Fuel for the Frontier

Fuel for the Frontier: Volume II

Music Subscriptions and Vinyl

My wife and family bought me a record player for my birthday. It was an incredibly thoughtful gift.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been obsessed with music. As a kid I would listen to songs over and over again until I could pluck them out on the piano.

A while back I was processing with my wife how I’ve come to dislike the streaming experience of music. It has taken my enjoyment of music and pulverized it into another fad. Sucked all the fun and goodness out of it. Here’s my beef.

Remember when you could only listen to CDs that you owned? And if you wanted to listen to them from your computer you had to import them. Like, rip them into your media library. Which depending on how new your computer was could take half your morning, or half the day.

I obsessed over building my music library. I didn’t have any money, so it pretty much consisted of whatever my parents bought. But it blew my mind that I could import a CD to the computer and listen to it without the CD. Whaaaat?

My relationship with music has changed. Unfortunately, I’ve come to expect instant access to 43 million songs in the iTunes store. I have an entitlement related to the way that I enjoy music. And it has totally taken the novelty and joy out of it. Listening to an album over and over and over and over again. Till you know every lyric, every guitar riff, every melody and harmony.

Luxury once tasted becomes necessity.

Now, I barely look past my “Recently Added” section of iTunes. I have a few steady artists I always go back to, but for the most part I’m just always looking for the next shiny new song. Not truly relishing and savoring music the way I used to.

So enter my desire to start playing vinyl. Ok, I know it’s what all the cool kids are doing. But seriously, my interest was piqued due to recovering my love of music I feel I’ve lost. The part where, you only get to listen to the music that you own an album of. And just because an artist may have released a new album, doesn’t mean you get to listen to it at midnight of the day it releases.

I actually have to exercise patients. I have to save money and decide which album I’ll invest in next. I don’t have the luxury of just flipping through 40 or 50 albums a month because it’s part of the subscription. I have to learn to savor every album of my collection again. To experience it as I set the needle and watch it spin. To share it with my family in the kitchen or over a meal. I no longer just consume music because I’m an entitled subscriber. I savor it because it nourishes my heart. My soul.

Yes the constraint is hard. Yes I have 10 albums I wish I could buy right now but can’t. Yes I will love you forever if you buy me records for the rest of my life. But truly, I’m enjoying music again like I haven’t in ages. And it’s got me much more sensitive to what music I’m streaming and asking the question, is paying for a music subscription really something I need in my life?

Top 5 Vinyl Albums at the Moment

  • Abide With Me, Sara Groves. We’ve been spinning a lot of vinyl lately, and I’ve missed having good worship music on. You can walk in just about any thrift store and find jazz, rock, or classical. But if I want worship on vinyl it takes an investment in new vinyl. Which is not cheap. This was my go to because it’s such a good mix of songs from the heart and a few traditional hymns.

  • Graceland, Paul Simon. Found this at a record shop here in town. We grew up listening to Paul Simon on repeat. This album being a all time favorite. So I had to have it. It’s one of the greatest albums of all time, and I love having it on vinyl.

  • The Sound of Music. Because you have to. Especially having kids in the house, Finley loves playing this soundtrack over and over again.

  • Getz / Gilberto, Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto. Favorite bossa nova album of all time. Not even a contest. I was antiquing with my parents here in Kansas City and found it in a old container of jazz albums. It was $12.50, which makes it one of the more expensive albums in my collection, but it was in really good condition, and I literally could listen to this album every day the rest of my life, and still not get tired of it. You need this.

  • Home, Josh Garrels. Another new vinyl, but our love for Josh Garrels runs deep. This was a treat to myself for a recent promotion at work. Yay me. Home was released in 2015, and has been on my weekly playlist of music since. It may currently hold the #1 spot on my vinyl collection due to recently picking it up, but my bias is well doted. I love this album beginning to end. Listening to it on vinyl feels like coming home. 😉


  • Finished re-reading the Harry Potter series. Oh man, I forgot how incredibly written the series is. It can feel a bit redundant and childish at times, but the way it ties together as a whole is remarkable. The themes of friendship, adventure, courage, forgiveness, trust, and sacrifice that run through the books is moving. Still on the weekly top best sellers list for a reason.

