2018 has been the best year of my life. 2018 has also been one of the busiest years of my life. Between leaving my career in sports to start my own business, getting engaged to the love of my life, traveling to, like, half of the 50 states, and writing this silly thing no one cares about, it’s been a lot. So here’s a condensed version of all the things I could assemble before my computer dies:

My word: Create

Each year I choose a word to focus on. In 2015, it was “patience.” In 2016, I chose “open.” Last year, it was “intentionality.” This year, it’s been “create.”

I’ve had my hand in creating a number of things: homemade marshmallows, water color painting, Play-doh, experiences, candles, a new donor mailer for a non-profit, writing (though not nearly as much as I’d have liked), a life-long relationship, a book launch plan, logos, websites, three big surprise parties, community, and a number of things I’m forgetting. It’s been a fun ride, and while I’ve dabbled in a number of things, I want to focus my efforts on improving at skills in 2019.

That’s why my word for next year is “discipline.” To be a disciple is to be disciplined. Each month, I’m going to pick a different thing to discipline myself in. Perhaps avoiding fried foods. Waking up early to spend time with God. Moving my body. Writing regularly. Reading every day.

Additionally, I’m going to focus on one chapter of Celebration of Disciplineeach month, going in order. Therefore, January will be meditation, February will be prayer, etc. Want to follow along with me? You can buy the book here or use this free PDF.

Anyways, I’m still figuring out which thing to focus on when, but I’m open to suggestions!

My Year of Salad

I’m self aware enough to know far more people are here to hear about my year of salad vs. bad music takes and a list of longform features you’ll Instapaper, yet never read.

Overall, I believe my year of salad was a major success. I eat salads on a regular basis now, perhaps once or twice a week. How’d I get here? I started with chicken caesar, but quickly learned I dislike all dressings. Then I began to experiment with fruit and nuts. That’s about as far as I’ve gone … my ideal salad is some combination of romaine lettuce, berries, nuts, and a dash of cheese. Somehow I still haven’t had the Chopped Salad at Portillo’s, though I’ve had a healthy amount of Fuji Apple Chicken and Strawberry Poppyseed Chicken Salads at Panera.

As for next year, there’s nothing I’m super excited about beyond improving my overall diet. However, since I work out of coffee shops most days and want to avoid a dependency, I’ve decided I’m going to focus on tea. Any and all advice is welcome as I enter this mysterious land of leaves in cloth bags.

Concerts I Attended

Since I create this list for myself, I’m prioritizing experiences over things this year. Here are the shows I attended this year with limited commentary.

Into it. Over it. at the Man Tavern

This show began on Dec. 31, 2017, but I’m including it because it carried late into the night and was one of my favorite sets I’ve seen live. Nothing like a couple hundred single dudes celebrating New Years by screaming lyrics to sad acoustic songs.

Noah Gundersen at Thalia Hall

Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago 10 Year Anniversary at the Bradley Center

Considering the novelty and our seats, one of the best shows I’ve ever attended.

Lorde, Run the Jewels, and Mitski at Allstate Arena

John Mark McMillan, Jason Upton, Cageless Birds, and more at the Breath and the Clay

Francis and the Lights at the Metro

Hands down the most fun I had at a show this year.

S. Carey at Schuba’s

The first of three S. Carey shows with S. Cralli this year.

Bon Iver & S. Carey at Millenium Park

Bon Iver is best enjoyed eating chocolate covered strawberries on a blanket in a park on a Sunday afternoon in early June.

Janelle Monae at Summerfest

Moses Sumney at Soho House

50 Cent at Ravinia

Yep.

John Mark McMillan at the Bottom Lounge

I love John Mark.

Owen at the Beat Kitchen

Like Rats, the band who opened the show, describes themselves as “punishing extreme metal” on their Spotify page.

S. Carey at Collectivo

Slaughter Beach, Dog at the Beat Kitchen

Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and boygenius at Thalia Hall

It was long. It was spiritual. It was incredible.

Albums

I have a respectable 84 albums saved to my “2018 Albums” playlist on Spotify. But can I be honest? I only love a fraction of them.

This is my fourth year ranking albums (see 20152016, and 2017) and this one has been the most disappointing. The Kanye album was a mostly a dud. Few new artists garnered my attention, but perhaps that says more about my efforts than their work.

I’m just not that excited about new music right now. But I still liked somethings! So here’s another list no one asked for:

boygenius by boygenius

I made a last-minute decision to bump this record to #1. It only has six songs, but they’re each incredible. This choice is hardly a surprise since Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers came in second and seventh, respectively, on last year’s list and Lucy Dacus … we’ll see her real soon.

Big Red Machine by Big Red Machine

Did you really think I’d put a Justin Vernon project anywhere but #1? Maybe this album took a hit because of expectations, but it doesn’t stick with me like most Vernon albums. I’m not sure it would’ve made the top five last year or top eight in 2016, but alas, here we are.

Historian by Lucy Dacus

I gained a whole other level of appreciation for this album after seeing Lucy live. If I’m driving, I’m more than likely belting the anthemic bridge of “Night Shift,” even though this year has brought the opposite of a breakup. “Yours & Mine” is also stellar.

All of the stuff Chance the Rapper released

Chance didn’t release a full album this year, but he released six singles. I like it all.

KIDS SEE GHOSTS by KIDS SEE GHOSTS

Sure, why not? (P.S. I think I’m the only one who enjoy’s Kanye’s random sound effects in 4th Dimension.)

Hundred Acres by S. Carey

Despite being my least favorite S. Carey record, it’s still stellar. I saw him play it three times this year … that’s a lot, right?

Bark Your Head Off, Dog by Hop Along

“How Simple” is one of, if not the best, opening tracks on a album this year. I enjoy this record.

The Mercury Sessions, The Lightning Sessions, and Smile In The Mystery by John Mark McMillan

Props to John Mark on breaking into this mostly “secular” list. He’s great. His re-interpretations of his songs are great. The seven-song Christmas album is pretty good, too.

Just for Us by Francis and the Lights

Another album that was boosted by the live performance. Francis is one of the best.

Scorpion by Drake

My friend Jerred created a condensed playlist of this album called “Scorpion without the tail” … it’s the only way to make it through this album.

Rhododendron by Valley Maker

Can I be honest? I don’t really love this album. But I found Valley Maker’s 2015 album, When I Was a Child, this year and have really enjoyed that. (P.S. The first time I heard Valley Maker, I was convinced his voice sounded just like Vance Joy. I debated tweeting it for, like, two weeks. Now I hardly hear it. These thoughts are why you’re here, right?)

Clean by Soccer Mommy

Lush by Snail Mail

These albums are one in the same for me. They’re like Lucy Dacus Jr.

Afraid of Everything by Harrison Whitford

People Are My Drug by Phil Cook

Noonday Dream by Ben Howard

I like each of these albums as background music. Harrison (Bridgers) and Phil (multiple Vernon projects) are both involved in other projects I really like, so I wanted to give them a nod. The Howard album is particularly suited to be a journaling soundtrack.

Delta by Mumford & Sons

It sounds like a Mumford album. What’d you expect?

Nation Of Two by Vance Joy

Does this make me a 16-year-old girl? Not sorry.

Evening Machines by Gregory Alan Isakov

Good Thing by Leon Bridges

I like both of these artists. Neither is my favorite album of theirs, but I want to make my 84-album playlist worth it.

Additional Notes

  • Parked By The Lake is the song of the year.
  • Forever Always by Peter CottonTale is everything.
  • I had a spiritual experience with Transatlanticism (the song) by Death Cab for Cutie this year, which is a story for another time, but one I look forward to sharing.
  • Just yesterday I remembered Mountain Man released an album this year, but I haven’t spent enough time with it to properly rank it.
  • United Pursuit (Garden), Pat Barrett (Pat Barrett), Jason Upton (Table Full of Strangers, Vol. 2), Stefany Gretzinger (Blackout), Iron Bell Music (Glory to Glory), Cory Asbury (Reckless Love), and Elevation Worship (Hallelujah Here Below) released worship albums I enjoyed this year.
  • The closest thing we got to an Evan Weiss release this year was this three-song EP, Reflections by Pet Symmetry. It’ll do.
  • There are a few records I’m already excited about in 2019: Maggie Rogers, American Football, Chance the Rapper (?), Sharon Van Etten, Into it. Over it. (?), Switchfoot (I’ve spent a serious amount of time with Switchfoot in 2018, as if it were 15 years ago), and maybe Kanye West (though I refuse to acknowledge ye).

