Trying to Make Sense of Tragedy

Lately I have been shocked and troubled by some of the recent mass casualty events in our country. The Waukesha parade crash, the Astroworld concert disaster, and the Michigan school shooting are all tragedies that are top of mind for me.

These events are so tough to digest in part because of their savagery. Pummeled by a vehicle? Crushed by fellow concertgoers? Shot to death? What awful ways for a life to end. It is hard to imagine.

The innocence and youth of the victims also weigh heavy. Many of these people had the best years of their lives yet to come only to have them robbed in such a sickening manner. Or, at the other extreme, some of these people, like the Dancing Grannies, led good, long lives that had no business being ended in such a violent manner.

Finally, the randomness is flat out disturbing. Watching a parade, going to a concert, or simply attending school should not be criteria to die. Although I can’t say for certain, I am sure that the individuals who lost their lives never thought it would be possible that they wouldn’t return home.

There is no kind way to put it. These events leave us appalled. Or perhaps I should just speak for myself. They leave me feeling appalled…and guilty. Why must these people suffer such cruel, random fates?

Well, one answer is that the perpetrators of these atrocities have free will. Also, there has never been a blanket guarantee that random freak catastrophes, like Astroworld or natural disaster, won’t occur. Bottom line, bad things happen. Sometimes we might feel hopeless but we can always pray; pray for God’s will to be done. We can also pray for the souls who have lost their lives and the families they have left behind. Finally, we can be thankful that we have not been tested in the strenuous ways that the victims in these recent examples have.

Never let anyone tell you that prayer is meaningless. Pray for the victims of these tragedies.

As December begins, let’s remember those who have recently passed away and won’t be spending the holidays with their families. At the same time, let’s be appreciative of the precious gift of life that those of us reading this still have. Don’t link.

Triceratops Thursday Rundown

Happy December to one and all! What an incredibly special month. Make sure to savor each day because it will be over (along with 2021) before you know it. Here are tonight’s five topics…

The Disney House Is Back – Last Friday after WSU defeated UW in the Apple Cup, Sid and I took the kids on a short drive to look at Christmas lights. We couldn’t resist taking them to the house that makes us smile every year. If you live in Spokane, head north and visit the infamous “Disney House” in West Glen. I wrote about this magical display in detail seven years ago and it hasn’t lost an ounce of charm since then. In fact, the charm has only increased because now I can share it with Sloan and Beau. The people at this home use Disney cutouts and LOTS of lights to make you believe that you actually are at Disneyland. Make sure to check it out.

A look at the Disney House as we approached it on Friday night. The house is located in north Spokane.

Our House – In a humbler display of Christmas illumination, this is what our house looks like. We once again went with laser lights. The two projectors we own were given to us by David Russell, the video director at Coastal Carolina University and a good friend. He let us take them off his hands in 2016, a year after the laser light phenomenon burst onto the scene in 2015. Those projectors have been with our family for six holiday seasons now and have shined on houses on both sides of the country.

Our house is illuminated by the laser light projectors we received from a friend in 2016.

A Different Way to Countdown to Christmas – Last year, Sloan had a chocolate calendar to mark the days until Christmas. Each day she would punch out a small portion of the calendar and eat a piece of candy. This year we are going more educational and healthier. Instead of counting down with chocolate we are counting down with books. Starting yesterday, Sloan locates a pouch on the advent calendar that corresponds to the day of the month and pulls out the mini book that is inside. We then read it to her. Some books are holiday-themed and some are not. Sloan is an avid reader and this is right down her alley….but to be fair, she is an avid candy eater too.

Sloan holding the Advent calendar she is using to countdown to Christmas this year.

Thanksgiving Dinner – How could I publish this Thursday Rundown without showing a photo of what I ate last Thursday? As usual, our Thanksgiving feast was a good one. People always ask about the lasagna. Here’s the deal: My mom is full Italian and her family always ate lasagna with Thanksgiving dinner growing up. The tradition continued when my mom had her own family. This part of the Thanksgiving meal is so beloved by me that Sidney once made lasagna for one of our South Carolina Turkey Day’s several years back.