  • Currently reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time. I’ve watched the movies many times, but after finishing Harry Potter, I needed something to rebound on. I’m about halfway through The Two Towers, so good! It’s been a fun way to wind down my brain at the end of a long day. Especially with a newborn in the house.

  • My wife and I took an enneagram test earlier this year, this book has been really insightful. Learning so much about my wife as a 9, and all my deficiencies as a 1. But really, it has been a great tool in learning more about myself and my wife. What we are motivated by, what energizes us, and what gets us in to trouble. It’s just another tool in the belt for learning how to walk in relationship with others.

An aside about Movies based on Books

Talking with a friend recently, he mentioned how major motion pictures based on books ruin and limit books original form. It stifles our imagination to the world of fiction the book invites us into. Readers think of characters and the world in which the story is set as the film portrays them. Instead of how their imagination would dream up the story. As I’ve read Harry Potter and now Lord of the Rings this year, this has been mostly true. I read Harry Potter before seeing any of the films (never finished the movies), and I found re-reading it to be just as delightful as the world I first imagined. Whereas, Lord of the Rings I feel trapped in the motion picture world as I read. The characters feel limited, the landscapes resemble what I saw in the movies. It is slightly disappointing.

Start my workday Analog

I work in digital marketing. Most of my day (like you) is spent staring at a screen of some sort. Over the last couple years I’ve used a analog task management system for my day to day lists. While this has been incredibly satisfying and helpful, I’ve found I still find myself slipping into a reactive work mode more than I would like.

When I received my Gather desk organizer, it didn’t really fit with my current setup. So I decided to make a change to my work station.


Instead of making my default work approach my computer, I’ve made it easiest to work offline (pen and paper), then to work on my computer I have to shift my chair, posture, and attention over to my monitor.

My analog tools are front and center. My computer is off to the side waiting for me, when I’m ready to do work that requires a internet connection.


So I start my day in my notebooks. Sketching out big ideas, breaking projects into smaller bits, and scheduling out my time.

After I’ve created a map (so-to-speak) for myself, I then put my nose in a book for 20-30 minutes before moving on to other to-dos.


When I jump straight to an internet connection and screen, I lose all sense of priority and importance to my work. Suddenly Twitter should receive the same amount of my attention as the work project that is due by the end of the afternoon.

Starting my day in a digital work environment (for me) is the equivalent of standing in the toothpaste aisle at Walmart. Too many options.

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When I start offline, I’m able to pre-determine what things are most important for the day without my attention being hi-jacked.


  • No smartphone in the bedroom. We’ve been charging our smartphones in the kitchen at night, because it shouldn’t be the last thing we look at before bed, or the first thing we stare at in the morning. There are quite a few other reasons, but those being the at the top.

  • Having a newborn. Babies (and birth for that matter) are incredible. There is nothing like holding a human in your arms that is minutes old. That shares your lifeblood.
  • Riding my bike to work. My car has been having some trouble, so I’ve been riding my bike to work here and there. It’s been a blessing in disguise. I get exercise into my commute and gives me 20 minutes at the start and end of my work day of noodle time (a term I stole from a friend, time to let my brain wonder wherever it may go and work out life). Also, having a newborn has limited my time on my bike, so I’m grateful to be riding at all.

  • This tumbler. This thing is awesome. I use it for everything, coffee, milk, cocktails, wine. Put it on top of this thing and you’ve got yourself a cocktail shaker 😎. It fits in the cup holder in my car, fits the perfect amount of coffee in the morning, it’s small so I take it with me everywhere, and it’s pretty much indestructible. A bit pricy, but a buy it for life sort purchase.

Fuel for the Frontier: Volume I

Think of this as your knapsack of snacks for a long journey. The purpose of this series is to provide resources to fuel your soul for the road ahead. You may find some helpful or useful, and others, not as much. Fuel for the Frontier will be a regular column in each issue. Things I’m experimenting with, books I’m reading, music or podcasts that have been noteworthy. Take your pick, I’ll lay out the spread.

Getting Lost in a Story

My wife and I were introduced to the author Michael O’Brien by our good friends, and oh my, it’s been fun to dig in to his books. The last half year I’ve spent most of my evenings getting lost in the world of fiction. It’s been a therapeutic escape with busy life happening. As John Eldredge says so well in his book Waking the Dead, “Mythic stories help us see clearly, which is to say, they help us see with the eyes of the heart.”

