Graffiti on brick wall that says Trains Across the See

Great New Music in the Middle of 2014

A few weeks ago I got a text message from Melanie Ness, an old friend from my competitive swimming days in Worthington, Ohio. She said:

So… random question: What’s your most-played song this week? (…I need new music)

Although I responded to her with some specific suggestions, I figured others might benefit from some new songs for their old playlists, too.

Bleachers is a one-album band created as a side project by Fun. guitarist Jack Antonoff. Songs off their first album, Strange Desire, are equal parts 80s synth and anthemic drum beats. I especially like Wild Heart, Wake Me, and Like a River Runs, although most people will love the optimistic tone of I Wanna Get Better the most.

In a reference to an Indian restaurant chain, Bombay Bicycle Club is a moody, melodic, guitar-driven indie rock band. Three University College School students—all of which 15 years old or younger— formed the Canals in North London in 2005, but then later adopted a fourth member and changed the name of their band. My favorite album is 2011’s A Different Kind of Fix, with highlights How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep, Lights Out, Words Gone, and Shuffle, the latter being my favorite. If you’re in the mood for bouncy, Brit rock, check out this awesome band with a deep catalog.

Slow, contemplative, and stunning, S. Carey is a percussive genius whose main gig is the drummer and pianist for Bon Iver but who also releases solo albums during tour breaks. His songs would play nicely with roadtrips across Iceland or boating during sunset. Try his newest album, Range of Light, for truly beautiful songs Glass/Film and Alpenglow.

With a little twang, reverb, and Bob Dylan-esque vocals, Philadelphia’s The War on Drugs is a great end-of-summer band that makes you feel as if the work day is over. I’m not a huge classic rock fan, but their newest album, Lost in the Dream, is decidedly modern and really good. Try out my favorite songs on the album: Under the Pressure, Red Eyes, and Disappearing.

So what do you think? Any other great new artists or songs that I should hear? Send ’em my way on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.

Airplane wing and engine from Shanghai to Toronto flight

How to Overcome Your Fear of Flying

I get a little freaked out when I fly. According to some sources, it’s called aviophobia, but I’m not sure my fear is actually strong enough for an official label.

On a flight from Nashville last fall, during which we attempted to land in a derecho-like storm, I harkened back to my camp days and sang desperate renditions of “Over My Head,” “I Love You Lord,“ and “Sanctuary” under my breath. My brain gets carried away on calm flights, too, as I start to imagine the many scenarios in which the plane will nosedive or blow apart. I have even noticed an increase to my phobia over time as I experience more flights—you’d think it would get easier, but for some reason it has not.

Recently, airlines in the United States have begun allowing electronic devices during taxi, takeoff, and landing. It used to be a widely held belief that signals from electronic devices—even ones set to airplane mode—could interfere with a plane’s instruments. But with the new mandate it’s become a little obvious that they’re just fine.

Thankfully, I discovered a trick, a travel hack, that helps me overcome my fear of flying.

Rather accidentally during a bumpy flight takeoff, I set my iPhone to play Heather’s Song by Andy McKee, a terrific all-guitar instrumentalist. The song was a light, cheerful, playful mix of a August Rush-like childhood quality, and it had me bouncing in my seat, bobbing my head, and embracing the minor turbulence with the attitude of a kid again. It was fun!

The trick here is to find a song that channels feelings which counter your fear. Play the song on repeat with headphones, and embrace the turbulence as something enjoyable. Face your fear head-on and disarm it, rather than hide from it.

And if that doesn’t ultimately work like it has for me, then try reading this article on how to overcome your fear of flying. It’s more factual and less playful, but it might help nonetheless.

Please let me know if you have any tips or tricks on overcoming your fear of flying. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.

Julie, Mark, and Ryan Ricketts with fresh caught fish at Frog Rapids Camp

Today I Turned 30 Years Old

Today I turned 30 years old.