You know you wanted to see what I ate for Thanksgiving, right?

Dining Rooms Open at McDonald’s – Here in Spokane, the dining rooms in our McDonald’s restaurants were closed for an extremely long period of time because of the pandemic. Recently, they finally opened back up meaning that Sloan can now eat her coveted Happy Meals inside. It had been so long that I didn’t even recognize the décor and chairs/tables that McDonald’s is now using. Although we prefer to order our fast food from the drive-thru and take it home, every now and then we do find it nice to eat inside. Now that the dining rooms are open we are crossing our fingers that the play places will open soon as well.

Sloan eating at a McDonald’s restaurant on Sullivan in Spokane Valley on Saturday.

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Remember what I said when I started this post? Enjoy this month. Also, remember the reason for this season. Thanks for reading. Don’t Blink.

Brent’s Top 5 Songs of 2021

December is now here and that means it is time to roll out a Don’t Blink tradition. Tonight I put on my super official music critic hat and rate my top 5 songs from the past 12 months. Well, since it is just December 1, more like 11 months. Truth be told, I have already heard enough when it comes to music in 2021 and I wish that was a compliment.

This is my eighth year presenting Brent’s Top 5 Songs of the Year. Some years the song selection is good. Some years, like in 2020, the selection was average. Sadly for our ears, some years are bad. When it comes to my amateurish musical critiques, I think 2021 has been a down year.

Of course, I will take my share of blame for this conclusion. I continue to dive deeper into SiriusXM and I would be lying if I said my dial is always turned to Hits (the top 40 station). But where I lack listening to contemporary music on the radio, I think I fill my trending music gap by overhearing the TiKTok videos that Sid watches.

So without further ado, here is my 2021 countdown…

I present to you my top 5 songs of 2021.

5. Adele – “Easy On Me”

As what will be a theme throughout this countdown, I can’t relate to the lyrics but I still like the song. After a five-year hiatus, Adele is still Adele. The way she nails notes in “Easy On Me” takes me on a ride, especially when she elongates the words “easy” and “feel.” The sadness is richly present in the song and even though I don’t like to feel sad when listening to music I respect how this track can grab at you.

I remember hearing this song for the first time driving back to Spokane from Pullman one night and just taking pause. I think “powerful” is a good word to describe “Easy On Me.” Adele might have landed on my bad list in 2012, but I must give her credit in 2021.

4. Elle King and Miranda Lambert – “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)”

Okay, first off…what a combination! It was anybody’s guess what type of sound would be produced when Elle King and Miranda Lambert collaborated. I think it is obvious that in the initial verses that it is in the style of King even though Lambert is doing most of the singing. But once the chorus starts (at which point the song really starts to get good), there doesn’t seem to be a King or Lambert influence. Rather, it is just a high energy good time.

If I was still in college, I think this would be a perfect pregame song before hitting the bars. It is fun, upbeat, and a hodgepodge of different styles. This definitely isn’t an easy listening or contemplative song…it is meant for tailgates and bonfires…and this countdown deserves one of those.

3. Olivia Rodrigo – “Good 4 U”

I always say to be weary of songs that use numbers and single letters as words in the title but I must make an exception for “Good 4 U.” It was the year of Olivia Rodrigo as she delivered hit after hit. A lot of her music was slower, belt-it-out type ballads but those tracks never interested me much. Besides, we have Adele to deliver those songs, right?

But when she changed up the tempo with “Good 4 U” I couldn’t help but listen. Yes, I am a little embarrassed to admit that I like this song but I fell for its catchiness. It is fun and a ride. The quick pace and energetic chorus was enough to keep me engaged through the whole track. I also liked how it kept me waiting. Who didn’t hold out for the “Ah-ah-ah-ah” interlude? Or who didn’t join Olivia to sing the “like a damn sociopath” line? “Good 4 U” was fresh and it was also the perfect song for the summer. I have lots of memories of our family driving the sun-soaked streets of Spokane during June and July with this song blaring in the background. Well done, Olivia.

