Family Weekend in Walla Walla

My children finally visited Walla Walla.

This past weekend, the four of us traveled south to spend family time in a town that meant a lot to me growing up. Sidney and I wanted to make some memories with the kids so we chose the spot where several of my aunts, uncles, and cousins still live for a one-night getaway.

Now, to say that it was a breeze traveling to Walla Walla wouldn’t be entirely honest. A drive that would normally take a little under three hours took more than four due to FIVE stops along the way. Hey, when you have a toddler and infant what can you expect?

Once we finally arrived we went to my Uncle Bob’s house where he allowed us to cool off in his pool on the hot August afternoon. It was nice to play Sloan’s imaginary games in the water while also catching up with my uncle. It was his first time meeting both Sloan and Beau.

Sloan had a lot of fun swimming in my Uncle Bob’s pool.

From the pool, we checked into our lodging. We played up the fact to Sloan that it was going to be an “adventure” staying in a hotel and she completely bought it. Sloan thought it was the greatest thing that we had a hotel room and became obsessed with the vending machine.

Sloan loved getting to stay in a hotel!

After checking in, Sidney went with my cousin Abby to get her hair done. Abby is an excellent stylist and Sid was ready to get something done after more than a year since her last cut. During this time, my parents paid us a visit as they traveled to Walla Walla for the weekend as well (they started the trend) and my Aunt Nancy did too. After my parents left, Nancy, Sloan, Beau, and I went on a walk in downtown Walla Walla.

Nancy, Sloan, Beau, and I on our walk.

Later that evening, Abby returned a new wife to me! Seriously, Sid’s hair looked great! My Uncle Dick visited us and got his first glimpse of Beau.

Sid’s hair turned out beautiful!

We went to dinner at El Sombrero, a local Mexican restaurant right across the street from our hotel. I actually ate there a lot as a kid and it has only gotten better. Our meal was delicious and after we ate we returned to our room and went right to sleep.

We had a nice family dinner at El Sombrero.

Sunday started at the Maple Counter, a breakfast spot in downtown Walla Walla. Although we were split up because of social distancing, our party consisted of the four of us, my parents, Nancy, Abby (who was celebrating her birthday), and my Aunt Debbie. Just like with Bob and Dick, it was my aunt’s first time meeting Beau.

The Maple Counter in Walla Walla is a great breakfast spot.

Not too long after breakfast, Sidney, Sloan, Beau, and I went to Pioneer Park, an absolutely gorgeous and historic gigantic park in the city. We hit up the playground, admired the pond, and walked through the aviary. The Pioneer experience might have been my favorite part of the whole weekend.

Our stroll through Pioneer Park was a highlight of the trip.

We drove by the house my grandparents used to live in as well as the old family restaurant. As we made our way out of town, we made one last stop at Klickers, a store famous for fresh produce and really good ice cream. Along with peaches and cucumbers, we also got cones.

Sloan eating her cotton candy cone. I got maple nut.

Since Sid and the kids arrived in Spokane three months ago, we have spent all our time here. This past weekend was about getting out of Dodge and enjoying some family bonding. However, it was also about introducing our little ones to the relatives who love them so much. Walla Walla, thanks for a fun and meaningful 24 hours. Don’t Blink.

Spiky Thursday Rundown

Alright everyone, it is Thursday and you know what that means…the Rundown! No long introduction from me tonight, let’s get right to the five topics.

Porcupine – Since moving to our new house, we have had an abundance of wildlife in our backyard. Deer, rabbits, marmots, and coyotes have all been spotted. But yesterday morning I saw something for the first time. As I was entering our neighborhood after my morning workout, I saw a creature that was doing clumsy circles in the middle of the street. As I drove closer, I identified it as a porcupine. I didn’t know those things were so big! I was able to pull pretty close to it and watch as it slowly retreated from the street. Honestly, it was like it was drunk.

I encountered a porcupine in the middle of the street yesterday.

A Game About Life – If you really want to teach your toddler about winning, losing, and how to follow the rules, play Candy Land with them. No, I am not being sarcastic. The game is as basic as they come but it conveys simple lessons that will be relevant throughout a lifetime. Sloan has been playing the game with both Sid and I a lot. Our daughter is by no means perfect––she will fail to stay on task and be tempted to cheat, all while testing our patience––but the positives still outweigh the negatives.

