Google Yourself!

A couple months ago, I blasted the social media community for dramatically overreacting to the new Instagram privacy policy. As I am sure most of you remember, the immensely popular photo sharing service introduced a crafty new policy that stated users who sign up with the service automatically give ownership of the photos they put on the application to Instagram. Delving further into the policy, it stated that Instagram had full liberty to sell pictures to third parties for “promotional purposes”.

After this privacy policy went live, you would have thought the world was coming to an end the way people reacted. The whining and crying about the policy reached ridiculously high rates. Online petitions circulated like wild fire. Talk of boycotts and lawsuits gained steam. People with too much time on their hands demanded answers from the big wigs at Instagram.

I pretty much just sat back and laughed…and then I wrote a blog post about the stupidity of it all. I basically said that for anyone to be so worried (and arrogant) to think that their Instagram photos would be chosen out of all the billions of photos that are in the app’s database to be featured in some type of marketing campaign were beyond delusional.

Fast forward two months later to the present time and I still feel many of the people who let some social media privacy policy ruin their whole day acted out in the most idiotic way possible. However, after I learned about a certain event involving one of my friends, I did come around just a little bit to why they were freaking out so bad.

My friend was in the library today and in the middle of everything she had a couple minutes of downtime. Like any smart, motivated young person does occasionally, she Googled herself. (Hate to shift into my lecturing tone real fast but it is important to Google yourself every two to three weeks. Find out where your name pops up, see what people are saying about you, make sure no red flags or inaccurate information comes up). So she types in her name and one of her high school senior pictures comes up. Although it is not on a local website…it is in Toronto. But this gets even better (or worse depending on how you look at it), her image is being used in context with an educational subject. But not an educational subject like photosynthesis or hibernation. Can you guess what subject it is? BIRTH CONTROL!

Featured on the website www.teenhealthsource.com , my friend’s image was placed prominently at the very top of one of the pages of the site titled “Birth Control: Finding The Best Fit”. Now all kidding aside, it is not like birth control is that terrible of a subject but to unknowingly have your picture placed right in the middle of a page of a foreign website that is discussing a topic some might find awkward is a little unsettling. I mean what if she steadfastly opposes any type of birth control? To see your image associated with the topic would be very upsetting. I know that if my image ever appeared next to something that I strongly disagreed with or detested I would feel very uncomfortable and angry. For just a short moment, I kind of felt the uneasiness that many of the Instagram privacy policy protesters felt.

Because my friend is one of the coolest cats you will meet, she did not flip out over her library session discovery. In fact, she even told me this had happened before. One time her mom went to the doctor and flipped through a magazine issue of WebMD and saw a photo of her daughter in one of the ads. Once again, it was one of her senior portraits. My friend told me that she believes she remembers signing a waiver with the photographer that gave him the rights to the photos along with the permission to sell them at his discretion. Obviously the photographer knew he would make more money off of my friend than just the money she was giving him because she is a very attractive girl but I do question the ethics of a photographer selling the images of his clients, especially the younger ones. But as I said before, my friend does not care so it is not my battle to get into.

So the purpose of this post is for me to first concede that maybe just a little bit I can see now why so many people went cuckoo with Instagram’s privacy policy. Although I still hold to my guns that 99.9% of Instagram users will never see their photos used by a third party, I can see why some might worry if what happened to my friend happened to them. Secondly, make sure to Google yourself! Even if you don’t mind at all about what is out on the web about you, at least you have an idea. Remember, you can follow me on Instagram at @BrentReser. Don’t Blink.

My Special Taste for Mongolian BBQs

Okay, all of you might want to hit me really hard for writing about food again so I apologize. I have convinced myself that the more I write about it the less I will eat it so at least you have an idea of my thinking. So just a few days after going into great detail about homemade pizza, I am onto my next high-caloric yummy fascination.

One difference about what I am writing about tonight is that this dining option really is not that feasible to make at home. Rather, you have to go to certain restaurants to indulge in this extravagant cuisine. And believe me, I am not using the word “indulge” lightly. Mostly when people enjoy this type of food they enjoy it for quite a while afterwards because when you are done, you are stuffed. I am talking about a truly interactive dish, one that you see made right in front of your nose, from the bubbling of your sauces to the chopping of your meat to the swooping of food off the cooking surface and onto your plate. I am talking about Mongolian BBQ.