That looks a little intimidating now that I’m typing it out. But over the past few years, I’ve managed to accomplish quite a bit thanks to a little prodding from my 30 Before 30 list—a bucket list with an end date of today, August 6, 2014.

Actually, I didn’t finish my list. And while that should probably make me sad, I’ve decided to take a glass-is-half-full approach and dwell on the great experiences I’ve had as a result of the list. After all, I only created the thing about a year and a half ago, and I checked off 22 of the 30 items on the list. I guess I didn’t give myself enough time!

I’ve decided to roll over the unfinished eight items from my 30 Before 30 list into my new 40 Before 40 list. They’re still important to me, and now I have ten more years to get them done.

One thing I’ve learned is that having a publicly-posted set of goals motivates me to get them done because other people read them. During meals or trips or online conversations, I’m constantly reminded by my friends and family of the things I want to accomplish. And really, honestly, it’s just a game—a truly fun one.

The first day of my thirties has been filled with blueberry pancakes, boating in the sunshine on the lakes of Sioux Lookout, Ontario, and spending time with my family. I also received a startling number of international mail from all of you! (Thank you so much, by the way; they were really fun to read.)

Being 30 really isn’t all that bad.

World map with pins

40 Before 40 Bucket List

Some people create a bucket list filled with items that must be completed before they “kick the bucket,” which to me sounds a little too far in the future and also a little macabre.

There are others such as my friend, Danny Dover, who set a specific deadline that is much sooner. Why wait until the end of our lives to create new memories?

Since I didn’t quite finish my 30 Before 30 bucket list—I only gave myself about two years to get it all done—I decided to roll over the few remaining eight items into my 40 Before 40 bucket list. And here it goes.

Since I have ten years until I turn 40, I have until August 6, 2024, to accomplish these. And I only have one rule: the list cannot be modified after my 31st birthday.

  1. Live in another state
  2. See the Badlands
  3. Go to a rodeo
  4. Go to an MMA fight
  5. Visit Yellowstone National Park
  6. Visit Glacier National Park
  7. Visit Zion National Park
  8. Visit Mammoth Cave National Park
  9. Eat at three Michelin three-star restaurants
  10. Build a six pack (the muscle kind)
  11. Buy a same-day plane ticket
  12. Run at least one mile in each of the fifty states
  13. Become a published author
  14. Go fly fishing in a river
  15. Ride a jet ski
  16. Ride on an elephant
  17. Fly in a floatplane (“puddle jumper”)
  18. Walk on a glacier
  19. Take a yoga class
  20. Take a dance class
  21. Take a cooking class
  22. ✓ Drink wine in France
  23. Drink beer in Germany
  24. Eat gelato in Italy
  25. Eat sushi in Japan
  26. Sleep in a tree house
  27. Hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)
  28. Attend the Olympic Opening Ceremonies
  29. Attend a TED conference
  30. Participate in a flash mob
  31. Get a hot stone massage
  32. See an active volcano
  33. Go to an oxygen bar
  34. Attend an opera
  35. Go Zorbing
  36. Visit an island in the Caribbean
  37. Ride a sailboat
  38. Hike a portion of El Camino de Santiago
  39. Fish in a fjord
  40. Bathe in a geothermal hot spring

So there you have it: my 40 Before 40 bucket list. What do you think? Can any of you help me accomplish one of these?

Hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ and let me know.

closet full of clothing including shirts, pants, and coats

Wardrobe Life Hack: To the Left, To the Left

In my conquest to own less things, I’ve been developing some life hacks to whittle down my possessions or to not acquire new ones.

One of my favorite wardrobe life hacks has been smartly dubbed “To the Left, To the Left” by my good friend Mary Gwen, and it helps me decide which articles of clothing are worth keeping or if I’m able to give them away. It works like this:

  1. Hang all shirts, pants, coats, hoodies, and sweatshirts in a closet.
  2. Go about my normal life wearing clothing items from the closet.
  3. When finished with my day, I hang each used item on the far left-most hanger.
  4. Over the course of several months, my most used clothing gravitates to the left and my less important items filter toward the right.