Sloan and I recently played Candy Land outside.

Homemade Plates – One of my most beloved posts was the one I wrote back in 2014 about a tradition my parents introduced during our childhood. Every year we would draw a picture and they would send it off to be made into a plate. We literally ate off those personalized plates every night growing up. On this date three years ago, I wrote a follow up post about the plates. My mom had shipped all the plates I made as a kid to my address in South Carolina, the fulfilment of the plan she always had to give us our “china” once we left the house. We immediately put the plates into our circulation during dinners. These childhood mementos are now back where they were created as we carefully shipped them to our new house during the move. As a matter of fact, we ate off a few of them tonight.

Big Brother All-Stars – Those who have read my blog for the past five years have had to put up with my Big Brother fandom. If you are a new reader, I wasn’t always this way. My wife converted me from an anti-reality TV diehard to a fan. Due to the coronavirus, we had to wait nearly two months longer than the average summer for the debut but the latest season of Big Brother finally kicked off last night and it is an all-star season! I love it. Many of the houseguests are from the seasons I have watched and the others are memorable characters from the long lost past who my wife has told me about. I have my favorites and all I can say is it is about to go down!

I am excited for this season of Big Brother!

Instagram Reels – Yesterday, Instagram debuted Reels, its short form video product designed to compete directly with TikTok. For those who are familiar with Instagram’s history, the platform has an uncanny ability to knockdown the trendy social media darling by offering something similar. I have seen it with Vine and I have seen it with Snapchat. But will Reels dethrone TikTok? I wouldn’t bet against it. But unless TikTok meets its demise at the hands of federal government, I don’t think Reels has the ability to do it on its own; at least how the product is currently designed. TikTok offers better editing tools, the option to produce videos up to a minute, and a very loyal army of creators. Let’s see where everything stands in a month.

I made a Reel yesterday to commemorate Beau turning six months old.

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That will wrap up tonight’s Thursday Rundown. Continue to pray for an end to the pandemic and be safe this weekend. Don’t Blink.

Beau’s First Six Months

Close your eyes and try to remember exactly six months ago. It is early February. Still a month before a certain virus would become a threat in the United States. Completely different world, right?

Beau turned 6 months today.

This was the context of my son’s entrance into the world. On February 5, 2020, Beau was born at Conway Medical Center in Myrtle Beach. His birth was anything but normal as he came early but society was still business as usual. I am thankful that Beau was born just prior to a country-wide lockdown that would have made his earthly debut so much different.

Beau was born exactly six months ago today.

So as I sit here and reflect on Beau’s first six months of life, a major theme that keeps resonating is how much has changed in just half a year. It goes beyond just big picture––from a personal standpoint he has navigated a lot of change. From South Carolina to Washington and four different residences, this little guy has already learned a key life lesson that change is constant.

This little guy never fails to brighten my day.

But besides the birds eye perspective, I am also reflecting on Beau’s first 183 days of life by thinking solely about him, minus all the contextual stuff. God gave us a mellow and sweet baby, a gentle soul who loves to be held and talked to. Always up for a game of peek-a-boo, Beau enjoys interacting with others. On the flipside, he dislikes loud noises and sitting down for long periods of time. He isn’t a crier and he isn’t needy. He is a good eater and will take long naps.

Beau is a happy and healthy baby boy.

Beau has already had a few significant life events. He spent a couple weeks in the NICU but came out of it healthy and strong. He flew on an airplane as he made a cross country trip to his new home in Washington. He was fitted for a helmet to help correct the shape and symmetry of his head. Basically, he has had a pretty eventful half of a year.

Affectionately dubbed “little space man” by his strange father, holding Beau is like holding a heavenly cloud. He seems to fit perfectly in my arms and every inch of his body just feels so good. The constant coos and smiles never fails to reinforce how lucky I am to be his daddy.

Beau’s helmet has led me to dub him “my little space man.”

Beau has brought much happiness to Sidney, Sloan, and me. When I write another six months from now on his first birthday, it will be very interesting to see what life is like––both from Beau’s perspective and the world’s. But until that milestone comes, I am going to take it one day at a time, giving thanks at every opportunity for a special and healthy baby boy. Don’t Blink.