Growing up, I was initially turned off to Mongolian BBQ restaurants. Not too far away from my parents’ house, jam-packed in the middle of a not so clean strip mall was a local Mongolian grill place. We would go in for lunch or dinner occasionally. I would get my bowl and go through the rather small line of noodles, meats, and veggies and pick out what I wanted…pretty routine, right? Well, pretty routine except for the owner standing at the end of the line staring at me as I made my every move. I looked down as I put the preliminary ingredients in my bowl. But then, every single time, just as I got to the sauce section he would jolt toward me, take my bowl, and speaking in some Asian language he would talk out loud while pouring a combination of sauces on my food. He would finish splashing everything into my bowl and then hand it back to me and motion me towards the grill to have it cooked.

I hated this. It took all the joy and excitement out of the experience. It also took the fun out of eating it as well. I never liked what he concocted for me. I remember the third time going in and cringing the moment that I saw the owner in his usual spot. When I got through the first part of the line and to the sauce section I tried to resist the man’s attempt to take my bowl and my mom even tried to tell him to ease off as well but it was to no avail. His voice got louder and he aggressively motioned for my bowl. He confiscated my food once again and ruined my meal. Yep, for a long time I didn’t care too much for Mongolian BBQ.

But as I got older and as I tried different Mongolian grill type places, you know, the ones that actually let you decide what you want to put on your food, I grew to like them quite a bit. Whether it was going to pig out with football teammates, enjoying a meal with my relatives in Walla Walla, or battling my brother to see who could eat the most, I developed quite an appreciation and a craving for these types of places. The combination of an all-you-can-eat place that cooks your food right in front of you and that allows you to make flavors come alive really captured my heart and my stomach. Back in my real eating days I loved to get one plate that was super spicy and then cool down with a more mild selection and then finish off with a combination of a bunch of different flavors. I was a pig.

I also relished experiencing different Mongolian BBQs. When I was younger I didn’t place as much emphasis on cleanliness in restaurants as I do today. With that said, I have eaten in some pretty sketchy Mongolian grill joints. You know, the ones where the fish tank water is probably cleaner than the dish washing water. The ones where week old debris on and around the grill is commonplace. The ones where plates are cheap, silverware is almost plastic, and napkins are thinner than your average sheet of Kleenex. The ones where grease seems to float through the air and you feel like you need a shower when you leave. But again, during that time of my life I didn’t care. I just wanted the endless, flavorful food.

I became picky with Mongolian Grills when I moved to Missoula and tried HuHot for the first time. I couldn’t believe that a love I already had for a certain type of food could increase so much more. Soup and rice brought out right away? FLOUR TORTILLA SHELLS to roll your food up in at no extra cost? Cut up sausage available in the meat line? An endless array of sauces? A spotless restaurant that even includes a classy enough bar? Needless to say, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven during my first dining experience at HuHot (Yes, there is a HuHot in Spokane but I never got the chance to go there because it was on the other end of town and with the proliferation of Mongolian BBQ restaurants in the city, it never really occurred to me to try it. EXTRA SIDE NOTE: I sang the praises of HuHot before back when I gave out the “Brent’s Best of the Zoo” Awards…as you can see, I love the place).

But what really sets HuHot apart from everything else I had in the past is just the freshness of the ingredients. Everything from the meat to the vegetables to the tortillas to the chopped peanuts is top notch. Even though it is a franchise the food always tastes perfect.

Believe me, that was not supposed to be a commercial for HuHot. I just get really excited about the food!

Just like buffets and places like Texas Roadhouse and Olive Garden, you have to make sure to only go to Mongolian BBQs sparingly, no matter how much you like them. When you go, you are pretty much guaranteed to overeat and pretty much guaranteed to feel full and guilty afterwards. But I think the thing about Mongolian grills that help decrease the guilt a little bit is just the atmosphere and experience. Creating your own dish, experimenting with sauces, and watching someone cook it on a huge grill is fun! Just make sure to pass on dessert. Don’t Blink.

The Smart Ones of Society

Do you ever sometimes look at jobs other people have and think, “Wow, what they do is big time work. It must really be something to have a job that has so much importance placed on it and requires an immense amount of skill and talent to carry out” ?

This weekend I had these thoughts circulate in my head a couple of times.

On Friday I went to the theater and watched “Zero Dark Thirty”. The movie chronicles the CIA hunt for Osama Bin Laden. At the conclusion of the film, the special forces mission that went into Bin Laden’s compound and took him out was depicted. Watching this group of talented soldiers carry out such a dangerous mission definitely got me thinking about how incredible and valuable these people are. I don’t think any civilian can really comprehend how special these elite troops in the military are to us. They really do carry out the impossible and make it so we can continue to live in the best country in the world.

How do you put a value on people like that? How do you put a value on people who have received and mastered training that is probably 1,000x more sophisticated than we can imagine? How do you put a value on people who can go into the most hostile of places on foreign soil and execute missions that if not done perfectly result in death for those involved and perhaps catastrophic consequences for the country?

