Preparing for the Week Ahead

As I sit here and look at the week ahead, I can’t help but anticipate the challenges that will transpire over the next several days. According to Jerome Adams, our surgeon general, this week will be the overall toughest for our country during the coronavirus crisis. He has gone as far as to say it will be on the same level as Pearl Harbor and 9/11.

Unfortunately, there will be a lot of suffering this week. The demands on healthcare professionals will reach new heights. Thousands will die. Millions will be impacted. Many of us will be tested like never before.

A challenging week is on the horizon.

As we face these ensuing grim days, it will happen during a time that is near and dear to many of our hearts: Holy Week.

Despite the precarious state of our world, many of us celebrated Palm Sunday today, albeit in front of a computer screen. We reflected on Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem but also on his Passion, the latter rooted in extreme suffering and darkness. As we journey through Holy Week, we will meditate on this pain AND experience in realtime the COVID-19 pain. What a challenge it will be.

But at the end of Holy Week is Easter, a time of redemption and victory. In his same warning to the country about the virus hardships that lie ahead over the next week, Adams stated that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Of course this light won’t coincide exactly with Easter Sunday but it will shine eventually. During these challenging times, I choose to use the promise of Holy Week to help me hold out hope that we will eventually triumph over this pandemic. Don’t Blink.

Tiger King Thursday Rundown

Let me start off by crossing my fingers that all my readers have a decent April. I know this is going to be a tense and difficult month for many. Please know that you have my prayers. Here we go with my latest Thursday Rundown…

Sister Birthday Celebration – As I mentioned on Tuesday, after many years, I finally had the opportunity to celebrate a birthday with one of my siblings. Miranda’s special day was last Saturday and we had a nice family gathering as my mom made my sister’s favorite meal, chicken enchiladas. I posed for a picture with my sister and couldn’t resist comparing it to a similar one taken about 30 years ago.

Before and after.

Tiger King – Like the rest of the country, I watched the Netflix documentary “Tiger King.” The only difference is that while most people seemed to watch it all in a day, I was a little more restrained and finished it off in a week. There is no doubt why the series is so popular…shock value and big cats breed viewership. I had several jaw dropping moments while watching but what was most obvious to me is that adults can be extremely immature.

Tiger King was pretty wild.

Six Years Ago – On this date in 2014, I announced that I had accepted a position with Coastal Carolina University and was moving to Myrtle Beach. Most of my social media followers thought it was an April Fools’ joke. Looking back on that day, I never paused to think what my future would be like in six years. Life is crazy and you never know the ramifications (in this case all positive) a single decision can make.

Looking back at my Instagram post from April 2, 2014.

Visiting the Rock – During these days of teleworking, I use my lunch hour to run the track at my old high school. Today I decided to venture off a bit and I visited a “monument” from my glory years. When I was a junior at Mead High School, our head football coach, Sean Carty, introduced a tradition called Rock of the Week. He hauled a huge boulder from his property, painted it gold, and placed it at the entrance to the athletics fields. Prior to games and practices, we would touch it to signify our personal commitment to give 100%. Each week during the season, a player would be named the “Rock of the Week” for exemplifying what it means to always give a complete effort. The rock meant something to me since I was given the honor during my junior and senior years. Well, today I went to make sure it was still there and I wasn’t disappointed. Although the gold shade might be a little different, the boulder is still in its same old spot 15 years later.

I posed with the Rock in 2004 (left). The photo on the right is from today.

Old Library – I can’t get enough of old pictures like this. Especially with our current reality, I find some of these images of a simpler time rather refreshing. Ah, how I yearn for the days when I could go to the library. This particular library in Cincinnati looks really impressive. I hope they took all the books out before they demolished it.

I really liked this old image from a now-demolished library.

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Thank you for your time tonight. To echo what I said at the start of this blog post, try to stay strong and I will be thinking of you. Don’t Blink.