With this hack, I can see at a glance which items are truly worth keeping and which are not. This has made my decisions on Donation Sundays much easier.

I hope this inspires you to try this wardrobe hack yourself. Do you have any hacks of your own? Hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ to share your own ideas or questions.

Southwest Airlines plane interior

Airline Alliances for Beginners

This year I gave the gift of new memories to both my parents. Each one was given the choice of one destination out of five. I’m really excited to be traveling to China with my dad in May, and I’ve been heavily researching airline alliances and airline rewards programs so we both can maximize our flight miles for future trips.

I guess I feel altruistic today, so here’s what I’ve learned about airline alliances.

Full disclosure: I found this blog post on “rookie travel tripsextremely helpful in coming up with this summary.

Why Alliances?

The three main airline alliances, including oneworld Alliance, SkyTeam Alliance, and Star Alliance, now account for almost two-thirds of the total world airline capacity and more than 80 percent of air travel spend between the world’s top 100 business cities. (Source: oneworld fact sheet)

Most people want to travel internationally to different markets, but local laws and ordinances make it almost impossible for a single airline to operate under all those pressures. Alliances enable like-minded airlines to work together for the benefit of passengers.

I’ve included a summary of each airline alliance below, along with member airlines.

oneworld Alliance

Member airlines: airberlin, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LAN, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian, and S7 Airlines.
Soon to join: SriLankan Airlines, TAM Airlines, and US Airways

Countries: 151
Lounges Available: 603
Destinations: 883

SkyTeam Alliance

Member airlines: Aeroflot, Aerolíneas Argentinas, Aeromexico, Air Europa, Air France, Alitalia, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, Czech Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Kenya Airways, KLM, Korean Air, Middle East Airlines, Saudia, TAROM, Vietnam Airlines, and Xiamen Airlines.
Soon to join: Garuda Indonesia.

Countries: 178
Lounges Available: 530
Destinations: 1,024

Star Alliance

Member airlines: Adria Airways, Aegean Airlines, Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, Avianca, Brussels Airlines, Copa Airlines, Croatia Airlines, EGYPTAIR, Ethiopian Airlines, EVA Air, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, SWISS, TAM Airlines (moving to oneworld Alliance in 2014), TAP Portugal, THAI, Turkish Airlines, United, and US Airways (moving to oneworld Alliance in March 2014).

Countries: 195
Lounges Available: 1,000+
Destinations: 1,328

Tips and Tricks for Airline Alliances

From what I’ve researched, there are a number of great ways to take advantage of airline alliance benefits.

  • You don’t have to join the alliance rewards programs to take advantage of their benefits.
  • Join one major airline reward program per alliance. Even though in most cases you can’t transfer points or miles between airlines reward programs, you can still book flights from a single airline across the whole alliance. For example, if you book a flight on Air Canada, you can use a rewards program from any other airline in the Star Alliance. Most travel experts recommend joining American Airlines AAdvantage for the oneworld Alliance, Delta Air Lines SkyMiles for the SkyTeam Alliance, and United MileagePlus for the Star Alliance.
  • If you achieve status in one airline, it will carry over to most other airlines in the alliance.

Let me know on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ if you have any airline alliance tips or tricks of your own!

o-CHIPOTLE-facebook

10 Best Ads of 2013

As a marketing professional, I probably notice good (and bad) advertising more easily than others. I guess that could be considered a curse to some, but I personally appreciate a well-constructed ad with a clear message and a strong focus on its target audience.

What are the criteria that make a good ad? There are plenty of professional opinions, of course, but in my mind there are just a few:

  • Be memorable.
  • Make a strong tie to the brand.
  • Appeal to a target audience.

This past year had some awesome commercials, marketing campaigns, and digital executions. In my opinion, these are the 10 best ads of 2013, although feel free to debate with me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Something set these apart and made them special to me.