Articles

I never feel like I have a chance to read as much as I’d like, but I feel especially unaware and uncultured this year. Anyways, I still spend an hour or more a day consuming stories. Here are my favorites:

A pastor in China penned a letter about faithful disobedience prior to his arrest a few weeks ago and it’s stuck with me ever since.

Charles Barkley’s dedicated friendship with this random Iowa man is my favorite.

Wright Thompson didn’t write often in 2018, but when he did, he was as strong as always. This particular feature on Ichiro is phenomenal.

My favorite story idea I wish I would’ve come up with myself: Jessica Smetana’s quest to find the best Lids at Mall of America for SB Nation.

Bob Verdi will forever be my favorite human, writer, etc.

Ted Jackson shares an amazing story of reconnecting with Jackie Wallace for Nola.com. Here’s the best story about reuniting a child with biological parents I’ve ever read.

If you’re human, you’ll enjoy this oral history of Step Brothers.

You didn’t know you’d read about kids solving rubik’s cubes today, but you should.

Mike Piazza (though mostly his wife) bought and decimated a historic soccer team in Italy.

Highline published this very long feature on suicide prevention, which is both dark and hopeful.

Sam Borden told the story of Russian soccer hooligans leading up to the World Cup for ESPN The Magazine.

Steve Francis wrote a great Players’ Tribune pieceDarius Miles’ writing was even better, though.

Goodbye, Blockbuster.

Mike Silver wrote a longform feature on Hall of Fame coach Sean McVay for NFL.com.

Here’s one touching personal reflection on death.

I love most everything Will Lietch writes. His newsletter is especially fun to receive every Saturday morning. But this essay in particular was strong.

Scott Wheeler spent four days traveling with a last-place ECHL team to chronicle the team’s inner workings for The Athletic, bringing me back to my AHL days.

Mark Titus writing about the Little League World Series is everything.

I know how to play chess, though I haven’t tried in more than a decade. However, I’m fascinated by the chess world.

John Barr and Dan Murphy were all over the Larry Nassar case for Outside the Lines and ESPN.com. Paula Lavigne and Nicole Noren took things even further re: Michigan State.

Who doesn’t love a good Sam Hinkie feature? Also, never forget the Bryan Colangelo story.

Tyler Huckabee shared about his experience wrestling demons following the passing of Scott Hutchison for Relevant Magazine.

Remember when we thought the Patriots dynasty was coming to an end last year? Seth Wickersham had the inside scoop for ESPN.com.

What do you know about “lumberjills?”

Chuck Culpepper covered the funeral of Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski for the Washington Post. Ivan Maisel followed up with a feature on his family’s grieving months later.

This John Prine profile is good.

Hey! Outside Online ran a feature that wasn’t about a mysterious death in a national park.

Ben Baskin profiled New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara for SI.com. Tim Rohan assembled a strong feature on Warren Sapp for SI.com, as well.

I randomly met Ron Adams a couple years back. Then I read this feature Kurt Streeter penned about him for the New York Times. I like him a lot.

My friend R.J. Anderson is a talented writer. This is one of my favorite things he wrote this year. Related to scouts, Ethan Strauss followed an NBA advance scout on the road for a bit.

Ben Gibbard ranked all eight Death Cab for Cutie albums.

Long live Gritty.

I like Gene Chizik.

Brian Windhorst wrote about Kyle Korver and his family processing the loss of his brother, Kirk, for ESPN.com.

Tim Layden on horse racing is always promising. I also like Bryan Curtis, including this story on up-and-coming broadcasters.

The Braves are back!

In an all-too familiar story, Percy Harvin opened up about his battles with anxiety. Also, ESPN’s series on mental health was fantastic.

After reading this article, I spent two hours watching demolition derby videos.

This kid plays D1 football and runs a million-dollar business. Impressive.

Two scoops for you, Bread Man. What a great story.

I feel like I read this forever ago, but I remember really enjoying it. Katie Strang wrote about former NHL player David Gove for The Athletic.

Remember when everyone did a Jalen Ramsey feature? I enjoyed this one from GQ.

The Kick Six is still a top five day of my life. Same goes for Chris Davis.

My dad likes to refer to Dusty Baker as Crusty Booger.

Down with “pop up experiences.”

This Uber rebranding report is more of an experience than a read, but it’s one of my favorite things on the internet this year.

This Ringer parody of This is Us is also not a read, rather a watch, but it’s so dang good.

Chance the Rapper’s alderman explainer video is also top notch.

That’s all for now!

P.S. How did you make it this far?