2. The Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber – “Stay”

The fact that my wife loves this song might have something to do with its favorable spot on the countdown but not its overall presence. You see, I really like “Stay” too and it would have made this list regardless of Sid’s fondness for it.

I like music with a unique hook and Kid Laroi and Bieber accomplish that with this track. “Stay” has edge and it has sophistication (because I am so sophisticated when it comes to music haha). The way the artists seem to “punch out” lyrics when they get to the end of verses is pleasing to my ear. Although the end of these verses include a four-letter word I don’t necessarily enjoy, I can let it pass for this song…I just got to make sure not to let Sloan listen to it.

In the same way that “Good 4 U” saves good stuff for the end, “Stay” does too. Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber singing together to close the track is the way it should be. Now I am no Belieber but that kid (I guess I shouldn’t call him a kid anymore) is talented.

1. Jonas Brothers and Marshmello – “Leave Before You Love Me”

How did the chill, easy listening song of the countdown reach #1? Well, a few reasons. I like “Leave Before You Love Me” because it has a really nice flow that allows you to either think deeply about something or to just kind of close your eyes and relax. The vocals are soothing and the beat mellow. In my opinion, it is just a very well put together song.

“Leave Before You Love Me” also earns extra points because of its viral component. It has enjoyed a prolific run on TikTok and was even utilized by yours truly. The song will always remind me of Sloan because I used the track in this TikTok video that showcased my daughter getting ready for her first day of school. What more can I say? I would that is enough to make “Leave Before You Love Me” the top song on my list.

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Thank you for jamming out with me tonight. Also, thanks to the artists above for providing me with a soundtrack of memories. Do you have an undisputed favorite song of 2021? Don’t Blink.

Brent’s Top 5 Best Songs of 2020
Brent’s Top 5 Best Songs of 2019
Brent’s Top 5 Best Songs of 2018
Brent’s Top 5 Best Songs of 2017
Brent’s Top 5 Best Songs of 2016
Brent’s Top 5 Best Songs of 2015
Brent’s Top 5 Best Songs of 2012

My Recommended Gift for the 2021 Holiday Season

The last three years I have established a December tradition. To help my readers with their holiday shopping, I present “Brent’s Gift of the Year,” a practical and inexpensive option ($10-$15) that they may consider for their loved ones. In 2018 I suggested an LED cinema lightbox marquee, in 2019 I championed a blanket, and last year I pushed a framed photo. So, what about 2021?

Drum roll please…

Whether you are looking for an item for a Chinese gift exchange, stocking stuffer, or just a thoughtful present, I am advocating that you give the U.S. Postal Service some business and purchase a book of stamps. And yes, I am dead serious.

In 2021, I am suggesting a book of stamps as my gift of the year.

I stand by my conviction that there is no better deal in the world than paying $.55 for a stamp that will give you the power to slap it on an envelope and send it anywhere in the United States. To have a service that will take your letter and shuffle it thousands of miles to the mailbox of someone living in an obscure town on an obscure street in a couple days for well under $1 is insane.

It is also very underutilized. The amount of first class mail shipped per year continues to dwindle. Sure, electronic communication has a lot to do with that but neglecting to take advantage of something that is so therapeutic for the sender and so joyful for the receiver is a shame.

So this year, buy someone a book of stamps. Folks, this doesn’t have to be boring. Did you know the U.S. Postal Service offers all different varieties of stamps? Go online and order something flashy, pretty, or bold. There is no doubt that you will find something that will fit the personality of the recipient. Trust me, many more options exist than the American flag.

Perhaps pair your book of stamps with nice stationary or glossy envelopes. Or include a contact booklet of the recipient’s family and friends with their mailing addresses. Just make it as easy as possible for the person to actually use the stamps.

I alluded to this a couple paragraphs ago, but an additional reason for why I am promoting a book of stamps as my gift of the year is because the benefit extends far beyond the person who is gifted it. Everyone who receives a letter from that book will most likely have their day made. A book is comprised of 20 stamps so that means possibly 20 different people will be touched by the thoughtfulness of one person. Talk about the value of something extending far beyond its $11.60 price.

