Things I Enjoyed in 2014

It seems like everybody makes lists at the end of the year, so here's mine. I am using the nebulous noun 'things' on purpose; the only common denominator here is my enjoyment, and these are in no particular order.

L. R. Baggs M1 Active Magnetic Soundhole Pickup

I got a beautiful new Martin acoustic guitar this year and I wanted to make sure its chorus-y, resonant sound came through when I was plugged in. This pickup does the best job of any acoustic electronics I've heard. Runner-up: my L.R. Baggs Para DI; I always swap out the venue's direct box for mine. My investment in both of these has been worth it 100 times over.

Cracklin' Oat Bran

cracklin oat bran.jpg

This has been my favorite cereal since maybe middle school and this year I haven't found anything that even comes close. Also, our dog Norah loves them. Runner-up: Cinnamon Life.

Sylvan Esso - Sylvan Esso

There was this chillingly beautiful Appalachian-folk-singing female trio called Mountain Man; then, one time, this electronica producer named Nick Sanborn remixed one of their songs; one of the sisters liked it so much they decided to work together; the result is this magical unicorn-like blend of soft folk vocals and sparsely fierce electronica / dance / dub work. You owe it to yourself to become immersed in this album. Runners-up: 'Tremors' by SOHN; 'Phox' by Phox; 'Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of...' by Andrew Bird; '1989' by Taylor Swift; 'That's Christmas To Me,' by Pentatonix; '1000 Forms of Fear' by Sia; 'Bass & Mandolin' by Chris Thile & Edgar Meyer; 'A Dotted Line' by Nickel Creek; 'Atomos' by A Winged Victory For The Sullen; probably more I'm forgetting.

Feel free to add your favorite albums of 2014 (even if it's just something you discovered this year) in the comments!

The Divine Conspiracy Continued by Dallas Willard and Gary Black Jr.

Dallas Willard's thoughts on the Kingdom of God, and on who Jesus is and what he offers, have shaped me more than any other single person or book aside from Scripture itself. I knew that he was working on at least one or two more books when he passed away in 2013, and so when this became available I immediately bought it and was not disappointed. The book is written from a single perspective based on parts Willard completed, notes Willard had, and conversations Willard and Black had about the book's direction; it reads like Willard's thoughts and style through and through, and is a very bracing and encouraging follow-up to The Divine Conspiracy. The past few years have seen a spate of books talking about vocation, culture, the impact of Christian faith on all of that; this book deserves an important place among all of those. Here is an excerpt from the first chapter:

We face a significant problem today in our lack of awareness, interest, and critical thinking and teaching within our Christian congregations and institutions of higher learning regarding how God, through his Spirit, is to guide us personally, communally, socially, politically, and economically into direct conformity with the blessing that is within his kingdom. We simply have not thought very long or hard about how the kingdom of God could, would, or does manifest itself within ideas and images that drive the current contexts of our church, work, school, play, family, business, health, and economic activities.
This is our primary task here: to reinvigorate the conversation about the ways and means of the kingdom of God, which will cascade over the walls of our Christian institutions to inform both Christians and non-Christians alike as to the beneficial effects and wonder-working power of God's love and goodness in every area of human existence. Yes, the kingdom of God is to be formed "within you," but it should never be understood as limited to or confined by the human heart. The kingdom of God is as big as the range of God's omnipotent will. Nothing can stop it. Nothing will. Not even the very gates of hell itself. What we must begin to reconsider, given our immediate circumstances, is how to best focus our efforts and think deeply about this present and coming reality that Christ has made readily available to us.

My Band

In addition to some fun videos--some great live videos are coming too--we also recorded a spiffy full-length album which we are monstrously proud of. You should get it. I love these guys and it's a privilege to work with them in the studio, in rehearsal, and onstage in front of wonderful friends & fans. We're really looking forward to 2015!

These novels (three in the very original Earthsea Cycle, five in all) have been around for a few decades but I'd never read them until this summer. Ursula Le Guin is considered a godmother to much current fantasy writing. I've read a decent amount of recent fantasy, and her stories struck me as refreshingly unique, emphasizing lessons about love and the true uses of power that are an important contrast to many current cinematic narratives about vengeance and violence. Her dialogue is well-written, her characters and worlds are inventive, and the stories all kept my rapt attention through the very end.

Lowepro Transit Backpack 350 AW

I started a new job in September that required me to purchase and occasionally carry around a couple DSLRs, some lenses, and some other filming equipment. The Lowepro Transit 350 AW is a great combination of compact flexibility, durability, and ease-of-access. The interior compartment is easily configurable a few different ways and there's a hidden tripod carrying cup/strap on one side. This isn't an overnight trekking backpack, but most people don't need something that tough. For fairly regular travel and urban exploration, however, this bag is great, and I plan to get a lot of use out of it. Runner-up: Konova K2 100cm slider. One of the most cost-effective ways to make your video project look exponentially more professional.

The Screen Door Diaries

If anybody is looking to get married anywhere in North or South Carolina, I cannot recommend Screen Door Diaries enough. Rachael Rushing and her husband Ty offer a wide range of services for weddings, from simple conceptualization and planning to complete hosting and execution. Heather and I got married on their beautiful property in May and everything about the ceremony & reception was more beautiful than we'd even hoped for (thanks in no small part not only to Ty & Rach but also to a ton of wonderful people who volunteered to make things, contribute desserts, set up, and tear down). Plus Rachael is an incredible organizer and wonderful to work with. Runner-up: the Southeast in general; Heather and I miss the mountains. : )

Rode NT-1a Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

I used this for all vocals and all acoustic guitar parts on the new Rory Tyer Band album I Still Find Hope. This is simply the best condenser microphone you can find under $300--it has almost no noise, picks up everything, and is incredibly warm. Runner-up: Apple's Logic Pro X, which I used to record, mix, and master everything.

Tornliden / Finnvard Table by Ikea

Tornliden is the table top, and Finnvard is the trestle leg system. I work from home and spend a lot of time at my iMac, so I knew that I wanted a standing desk (rather than a sit-to-stand desk, which is easily adjustable throughout the day). For $119, it's hard to find a more functional and good-looking table. I raised the trestles to their highest height and added a couple modifications: I attached four Capita steel legs to an Ekby Jarpen shelf and set it at the back of the table for my iMac to be at eye level, and added a 6' x 1' oak board across the tops of the trestles for a second shelf space spanning the length of the table underneath. Runner up: the Wobble Stool by Uncaged Ergonomics. This gives me a way to take some of the weight off my feet at certain points of the day while still ensuring I'm staying active (because you can't really ever rest your complete weight on it!).

My Wife Heather (and our dog Norah)

I think this picture speaks for itself (although Norah looks uncomfortable because there were two big dogs romping just behind the photographer and she wanted to run around with them rather than stand still for a picture)--much of my joy this year came from these two and I am excited to keep making new memories as a family in 2015.

That's it for my list! Happy New Year!

What were some of YOUR favorite things in 2014?