10. Honda — “Hands”

It starts with Garrison Keillor making an alluring statement: “Let’s see what curiosity can do.” And then through technical trickery we’re taken on a jaunt through Honda’s many business arms as someone constructs each invention in their hands. I think this ad is brilliant at showing the breadth of invention that Honda has managed to produce over the years. We think of their engineers as tinkerers, thinkers, dreamers, and creators, and this persona is then subconsciously applied to their cars, motorcycles, and engines.

9. Kmart — “Ship My Pants”

With a clever play on words, Kmart managed to make everyone feel a little guilty for watching this in a public setting when others mistakenly heard another word besides “ship.” But because of the cheeky play, this ad was shared everywhere, driving up brand impressions for Kmart. In fact, the ad was so popular that they issued a follow-up, Big Gas Savings. You might also enjoy the wildly popular “Show Your Joe” ad for Joe Boxer.

Agency: Draftfcb, Chicago
Director: Zach Math, Bob Industries

8. Chipotle — “The Scarecrow”

Paired perfectly with a Fiona Apple cover of “Pure Imagination” from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” this Chipotle ad features a computer animated scarecrow discovering the seedy underbelly of mass food manufacturing. The good news: there is a healthier way to feed people, and Chipotle is working hard to be that alternative.

Agency: CAA Marketing, Los Angeles
Animation: Moonbot Studios

7. Guinness — “Wheelchair Basketball”

Many a man has brashly brushed an embarrassed tear from his face after watching the twist at the end of this ad for Guinness beer. And I was most certainly not one of them. Really, I wasn’t…

Agency: BBDO, New York
Director: Noam Murro, Biscuit Filmworks

6. Nike — “Just Do It: Possibilities”

This ad is so perfectly Nike: quick, witty, challenging, and smashmouth. If you can do this, then try something harder. Don’t settle.

Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Oregon
Director: Nicolai Fuglsig, MJZ

5. Tullamore D.E.W. — “The Parting Glass”

With absolutely stunning cinematography shot entirely in Ireland, I think this ad for Tullamore D.E.W. paints a picture that most men will remember as they enjoy a good whiskey with friends.

4. LEGO — “Let’s Build”

Appealing to both the desire to build within children and the inner child within young parents, LEGO nailed the feeling of camaraderie of mutual accomplishment through shared creation. Plus, who doesn’t like children with British accents?

3. Dove — “Real Beauty Sketches”

What hasn’t already been said about this heartwarming ad from Dove? The message resonates with women from any generation: you are more beautiful than you think.

Agency: Ogilvy & Mather, Brazil
Director: John X. Carey, Paranoid US

2. Apple — “Misunderstood”

My friends know how far-reaching my love for Apple extends, but how can anyone question this? Most people portray teenagers as selfish technology-addicted me-machines, but as a past youth leader I’ve seen them as more than that.

1. Ram Trucks — “Farmer”

I remember watching the Super Bowl with friends and the entire room coming to complete silence when this ad for Ram Trucks started. The unique combination of poetry and silence is haunting. And the tone of the ad is truly American, which is perfect for the intended audience of truck owners. This ad is groundbreaking.

Agency: The Richards Group, Dallas

Other Great Ads from 2013

KitchenAid — “So Much More”

OK, I guess I may be biased. (Full disclosure: I am an employee of Whirlpool Corporation, which owns KitchenAid as part of its family of appliance brands.) But I find our new “So Much More to Make” campaign so ingenious and fun. In each ad is featured “the maker” who delightfully challenges herself (or himself) to new recipes.

Maytag — “Maytag Man: Laundry”

Maytag is also a brand owned and operated by Whirlpool Corporation, but I just can’t help myself because I’m very proud of my colleagues for this new campaign. The Maytag Man is a relaunch of an iconic character which many people easily identify with the brand. And this time, his dry wit and strong demeanor are a perfect fit to carry Maytag into the future. Well done.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-eqCdedq_Q

You can also watch a complete back-to-back YouTube playlist of my favorite ads of 2013.