I admit it, if you choose to take me up on my gift idea your recipient might not be overly excited at first. But give the person the opportunity to discover the power of snail mail. Chances are, they will use one of the stamps in the book to send you a thank you card for the thoughtful gift and for turning them on to a new hobby. Don’t Blink.

Thanksgiving Weekend 2021

Another amazing Thanksgiving weekend has just passed. I always enjoy this time of the year because it provides a well-needed break and is the true kickoff of the holiday season. So much optimism and joy! As is my custom, I like to look back at the weekend and point out a highlight from each day.

Thursday – Kind of a no-brainer, right? We celebrated Thanksgiving at my parents’ house. My sister and her family plus my brother and his wife joined us for excellent food, some drinks, and games. Oh, let’s not forget the desserts either. We had pumpkin pie, cheesecake, peanut butter pie, and chocolate chip cookie bars. If you did any recent reading of this blog, you know what I chose. My fondest memory of the evening was just our conversation around the table when we ate the Thanksgiving meal.

Our family taking some time to let our food settle after Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ house.

Friday – We go back to my parents’ house for Friday’s highlight where we gathered to watch the 113th Apple Cup. At the start of the game we heated up the Thanksgiving leftovers and picked our lucky spots in the basement to cheer on the Cougs. Don’t know if much luck was needed on this evening as WSU pulverized the Huskies, 40-13, to secure state bragging rights. It was so awesome to see the football team play such a complete game and put an exclamation point on the regular season. Needless to say, it was a very happy drive home for the four of us.

Sidney and I prior to watching the 2021 Apple Cup.

Saturday – Chuck E. Cheese did something pretty cool. They teamed up with Ryan Kaji of Ryan’s World fame to host a fan fest live event that extended across all of its restaurants in the country. Sloan and I showed up at our Spokane Valley location for the 10:30 a.m. free event. We watched the Ryan special on the televisions and as the story played out the Chuck E. Cheese host did interactive games and crafts with us. Sloan loved it and we were very appreciative of the free tickets they gave us after the program ended.

Sloan following along with the Ryan’s World FanFest at the Spokane Valley Chuck E. Cheese location.

Sunday – We celebrated the first Sunday of Advent by attending mass at St. Mary and then heading over to the gym for Advent Adventures Faith Time. The parish really went all out as Sloan was able to complete an Advent-themed obstacle course, make a homemade Advent wreath, create a “gingerbread” nativity scene, and so much more. We can sometimes look ahead to Christmas without proper preparation but if we take plenty of time to reflect during Advent we can be ready for Christ’s birth.

We had so much fun at the St. Mary Parish (Spokane Valley) Advent event.

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Being thankful isn’t confined to Thanksgiving nor is it limited to Thanksgiving weekend. Let us continue to be thankful during the other 361 days of the year. I hope everyone had a terrific weekend. Don’t Blink.

Thanksgiving 2021

Happy Thanksgiving Eve! Last year I wrote a subdued Thanksgiving post acknowledging that many people might not be in the “thankful” mood in 2020. Last year’s holiday fell at the nine-month mark of the pandemic at an especially troublesome time. COVID cases were up, layoffs/furloughs kept coming, and another round of shutdowns had started.

Things are different this year. However, they certainly aren’t normal. Vaccines are available and we have learned to better live with the virus. At the same time, people continue to get sick from the coronavirus while pandemic ramifications still negatively impact everyday life.

For the second year in a row, Thanksgiving will be tough for more people than usual.

I say this to remind my readers that there will still be a higher percentage of people not giddy about Turkey Day compared to pre-pandemic years. Let’s be mindful of this tomorrow.

But don’t let that disclaimer dampen the gratitude you feel within your heart. Especially if you overcame pandemic hardships, you have every reason to be thankful and I hope Thanksgiving 2021 is a joyous one for you.

My family will spend the holiday at my parents’ house. We will be joined by my sister and her family along with my brother and his wife. Our unit has so much to be thankful for and the vibe will be celebratory. However, among the laughs and optimism at our Thanksgiving gathering, I am going to do my best to remember those who aren’t as lucky this year. May your holiday be meaningful. Don’t Blink.