Walking Away From April Fools

Due to the current state of the world, April Fools’ Day was pretty much canceled this year. In my opinion, that might be the one good thing that has come from this awful virus. I dislike April Fools and I think you have to be pretty strategic if you want to pull off something tasteful.

With April Fools Day enthusiasm at an all-time low, it has opened the door for another “holiday” with enthusiasm at perhaps an all-time high. Today is National Walking Day.

In 2018, I joined my parents, Sidney, Sloan, and my brother on a walk around the neighborhood.

At least in the state of Washington, “going for a walk” is pretty much the only activity that is permitted outside the house besides essential grocery store trips. The state government has recognized the need for citizens to get some fresh air and has allowed the people to walk.

In my parents’ neighborhood, this freedom has been embraced. My mom and dad have a huge living room window that peers out at the busiest street in their residential community. From the moment I sit down for work in the morning to the second the sun goes down in the evening, I observe a constant stream of people walking by. The foot traffic is never ending and diverse: individuals, couples, families, pet owners, and groups of friends are seemingly wearing out the pavement in front of the house.

How can this be a bad thing? As long as social distancing is being practiced, I applaud people for taking the initiative to engage in a permitted activity that promotes socialization and exercise.

In my experience, going for a walk is extremely therapeutic. The activity is non-strenuous enough that you can have a clear train of thought throughout the entire stroll. Scenery is also a big plus and is something that you can control. Personally, I have always preferred neighborhood walks because you can scope out how people are maintaining their lawns and there is no shortage of social interactions with those neighbors outside. Most importantly, during these times of isolation, nothing beats the opportunity to bask in fresh air. After being cooped up in your house for so many hours straight, there is no better motivation than to lace up those sneakers and hit the pavement.

Seriously, if you are going stir crazy, take a walk. In these times it might be the best stress reliever there is…and that’s no joke. Don’t Blink.

March 2020: I Will Never Forget

Well March, it has definitely been interesting…and long, and hard, and shocking. I thought nothing could rival the February we had with Beau’s two-week stay in the NICU, but this third month of 2020 brought with it an entirely new set of challenges.

As I look back at the start of the month, it is almost hard to recognize that life. I was living in our house in Myrtle Beach and spending some sleepless nights with Beau. I was taking Sloan on play dates to the trampoline park, Dave & Buster’s, and the library. We were attending mass, eating out at restaurants, and visiting Sid’s family. For that first week of March I had few responsibilities, other than a newborn, and the phrase “social distancing” wasn’t even in our country’s lexicon.

At the beginning of this month, I was playing with Sloan at Dave & Buster’s.

After those first several days, our urgency to pack up our house grew much more intense. Preparing for the movers was top priority as we boxed up our belongings and made arrangements for a cross-country move.

On March 11, an 18-wheeler turned onto our street and pulled up to our house. That hot day was spent supervising the guys who were filling their massive truck with our possessions. Still a little detached from the crisis that was starting to impact our country, we focused on emptying the house as quickly as possible so Sid, Sloan, Beau, and I could spend the next 48 hours together at my in-laws before I had to leave the state.

On March 11, the movers came to our house and packed up our stuff.

What a strange day March 12 was. Sidney and I returned to the house in the morning to clean and haul some trash. As we drove back to my in-laws, I listened to the radio as conference basketball tournament after conference basketball tournament was canceled due to coronavirus fears. Many other developments would unfold during the day as a swift signal was being sent that it would no longer be business as usual.

Against this uneasy backdrop, I bought a cake for Sloan so we could celebrate her birthday just a little bit early. On the eve of my last day in Myrtle Beach, with our country about to enter full crisis mode, I got to watch my little girl blow out three candles on her birthday cake.

Before I left for Washington, I had an early birthday celebration for Sloan.

It was Friday the 13th when I hopped on a plane that would take me to Washington. After saying goodbye to Sloan and Beau, Sidney drove with me Charleston where I caught my flight. In the next several hours I would go from sunny and 75 degrees to snow and below freezing temperatures. Although the climate change was an adjustment, my heart was warmed that night to see my parents. As we drove through the snowy roads of Spokane to their house, I noticed that it was a few minutes before midnight. We had not even completed two weeks of March yet and it had already felt like an eternity.