Tiking and Toking

It wasn’t just “Tiger King” that ascended to massive popularity during the onset of quarantine. Joining Joe Exotica as one of America’s guilty pleasures during the first several weeks of the pandemic was TikTok. Already insanely trendy with Gen Z prior to COVID, the app won over millions of people, especially the #Over30 crowd, as they sat at home in front of their phones.

With good reason.

I am a fan of TikTok.

TikTok is an engaging and addicting social media channel that took short form video to new heights. Not only did it extend the length of runtime from its predecessor, Vine, but it also offered its users an extensive and powerful suite of editing tools to make content stand out. What resulted was a platform chock-full of creative and shareable videos.

Although it took a pandemic for many to realize the gloriousness of TikTok, those new to the platform preceded to make up for lost time. Without naming names, I might know a few people who gladly sacrifice sleep and other social distancing approved pleasures to watch TikTok. Not that any of these people are necessarily family members, but I have noticed that the group chat comprised of my siblings and our significant others is now basically an endless stream of TikTok links and “Haha” tapbacks.

Some people like watching TikToks, I like making them (okay, I like doing both).

Personally, I am more interested in creating TikToks than spending every single minute of my free time watching them. I enjoy chronicling the adventures of my kids, telling their stories, expressing the challenges of parenting, and convincing my wife to participate in challenges.

Sid is great at TikTok challenges.

But I am a mere novice when it comes to TikTok creation. All you need to do is refer to your average Gen Zer for inspiration on how it is done. Take our social media interns at Washington State University, for example. Chloe and Yazzmin are the content creators behind our @WSUPullman TikTok account and do a fantastic job at connecting with the coveted prospective student and current student population.

Make sure to take a look at the @WSUPullman TikTok account to see the excellent work of Chloe (pictured) and Yazzmin.

With most good things, there is always a caveat or two that chips away at their desirability. Unfortunately, TikTok has a couple issues. For one, there is the safety concern that has plagued TikTok since its infancy. The app doesn’t just attract a mature Gen Z audience, it attracts a very young Gen Z audience. As I explained in a news interview 18 months ago, parents need to monitor the TikTok activity of their tweens. But perhaps more damning is the privacy nightmare. The app is Chinese-owned and the risk that one’s data could be compromised has always been a concern. In fact, the potential threat was enough to derail any plans we had at Coastal Carolina University of ever creating a TikTok account.

The Chinese connection is what President Trump used last week to justify his decision to ban TikTok in the United States. In recent days, Trump has thrown a lifeline to the app via Microsoft’s interest in purchasing the U.S. portion of it. We shall see how it plays out.

Privacy or no privacy, it seems like most TikTok-obsessed Americans are willing to roll the dice for their daily dose of Taylor Swift-inspired dances and reiterations of the #GotMilkChallenge. For the time being, count me in that group. Don’t Blink.

VIP Thursday Rundown

Oh July, you are slipping away. But you are certainly going out with a bang! The mercury slid past 100 degrees today and it will do the same tomorrow. Before we melt, let’s get started with my latest Thursday Rundown…

Day Worth Celebrating – Today is National Father-In-Law Day and I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize my rock star FIL––Mr. Sid Mathis. This guy has always treated me so well and taught me a lot about being patient and a team player. Needless to say, I miss him now that we are on different ends of the country!

I have a lot of respect for this guy.

VIP – Did you even have a childhood if your kindergarten class (and possibly your first grade and second grade classes) didn’t have a Very Important Person program? Man, those were the days. You sat in a special chair, showed off some of your favorite toys, and got to stand at the front of the line. This photo was my kindergarten VIP picture and it hung proudly front and center in the classroom during my reign as the most important kid in Mrs. Spangenburg’s class.

I felt like a king as VIP.

Got Chips? – Lays recently released its latest line of fun and intriguing chip flavors. This year, the company is highlighting “Flavor Icons,” which consists of signature flavors from different U.S. geographical locations. For example, you have New York Style Pizza, Philly Cheesesteak, and Nashville Chicken. I want to try them all but I can’t promise a review, which is sad, because it used to be my favorite thing to do on this blog. At the very least, I will attempt to try at least a few of them and review each one in various Thursday Rundowns.