But it is just not the people doing jobs that protect our national security that make me think I got it easy in my daily tasks. Tonight I watched the Oscar’s and I felt the same way I have felt the past few years…many of the people who work in the movies are complete geniuses! Take some of these movie makers who are making animated films. The technology and crafting of these productions is amazing. I can’t even begin to think of the thought process that occurs when someone decides on an animation concept and then actually creates it and turns it into a movie that people fall in love with. Just thinking of the work and brain power that is involved in producing something as beautiful as “Avatar” or “The Life of Pi” boggles my mind. To know that some human beings are capable of creating something like that is pretty neat. Again, the amount of talent out there is amazing.

But it is just not the animators in the movie business that blow my mind. How about the people who are charged with costumes? Could you imagine the workload of the person who was in charge of “Lincoln”? Man, all the research, the purchasing, the devising, and the fitting for a humongous cast had to be an outrageously gigantic job. Or what about people who are in charge of the sound for these productions? All the work that goes into making a production sound realistic yet pleasing to the ear of the viewer (no matter how displeasing the actual sound is) requires a truly unique talent. And then of course there is the director, the person who must oversee the multi million dollar budgets of these films as well as the thousands of people working on the movie while creating something that is going to attract millions of people to the theater. Talk about pressure.

Although I got reminded of the above professions this weekend, there are other jobs that I constantly think about and just shake my head at because of all the intelligence and skill involved. Take building planes, jets, and space shuttles. What if someone told you right now that they want you to lead a project where you had to create something that soared through the air, traveled hundreds of miles per hour, and could safely carry a hundred people in it? You would probably cry. But in this world there are people who can build these things called airplanes, an invention that has revolutionized our way of life and made long distance travel possible.

Then I frequently think about our doctors who are performing surgeries each day. Anyone else find it incredible how some people are smart enough to cut into someone when they are close to death and perform maneuvers that will save that person’s life? Talk about the need for confidence! To be able to use one’s hands to make someone else’s internal organs right again is pretty special.

Don’t get me wrong, my job requires skill and talent as well. I think just sometimes I get wrapped up so much in intercollegiate athletic marketing and new media that I do forget about some of the other professions out there. And then when I do get the chance to see a movie or watch an awards show or look in the sky and I see the important and involved work other people are doing my eyes get opened a little bit. It is good to take time to recognize the work that others do in society to help make this world go round. We all have our talents and contributions to offer society, I am just glad there are many people out there smarter than me. Don’t Blink.

Making Pizza At Home!

One thing that I am really appreciative about my girlfriend is that she is a great cook. She comes over and cooks me meals all the time which is a pretty sweet deal because otherwise I would be indulging in a Subway sandwich, soup, or Chef Boyardee for supper. I couldn’t cook myself out of a paper bag. Paige on the other hand is the exact polar opposite and does wonders in my kitchen. Spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, meatball sandwiches, sausage and potatoes, chicken, and yummy rice dishes are all things she has whipped out for me to enjoy. I am definitely a lucky guy! Tonight though, we will be eating something for dinner that both of us can help prepare!

When Paige is in my kitchen, she does amazing things!

When Paige is in my kitchen, she does amazing things!

Paige and I both thought this evening would be a great time to cook homemade pizza! We had talked about it for a while but it kept getting bumped off the menu for one reason or the other. However, tonight the meal will come to fruition. We will have the dough, sauce, cheese, and toppings….and then our hands. Yes, I might struggle with making the most elementary of dishes but I am capable of spreading sauce on dough, laying cheese over the sauce, dropping toppings down on the cheese, and then putting it into the oven. Tonight I will be co-chef with Paige and I am very excited!

Of course tonight’s pizza baking adventure takes me right back to my childhood days when it was a BIG DEAL when we made homemade pizza at our family home. Like Paige, my mom is an excellent cook. We would eat dinner as a family at our kitchen table every single night. Usually us three kids would not have much of a role in any of the cooking but when it came to homemade pizza night, things changed. Suddenly we got to use the sacred cooking utensils and create our own pizzas. This event probably occurred three times a year so it really was a special event and something that me and my sister and brother really enjoyed.

Now please take into consideration that my mom did not let “kids take over the kitchen night” turn into a complete goat rope. She made sure the potentially catastrophic event was well under control. If she had not already flattened the dough for us, she watched carefully as we stretched it over the pan we were using. She placed all of the sauce, cheese, and toppings in separate bowls for us to easily access and use. She called each of us up one-by-one to make our pizzas individually. With three kids all making pizzas at once there is always the potential for messes, distractions, and fights. After we were all finished making our pizzas my mom would put them in the oven and set a timer. She would make sure we were all upstairs when she took the pizzas out so we could proudly watch our creations come out of the oven and see for the first time how our smiley-faced pie looked cooked or whether the pound of cheese we had put on had entirely melted. It was kind of a magical time.