This was the scene I walked into after exiting the plane on March 13.

That mid-March weekend was spent prepping for my new job and acclimating to my new surroundings. I got some rest and dealt with some nerves. My parents, sister, brother, and their families all welcomed me home. On Saturday, we were still able to attend mass and eat at a restaurant. But as the “prodigal son” theme played out, the governor of Washington was about to issue some strict social distancing guidelines.

Enjoying dinner with my dad the first Saturday after arriving in Spokane.

I started at Washington State University on Monday, March 16. It was a perfect first day but it occurred as Gov. Inslee ordered the shutdown of public gathering spots such as gyms, restaurants, and libraries. That afternoon, our department was told to work from home for the next couple weeks.

I was all smiles my first (and only) day on campus.

A new world had been ushered in that consisted of daily President Trump news conferences, front to back coronavirus newspaper coverage, and “Tiger King” binge watching. I couldn’t help but feel sad that I wasn’t with my wife and children to go through this transition with them. However, thanks to the support of Sid, I was able to manage. The first full week of work, even though the majority of it took place from home, was fulfilling and exhilarating as I learned about the WSU culture and contributed to our COVID-19 response.

As the second half of March rolled on, social distancing measures became stricter. Washington issued a “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order that made staying in one’s house a necessity. The second week of my Washington State University tenure took place exclusively at home but I did manage to make the trip to Pullman for an entirely different reason. After more than two weeks since the movers picked up our belongings in Myrtle Beach, they had finally arrived in Washington with our cargo. The world was completely different since the last time I saw these guys in South Carolina and it seemed like two months, not two weeks, had passed. As I watched the belongings of Sidney, Sloan, and Beau be placed in the storage unit, I couldn’t stop thinking about them.

The tall U-Haul box in the bottom left hand corner holds Sloan’s toys.

This past weekend rolled around and we spent more time at the house as grim news about the virus continued to roll in. Although I didn’t get to celebrate Sloan’s birthday (except for the early celebration) I had the pleasure of celebrating my sister’s birthday for the first time in years on Saturday. The fifth Sunday of the month was once again marked by watching mass on the computer.

I missed Sloan’s birthday but got to celebrate my sister’s.

As the work day ended this evening, I found myself deep in thought about what a wild ride this month has been. Then, in what can only be described as the craziest and most appropriate way to end March 2020, something extraordinary happened––an earthquake shook the ground. Seriously, I can’t write this stuff.

I mean…really?

On many levels, this month was unforgettable. It was an emotional rollercoaster with plenty of stress and surprises. Looking forward to April, I am counting down the days until I see my family again while hoping for 30 days of progress for our country. Let’s pray. Don’t Blink.

Brent’s Guide to Teleworking

Today marked my third week of teleworking. Although not the first choice for many of us, it has become the new normal. I thought for tonight’s post I would write a combination of thoughts and personal best practices that have helped me maintain both sanity and productivity while on the job.

Saddle up, tonight I am talking about teleworking.

Staying Grateful – The fact that I am teleworking means I have a job. As people continue to get laid off left and right, I take to heart how lucky I am to still have a job and paycheck…even if it means I am doing majority of my work at my parents’ dining room table.

Forever Thankful – I am appreciative to Washington State University for giving us the directive to work from home. The institution has our health in mind and is allowing all workers who can feasibly do their job from home to do just that.

Professional Mindset – If you read any current article on teleworking, it will say to dress for your job at home just like you would at the office. I second this. At least for the first half of the day, I am sporting a collared shirt, slacks, and work shoes. It just helps me take things a little more seriously.