Black Friday Transformation

Back in the mid to late 1990s, shopping malls were still in their heyday. So was our Reser Thanksgiving celebration that took place at my parents’ house and included my dad’s seven siblings and their families. After a joyous, crazy, loud, and fun Turkey Day, my siblings and I would tag along with our aunts, uncles, and cousins to Northtown Mall for Black Friday shopping.

It was a spectacle. Police had to direct traffic in the parking lots, the building was filled to capacity, stores went to great lengths to attract people through their doors, and elaborate Christmas decorations along with the presence of Santa made the mall a special place to be…especially for a 10-year-old boy.

My Black Fridays as a kid were spent at the mall.

Those were my first memories of Black Friday. Since then, things have changed. Throughout my lifetime I have witnessed the day after Thanksgiving evolve from congregating at malls disguised as winter wonderlands to something almost unrecognizable. Black Friday moved from shopping centers to standalone retail stores. The day itself grew longer too as businesses opened in the wee hours of the morning. Then that wasn’t enough so Black Friday Eve (aka shopping on Thanksgiving) became a thing. The digital revolution then exploded and allowed shoppers to take advantage of the “deals” without even stepping foot into a crowded hell many people refer to as Target.

But then the pandemic came along. Consumerism and holiday cheer took a big hit last year and enthusiasm for Black Friday lessened.

With the COVID landscape improved from 2020, Black Friday is back and so are some of the more traditional aspects of it. I have watched my wife frantically scribble in a notebook the past week as she records Nov. 26 deals. She has scanned newspaper ads, browsed her phone, and formulated a game plan for Black Friday that will have her visiting stores around Spokane and me watching “An Elf’s Story” with the kids.

Trying to find hidden treasure in a bin of DVDs (of all things) on Black Friday 2012.

The wonderment I had with Black Friday 25 years ago has been mostly replaced with cynicism and bank account anxiety. But I must admit, seeing Sidney’s intensity and dedication to Black Friday 2021 has been kind of…um…inspiring? I guess that is what a pandemic will do to you. Don’t Blink.

My Top Choice for Thanksgiving Dessert

When it comes time for dessert this Thursday, there will be no question which option I choose. Pass the pumpkin pie please.

Call me a traditionalist, but out of the 1,549 different pumpkin-flavored foods and drinks we get inundated with starting in August, pumpkin pie isn’t just on my top 5 list, it is my absolute favorite.

I always enjoy a slice of pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving dessert.

I enjoy pumpkin pie so much that I won’t just eat it cold but I will eat it moldy too. However, I prefer my piece warm with a generous portion of whipped cream on top.

The spices, the texture, and the crust are all reasons why I like pumpkin pie. As someone who will devour rich and heavy desserts with plenty of chocolate and peanut butter, Thanksgiving is my time to eat something more focused on flavor than something that is trying to induce a heart attack.

The Costco pumpkin pie is a classic.

So let’s all be sure to make our Costco runs and bring home a pumpkin pie that will last long after Thanksgiving. If you don’t mind, let me give you a pro tip: Pumpkin pie makes for a great breakfast. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving week, everyone. Don’t Blink.

Monopoly Thursday Rundown

Let the countdown begin! We are just one week away from Thanksgiving. On that enthusiastic note, let’s get to tonight’s five topics in my latest Thursday Rundown…

Throwback Thursday – Last weekend, my Aunt Nancy sent me something that I had never seen before. It was a photo of me with Santa Claus at Northtown Mall on Black Friday in perhaps 1997. When I saw the image I remembered that specific day going Black Friday shopping with my relatives, including sitting on Santa’s lap. I also remembered wearing my Duke hat but I would be lying if I said I remembered that striped shirt tucked into my sweat pants. Regardless, it was funny to see my pudgy self a quarter century ago.

Me sitting with Santa at Northtown Mall in Spokane in probably 1997 or 1998.