So what do you think? Did I miss any good ones?

greenbush brewery glass wallet bullet

Michigan Brewery Tour

Michigan is known for good beer.

And there are new Michigan microbreweries and brewpubs popping up all the time. With the number of great breweries to check out, I figured it was time to create a travel list across the state.

On nights when the Michigan Brewery Tour is active, a number of my friends will carpool (with designated drivers, of course) to one of many breweries in southwest Michigan.

Here are a number of our potential destinations:

michigan brewery tour rating sheet card
I created Michigan Brewery Tour rating sheets.

For our first tour stop we’ll be checking out The Livery in Benton Harbor, Michigan. In true type A fashion, I created rating sheets for participants (although I mistakenly wrote “Michigan Beer Tour”). You can even hold a tour of your own. Just download and print copies of the Michigan Brewery Tour rating sheet, call some friends, and head out. Don’t forget to designate a driver before the drinking starts!

If you’re truly curious about the amount of good beer in Michigan, check out the newly-released Michigan Beer Film, featuring my hometown favorite, Greenbush! The same folks also made a custom Michigan bottle opener, too.

Let me know what you think via Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.

old_map

The Minimalist Gift of New Memories

Last year I decided to take a break from organizing our summer camp’s annual work weekend. I’ve been dreaming of a way to show my parents how much I love them, and I finally had an idea that sounded really exciting. (But the idea conflicted with those dates.)

Wielding my personal flexibility and low cost of living as advantages, I strategized on how I could gift dedicated time with each parent. And thanks to my “game” of minimalism, I didn’t want to just give physical objects that would need to be stored, maintained, moved, and depreciated. They should be true minimalist gifts, lightweight, and not easily destroyed.

And then I realized what would mean the most to my parents: new memories.

It’s been over ten years since I lived at my parents’ home in Columbus, so some of my childhood memories are fading, and I knew it was time to create new ones. Great ones.

My mom and dad were each given five envelopes to be opened one at a time. A card within each envelope revealed a special destination around the world. After careful thought, my mom and dad could each select one of the five for a one-on-one vacation with me, flights covered.

And boy was I thinking big.

IMG_0357

Dad’s Five Destinations:

  • China
  • Germany
  • New Zealand
  • Scotland
  • South Africa

IMG_0356

Mom’s Five Destinations:

  • France
  • Greece
  • Ireland
  • Japan
  • Peru

Some of my friends have had tough experiences with their parents, and I understand that not everyone has had the greatest upbringings. I feel incredibly blessed to have two loving parents that are still highly mobile, joyful, and ready for adventure. And I don’t think a simple vacation is enough to repay them for how much lavish attention and support I’ve received over my lifetime.

Let me know what you think via Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.

red and white striped bow tie

Learn How to Tie a Bow Tie

I didn’t go to the party specifically because of Nathan Ledesma, although I was pleasantly surprised to see him there. I could have been excited to see him for any number of reasons including his charismatic demeanor or fascinating career path, but I was especially excited because I knew Nathan was a sort of bow tie maverick.

Nathan Ledesma teaching Ryan Ricketts how to tie a bow tie.

It was New Year’s Eve, and my good friend Mary Gwen hosted her second annual Chicago-based party with a myriad of friends. Armed with a red and white striped bow tie from my uncle’s awesome Christmas gift—he wore it a couple times growing up—I asked Nathan to teach me how to tie it myself. Graciously, he obliged.

Every man should own a real bow tie.

group of friends at new year's eve party

If you didn’t know, this is number sixteen on my 30 Before 30 list. Special thanks to Mary Gwen, Nathan, and uncle Scott for helping me to accomplish this one! And if you’re interested in learning how to tie a bow tie yourself, check out this video.

Let me know what you think via Twitter or Facebook.