Tomato Progression – Sloan helped my dad plant his tomatoes and he suggested I take photos of her as it grew. These photos were taken 3-4 week apart. Hopefully by the next time I get out to my parents’ and snap another picture the plant will be bearing vegetables.

I promise the two pictures on the right were taken on different days (just look at the tomato plant) but it was a coincidence that she wore the same outfit.

Golden Parental Advice – Besides parenting in a way that improves your child’s chances of going to Heaven, I don’t think there is better advice than what was stated in today’s Life’s Little Instruction. I think it is beautiful. To lead a life in a way that will have such a positive impact on your children that you come to mind when they think of those attributes is something all parents aspire to. I know I think of my mom and dad when it comes to qualities such as fairness and integrity and I hope Sloan and Beau will one day think the same of me.

As dads and moms, let’s all aspire to one day be the image of these qualities for our children.

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The good thing about triple digit days in the northwest is that you actually get some relief once the sun starts to go down. I am heading outside to our back porch for some relaxation. Have a nice weekend. Don’t Blink.

Not Obsessing Over a Post-COVID World

As I have tried to deal mentally with the Coronavirus pandemic, I think I have done myself a disservice by setting perceived endpoints. When it first arrived in our country, I hoped it would be under control within a couple weeks. When much of our country shut down, I set the clock for a month or so––thinking the threat would be eliminated when we opened back up. Then I shifted my hope to the onset of summer, crossing my fingers that the warmer weather and our advanced knowledge of the disease would translate to its eradication.

Unfortunately, these checkpoints came and went without a COVID solution. Now I have shifted my sights to the development of a vaccine. Surely, once one has been identified this whole mess will go away, right?

I need to be more realistic in my thinking. I need to stop looking ahead and waiting for the day when we are COVID-free. You see, not only could that be a non-realistic event but even more damning is the notion that by continuing to look ahead I am overlooking the present. It is the whole wishing away your days concept.

The truth of the matter is that even though life is very much different in a pandemic-ridden world, we can still find joy and make a difference. If we are solely waiting on an arbitrary date in the future, we risk wasting the precious time we have been gifted. How can we justify that?

Just like everyone else, I want a return to normalcy. I want to see my brother get married, I want to watch a sporting event live, and I want to go to the grocery store without a mask. But I can’t become so obsessed with seeing these things come to fruition that I neglect the present and sit on my hands. Each day during this pandemic can still be worthwhile as long as we don’t use it as an excuse for inaction. Don’t Blink.

Back to the Gym

When you do something daily for nearly 20 years, it is unsettling to be forced to give it up cold turkey. In mid-March, the state of Washington became one of the first states to shut down many businesses, including gyms. I remember that first week being especially tough. My daily routine was rocked and I couldn’t achieve the physical well-being I craved.

I tried to adjust as best I could. I did a morning routine at home and ran the track at the local high school during my lunch hour. However, it was not the same. As the days and weeks passed, I could feel the muscle mass I developed disintegrating away. But as the weeks turned to months, a weird thing happened. I started to become complacent with not going to the gym. There was nothing I could do about it and it was nice getting some extra sleep, right?

But as that thinking started to set in, the governor introduced a re-opening plan. Soon enough, the opening of gyms, under strict social distancing guidelines, was permitted.

When the governor allowed gyms to re-open, I found a new facility to go to…Snap Fitness.

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There is the psychological phenomenon of not realizing how common a certain car is out on the road until you actually buy that type of car yourself. This condition can be applied to my new gym.

It was my dad who introduced me to Snap Fitness. When Spokane reached the phase that allowed gyms to re-open, the facility that the two of us would frequent decided to remain closed. Needing to pivot, my dad knew of a gym near a neighborhood bar that was open for business. After screening the place for sound social distancing measures, my dad got us both memberships at this particular Snap Fitness. After three months of not pumping iron, I was finally working out at a fitness facility again.

