basketball game. Best of all, I can go for runs in one of the country’s largest urban parks, which also happens to be a temperate rainforest, and then take a half-hour drive to the beautiful Columbia Gorge.

fairy falls, one of thousands in the Gorge

The Bad: On sunny days, the backdrop of Portland is the beautiful snow-cap of Mount Hood, but for most of the winter the backdrop is simply layers of hazy gray. There are also some days, not many, but some, where I wish I could just hop in the car and head to DC or New York, or back to Bucks County. I suppose some longer trips to Seattle, San Francisco and Vancouver will have to do.

Stay Tuned for Part II

A Late Start to 2011

Oh, hi, glad to see you’re still here. I apologize for standing you up for most of January. I took somewhat of a blogging hiatus after reaching the 50-post milestone just before the holidays. I assure you I didn’t quit the business to pursue a rap career, grow a beard, and make terse, bizarre appearance of late night talk shows. I’m still here.

You might be thinking, “Jay, no one really noticed or cared that you stopped blogging.” Well, my Mom did, so there.

This evening, I attended a lecture by Van Jones then came home and watched the State of the Union address. It’s sad that it takes pep-talks from two famous, ivy-league educated, world-class motivational speakers to compel me to get back to writing after putting off for weeks. It’s even sadder that I consider writing in my spare time a challenge.

I’ve been thinking a little bit about why I stopped posting, and I noticed that first two explanations parallel the reasons most of us have given up our New Year’s Resolutions by now:

1. Work gets in the way.
My work days are hectic, and last thing I feel like doing when I get home is hopping back in front my computer. To make matters worse, I now have identical computers, Macbook Amateurs (as opposed to Pros. Zing!), at work and at home. Furthermore, a fair amount of my work revolves around maintaining a social media presence for my organization. As a result, blogging platforms, online magazines, facebook, twitter, google maps, and flickr are all starting to feel like work.  I’m not sure how that’s possible, and I’m aware that there are much less interesting things to be subjected to at work, but I can’t help but feel like once an object or idea moves from the work world to the non-work world, there’s no reconciling them. In George Costanza’s words, “worlds are colliding, Jerry, WORLD ARE COLLIDING!”  At my previous job I got to wear jeans every day. It was great for about a year, until one weekend I realized putting on my jeans made me feel like I was going to work? What else was left in my wardrobe?! I’d have to go to social functions in sweat pants.

2. It wasn’t new anymore
This is usually why most blogs last under 10 posts…any why the gym is usually pretty empty by Friday, even in January. We lose steam when the novelty wears off. Van Jones spent some time discussing the cycle of hope and despair that we all tend to fall in, whether as activists, as employees, athletes or as human beings in general. My generation is especially guilty of making bold declarations of intention, and promptly failing to follow through. We never plan it out that way. It’s not as if we get together and say, “let’s make a resolution to talk a lot about volunteering at a local non-profit, then totally not follow through!” We’re just have incredibly short attentions spans. After all, there are so many facebook pages to “like” out there, and so little time.  As Jones said, we’ve found out in recent years that hope is far easier to attain than change. Real change requires diligence. I’m starting to sound like an inane motivational office poster now, so I’ll stop.

3.  The Pacific Northwest is starting to feel like home
Not that Bound for Portland has ever been limited to narratives about new adventures in Portland. But the fact that Kim and I have started settling in to Portland makes for seemingly less compelling story lines. We’re stilling exploring new hiking trails, new foods, beers and other Portlandish endeavors, but I no longer feel like I’m sharing wild and zany adventures.

On the other hand, that’s the way most of life works. In exchange for a sense of family and community, most of us accept that not every day, or week or month will provide an entirely new change of setting.  The trick is to find a moving stories and grand adventures in the corners, side streets and faces of every day.

During my blogging hiatus, I went up to Vancouver, Canada to spend Christmas with my parents (in from the East Coast), my brother, and his wonderful family. for me, this was the first Christmas where my brother rotated into the role of father, and my father and mother embraced the role of grandpa and nana. On Christmas eve, my four-year-old nephew Lucas and I were sitting on the floor, cross-legged, playing with x-men action figures. I asked him if he knew the meaning of Christmas. He smiled at me, clashed Gambit and Magneto together a few more times, then crawled over to me and cupped his hands to my ear.  “To celebrate God,” he whispered.