Dedicated Work Space – I joked above about working from my parents’ dining room table…ummm….wait…that’s actually not a joke. I set up shop each day from where my mom and dad have hosted fancy dinners for more than 30 years. It is the place where I feel most comfortable (at least for as long as I am living with my parents) and productive. When working from home, it is important to have some coziness and consistency

Break It Up – At least when you work at the office of your employer, you can roam halls and visit the offices of your co-workers to get your blood flowing. When you are working from a house, the walls start to close in on you a bit. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I make sure to run during my lunch hour to get some exercise and fresh air. It makes the second half of the day much more bearable.

Stretch It Out – When you work from home, there is no such thing as a commute. Personally, this allows me to start the day earlier and extend it past traditional quitting time if necessary. It is important to not let a teleworking arrangement turn you into a workaholic but there is nothing wrong with taking advantage of any extra time you might find on your plate.

Zoom Zoom Zoom – I participate in multiple Zoom meetings per day and appreciate its many conveniences. Although the service isn’t perfect and some social cues are sacrificed, I am comfortable using the platform. My best advice is to listen more than anything but when it is your turn to speak, do it confidently and clearly while looking straight into your device’s camera.

Prepare for Tech Meltdowns – At the start of each day, I know that technology will fail me at least a couple times over the course of the next eight hours. With this in mind, I have backup plans for spotty wifi and video conferencing with poor connection. My word for the wise? Always have an ethernet cord handy.

Accept Distractions – Many of us must deal with some distractions while teleworking. For me, I battle my mom’s cat leisurely walking across my laptop and nearby neighbors producing loud noises while completing yard work. Just like with tech issues, you have to be ready and not let them rattle you. Remember, in many cases, we are the ones imposing on the routines of others.

Show Your Employer What You Are Made Of – Crush this teleworking thing. Work twice as hard. Do exceptional work. Make your bosses proud.

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Even those of us who are homebodies probably wouldn’t admit that teleworking is ideal. The arrangement is especially hard for those of us who have a great place to go to work each day, like a college campus. But this is the current reality and we must make the best of it. Like everything else that has been impacted by the coronavirus, we will sure appreciate our work sites more once we can finally go back. Don’t Blink.

COVID-19 Fatigue

Let me wish a pleasant good evening to my readers. I hope you have had the chance for some relaxation and enjoyment during this latest coronavirus-impacted weekend.

Tonight’s post is going to be short and it is going to take more of a PSA format. Last week I suggested what to do while confined inside our houses. Tonight I want to make a suggestion on what not to do. Now I know most of you are probably hearing this on a daily basis, but let me reiterate…

For your own mental health and stability, monitor the amount of COVID-19 coverage you are consuming daily. We all know there is no shortage of it and sometimes it is tough to escape it. If we aren’t subjecting ourselves to the latest twists and turns by obsessively following our social media feeds or flipping through cable news channels on our own accord, we are probably receiving updates via text messages and emails from others. It can become very overwhelming.

It is crucial that we stay up to date on what this virus is doing and what we can do to personally slow its spread. Likewise, it is wise to watch briefings from local, state, and federal government officials. Furthermore, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to do additional research into the pandemic to better understand its intricacies and to satisfy our own curiosities.

However, I do think there is a point when we must disconnect from “Coronavirus 24/7” and concentrate on the aspects of life that still go on despite the virus. If not, we can trap ourselves in an unhealthy cycle.

Attempting to keep up with a 24/7 news cycle during these unprecedented times is near impossible but surely harmful. Not giving ourselves a break can result in COVID-19 fatigue, a condition that will transform us into paranoid, depressed individuals.

It is important to stay informed but it is also important to stay mentally healthy; a balance that we all must practice to achieve. Like the virus itself, we can both contract and spread COVID-19 fatigue. Let’s be mindful. Don’t Blink.

Snow White Thursday Rundown

Greetings everyone! I hope you are all doing as well as you can be. I know these are challenging times and we are all going through our own struggles. To those who are having a particularly tough time, try to stick in there and let me know if I can help. Here is tonight’s Thursday Rundown blog post…

Our STUFF Has Arrived – I wish I could say it was smooth sailing with our moving company but that wouldn’t be completely accurate. Despite some conflicting estimates, less than stellar customer service, missed deadlines, and other head scratching moments, we finally received our cargo today. After the movers dropped some boxes and clothes off here in Spokane, I met them in Pullman where they transferred all of the big stuff into a storage unit. I look forward to the day when we can move it from the unit to our new house.

Our stuff finally arrived today…both in Spokane and Pullman.

Waking Up to Snow – I couldn’t help but laugh when I woke up yesterday morning to snow. Sure, I was greeted with snow when I arrived in Spokane on March 13, but it was still technically winter. I guess I just assumed that since it is now spring that the white stuff would be taking a break for several months…dang, it really has been a long time since I lived here. To make the situation even funnier was that it was 75 degrees and sunny in Myrtle Beach.

This was the scene on Wednesday morning.

#ThrowbackThursday Parent Style – When you are at your parents’ house, why not take a photo of their childhood portraits? These photos show my dad and mom when they were toddlers! I looked at them really hard and could see my dad pretty distinctly in his portrait but I had to squint a little harder at my mom’s.

My dad and mom as toddlers.

Sure, I’d Try It – This evening in Walgreens I stumbled down the candy aisle and saw Birthday Cake Cookie Dough Bites. I am a big fan of the original Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bites AND I love anything that is birthday cake flavored so this treat was definitely calling my name. However, I decided to pass. Perhaps I will indulge once our country is out of this coronavirus mess.

One of these days I am going to try this candy.

Wish Man – I am in the middle of “Tiger King” so I can’t write about it tonight but I can offer another Netflix recommendation. If you want to take a break from Exotic Joe, I highly suggest “Wish Man.” If you are in the need of some inspiration (and I know many of us are), take 90 minutes and watch this film. It will make you cry and make you go to bed feeling good. I don’t want to give too much away but the movie tells the story of the man behind one of the greatest nonprofit organizations on the planet.

This movie was awesome.

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Despite the craziness in our world right now, I hope everyone can find a little bit of joy in their weekend. Keep thinking positive and keep praying; things will eventually go back to normal. On the positive thinking note, just 21 days until my family joins me in the Inland Northwest. Don’t Blink.

The Best of Beau’s Newborn Photos

Shortly before I moved out west, we had a newborn photoshoot for Beau. Judy Johns, the director of photography at Coastal Carolina University and my good friend, sacrificed a Saturday to take the photos. Judy is an extremely talented photography who does a phenomenal job regardless of whether she is covering an event or taking portraits.

As I teased in last week’s Thursday Rundown blog post, I wanted to share a few of my favorite images from the shoot. Judy did a fantastic job, making the task of counting down the five I like the best quite challenging. Let’s give it a try…

Honorable Mention: I am too ugly for a photo with me to make the countdown. But honorable mention? Well, I think we can make an exception. I am proud to be pictured with my brand new son as we stand by the window.

Against my better judgment, I am including a photo that includes me.

5. Close Up – With Beau’s little cap on and with him holding up four fingers, Judy zeroed in for this shot. He looks so peaceful as he snoozes away. I also like the emphasis on his lips and nose.

Our little man fast asleep.

4. Tradition – During Sloan’s newborn shoot, a photo of her resting on my arms was captured. Sidney liked the pose and requested that it be replicated with Beau. Believe it or not, it was an awkward position for me to hold with my arms but thanks to the coordinated effort of Judy and Sidney to position the both of us just right, it turned out great.

We have a photo very similar to this of Sloan.

3. Full Body – This photo of Beau is a full length body shot…what you see is what you get! The sheets, pillow, and posts contrast just right with Beau’s gray outfit. That’s my son!

A sleeping angel.

2. Priceless – What more can I say? I will hold tight this photo of my children for a long time. This was another instance where we kind of showed Judy a photo of a pose we liked and then she went ahead and mastered it. Could she have captured a more genuine, natural shot of Sloan? Beau looks at peace as his sister cautiously watches over him.

I love the look on Sloan’s face in this photo.

Oh, you want a black and white image of this pose as well? Okay, here you go…

Same pose, less color.

1. The Love of a Mother – My undisputed favorite photo of the shoot! My wife looks beautiful and Beau looks right at home in the palm of his mommy’s hand. Judy captured both Sid’s pride and tenderness for her son in this special image. Does it deserve to be framed? You bet!

This photo captures my heart (and the top spot on this countdown).

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Once again, I just want to thank Judy for taking these photos. After some great years working with each other, this was the last time we were together…a nice memory to end on.

Let me tell you what, these photos are helping me a lot during my time away from my family. Speaking of which, only 23 days until I am reunited with Sid, Sloan, and Beau. Don’t Blink.

Worse Things Than Staying at Home

I am guilty of making a complaint that is pretty common these days: We can’t do anything.

We need to realize that just hanging at the house isn’t a bad thing.

With daily life pretty much at a standstill, many of our daily comforts and routines are no longer possible, or––at the very least––deeply frowned upon. You can’t eat at a restaurant or enjoy a beer at a bar. You can’t get your teeth cleaned or sit down for a haircut. You can’t go into work or exercise at the gym. You can’t escape at the movie theater or take the kids to the playground. You can’t worship at church or go to a ball game. Heck, you can’t even check out a book at the library! Needless to say, it can become a little overwhelming as the walls start to close in.

However, I am trying to think more positive. Yes, many pleasures and conveniences of life are limited right now. But if you think about it, the things that matter the most aren’t.

While many of us are isolated from the general public, we still have direct contact with our families. Whether it be hugging, chatting, or playing a board game with our loved ones, we are able to ride out these difficult times with those who mean the most to us.

Even the “little things” still available to us aren’t so bad…

There is no ban on praying or meditating. You can still sing and write. No one is stopping us from penning a letter or Facetiming a friend. No restrictions are in place to cease movie marathons or Netflix binge watching. Home improvement projects and yard work tasks are calling our names. How about pulling out the home videos, the photo albums, and scrapbooks?

If people weren’t getting sick and dying because of this pandemic, you could almost say that this “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order we are under in Washington is a blessing. There is something to be said about a meaningful cleanse from the outside world.

Let us continue to pray and do our respective parts to flatten the curve. Remember, it is not a matter of if but when. There will be a time when this will be a distant memory.

Tonight I remember Kobe Bryant when I respectfully say that 24 days remain until I am reunited with Sid, Sloan, and Beau. Don’t Blink.

Looking Back On My First Week at WSU

Without a doubt, there was one question that was asked of me repeatedly during my first week of work at Washington State University…

What a time to start, right?

I was greeted warmly my first day at WSU.

Although one’s first week at a new job can rarely be described as “normal,” my first five days at WSU took that notion to a whole new level.

I arrived on campus just as the dominos from the COVID-19 outbreak started to fall across the country. On Monday, I worked in Pullman. Despite the lack of students, it was an awesome first day on campus. I met my co-workers and bosses, moved into my office, and even got some work done. I was on a high and excited to return the next day.

I was all smiles my first (and only) day on campus.

Not so fast.

That Monday afternoon we received the directive to work from home starting the next day. I packed up my laptop and commuted back to Spokane, not knowing exactly when I would return. I felt bummed that I wouldn’t be working from my new beautiful campus and connecting with my co-workers in person. However, I wasn’t sweating the feasibility of working from home. A few hurricanes and numerous days taking care of a sick child had developed my skills for working from a makeshift living room office.

The four days working from home (aka my parents’ house) just weren’t smooth, they were productive. I had the opportunity to take part in numerous Zoom meetings, meet campus partners, collaborate on a couple projects, and start to build the framework for some of my specific duties. At the end of Friday, I deemed the first week a success.

I know I am really going to like WSU. I have talented people around me and job responsibilities I am passionate about. Yes, things feel different right now but I think this period of working from home will just increase my appreciation for working on a college campus once we actually get to return.

Just 25 days and counting until I get to see Sidney, Sloan, and Beau. Don’t Blink.