The peak of the excitement on homemade pizza night in the Reser household was definitely the preparation part and the coming out of the oven part because to be honest, the actual eating part was always a little anticlimactic. Now I am sure my mom already knows this, but I always preferred the taste of delivery pizza to that of homemade pizza (probably because my taste buds were not as sophisticated back then). But let that statement not take anything away from homemade pizza night because it really was all about the experience as opposed to the taste!

Before I wrap up this post I would like to make mention of something unique that my mom would always do on homemade pizza night that has a special place in my heart of memories. In addition to our regular sphere shaped or square shaped pizza pies we would make, my mom would also take out her cupcake pan and make PIZZA CUPCAKES! The process was super easy…she would just shape the dough inside each cupcake spot, have us add quite a bit of sauce, top it with quite a bit of cheese, and then add toppings. She would then throw it in the oven and out would come pizza cupcakes! Simple, yes, but also a great idea. Such a great idea in fact that my mom submitted the recipe to Taste of Home Magazine and they featured it in an issue.

Check my Instagram account for pictures of our homemade pizza tonight. The one I make for my dinner might look a little goofy but just give me points for trying. Unlike years ago, I think tonight I would rather trade the experience for the taste! Don’t Blink.

The Importance of Working Out

If someone approached me and asked me to recommend one thing that they should incorporate into their daily routine for the rest of their life I would not hesitate with my answer: Work out. I know my advice is not revolutionary. Experts, doctors, teachers, coaches, insurance companies, and even employers all advise the same thing. Sometimes I like to go away with mass opinion but not here. The single most important thing we can do for our personal welfare is to work out four-five times a week for at least an hour.

Before I get into the benefits of a steady workout, I just want to briefly expel terrible excuses people use to dodge exercising (I have ranted about this before so I promise I will make it quick). I am too busy. No, you are not too busy to work out. Everyone is busy. There are twenty-four hours in the day, out of all those hours you can surely find one to hit the gym. Go before work/class, go during your lunch hour, go after work/class. If those times don’t work for you, just choose a non-conventional time. Most all areas have 24-hour gyms. Get a membership there and go at an early bird or late night hour. My dad gets up at 4 a.m. to get his workout done. If my 55 year old dad can do it, I know you can! I am too tired. You are tired? Great! Nothing like a good workout to get you filled with energy. But you really like the feeling of being tired? Don’t worry, after the adrenaline fueled energy leaves your body a much more satisfying sense of tiredness will set into your soul and you will be so glad you got that exercise in. The gym is too busy/too expensive/too inconvenient. Get over whatever anti-gym excuse you have, suck it up, and just get there! You know there is that saying that goes “90% of life is just showing up”? It is true! Just get to the gym, block everything else out, and focus on working hard.

Okay, enough with the above excuses and the millions others that people conjure up. Unless you are physically unable to move there is really no excuse not to work out (yes, I know there are exceptions). Let’s move onto the positives though…

Working out does wonders for the physical body. Sorry to state the obvious but I couldn’t resist. If you have a decent plan when you enter the gym, you are benefiting your body. Our bodies need exercise, especially in the culture that we live in and we must constantly feed it….no, not with hamburgers and sodas but with physical activity. Everything from the heart to the muscles to the lungs to the skin to the blood flow improves dramatically from regular exercise. Those of us who work in offices owe it to our body to give it anaerobic and aerobic attention. Sitting in an office for several hours each day has a detrimental impact on our systems and we can’t afford to neglect exercise. The pictures that show organs that are in bodies that exercise compared to those that don’t are like night and day. Our bodies are our own personal temples and we need to upkeep them by staying active.

When we work out, we also improve our physique. Now I am by no means a decent example of this but most other people who work their butt off in the gym have great bodies. Honestly, what would you rather have….a hard body or a soft body? Or let me put it this way, what would your significant other or your dream girl/guy rather you have…a hard body or a soft body? While the bodies we see on magazines and on television/movies are sometimes unrealistic, my basic point is that we can make our physique so much better by just going to the gym on a regular basis as opposed to not. So while many of us actually won’t obtain a hard body we can still obtain a body that is better than a soft body (aka a body that doesn’t work out).