Special Monopoly – So readers, what do you think of specialized Monopoly games? You know, the ones based off a sports team, movie franchise, or town? As crazy as it sounds, I don’t think I have ever played a non-classic Monopoly board game besides Jr. Monopoly. When I was at Walgreens last night I ran into this display of themed Monopoly games, which included a version based on the city I live in and the employer I work for. If this stuff interested me I suppose I would have had Mac and Cheese Monopoly or Don’t Blink Monopoly a long time ago.

I stumbled upon these Monopoly-based games last night at Walgreens.

Ron’s Gone Wrong – Last Saturday I took Sloan to the movie theater to watch “Ron’s Gone Wrong.” The film is about a future society where all children have “B-Bots,” basically a personal assistant robot who knows everything about their child owner and who helps that child develop friendships with others. I think it was a little over Sloan’s head but if you have a son or daughter in the 7-12 age range, I think they would like it. Gen Z and millennial adults will like it too as the film contains many parallels and jokes about the current digital age.

Besides the price for a matinee, there wasn’t too much wrong with “Ron’s Gone Wrong.”

Latest Movies – I discussed the movie I went to the theater to watch so I figure I should address a couple of the movies I went to my living room to watch. This week I watched “Awakenings” and “A River Runs Through It.” Robin Williams is a doctor and Robert De Niro is a mental patient in “Awakenings,” a 1990 film based on true events in 1969. It is a slower movie but told a fascinating tale about something I knew nothing about. As someone who lived in Missoula for eight years, I am embarrassed to say I had not watched “A River Runs Through It” until just this past Sunday. With that said, I don’t think I necessarily missed out on anything. I found the movie to have very little of a plot and even though it is “based” in Missoula it wasn’t even filmed there.

This week I have watched “Awakenings” and “A River Runs Through It.”

Sunset Scene – One current and unfortunate development with my weekly commute to Pullman is that the drive in the morning and the drive back to Spokane in the evening take place almost entirely in the dark. But a really cool sunset this past Tuesday added at least a little bit of beauty to the drive. Got to think positive!

I took this photo on my way back to Spokane after working in Pullman on Tuesday, Nov. 16.

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For those who will be slipping into a week-long Thanksgiving vacation after tomorrow, have fun! Thanks for reading and enjoy your Friday. Don’t Blink.

Re-United With My Letterman Jacket

When I graduated high school I left the state. I went to college and then started my career. Fifteen years later I would move back to eastern Washington. Upon my return, my parents started to suggest—no, more like demand—that I take some of the stuff I left at their house as an 18-year-old teenager to my own home. We are talking about high school yearbooks, t-shirts, binders of schoolwork, etc.

This past weekend my parents “allowed me” to take off their hands another item that was literally collecting dust. I happened to drop by their neighborhood at the same time my dad was retrieving holiday decorations in the house’s crawl space. While he was deep inside he could hear me talking to my mom at the entrance to the crawl space. When my dad surfaced he was holding something other than Christmas lights.

In his hand was my yellow Mead High School letterman jacket. I had literally not seen it, let alone worn it, since a couple days before my high school graduation in 2005. I loved that coat. It was my Christmas present my sophomore year and I made sure to get plenty of wear out of it over the next 2.5 years. It fit like a glove, it screamed school spirit, and it made me feel like a stud.

I had to throw on my letterman jacket when my dad brought it out (and Sloan had to pose with me).

Of course the first thing I did was grab the jacket out of my dad’s hand and throw it on. It wasn’t as comfortable as I once remembered and it didn’t hang the same as it did in the early 2000s. But the moment that leather draped my shoulders I was transported back in time and could feel myself walking down the hallways of Mead. Ah, to be young again.

Sloan and I had just finished at the movie theater when we stopped by my parents’ house so it was just the two of us. To be funny, I wore my letterman jacket home and surprised Sid when I walked inside. She wasn’t as enthusiastic about the coat as I was.

I think Sidney could probably do without this Mead High School letterman jacket hanging around the house.

Even as my letterman jacket takes up valuable closet space at our house, I am glad to be reunited with it. I won’t be wearing it to the grocery store or anything but maybe my kids will appreciate it one of these days or ask about the pins on it. Do you still have your letterman jacket? Don’t Blink.