I had the pleasure of going with my dad to early morning gym sessions for almost three weeks before my family moved into our new house. One of the things I did that first weekend was get my own membership at the local Snap Fitness in Spokane Valley. But you definitely have to clarify when you say the local Snap Fitness because there isn’t just one local Snap Fitness. Remember how I said sometimes you don’t realize how prevalent something is until you are actually invested in it?

I go to the Snap Fitness located on Montgomery off of Argonne.

Snap Fitness facilities are literally all over the place. There are four Snap gyms within 15 minutes of my house. The cool thing about Snap Fitness is that once you purchase a membership, you can work out at any location in the country. Thus, early last week I tested out multiple Spokane Valley Snap Fitness gyms before deciding on which one I liked the best.

The Snap Fitness located on Montgomery off of Argonne is my new fitness home. Actually, it is Sidney’s new fitness home too! I purchased a couples membership and we have a pretty good system in place. I wake up at 3:30 a.m. and get to the gym by 4 a.m. I return to the house by 5:30 a.m. and then Sid goes to Snap and does her thing, returning home well before my work day starts. Working out at the same gym just gives us another thing to connect on while staying healthy at the same time.

The Snap Fitness I go to has a studio for classes.

I wouldn’t say Snap Fitness gyms are glamorous but everything you need is provided. Cardio equipment, weight machines, free weights, classes, and more are all available. They definitely have social distancing figured out with numerous machines out of commission to prevent people from getting too close and hygienic supplies readily available. Of course, the ultimate social distancing tactic is just to get there really, really early (like me) before others arrive…yes, Snap Fitness is 24 hours.

Although I miss Iron Legacy in Myrtle Beach, my new gym is growing on me. If you are looking for a safe and accessible place to exercise during COVID times, consider Snap Fitness. Don’t Blink.

Bean Me Up Thursday Rundown

Good evening, friends. Looks like you are giving me yet another chance to entertain you with my latest Thursday Rundown. Hope I don’t bore you all to death again. Let’s go…

Free Coffee – My highlight of the week came at the very start of it. Sidney’s favorite espresso stand, Bean Me Up, chose us as the winners of a social media promotion it held. To enter you had to share something to your Instagram Story and comment on a Bean Me Up post with the name of your favorite coffee date. The winner would earn a $20 gift card and the person tagged would win a $10 gift card. Of course I entered the contest and lo and behold I won. That’s means a lot of free white chocolate mochas for Sid and hopefully a lotus drink or two for me.

A Bean Me Up barista announced that we had won the contest via the coffee shop’s Instagram Story.

Amy’s Donuts – Sure, it may have ripped off Dunkin Donuts’ colors, but it didn’t touch its recipe. How do I know? Because Amy’s Donuts tastes waaaay better than Dunkin. Since I now live in the Valley as opposed to the Northside, I had to find another donut shop to replace my beloved Retro Donuts. After church this past Sunday, my brother encouraged me to stop by Amy’s and give it a try. I got a chocolate peanut butter donut for me, an Oreo mocha donut for Sid, and an Elmo donut for Sloan. We all loved them. If you are in the Valley and need something sweet, stop by the quirky shop on Sprague.

Amy’s Donuts might look like Dunkin from afar, but it is much better.

Playgrounds – This week, the moment after I clocked off work, I would take Sloan to a playground to blow off some steam. It is a lot of fun for both of us to visit places we have never been before. We tried out a couple new playgrounds this week. We first played at Edgecliff Park, a heavily shaded large area with a charming playground, a ball field, splash pad, plenty of shelter for cookouts, basketball hoops, and much more. The next day we scoped out the playground at Sheridan Elementary. This playground was a little smaller than Edgecliff but still offered some fun elements, including two different sets of monkey bars that Sloan especially enjoyed. We look forward to continuing our Spokane Valley playground tour.

The top photos are of Sloan at Edgecliff Park and the bottom photos are of her at Sheridan Elementary.

Remote for Fall – Today, we announced that classes will (for the most part) be remote at Washington State University this fall. I feel bad for the students who won’t get a traditional on-campus experience this autumn but it is for the safety and sanity of everyone in our WSU community. The method with which instruction will be delivered at all levels of education is a sensitive and anxiety-ridden decision that parents and students are feeling all across the nation. I can only hope that administrators nationwide make the best decision for their communities.