Aside from physical benefits, there is no better booster for our mental state than working out. After a tough, sweat-filled session of exercise you get the ultimate high. Walking off of the gym floor after you gave it your all is such a wonderful feeling. For me, I can finally relax in my head after my workout is complete. The sense of accomplishment that you get after a workout is addictive and satisfying. I could never see an improvement in my physical body for the rest of my life but I would continue to work out solely because of the gratification I get from doing so. This ending feeling of gratification is definitely worth all the hassle, inconvenience, pain, sacrifice, anguish, dedication, and heart that is put into before and during the workout.

I would be lying if I said the social aspect of going to the gym is not a benefit. Now I don’t mean social in terms of yaking with everyone who is in the building at the same time as you. I guess I should rather call it the “respect aspect.” I don’t talk while I am in the gym. I go by myself, work out, and leave. But there is something about seeing the same people day in and day out. I see them and they see me. I nod my head and am courteous and aware of them. And even though I don’t really talk to them, there is that bond there, a bond between consistent gym goers that recognizes the hard work that is taking place. Even though we might not say much to each other in the gym, if we ran into each other at the store or the bar, we would immediately exchange pleasantries and talk for a couple minutes like we are good friends. You can only get this type of relationship at the gym. Now that’s cool.

I like to think I covered the main aspects for making the effort to work out at the gym: Physical well-being, respectable appearance, positive mental state, and a satisfying social connection. I believe that when these four keys are obtained people become more confident, energetic, fun, alert, optimistic, happy, and most of all….HEALTHY!

One final tip. Besides just striving for the four main things I discussed, make sure to have a couple of personal motivators to help you always make it to the gym and work out hard. My list includes items that we should all want but each one of us has our own personal goals that we strive for. Work those into your desire for hitting the gym hard and you should never feel “too tired” or “too busy” again. Don’t Blink.

The Griz Intern Social Media Contest

One thing I have mentioned before that I covet about my job is having the opportunity to work with a group of 8-10 college students who serve as interns in the Marketing Department of Grizzly Athletics. I utilize our interns heavily when it comes to our social media program. However, even though many people equate social media with the word “fun”, I have to admit that much of what I have them do for me doesn’t constitute fun at all. Basically, I have them do a lot of adding, inviting, and deleting. Because of the monotonous and boring tasks I put them through, I try to give them at least one opportunity to let their creative juices flow and let them shine within Griz Social Media.

Christie and I with several of this year's interns

Christie and I with several of this year’s interns

For the second year in a row, I have instituted the Griz Intern Picture Challenge. To put it simply, this is a contest where our interns each submit one Griz related picture and battle it out for the most “likes” on our official Montana Grizzlies Facebook page.

That is the simple description of the contest. Of course there is so much more to it…….well, not really.

I presented the contest at our weekly intern meeting a week ago last Monday. I laid down the rules and told them that they had a week to brainstorm, capture, and then send me a picture that in some way relates to Grizzly Athletics. Because yesterday was President’s Day, I made the deadline today. Now that I have all the pictures in my possession, the fun can really begin.

Each weekday starting from today through the end of next week during the time period of 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., I will feature one of the intern’s photos on the Montana Grizzlies page, under the Montana Grizzlies name. From the exact time that I post each photo, that particular image will have exactly twenty-four hours to accrue the most “likes” possible. For example, I posted the first picture of the contest at 4:08 p.m. today. The picture is eligible to receive countable “likes” up until 4:08 p.m. on February 20. The second the deadline hits, I will record the total amount of “likes’ for that photo and that will count as the intern’s score.

This was the picture submitted by my intern Gianna. I ran this one today at 4:08 p.m. on our Facebook page.

This was the picture submitted by my intern Gianna. I ran this one today at 4:08 p.m. on our Facebook page.

Yesterday I randomly drew the order of when each intern will have his/her picture posted. Yes, everyone knows that some days and exact times of posting are more advantageous than others. My interns also know that news at the intercollegiate level breaks unpredictably and can result in a picture getting drowned out on the Facebook page immediately, even if it was only the lead story for fifteen minutes. So naturally some pictures will be in more of a position to succeed than others but it is just the luck of the draw and the nature of the contest.

Our Montana Grizzlies Facebook page has close to 80,000 likes. We have the most successful Facebook page at the FCS level and we beat out numerous other schools in the BCS ranks. None of the fans of our page know that the contest is going on. They simply will just see nice, creative pictures displayed around the same time for the next several days. If they like them, they will actually “like” them with the click of a mouse or a tap of a finger/thumb and participate in the contest unknowingly. Of course I encourage my interns to campaign for their pictures amongst their friends and family so I guess in that respect people outside our intern circle will get to know about the contest.

