I first met them on a dimly lit Facetime call last summer, hours after they had met each other. It was late for me, well past one in the morning, and I was already in bed when my phone rang. They were in the studio with a musician friend of mine. He had found them. Or the universe had led him to them.

A shy but funny trumpet player from San Francisco who was busking on the street. Three Canadians who had ended up roommates thanks to Craigslist. A quiet, contemplative, wickedly talented singer who had been playing a showcase in New York and had no idea my friend was in the audience. It was circumstance, happenstance and perhaps a little bit of fate that brought them to him. It was he who brought them together.

I’m limited by contract and conscience how much I can write about him, my friend and client. But I woke up this morning needing to write about Crystal Garden, the band brought together in a way that Hollywood would reject and who, for the last few months, have been finding their sound.

The next time I saw them was a month later, the end of August in Central Washington. I’d been flown in to meet them and while I slept in a cushy yurt, they emerged from tents and sleeping bags at a campground. They were tired, dirty, having slept in the same clothes they’d been wearing for the last couple of days. They were happy, excited, full of hope.

Joel, a percussionist, with his electric smile and faux-hawk. He would leave the band in a few weeks, but I didn’t know that then. He’s got a music school to run back in Toronto and, having kept in loose touch, I’m sure he’s going to be a success.

James, the trumpet player with the family crest tattoos and patchy beard. He wore a Giants hat low as he told me about growing up in Vegas, about his parents passing away, about how long he’d lived homeless, busking on the street to provide his living.

Matt, a quiet tactician of a drummer and devoted music student from just outside Toronto. His blond hair would glow later that night when they would play an impromptu show at the campsite – banging away on a bucket with a bunch of glow sticks I taped together.

Charlie is the bass player. Funny, effervescent, the energy of the group, constantly bouncing around, charming everyone he meets. He’s got the deep soul of an artists, but the perspective of his 24 years.

Mycle, whose voice leaves people speechless when he steps to the mic and sings one of his songs. He’s the former Army Chaplain’s Assistant, the contractor from Seattle who has a career of his own, but who can’t help but make music every chance he gets.


We spend a couple days together, on and off the tour bus, standing in the wings. Every quiet moment is filled with music. Charlie beat boxing. James blowing something smooth on the trumpet. Matt, like a kid off his meds, beating on any surface he can. Mycle scatting, belting out lyrics to old R&B.

They have the excitement of freshmen unleashed on campus for the very first time. They know – beyond their years – how incredible this opportunity is, how surreal.

A few months pass and my phone dings again in the middle of the night. It’s a track off their album, just mastered and not ready to be shared. I listen and am confused. It’s great, but I’ve never heard anything quite like it – a mix of mid-90s Morphine and Al Greene soul. I can’t wait for more.

They follow my friend on tour. They move in together in Seattle. They play and play and play – honing their sound, honing those silent communications that bands have: the head not, the bass riff, the drum line, the scat. They finish the album – Let the Rocks Cry Out – and you’ll be able to get it soon. I listen once then walk away. I listen again, then again, then again.

Three weeks ago, I get an email at 10 pm on a Monday night. Can I be in Virginia the next day for their first show? I thought this might be coming. The ticket is attached and I’m on my way to the airport at 4 am. At noon, I’m helping them load their gear onto the bus that will take us all to the venue for sound check and a whole lot of waiting around. Sound check in a beautiful old theater starts off a little nervy – it’s the first show and hundreds of people are expected to come. Most are probably coming because my friend is going to sit in, but others, true enthusiasts, are coming to hear something new.

They settle down, kill their sound check and then it’s back to the bus – to drink water, to talk, to do whatever they have to do in order to pretend they’re not nervous. They are nervous. I can see it on their faces. I can see it in their eyes. I talk to them individually. I tell them they sound great. I tell them to relax and enjoy the moment. It won’t always be pomp and circumstance. They will have to pay their dues. This is just the beginning.

“I can’t wait for that part,” says Matt. “I can’t wait to be in a crappy van, going from county fair to crappy bar. That part excites me.”

There’s time for that. There’s still time, lots of time.

They come out on stage to polite applause. Their first couple of songs sound good, but the nerves are still there. By the middle of the set, there are people dancing in the aisles, while others sit and watch. By the time they do their encore – my favorite track from the album called “Devil Woman” – Mycle has them eating out of his hand. Charlie has worked up a sweat bouncing around on stage. James has found his solos. Matt is playing with his eyes closed.

They finish and the applause breaks out. It’s no longer polite. It’s enthusiastic. It’s the same mix of confused “what was that?” and “how do I get more?” that I had when I heard the album.