We announced today that the majority of Fall 2020 classes will be online at Washington State University.

The Week in Movies – After writing about cutting the cord yesterday, I think it is only appropriate to report on the movies I watched via our Fire TV Stick this past week. We finally watched “Hamilton” which I thought was excellent. As an American history buff, I thought it was witty, catchy, and educational. I watched “Django Unchained” with my brother and loved the acting but not necessarily the violence…typical Tarantino film. Sid and I watched “For Love or Money” with Michael J. Fox which was a fun take on the hotel industry, especially the concierge grind. Finally, last night I finished up “Donnie Brasco,” which I found to be your pretty typical mob movie although Johnny Depp was pretty good in it.

I thought “Hamilton” was superb.

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I am going to skedaddle. End your week strong and as I plea at the end of all my Thursday Rundowns, please pray for a coronavirus vaccine. Don’t Blink.

Proud Cord Cutters

We had talked about it for a couple years, but it took a move across the country to finally pull the plug…or should I say cord? When Sidney and I moved into our new house, we decided not to get cable.

In a different time, I would find such a proposition to be completely preposterous. What about my sports? My shows? My Weather Channel? But that was an era long ago and in this present age there are just too many reasons not to get cable than reasons to pay for it.

For Christmas, Sidney’s mom gave us a couple Fire TV Sticks and those things are fueling our television watching. To be honest, just having Netflix alone is probably more than enough but on our Fire Sticks we also have Disney +, NBC, and a great news app. The amount of content on these channels is enough to satisfy us for roughly the next 200 years.

We love our Fire TV Stick.

Over the past few days, I will admit it has been a little weird turning on the TV and not being able to browse a cable lineup. But just because I can’t access ESPN or CNN via a traditional cable plan doesn’t mean I can’t retrieve the gist of its content. I can easily download those network’s corresponding apps on our Fire Stick or simply pull out my phone and follow their social media channels to stay up to date in the sporting and news world. To say that a cable subscription is necessary to stay current and entertained is a straight up misconception.

There is another saving grace when it comes to these media streaming devices. It is called YouTube. If you are craving content that you normally would watch on cable, chances are you can access it just by pulling up YouTube on your TV. I am a big EWTN fan and all the programming I would watch on the cable station can be easily viewed on YouTube, including daily mass. In many ways, it is like nothing has changed. Our TV is still pumping out pretty much everything we watched on cable, we just aren’t paying for it.

If you are looking for a way to save some money each month, eliminating cable might be the way to go. Investing in a media streaming device and at least one subscription to a streaming service will save you cash almost immediately. I don’t know about you, but we are proud cord cutters. Don’t Blink.

Feeling Good

If there has been a personal positive result from the COVID-19 pandemic, and please know that I say this with the utmost sensitivity because I know this event has been so vicious to so many, it has been that my health has improved. Now I realize that statement in and of itself also sounds presumptuous given all the people who have fallen ill. But, because of social distancing and geographic factors, I have never felt better.

From March through today, I have not been sick once. As someone who develops a cold or allergies at the very least once every two months, it has been extremely nice to have lived in such physical comfort for the past 140 days. Especially since I view the symptoms that assault my immune system as particularly nasty (but doesn’t everyone?) I have tried not to take this reprieve for granted.

There really is something to be said about the effectiveness of social distancing. I attribute my longest clean bill of health in large part to the fact that I have just not been around people as much. Not reporting to an office each day or finding myself in the middle of crowds has done wonders for my health. To not have had a stuffy nose for five straight months is an amazing and refreshing feat for my body.

However, for those who think I am trying to push a political agenda with my personal success story of social distancing, I am not. Believe it or not, I also attribute my current favorable health to my physical location.

For nearly six years I fell victim to the allergens floating in the air in South Carolina. They beat my butt and made certain stretches in the spring very tough on me. Although Washington has its fair share of challenges for allergy sufferers, my body has never been impacted by them. For whatever reason, my system prefers the air of the Northwest to that of the South.

I hope that my body continues to take advantage of the current opportune conditions. At the same time, I think and pray for those who are struggling much more than I did pre-pandemic when I felt a cold was unbearable or allergies too intense. I definitely have it good now but I did back then as well. Don’t Blink.