Maybe a travel blogger (if that’s even what I am) shouldn’t admit this, but I knew in that moment that I could travel the world for decades and never have life explained so purely and succinctly.

Here are a few shots from my time up on Vancouver, including a snowshoeing excursion on Mt. Seymour.

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This Year’s Love

Is any time of year as rife with emotion as the Holidays? You’ve got the initial wave of euphoria that comes with the notion that, Hooray! Christmas time is here! It’s time to put on our sweaters, buy a Christmas tree, and eat ourselves into a peppermint bark-induced coma. Then comes the nervousness—the realization that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to work, hit the gym, plan a party, write Christmas cards, AND get all the shopping done. After, or perhaps during this phase, comes the melancholy brought on by winter weather and the deflated feeling of another year gone by. Finally, if we’re lucky, these doldrums are tempered by a few brief moments of joy. Beers shared between old friends, an early morning embrace at the airport, a few heartfelt words delivered in a toast, or perhaps even the sight of a newborn baby. These moments steer us through our fears and uncertainties, and remind us why we care so much about Christmas in the first place.

Unfortunately, the Holidays offer less joy to some than others. Christmas can also bring on a tumultuous series of shake ups, break ups, and wake ups brought on, perhaps, by the realization that when stripped of the blinders offered by work schedules and daily routines, our relationships aren’t as strong we’d hoped.

In essence, the holiday season serves as a highlight reel for an entire year’s ups and downs. Since a highlight reel is only as good as its soundtrack, I decided to take a stab at a holiday season playlist. This isn’t just a list of Christmas music, though I do have a soft spot for both classic and unconventional holiday songs. Instead, I’ve come up with a list of songs that I think express the gamut of emotions associated with the year’s end.

Pull My Heart Away – Jack Penate

This is a good song about the harsh reality of moving on from an unfulfilling environment. It’s one of the tougher themes of the holiday season, but I think it bares mentioning.

All That I Want – The Weepies

I don’t know if there’s a harmony more soothing than that of the Weepies’ Deb Talan and Steve Tannen. “All that I want” articulates the paradoxical mix of contentment and longing felt at Christmastime.

Christmas Lights – Coldplay

Coldplay’s music has always possessed the ability to throw the listener from the shores of quiet sadness into raging sea of feeling, and back again, so a Christmas song is a perfect fit.  It’s also a perfect opportunity for the band to make an easy buck. I took the bait.

hey, that's the name of the song!

New City – Chip Means

This one may seem appropriate to me, since moving to a new city was probably the most significant development of 2010. With the move came excitement and refreshment, but also pangs of loneliness.

Sister Winter – Sufjan Stevens

Stevens has a stellar voice, and this song in particular brings into focus the steely numbness of winter.

River – Herbie Hancock feat. Corrine Bailey Rae

While Joni Mitchell deserves a huge amount of credit for writing the lyrics, I can’t help but prefer this jazz rendition. Perhaps more than any other song on this list, this track encapsulates the despondent reaction that we tend to feel when the Christmas season prods us to be merry.

What Christmas Means to Me – Stevie Wonder

No, I don’t just listen to sad music during the holidays. Personally, I kind of enjoy the reflections – happy and sad—granted by the arrival of winter. Few songs put me in a better mood than one of music’s all-time greatest vocalists.

Christmas – Rogue Wave

What an awesome song to remind us what Christmas is all about. How is it that we all have a knack for completely losing sight of the real meaning of Christmas over the course of each year. What in the world would we do if the Christmas season didn’t exist? Would we all just become so self-absorbed that we’d implode?  How is it that Charles Schultz explained this whole holiday conundrum with a bunch of cartoon characters? Christmastime sure brings up a lot of questions. Sheeesh. Speaking of which…

Linus & Lucy – Vince Guaraldi Trio (Charlie Brown Christmas)

Take it away, Schroeder…

Christmas Song – Dave Matthews Band

Another song about the true meaning of Christmas (and every song written by the Beatles before drugs): Love, Love, Love.

It Don’t Have to Change – John Legend

I think Christmas also has a knack for reminding us how we’ve grown from the days when we believed in Santa Claus, and in our own imaginations. As kids, there was no stress or obligation associated with the holidays. We only had to worry about making sure we remembered to leave carrots for Santa’s reindeer, avoided the relatives with foul-smelling perfume, and didn’t wake up mom and dad before 5:00am. This song is especially beautiful for capturing the joy of family that persists through the years.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – John Denver and the Muppets

I can only defend the inclusion of this song by saying that I have fond childhood memories of listening to this tape (remember cassette tapes?) over and over with my Mom. If you’ve ever wondered what a duet between John Denver and Rowlf the Dog would sound like, this song’s got an answer for you: pretty awful.

Get There – Robert Randolph & The Family Band

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the craziness of traveling home for the holidays. Flying or driving long distances in inclement winter weather can be exciting, at times challenging, and occasionally absurdly aggravating. Still, the prospect of being home is worth all of it. No matter how it gets done, you’ve got to get there.

White Christmas – Otis Redding

There are a thousand great renditions of this classic, but I’m not sure that any is as soulful. I also love this song because, I once briefly convinced Kim that Otis was oddly singing the word “mayonnaise” in his rendition of the song (rather than “May your days”). I’m probably not in store for a white Christmas this year since I’m traveling up to Vancouver, BC, the probably the only place in Canada not blanketed in snow. Still, I think Otis’s voice will set the tone for a warm and joyous reunion of three generations of Kosas in a brand new home.

That’s it from me. What favorite songs are on your Christmas playlist?

By the way, it took me a while, but this is my 5oth blog post. Thanks to all of you who take the time to read my musings and ramblings! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Just in Time for the Holidays.

The iPad already features apps that make life easier and better than ever before. You can play video games on yet another screen, create an amp for your guitar, and even watch a TV show on your way home to watch dozens more TV shows. But why stop with online applications. This holiday season, Apple introduces new apps for the physical world.

The Bluetooth App saves you the trouble of reaching all the way to your pocket for you iPhone. (Caution: may make right-hand turns while driving more difficult.)

The iGriddle App heats your iPad’s surface to temperatures capable of frying an egg, or warming up a cozy chai latte.

Solder to your heart’s content with the new iWeld App.

Say hello to the iMat, the world’s first placemat application. Keeping that air of awesomeness about you 24/7 requires a balanced and carefully measured diet.


I bet you thought this blog was going to fade into obscurity now that I’m working full time again. You probably figured that once I returned to a routine of working, working out, cooking, cleaning, and watching Law & Order SVU, this little writing and drawing project would just fall by the wayside.  If you did, you were right to think so. You still might turn out to be right, but I’m going to try and stave off the weeknight lethargy a bit longer.

Last week, Kim and I found out that Portland is somewhat of a suitcase city. I suppose most people have family either in the suburbs, down in California, or back on the east coast, like us. By Wednesday, I didn’t see a single car or bike on my commute downtown to my office.

On Wednesday night, Kim and I went to Mission Theatre for dinner and second-run movie. We saw “It’s Kind of a Funny Story”, which was essentially “Garden State” meets “Girl, Interrupted”. It wasn’t mind-blowingly good, but it had a few cute moments, and the moral of being grateful for friends, family, and other blessings was fitting for Thanksgiving eve.

The next day, Kim and I celebrated our first Thanksgiving together by making enough food for both our entire extended families…then eating all of it ourselves. Check it out.

After eating, we commenced three days of lounging, shopping, and movies. I almost let a four-day weekend come and go with nothing to show for it but about 6 added pounds and a disturbingly firm grasp of college football’s BCS rankings, but I managed to make it out for a hike on Sunday. Kim and I went up to Angel’s Rest, a ridge along the beautiful Columbia Gorge.

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A Misty Morning Hike

This morning Kim and I went on what I’m sure will be the first of many wet winter hikes just outside of Portland. We returned to Multnomah Falls but this time climbed 700 feet to the top of the cascade, then hiked along the stream a ways.  Believe it or not, it led to a lot more waterfalls.

I think I’m finally getting used to the idea that my winter won’t be so much white as green. Incredibly green, actually. Every rock, every long, every single forest surface we saw on our hike this morning was fully enveloped with green moss. Observe:

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