The next day, I’m worried I’m going to miss my flight. Charlie and Matt volunteer to drive me to the airport and we talk the entire way – about music, about the world, about the kinds of things twenty-somethings talk about and I miss in my life. I take my window seat next to the propeller and can’t help but wonder what’s in store for these guys, this Crystal Garden.

I text Charlie and thank him for the ride.

“Absolutely,” he tells me. “You’re part of this too.”

I don’t know what comes next for a band like this. I don’t know what the future holds for a group brought together by fate and my friend. But I know one thing for sure – this is just the beginning of the journey and it will take them places they haven’t considered before, places they have yet to imagine. But as long there’s music, I’m sure they’ll find their way.

It’s where I have meetings outside of work, where I get together with a friend to talk about all the things we’d like to do. It’s small, cozy, the kind of place that would be hard to replicate. The coffee is delicious. The people who work there are friendly. There’s a couch, a bar, some tables if you want to work. It can be a little noisy in the morning – grinders prepping beans, the full steam hiss of the espresso machine, people huddled together talking.

It used to be another place, a big chain that went out of business or was bought out or whatever happens to the also-rans in the Starbucks dominated coffee shop industry. I liked that place too, but I like this place more. You can get a bottomless cup for here for $4. They make their pastries and breakfast sandwiches. There’s a little globe covered in chalkboard paint next to the front register where, every morning, a trivia question is written. Get the right answer and you get a discount. Get it wrong and they’ll tell you the right one. I had no idea that the longest one syllable word in the English language is ‘screeched.’ I would never have guessed.

The name of the place is CAVU, which is appropriate. It’s owned by a pilot and a flight attendant – that’s what I’ve been told anyway – and CAVU stands for “Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited,” a short-hand term for perfect flying conditions. I like that. I like that the name is personal and meaningful. I like how understanding what it means brews in a sense of optimism. It gives me a sense of pride that I choose to drink their coffee when there is a Starbucks 30 yards across the street.

I like that, this morning, I opted for a large Americano and the woman behind the counter, the one who is often there in the morning, knew that I wanted some ice in it. She remembered how prone I am to burning my tongue on the first sip of the day. I drank slowly while meeting with some friends to talk about their business. They had never been there before. I felt like I was hosting them at my kitchen table. I felt ownership over the sounds, the smells, the ambiance of the place.

This place, this tiny corner of a strip mall, is personal to me. It’s personal to the faces I often see there – the big guy in the tie and dress pants who flirts with the staff, the carpenters who hash out plans in the back corner, the pastor who meets with members of his congregation there. It’s not manufactured to be personal. There’s no big data involved, no loyalty cards, no membership numbers. You can get a 10th cup free card, but I never remember to get it stamped. It’s personal because you’re greeted when you walk in the door, they remember you hate burning your tongue, they know that you like the light roast in the bottomless cup. They know that you go there to meet with people, to talk about projects, to maybe get a little writing done and that Friday is your day. Not every Friday and not only Friday, but most of the time.

In a world where privacy and personalization are in the national conversation from government to Google, this place stands apart. It’s a bit of both. It’s mostly both. And it brings me back. The only data they have on me is human data. They know I can’t leave the register without knowing they answer to the trivia question, even if they don’t know my name. Or, maybe they do, but they don’t want to pry.

They keep it simple at CAVU. Great coffee, good service, a clean and easy atmosphere. It’s everything I want and nothing that I don’t need. It’s the best way to start a Friday. At a table by the window with some friends and a project, some work to do and a hot cup of coffee. But not too hot.

They already know I don’t want it too hot.

R.L. Stein is a genius.

I was watching the Goosebumps movie a couple weeks ago with my kids and I was struck by that thought. R.L. Stein is a genius. Even though I’ve never read a single one of his books, even though my exposure to him is limited to a couple of podcast interviews and seeing him played by Jack Black in the movie, I realize he is a genius.


Because he had a big idea and executed it in small ways. He had an idea to write about the things that scared him, to write books that kids would love and he wrote them in an iterative way. Each book is only about 15,000 words – about two and a half weeks worth of blogs from me and a comfortable length for young readers – and they all build on one another without being necessarily inter-related. Over five years in the 90s, he cranked out hundreds of books that sold hundreds of millions of copies around the world. He understood how kids think. He understood what they might be interested in and he lead them down a path of his own design.

Aaron Draplin is a genius.

I’ve known this and written about this before. His big idea? He wanted to be able to do the thing he loves the most – design – in his underwear. He wanted the freedom to work on his own terms and designed his life around that idea and, in so doing, he’s more successful than he ever would have had he stayed in the corporate position he had.