My two favorites from Michael O’Brien, The Fool of New York City and Island of the World. The stories speak of hope, loss, forgiveness, suffering, and redemption. Brilliantly woven with suspense and mystery. I feel like I came to know the main characters and found their stories revealing parts of mine.


  • Waking the Dead: This must be one of the most refreshing books on Christian life I’ve read in a long time. John’s writing has been quite influential in my life over the last 5 years, but this definitely floats toward the top. It’s a venture into awakening your heart to all that Jesus promised through his life and ministry. Living with a heart that is alive, restored, and free.

    ...if it doesn't bring freedom and it doesn't bring life, it's not Christianity. If it doesn't restore the image of God and rejoice in the heart, it's not Christianity.

  • And Sons Podcast: I don’t listen to a lot of podcasts regularly, but this is one that I rarely miss an episode. In the age of content overload, there are few things that are resonate with my heart and move me to action. This would be one. Notable episodes: 6, 18, 39, 46 and 47.

Other Noteworthy Reading

  • Unsubscribe by Jocelyn K. Glei: Not at all surprised, this was an incredibly thought provoking read. Jocelyn continues to impress me with her unfaltering commitment to producing quality content sure to get you thinking. An excerpt from the review I wrote of Unsubscribe.

    This is much more than a book on email. Though email is a large portion of the context for the principles Jocelyn lays out, her clarity regarding our impulse checks, communication blunders, and focus deficit, is revealing. You won’t find a book of tips-and-tricks related to email management. Though you will learn an abundance of best practices when it comes to managing your inbox. This book will challenge your disposition toward digital communication, edit your writing tendencies, and retarget your focus on that which is truly important. If you want to gain clarity about doing work that matters, Unsubscribe is a breath of fresh air.

  • The Weekly Review: This is pretty much the only newsletter I have been subscribed to for over a year and continue to be delighted with every dispatch. As in, eagerly look forward to reading. Chris writes about spiritual life, deep work habits, and occasionally, The Patriots. He’s a deep thinker and the brevity of the life he is choosing to live comes through in his writing.

Tunes for Work & Play

  • Focus / Work: After too many mornings trying to decide what I should listen to as I get into my work routine, I made a playlist called “Start Here”. A progression of instrumental music from Utah, Tycho, and Hanz Zimmer(of course). At just over 3 hours, so it gets me through my most productive work hours of the day. This helps me automate my morning routine by not having to think about where to start. I hit play, open my baron fig notebook, and pickup with the bread crumbs I left for myself the day before.

  • Dinner Clean Up / Dance Party: Unapologetically stole the origins of this playlist for my father. Playlist called “Happy” and you can hear it being blasted at the Smith house every night as we clean up dinner and have a dance party in the kitchen.

  • Saturday Afternoon: The Wild Swan by Foy Vance has been a recent delightful discovery.

  • Worship Music: This album by Greg LaFollette has been on repeat lately when I have some quiet moments of reflection and conversation with God. A hymnal-y feel throughout, and it’s pretty much the Bible put to music. It’s been speaking the language of my heart as of late.

Things I’m Practicing

  • Early morning Solitude: Inspired by Jocko Willink from his book, Discipline Equals Freedom, I’ve been trying to make 4:30am my normal wakeup time. 😴 It hurts. Every time. BUT, I’ve found that getting 2–3 hours of quiet and solitude (devotions/exercise/staring at the wall) before the day gets going makes a huge difference for me. If you follow Jocko on twitter he posts a picture of his watch just about every day at 4:33am.

  • No cell phone in bedroom: This should be a no-brainer, but it took longer than I care to admit before my wife and I implemented this rule. The general thought, I should be completely untethered, unavailable, and fully present whenever I walk into my bedroom. There’s like 50 or more reasons for that. So we plug our phones in to charge in the kitchen, and I bought an alarm clock.

  • The Daily Prayer: To walk the Christian life is to go to war. Every day. In John Eldredge’s book, Waking the Dead, he talks about the battle for the human heart. Every day is a fight. To live from my heart, to be the husband and father that my family needs, walking with God is essential. The Daily Prayer has been a place of refuge to turn to every morning as I face the day again. I printed a couple out to keep handy.