On Friday, March 8, the winner of the contest will be announced via our closed Griz Marketing Facebook group. The big prize for the winner? Free school for the duration of their education at UM? Full time job in our department? A special place in our Hall of Champions? No, no, and no. I will award the intern whose picture garners the most “likes” with a gift card to the restaurant of his/her choice. Definitely a small prize but at least it is something to strive for. After all, the biggest draw of this whole contest is just the opportunity to get one’s own photography up on a medium for thousands of people to see.

Last year, Steph won the competition. She chose a gift card to Iron Horse as her prize.

Last year, Steph won the competition. She chose a gift card to Iron Horse as her prize.

Of course I consider Griz Social Media the biggest winner in this whole ordeal. Fans love to see pictures, especially well-taken pictures that are creative and that take them behind the scenes. This contest feeds them for eight days. As everyone knows I LOVE to take pictures and I love to share many of the ones I take for Grizzly Athletics on our social media channels. However, I have a certain style. In life it is good to switch up techniques every once in a while and get a fresh take. That is what makes this contest so valuable. It is not my work…it is the work of the interns. Fans get to see a different angle besides the one that is coming from me or the one that is coming from our university photographer. True, some interns submitted better pictures than others but I guess that is not even for me to decide, it is rather a decision for Griz Nation.

I invite you all to follow the Griz Intern Picture Challenge the rest of this week and all of next week through the official Facebook page of Grizzly Athletics. Enjoy the photos and make sure to “like” the ones that you feel are deserving. Don’t Blink.

Being Thankful for my Health

During the latter part of the work week last week, I developed my usual winter sickness: Violent cough, sore throat, clogged nose, overwhelming fatigue, and eyes that would never stop watering…you know, your basic nasty cold. The amount of times I wanted to scream because of the discomfort equaled about the number of times my co-workers told me that I looked like death. At the end of Signing Day on Wednesday, all day Thursday, all day Friday, and for the first half of the day on Saturday my miserableness hit a high and I did not enjoy being awake that much. However, I kept sane throughout the worst spells of my illness by doing my best to keep things in perspective.

You see, I too often take my health for granted, something that I think many of us young people do. As I sit here in my apartment on my comfortable couch with college basketball on I feel wonderful. I feel energetic, happy, and optimistic. I can see, smell, taste, and, for the most part, hear, perfectly. If I wanted to I could get up and go run a couple miles or I could go pump some iron. As of right now I have a spotless clean bill of health and I am feeling very fortunate.

However, I don’t always keep in mind how fortunate I am health wise. One week from now I could very well go the whole day without thinking about how lucky I am to not feel like Hell or totally neglect God by not offering so much as a thank you. But because I am coming off of a sickness and because I am writing this specific blog post, it is easier to think about this great gift that many of the people in my age group and younger enjoy.

When I was sick last week, a thought hit me that really made me forget about the minor discomfort I was in. I assessed my situation. I had a head cold. Out of all the terrible, life threatening, suffering illnesses out there, I had the most common and least severe ailment there is. I didn’t have a cell destroying painful disease like cancer, a crippling condition like Multiple Sclerosis, an unbearable chest pounding death sentence like heart disease, or any other of the millions of terrible health problems out there that plague the population. This thought made me realize two things: 1. What a complete wimp I was for even thinking I was experiencing discomfort at that particular moment. And 2. I got to really celebrate and appreciate what I have now because eventually we all die from something.

Those of us that enjoy good health MUST NOT take it for granted. We have to realize that we will not have limitless days where we don’t have something nagging us. Fast forward 40 years down the road. If we are lucky to be alive I can guarantee you that we will not feel as great as we do now. We will be stiffer, we will have conditions, we will have days where we feel like garbage. Heck, most likely in 20 years, no, not even 20 years…let’s say 10 years.. we will feel nowhere close to how we feel now. We got it way too good presently.

This post is not to lecture about keeping in shape, going to the doctor, or eating right. Rather, it is just a reminder to be appreciative of your health. We have a great quality of life right now and we need to recognize it and enjoy it. I promise to start doing a better job myself. Don’t Blink.

The Real Purpose of Lent

Today is Ash Wednesday. For the next 40+ days, Catholics will embark on a very holy journey called Lent. This is a very beautiful time for growing with God in preparation for the most sacred day on the calendar, Easter.

I have purposely never talked about faith in my blog because I don’t think it is an appropriate medium to do so. However, I want to make one exception for this post just because I feel it is important enough to do so. I am a practicing Roman Catholic raised in a strong Italian Catholic family where the foundation of my faith was set. My parents raised me tremendously and many of my Lenten habits were formulated in my early years growing up in their household.

This post is going to be very brief. I just want to get across what Lent is rather than what many perceive it to be. Lent is not about “giving something up”. It is not some silly New Year’s resolution. Rather, Lent is about prayer, fasting, and alms giving. Of course going without many gratifications is part of the fasting component of Lent but there is so much more. In my opinion, what we decide to do during Lent is much more important than what we decide not to do because after all prayer, fasting, and alms giving are things you do, not things you “give up”.

Non-Catholics and Catholics alike sometimes confuse the purpose of Lent. It is NOT a time to get praise from others for what we do during the 40 days but a time to get closer to God. It is this reason why it is very important to never ask someone what they are doing for Lent or on the other hand to make public what we are doing for Lent. This is made very clear during today’s Ash Wednesday gospel reading (Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21). Jesus taught us that hypocrites will let others know that they are fasting, praying, and alms-giving. These people who let up their guard and let others know that they are not eating during a certain day or abstaining from meat or not partaking in a certain activity or practice have totally lost the purpose of doing so. Because they have confided in people and received their praise, they will not receive praise from God. However, those who do deeds in private so that others don’t know will receive praise from God.

But I am not here to give a scripture lesson. Not only am I 100% unqualified to do so, but I have way too many sins to ever attempt to preach the Good Word to anyone. I guess all that I want to do is just get the general message across, a message that everyone can easily understand: Lent is a private time. It is a time to get closer to God while forsaking any opportunity for attention and praise from others. Many, including myself, get very uncomfortable when asked about what we are doing during Lent.

To everyone who observes Lent, have the most blessed season ever. Don’t Blink.

Bad Dream or Reality?

I am fascinated with dreams. I don’t necessarily buy into all the symbolism and interpretation that some do, but I really am intrigued by what the brain can conjure up when we enter into unconsciousness. Dreams interest me so much that I even have a dream journal. In fact, I wrote about this dream journal of mine in a blog post once. Dreams fascinate me enough that I constantly ask the ones that I love if they dreamed at night and then if they did, I question them about what they experienced.

However, old fashioned dreams are not the only part of the not-fully conscious state that grips my attention. I have discussed and written about near-death experiences. I enjoy looking into that weird state right before you fall asleep when many times you suddenly grip the bed as if you were falling. Sleep walking is a condition that I have also explored before. But probably the one phenomenon that really shakes me is what happened to me again last night.

Many of us have experienced that terrifying state where we are laying in our bed while seemingly conscious but unable to move a muscle. It is as if there is absolutely no flow between the brain and the body parts. It is a feeling of absolute helplessness. What makes these experiences even worse is that most times these paralyzing episodes are accompanied with the perceived presence of a threatening stimuli. Many times people will feel that someone is in the room with them, someone evil. I have experienced this more than once and as I said before, the darkness and helplessness are overwhelming. I also had one experience where I was paralyzed in my bed and everything was perfectly in order in my room but when I looked outside my window I saw a firestorm as if the world was coming to an end and I was powerless to move my head the other way. Now I don’t know if these paralyzing moments really occur while our minds are conscious while our bodies are not or whether the whole thing is just a dream and it happens to take place in the room we are sleeping in but nonetheless they are very interesting (that is the next morning of course after the terrifying part has faded away).

Last night I had another of what I perceived to be one of these experiences but fourteen hours after it happened I still don’t know if it was actually just a dream.

At 3 a.m. I opened my eyes in the bedroom of my apartment and heard what seemed to be the voices of two or three men right outside my window. At my apartment complex I can easily hear chatter that is going on outside as foot traffic passes by but this time it was different. The voices were much louder than what I usually hear but oddly I couldn’t make out one word that was being said. I only knew two things: 1. I couldn’t move a muscle and 2. I felt frightened. The loud voices went on for about twenty seconds and then all of a sudden the noise shifted from outside my window to the entrance door of my apartment, located just a few feet from my open bedroom door. All of a sudden a terrible noise of banging, scratching, and yells overtook the door. I laid in my bed, absolutely helpless, unable to move, scared. My mind was able to race during this experience, I cognitively recognized that my clock read 3:00 a.m. on the dot. The cacophony seemed to go on for about 30 seconds, a pretty long time to listen to such a noise. The assault on my door finally stopped and time seemed to pass. The next time I looked at the clock it was 3:15 a.m. I was able to move again. I got out of bed and made sure the door was locked. I lay in bed for about an hour before falling back asleep.

My bed in relation to the window where I could hear the loud chatter.

My bed in relation to the window where I could hear the loud chatter.

The entrance door to my apartment where I heard the banging, scratching, etc.

The entrance door to my apartment where I heard the banging, scratching, etc.

Bad dreams and experiences like the one I just recounted always seem scarier at night. When I got up this morning and thought about what had just happened a few hours ago I was able to think about it rationally without any thoughts of true terror. The number one thought on my mind was whether I did have maniacs banging on my door. I opened up my door to get the paper and looked at the outside frame. No evidence of any pounding or scratching. My doormat was in perfect placement, absolutely no trace of any disturbance. I mean in all reality, why would a few guys (probably drunk) hammering on my door scare me in the first place? I can defend myself, my door is safely locked, and I got neighbors who would probably respond to the commotion. Again, I think just the feeling of helplessness and lack of control frighten our souls the most.

So who knows what happened last night. Was it a dream or did I in fact have people at my door? Going with the norm for these types of experiences, my best guess is that I was in fact dreaming. However, I could always be wrong, so let me say this: if you came to my apartment door last night, how about you make a return visit again tonight? I promise I won’t hide under my covers this time. Don’t Blink.

The Need to Read

In the latter half of my elementary school days, I had a teacher who took a vastly different approach toward the spelling portion of the curriculum. Instead of opting to just feed us with a standardized weekly list of words to study and memorize by the end of the week for testing, he decided to tie in spelling with the other disciplines.

My teacher would basically have us prepare our own spelling list via the required reading we did every single day. Each day in class and then again at home that night, we had to silently read. It was our job to choose a book that challenged us and made us better readers. One way that we knew a book was challenging centered on if we were not familiar with every single word. This condition for helping us choose silent reading books became the crux for our spelling program. You see, for every single word we came across in our reading that we did not know, we had to jot it down in our spelling notebook. At the end of our reading session we revisited the word, looked it up in the dictionary, wrote the definition down, wrote the sentence it was used in the book down, and then came up with our own unique sentence for the word. Every couple weeks we would transfer all of our new spelling words onto flash cards and we would turn in our spelling notebooks to the teacher. After a few days of studying, he would then give us all individual spelling tests on a sample of the words we turned in.

Of course there was a third component of this process: writing. Even though it was elementary school, I don’t know if I ever wrote more than in that class. Each week we had a writing assignment due and built into the grading rubric for each paper was how we incorporated past spelling words into our writing. It quite nicely tied together the two other disciplines that had already utilized the new words. Reading gave us the first glimpse of the words, spelling helped place them in our vocabulary, and writing enabled us to actually use them.

As I grew older, I had more than one voice tell me that our writing potential directly corresponds with our reading potential. This is one of the few statements in this world that I can agree 100% with. The best writers are those that spend hours each day reading. Book after book after book after book. A few newspapers each day. Several magazine subscriptions each week. Numerous online articles. The premium writers in society read billions and billions of words penned by other people to help influence their own few written words. Yes, as I learned early the vocabulary we use in our writing is shaped by our reading but much more comes out of this relationship besides a strong lexicon. Important writing concepts such as style, technique, and voice all become built through our reading experience. Ask any superstar writer from Stephen King to Dave Barry to J.K. Rowling what they prefer to do when they are not writing and I guarantee you they will say reading.

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I bring this point up today because I want to recommit to reading more. I have always considered myself an avid reader. However, over the past year or so, my time devoted to reading has shrunk. I can point to many reasons for this decrease including being too busy, focusing on other things, feeling too tired at night, dating my girlfriend, watching ESPN, blogging, texting, traveling, and wasting way too much time on my iPhone. But you know what? I HATE excuses. And even if I could settle for accepting one of the items I just listed I would be cutting myself way too short for this one major reason…

My writing is suffering.

It kills me to say this because in no way is this a good strategy to get you to continue to read my blog but I do feel like I owe you my honesty. Although I say my reading habits have declined over the past year, I can’t necessarily say my writing skills have directly gone downhill in that time span. Rather, I think I have gradually become aware of it over the last several months. I think it took a while for my dismissal of healthy reading habits to catch up to my writing but it has now happened. Shorter posts, run on sentences, less originality, too many dead verbs, lazy habits, and just general junk has seemed to creep into my writing on a more consistent basis.

It is time to change. I am going to start reading all the books my mom passes my way. I am once again going to make sure to start reading front to back the magazines I subscribe to. I am going to read more of the newspaper in the morning before work and listen to less of talk radio. I am going to make every best effort to read every piece of material that someone gives me.

Time to clean up my writing and start reading more. Not only will my readers enjoy the smoothness and freshness of my writing, but I will also have better topics to write about as what I read always generates some of my most interesting posts. Thanks for putting up with me through my writing slump. You can always send me your book suggestions! Don’t Blink.