I admire people with big ideas. I’m fueled by their resolve. But every once in a while, I am humbled by it. It forces me to challenge my assumptions about what’s possible in life. This happened the other night when my wife sent me the video below via facebook. It’s been seen a lot since it was posted, so forgive me if you have already watched it. But I was so moved by it, so shaken by it that I thought I would devote this space today to sharing it with you. Watch it if you can, but keep in mind, it’s 25 minutes long.

It’s from photographer Jeremy Cowart and, well, I’ll let him tell you his story. But, for me, it begs the question: What’s my Big Idea? What’s the thing that I am aspiring toward? And is it just personal gain or something greater? I’m still wrestling with these questions and, I suppose, on some level I always have been. But I’m wrestling with them now in a whole new way. I’m wrestling with them now in terms of possibility, not frustration; creativity not dilemma.

Give this a watch. Let it sink in. Go to jeremycowart.com if you’re so move.

I’ll be back tomorrow.

It seems daunting. It always does. And sometimes, you admit, you let that get the best of you. You give up. You don’t even try. But not today. Today, you got this. Today is your day.

I looked back over the last 32 blog posts and realized they all had something in common – they started as being about me and eventually I might get to a larger, more useful point. This morning, on my run, I realized I’ve been selfish. I realized that if you are reading this, it’s probably not because you have some deep curiosity or schadenfruede-fueled fascination with me or my struggle. Or, maybe you do, but the only reason you might is because you recognize, in me, something you might be dealing with.

I was having a conversation with my friend Bridget this weekend. She’s awesome- everyone pretty much agrees on that- and she told me she likes checking in on this blog because it’s like a little pick-me-up for her week. She’s got three great kids, a great husband, a busy life. Yet, what strikes me is that, despite the pressures of schedule, responsibility, obligation and aspiration, Bridget has a way of being there for you when you need her… sometimes before you even realized you need her.

My friends Krista and Tony are the same way. They show up. But, more than that, they go out of their way for people in their lives. I’ve been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of all of their generosity and caring on more than one occasion. And on this morning’s run, I wondered how I could show up for people.

So that’s why this blog is for you, the reader. It’s Monday, the day after the Super Bowl. We return to our busy lives, our uphill struggles, our Sisyphusian journey up the mountain of work, life, family, friendships, victory and loss. I thought maybe you could use a little encouragement, a little early week pick-me-up. So here it goes:

You’ve got this. No matter how long your to-do list or how heavy your heart, you’ve got this. You’re ready. It doesn’t matter how scared or panicked you are; it doesn’t matter the weight of the dread that faces you, attack it. Get after it. Get it done and out of the way. You’ll feel better if you go for it now and have time later to look back and be relieved than the other way around. You’re tired. You’re not feeling great. Maybe that extra helping of Buffalo dip has got your stomach in knots. Maybe that’s just the feeling of worry about things to come. Either way, it’s not real. See worry and stress, obligation and responsibility, your list and schedule for what they really are: tasks. Tasks don’t judge you. Tasks don’t stop you. They just need to get out of the way.

Go out there and do your run, get through your exercise. It never takes as long as you think and you’ve already worried about it for too long.

Attack your list. Find a small win and get it done first. Then another. And another. You’ll be done before you know it.

You’re schedule is a bear. You have to be in too many places at once. Crank up the tunes in the car on your way. Hum Toto’s “Africa.” Whistle while you work. The items on your calendar can all be accomplished. If they aren’t important – really important – let them go.

You’ve got this because the people involved need you. They need you healthy and strong. They need you happy and rested. You’ve got this because the you eight hours from now needs to be able to look back at the day and think ‘damn, I nailed that.’ You don’t want you in eight hours to look back and say ‘what did I do?’ You’ve got this.

We tend to look at life as a series of big accomplishments. Getting married. Having kids. Their first communion and graduation. Sending them off to college. Retirement. Those are not accomplishments, they are markers. Accomplishments are small. You got the laundry done. You cleared you’re inbox. You made it on time to every meeting and every call. You laughed along the way. You rocked out in the car. You connected with a friend. Don’t save the celebration for the big stuff. Celebrate every check mark on your list, every meeting on your calendar.

You’ve got this.

Take a minute right now – seriously, right now – and realize what you’ve already done. You got out of bed. You hit the ground running. You got the kids out the door and made it through your commute. Be impressed with yourself and make a plan to be impressed when you go to bed. Don’t think about everything you have to do this week. Don’t weigh your mind down. Think about how you’ll use the next hour. Then the one after that. Before you know it, everything will be done. Every item checked off. Every responsibility taken care of.

Then take a moment to reflect, to celebrate, to pat yourself on the back. Today was better than you expected. Tomorrow will be better still.

You’ve got this. I know you do. You’ve got this and that’s worth celebrating. And if you need a little help, watch this and then get back at it: