Brent’s Top 5 Songs of 2018

Where has 2018 gone? We have reached that point in time for me to deliver my second most beloved Don’t Blink December tradition. Tonight I employ my impressive music credentials (psych! I don’t have any) and countdown my best 5 favorite songs of the year.

I have the same gripe this year as I have had for basically every other song countdown in the past: minimal prospects. I had to take a couple days to really reflect on songs I enjoyed over the last 11.5 months and I am sorry to say I was scraping the bottom of the barrel. 

Perhaps the lack of depth makes the 2018 countdown interesting? Sorry, had to see if I could spin it some way. Enough with the rambling! Here is Brent’s Best 5 Songs of 2018.

5. “No Tears Left to Cry” – Ariana Grande

When I heard this song in May, I looked at Sidney in the car and said “This just sounds like summer.” In the ensuing few months it would be our soundtrack for the season. Whenever the track came on the radio, we embraced the catchy tune and jammed out to it as the air conditioner roared and our tires gobbled up sun-soaked pavement.

“No Tears Left to Cry” is just so fun, so addictive, and so Ariana! I never wanted to say “thank u, next” to this song because it represented such a fun and carefree time of the year.

4. “One Kiss” – Dua Lipa and Calvin Harris

What a year Dua Lipa had! It seemed like she had multiple major singles playing simultaneously on the radio throughout the past 12 months. I liked them all but “One Kiss” stood out to me. She never overperformed the lyrics and just seemed to let her natural talent shine through from the moment she entered the song after that long instrumental intro. Dua Lipa has a distinctive, recognizable voice and I think it fit perfectly for this song.

Of course the true star of “One Kiss” is the talented Calvin Harris. The beat of this song will take you on a ride! The intro and verses are slow and then the chorus speeds up, providing an interesting listening experience. With an old school feel, the track even made someone who never has the desire to dance (me) want to dance.

3. “Girls Like You” – Maroon 5 f. Cardi B

Looking back on 2018, if there is one song I heard more than any other, it has to be “Girls Like You.” Luckily for me, I really like it! This song has an incredibly smooth beat that lends itself to easy and reflective listening. “Girls Like You” could come on the radio and immediately relax me, allowing me to tolerate the nasty Myrtle Beach traffic and be at ease.

The guitar strings, the long notes, and the “yeah yeahs” make this song stand out. It is original and meaningful. But fear not, I am not giving Maroon 5 full credit for the success of “Girls Like You.” Cardi B comes through with the best guest vocal collaboration of 2018. Who doesn’t anticipate her entrance into the song and who doesn’t blurt out So who you gonna call? Cardi, Cardi. Come and rev it up like a Harley, Harley. She brings value to “Girls Like You” and makes a good song even better.

2. “In the Middle” – Zedd, Maren Morris

Although it isn’t my personal best song of the year (see below) or the song I heard the most on the radio during 2018 (see above), I think “In the Middle” could very well be classified as America’s song of the year. Talk about staying power! It was released in January but can be heard regularly on the radio to this day. Of course this is all for good reason. “In the Middle” is a superb song, good enough for the runner up spot on my list.

Catchy and straight forward, “In the Middle” is a track you want to sing along with. Who doesn’t jump in when Maren Morris sings Take a seat or Take a step? Not unlike fellow DJ Calvin Harris, Zedd is a master at creating a beat that takes the listener on a journey, switching up the melody throughout the track. This is definitely on display with this song as Zedd provides different components throughout the three minutes, allowing Morris to impactfully tell a story.

Speaking of Morris, can we talk about her for just one minute? She is a country singer – you know that, right? The fact that she was able to crossover and perform “In the Middle” in a way that got so many people addicted to the song is a big testament to her. And trust me, she isn’t a wishy-washy Taylor Swift country singer either – she is hardcore. Just listen to her newest single, “Rich.” It is about as country as you can get (and an extremely good song). Great work to both artists on this collaboration and I will make sure to meet all of my readers in the middle!

1. “Woman, Amen” – Dierks Bentley

Pride. That is the word I think of when I hear this song and I am not even talking about the lyrics yet. Listen to the melody and rhythm of “Woman, Amen” and you know right away that you have a special song. It is upbeat but not over the top; powerful but not overbearing. Like seriously, if I ever put together another slideshow of Sloan, I could use the “Woman, Amen” track without lyrics and be very satisfied.

But of course it is the lyrics that makes “Woman, Amen” my undisputed favorite song of 2018. You outdid yourself with this one, Dierks. Calling the song “more of a prayer” than a song, it is an homage to his wife…and that is an understatement. When Dierks played this song to his better half for the first time she must have melted and given him unconditional forgiveness for every single stupid guy thing he is bound to do for the rest of his life. It is honestly that beautiful. I wouldn’t be surprised if she has it eternally on replay throughout their house.

Even if we didn’t write the song, I think us other guys can sure appreciate it. I know I do. I mean come on, just listen to the lyrics…

Every night I should be on my knees/Lord knows how lucky I am/I’ll never say it near enough/Thank God, for this woman, amen.

Or what about…

Thanks for the moon and the stars up above/Forgiveness of sin and your undying love/Every twist, every turn for the way you made sure/All my roads led to her.

Okay, I could quote the whole song if I wanted to but I will stop there. Let me just say this: “Woman, Amen” motivates me to want to be the best husband humanely possible. It has given me a spark throughout the year and I thank Dierks (and God) for that.

Dierks Bentley knocked it out of the park with “Woman, Amen.”

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Another year of music in the books! Who knows what 2019 will bring but right now I think I am going to slip away and listen to a certain song. Don’t Blink.

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

Thursday Rundown in Honor of George H.W. Bush

It’s beginning to feel like the holidays! Our calendar for this month is insane with fun activities and celebrations but I am never too busy to write the Thursday Rundown. Ready or not, here are five topics…

Work Corner – Earlier this week, I was interviewed by WMBF about fake news. A recent untrue local story had made the rounds on social media, sparking the motivation for the story. Throughout my discussion with reporter Erin Edwards, my main point was simple: Yes, the social media giants are doing more than ever to combat the posting and spreading of fake news. However, spammers will always be one step ahead. We must take personal responsibility for not sharing or retweeting content that is fake. All it takes is a couple minutes to verify whether a story is real. Sensational headlines and sketchy URLs are dead giveaways about the authenticity of a story. When in doubt, find another source that corroborates the piece by doing a Google search or just asking a friend. We need to be informed, responsible citizens.

In other news, #CCUSocialMedia recently won silver in the W3 Awards. We entered our #PopCHANTet Texts campaign in the social content & marketing category. Although I prefer gold, I thought this recognition was noteworthy for two reasons. First, the trophy is really sweet. Second, the W3 Awards is not exclusive to higher education but open to marketing professionals in all industries across the country. As this was a user-generated content campaign, all credit goes to #TEALnation for enthusiastically participating.

Me holding the W3 silver award for social content and marketing.

Quick Laugh – You see jokes like this all the time. An elderly person is assumed to have co-existed with a historic figure during his/her lifetime. However, this cliché gag gets a spot in tonight’s blog post because it has a holiday twist and because I love Family Circus.

Poor grandma!

RIP George H.W. Bush – Regrettably, I have not watched as much coverage of President H.W. Bush’s life tributes and funeral ceremonies as I would have liked. However, one thing made me a bit emotional. When President Bush (#41) died, President Bush (#43) released a voiceover tribute. During it, he stated his dad’s most pressing question to his minister: When I make it to Heaven, will my daughter still be young or will she have turned old? George and Barbara had a 3-year-old daughter who died of Leukemia in the 1950s. Understandably, Bush never got over it. His question about her heavenly state made me tear up a bit as I thought about what it would feel like to lose a daughter so young and how it would be on your mind every day for the rest of your life. May President Bush, his wife, Barbara, and their daughter, Robin, all rest in peace.

George H.W. Bush with his daughter, Robin.

Top 5 Favorite Songs of the Year – Get ready everyone, my annual blog post listing my favorite songs of the year will drop next week. To get you in the mood, I wanted to share two previous versions that I posted on this date in the past. I published both my 2015 and 2017 lists on December 6. Do you think you can predict any of the songs I will be including on this year’s countdown? Let me know if you think you have an idea.

500 Days – Many of you might not be familiar with social media streaks so I apologize for ending this Rundown with a bummer of a topic. However, can you understand doing something 500 days in a row? Although “doing something” in this case consists of only opening an app, I am proud (or maybe a little embarrassed) to say that I have viewed my daily Timehop report for 503 straight days (I hit the 500 mark on Monday). I have had some close calls but I have been committed to keeping this streak going as long as possible. Expect me to devote an entire blog post to my streak when it hits 1,000 days on April 16, 2020.

I tweeted about my “accomplishment” on Monday morning.

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We have an exciting weekend coming up filled with church events, a birthday celebration, and other social gatherings. I hope your first week in December went well and that you are well on your way to ending 2018 on a strong note. Don’t Blink.

Sloan’s Santa Issues

Last night, Coastal Carolina University hosted one of my favorite events of the year. At the beginning of December, the President’s Office hosts the Holiday Park Lighting, an event that commemorates the start of the holiday season at CCU. Santa makes an appearance and a “switch” is flipped that activates thousands of holiday lights, illuminating Blanton Park (a signature area of campus). Our University goes all out as attendees enjoy heavy appetizers, seasonal treats, holiday activities, festive music, and much more.

The Blanton Park Holiday Lighting event is one of the best times of the year. The s’mores station is always a big hit!

Another main draw of the event is for kids to meet Santa. Graciously, St. Nick donates a couple hours of his time on this evening to sit in his chair on the steps of Singleton Building and meet all the little Chants. The experience allows our future Chanticleers to not only speak to Santa but to meet Chauncey as well.

Last night, Sloan attended the Holiday Park Lighting with Sid. After I finished my work responsibilities covering it, I was able to meet my girls and enjoy the rest of the event in a personal capacity as opposed to a professional one. We had a blast eating mac and cheese, scarfing down cupcakes, playing around the Blanton Park fountain, admiring the s’mores station, and kicking the soccer ball. As the evening started to draw to a close, I couldn’t help but ask Sid if Sloan could meet Santa. This was a loaded question for one main reason…

Our family at the Blanton Park Holiday Lighting last night.

Sloan has Santa issues.

Last year, she had a meltdown when we took her to meet Santa for the first time. We went to get our Christmas card photos taken at a tree farm. Sloan, 8 months at the time, did fine when we slyly let Santa hold her but the moment she realized whose lap she was in, the tears started to flow.

Sloan did not enjoy Santa last year (photo courtesy of Erin Dietrich).

This year, we went to the same Christmas tree farm and took photos with the same Santa…and got the SAME results. Once again, Sloan started to lose it the moment he tried to touch her (no photos of this experience until we send out all our Christmas cards).

So the third time is the charm, right? I was hoping that perhaps the different setting would make her more receptive to Father Christmas. We stood in line with our good friend and next door neighbor, Ellen, and her daughter, Riley. The duo went first and showed Sloan that there was nothing to be scared of. Would it rub off on her?

Sloan loved waving to Santa from a distance and didn’t mind standing near him with Riley by her side. But actually sitting on his lap? That is a different story.

No, no no….

It was the same story this year with Sloan and Santa.

Sloan freaked out again, helping to produce the above classic photo. Perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised. Millions of kids who haven’t turned 2 yet are petrified of Santa. After all, what about a bearded fat guy decked out in red pajamas is endearing to a toddler?

Don’t feel too bad for Sloan…Santa gave her a sucker and she was back to her normal, happy self.

I am not giving up though! My Knights of Columbus chapter is hosting a “Breakfast with Santa” social at St. Andrew after all masses this upcoming Sunday. Will Sloan overcome her fear this time around? It is worth noting that when I was a kid, it was always assumed that the Santa who appeared at these Knights of Columbus events was the real one. Will Santa’s authenticity calm her nerves? Well, to be honest, we will probably take it slow. This breakfast might be more of a chance for Sloan to simply observe at a distance as opposed to sitting on his lap. We shall see and I promise to report back on how it goes.

Do you have any tips on how to make a toddler more receptive to Santa? If so, let me know. Although there might be some really scary looking mall Santas out there, I want to communicate to my daughter that there is nothing to be afraid of. Don’t Blink.

My Top 5 Favorite Christmas Movies

We are exactly three weeks away from Christmas and that means we are now in prime holiday movie season! I have some Christmas classics that I love, and some that I loathe, but tonight we are focusing on those that succeed in giving me that warm Yuletide feeling. Here is my list (I am checking it twice) of my top 5 favorite Christmas movies.

5. A Christmas Vacation – Every year, Sidney and I sit down with mugs of hot chocolate and howl as we watch “A Christmas Vacation.” No Christmas movie is as quotable or hilarious as this one. The film has some iconic scenes and gives us all a warning of the disappointment that may occur if you try too hard to make a holiday perfect. This movie established the Griswolds as a classic American family and gave us something that is 98% sure to be on TV at any given time during the month of December.

4. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer – This movie does carry with it a bit of nostalgia. We knew the Christmas season had arrived when my parents let us stay up late (which meant past 8 p.m.) to watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer when CBS would air it at the beginning of the month. But aside from watching it every year during my childhood, I think it is a well-done Christmas movie in general. Sure, the animation is a bit weird, but the music and the voices of the characters are outstanding. The story itself is engaging and it will take you on an emotional roller coaster. The past two years I have had the chance to watch bits and pieces of it with Sloan.

3. A Christmas Carol – Give me any of the 28 different versions of “A Christmas Carol” because I love them all. Charles Dickens did such a masterful job writing this classic that no rendition could ruin the basic premise that is already in place. This tale teaches such an important moral lesson that it can never be discarded. Sure, it is a dark movie with depressing themes and even scary moments, but it truly is important to watch (and it has a happy ending!). The ghosts can be offsetting to some but I think they give the movie character. Did I mention the writing is excellent?

2. Home Alone – Another nostalgic moment coming your way….I remember watching “Home Alone” multiple years with my cousins during Thanksgiving weekend, sometimes feeling a bit scared by the next door neighbor, “Old Man Marley.” Although I am no longer scared of him, I still like the movie as much now as I did back then. “Home Alone” just feels like Christmas to me. I think it was beautifully shot and you just really feel the holiday vibe whether it be the scenes in Kevin’s neighborhood or the scenes of the family navigating airport travel. Of course nothing can beat the scene of Kevin defending his house from the robbers. Didn’t we all put ourselves in that situation and visualize setting all those booby traps? But I especially like “Home Alone” because of the musical score and the scene in the church with Kevin and “Old Man Marley.” As the choir performs “O Holy Night” in the background, both individuals help each other out to discover the true meaning of Christmas. It is beautiful and always brings a tear to my eye.

1. Miracle on 34th Street (1947 version) – I think “Miracle on 34th Street” is the perfect embodiment of Christmas in Americana. Terrific acting, engaging plot, romance, and magic…it has it all! I especially like how the movie covers the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and takes you all the way through Christmas. What more can you say about the actor who plays Santa? Even 71 years later, I still identify his depiction of Santa as the most relevant and genuine version that you can get. This movie stands the test of time and proves that you are never too old to believe in Santa.

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Take the Brent Christmas Movie Challenge…starting next Monday, watch “A Christmas Vacation” and continue by going through the entire list until you end with “Miracle on 34th Street” on Friday. I guarantee that by then you will be in the holiday spirit. Don’t Blink.

A Christmas Tree Change

Those of you who read this blog regularly know I love Christmas trees. I have written extensively about the past two trees (2016 and 2017) that Sid and I welcomed into our home. Well, I am about to write about the third, but this year there is a major change…

We got a fake tree!!

Sid (and Sloan) taking our fake tree out of the box.

I resisted an artificial tree for a long time but we finally “went fake” on Thanksgiving weekend. Sid got a screaming deal at Lowe’s so we purchased a tree that will hopefully be around for many Christmases to come. I will miss the unbeatable pine smell and uniqueness of the real thing, but I look forward to the convenience and cost savings of the artificial tree.

Sloan and I in front of our new artificial tree.

Want to know someone who doesn’t care one way or the other?

SLOAN!

Our beautiful tree!

It doesn’t matter if the tree was cut down in our backyard or pulled out from a box, as long as Sloan has branches to hang pretty ornaments on, she is happier than Santa Claus with cookies.

Sloan loves hanging ornaments from the tree.

Sidney said it was like Sloan was “on crack” when we started to decorate the tree. I gave her an ornament to hang and the second she completed the task she was crying out for another ornament and excitedly clasping her hands together to express the word “more” in sign language. It went on like this one ornament after the other. After the tree was fully decorated and there was nothing left to hang, she didn’t give up. She went right up to the fake evergreen and started ripping off ornaments so she could put them back on the tree. Never mind that some of them are glass and others carry sentimental value, our daughter needs her Yuletide fix.

Sloan helped her mama decorate the tree.

It has gone on like this for two days. A few ornaments, including a #CCU decoration and a really cool snowman piece, have met their demise. Evidenced by some bare spots on the bottom of the tree, several additional ornaments are now missing around the house. By the time Christmas arrives, we expect that the casualty count will be high.

He lived a good life…

But it is all in good fun. I can spare a few ornaments if it means that Sloan is enjoying the tree and experiencing a little bit of Christmas magic. The tree might be fake, but those special ornaments hanging on the branches still carry the story of our family and that is about as real as it gets. Don’t Blink.

Final November Thursday Rundown

The Thursday Rundown took a hiatus last week as I ate turkey and watched football. But have no fear, I am back to squeeze in one final blog post this November. So before the last month of 2018 arrives, let’s get to tonight’s five topics.

Most Liked Instagram Photo – It is usually a good day for me when a photo I post to my own Instagram account receives 50 likes. Well, I smashed my own personal record late last week. This photo taken at my baptism over 30 years ago garnered 284 likes, easily a new record for a single post. Father Adrian van der Heijden baptized me at St. Francis of Assisi in Walla Walla, WA. Besides Father van der Heijden and myself, you have my parents and my godparents in the photo as well.

A look at the Instagram image that registered the most likes for my personal account. I was baptized at St. Francis of Assisi in Walla Walla.

Sloan’s Christmas Tree – Tonight, Sidney’s mom (Sloan’s “Gami”) brought over a personal mini Christmas tree for our little girl. Gami and Sloan decorated the tree together, making it look beautiful. What a nice project for them to complete! Next week I hope to write a blog post about the slightly bigger Christmas tree we have in our house this year. Stay tuned!

A photo of Sloan decorating her mini tree with her Gami tonight.

Advent – This upcoming Sunday will usher in Advent. For those not familiar, this special time on the Christian calendar counts down the four Sundays before Christmas. While Advent definitely helps us prepare for Christmas itself and the birth of baby Jesus, it also helps us reflect and anticipate the second coming of Christ. During mass, Catholics will light an Advent wreath. These wreaths have four candles and one is lit each Sunday. Many Catholic families have their own personal Advent wreaths in their homes as well.

Advent begins on Sunday.

YUCK! – I am embarrassed to admit this, but here it goes…
I ate pumpkin pie with mold on it this past weekend. Not only that, but I obliviously tweeted a photo of the piece I chomped down just seconds before I ate it. I did notice the white specks, but I thought they were just flour or sugar spots. I mean, it was Saturday and the pie was opened just two days earlier on Thanksgiving. Mold can’t grow that fast, right? Sidney informed me otherwise when she looked at the pie a day later and exclaimed “Disgusting! This pie has mold on it.” After I told her that I ate a slice, she made sure I wasn’t gravely sick…and then she made fun of me profusely.

The “proof that I am actually doing it” tweet was in reference to another tweet I sent asking if it was appropriate to eat pumpkin pie in the middle of the day. I didn’t realize those white spots were mold until Sidney told me.

Respect Before Rivalry – Because I am from the great state of Washington, I follow the Apple Cup, an annual rivalry game that features Washington State University and the University of Washington. Just like all the other big time rivalry games, this series is downright bitter. However, a more tender side was on display over the weekend. The Husky marching band was traveling to Pullman (site of the game) when icy conditions led to one of the buses in the contingent overturning. Although no life threatening injuries occurred, plenty of the students on board were injured and taken to the hospital. The band decided not to continue its trip. Instead, the group stayed in the area where the accident happened in a little town called George. While Washington State fans around the area brought food to the University of Washington band, the Washington State band also did something pretty neat. The Cougar musicians stepped up in the absence of the Husky musicians and practiced the UW fight song so they could play it throughout the game. A genuine classy act of sportsmanship and compassion if I do say so myself.

Pure class by Washington State University.

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Enjoy your final couple days of November! Hold your family tight and make good choices. Don’t Blink.

Our Aldi Shopping Experience

This past weekend, we went to a Christmas tree farm out in the country to get our holiday photo taken. As we were leaving town, we drove past an Aldi grocery store. It sparked the interest of Sidney and I. We had a lively discussion about what we knew about the chain as we looked it up on Wikipedia. When we concluded with our photos, the reality set in that we still needed to do our Sunday shopping. It seemed like a good week to take a break from Walmart.

“You want to try out, Aldi?” I asked.
“Sure,” replied Sidney.

A photo I took of the Myrtle Beach Aldi store we visited on Sunday.

If you have never heard of it before, Aldi is a German-based supermarket chain. In recent years, hundreds of stores have popped up on American soil. Even in the United States, all Aldi locations employ a very European grocery store model. A world traveler herself, Sid knew what to expect upon going in. Myself, on the other hand, who has never ventured to a European country before, didn’t know much about what I would encounter aside from the research I did in the car.

First, let me just list the big differences that are very well-documented about Aldi (and many other European grocery stores). Yes, it is true – you put down a deposit to use a shopping cart. Upon entering the store, you slide a quarter into a cart that is “chained up” outside. Once the coin is inserted, you are able to free the cart and wheel it into the store.

It might come as a shock to some, but you pay for your own grocery bags. Upon checkout, you choose how many you want. The price, 10 cents per bag, is added to your shopping total. The bags you purchase are of a higher quality than the typical plastic sack you get for free at a normal grocery store. Wait, you think an employee will actually pack your groceries in the nice bags you just bought? Please. The cashier, who sits down at the register, is only there to ring you up. Once you have paid, you go straight ahead to an area with a long shelf to bag your own groceries. On the way out you return your car and receive your quarter back.

Sidney bagging our groceries after we checked out at Aldi.

Alright, so now you are up to speed on entering and exiting an Aldi. Let me now tell you about what you are really interested in: the actual shopping experience.

My first thought when entering the Myrtle Beach Aldi? This place is small! It reminded me more of a large deli than a grocery store. But the store is small for a reason. Aldi locations are supplied with the company’s generic brands and typically only one premium brand. Contrast this with the overwhelming options you have for everything from hot sauce to bread to ice cream at an average U.S. supermarket and you can see how Aldi can get away with small stores.

A photo I snapped of inside the Myrtle Beach Aldi.

I also noticed the basic, no frills set up of the Aldi location we visited. Forget about elaborate displays and sensory overload – at Aldi you have aisles, shelves, and product. You can forget about bakeries, specialty delis, large produce sections, or walk-in beer coolers. Think of it as distraction free shopping.

Along the same lines of the distraction free atmosphere, you won’t lose your focus people watching. When we were doing our shopping, we weren’t fighting crowds. Even with a stroller, we had no issue maneuvering through the aisles, something that caught me by surprise since it was a Sunday afternoon. But then it made sense…Aldi prides itself on efficiency. Because customers only have a couple options to choose from and because time is saved with the store’s no bagging policy, people come and go at a quick rate. Beware, customers aren’t the only individuals in short supply – if my eyes served me correctly, I only saw a single employee in the store and she was the lone cashier on duty.

The lone Aldi employee who seemed to be working on Sunday afternoon (I could have easily missed other workers).

The last thing I will touch on are the prices. Aldi is classified as a discount grocer and I would wholeheartedly agree. I found the Aldi generic products to be very similar to Walmart generic products. However, some of the name brand offerings seemed marked up in comparison to what you would pay elsewhere. Take soda for example. Aldi only offers Coke products to compete with its own soda. I found a 12-pack of Diet Coke to be almost $5 compared to the $2.99 price that is common at Walmart. However, despite the top dollar prices for top dollar brands, you can still save a lot of money at Aldi. Although I think Walmart is probably cheaper, the efficient shopping experience at Aldi might be worth the few extra dollars you might find yourself paying compared to the zoo you would find at Wally’s World.

Our shopping experience at Aldi was unique! It definitely is not your Albertsons, Food Lion, Kroger, or Safeway. If you want low prices and convenience with an international flavor mixed in, give Aldi a try. Don’t Blink.

The Best Inexpensive Gift of the 2018 Holiday Season

With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror, it is full speed ahead as we approach Christmas (29 days away). As people start to purchase presents, I wanted to offer a cheap, yet useful, gift idea.

It will probably go down as the best Chinese gift exchange item we ever took home! Last holiday season, Sidney scored an LED cinema lightbox at the Mathis extended family Christmas gathering. An LED cinema WHAT, you might ask? Okay, take the fancy wording out and what you have is your own personal marquee.

An LED Cinema Lightbox is a great gift idea this holiday season.

The first time I ever saw such a thing was at my sister-in-law’s house just prior to the 2017 holiday season. I thought it was really cool! Stephanie must have read my mind because she bought an additional one to contribute at the Christmas gathering. The stars aligned and Sid was holding the item at the end of the night. It didn’t take us long to put it to use.

A look inside the Christmas celebration we had with Sidney’s extended family in 2017. This was moments before the Chinese Gift Exchange got started.

Depending on the brand and model, these personal marquees vary a bit. However, most of them have three text rows and come with a pack of characters (letters, numbers, punctuation marks). You use the text rows to insert the characters to compose whatever message you desire. You then plug the board into a power source and flip a switch to illuminate the board.

This is our personal lightbox and we love it!

These personal marquees look great in the house. Put it in your living room or in the dining room to give your space an added degree of personality. When you have visitors, nothing will make them feel more at home than when they walk in and see the marquee message welcoming them to your abode.

This message greeted my dad when he visited us in October.

But in my opinion, the greatest feature of the personal marquee isn’t just a great decoration for people to see when they physically visit your home. Rather, the LED cinema lightbox is something that can be enjoyed by loved ones and social media followers thousands of miles away. These personal marquees photograph really well and make excellent content for an iPhone group message or an Instagram post. Whenever someone in my family has a birthday or accomplishes something noteworthy, I use the marquee to document it. I then snap a photo and send it off. If I want to wish my Instagram followers a happy holiday or tell a story without using a cheesy graphic, I can turn to the marquee to offer something a bit more creative.

You can use your personal marquee to create great social media content.

Options are limitless. You can use your personal marquee for much more than welcome greetings or birthday wishes. We use ours to chronicle Sloan’s milestones, keep prayers close to our hearts, utilize hashtags, mark vacations, commemorate anniversaries, and so much more. It goes without saying that we were so happy with our marquee that we bought my mom one as part of her birthday gift. She loves it!

You will never run out of ways to use your marquee.

Ready for some good news? I wasn’t lying when I said they are inexpensive. These boards run only $10 and you will most likely get $100 worth of enjoyment out of it after the first month. In my opinion, a personal marquee is the gift that everyone should be bringing to their Chinese gift exchange this year.

When Sidney’s sister (not the one who introduced us to lightboxes) got engaged, we changed our marquee to congratulate the happy couple.

If you are gifting a personal marquee to a specific person, the only thing I would make sure is that they are the type of individual who will actually use it and update it. Think about the marquees you see in front of businesses. Nothing is a bigger eye sore than when you see an advertisement for a sale that ended four months ago or when you see a “Happy Holidays” message in June. This product does require regular maintenance but that is the fun part about it!

Sloan has a lot of fun with our personal marquee.

Hope you mark this down on your list. I thank my sister-in-law for opening our eyes to personal marquees and I look forward to using ours frequently throughout this holiday season. Don’t Blink.

Thanksgiving 2018: Family

Another Thanksgiving holiday is upon us and once again we have the opportunity to truly reflect on what we are thankful for. Sure, it is important to be thankful the other 364 days of the year as well, but I think a day dedicated to the topic allows us to dig a little deeper into our souls.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

At a loss for what to be thankful for this year? Feel free to follow my lead and dedicate Thanksgiving 2018 to family.

It is my hope that most people reading this tonight will be at a table tomorrow with some family – whether that be your own blood, the family of your spouse, or great friends who you have grown to consider as family over the years. During your time together, don’t take for granted the fact that you are surrounded by people who love you. Don’t lose sight for those few hours, that in a world of over 7.7 billion people, you are in the presence of a select number of individuals who value you and care for you more than anyone else. What a beautiful reality.

Many of us have discovered that family is everything. Without our loved ones, we would lack identity, purpose, and motivation. To have those in our lives who nurture us and inspire is the best gift of all.

Now I understand that that some folks might be a little bitter from past transgressions, but that shouldn’t stop your stream of gratitude from flowing, especially on this day. In a society where people will sometimes put greed or ego ahead of family, Thanksgiving is a time to reset. If you genuinely embrace the meaning of the day, you should have a pure holiday. Apologize when necessary, forgive unconditionally.

Tomorrow, I challenge you to do this: throughout the day, constantly let your family know how much they mean to you. Then, during the blessing before your Thanksgiving meal, take note of those around you. While their heads are bowed in prayer, thank God for placing each one in your life. Say this silent prayer of thanks with as much conviction and emotion as possible. When both the communal prayer and your personal prayer conclude, and you look up at those people who you treasure, I guarantee that you will be in the true Thanksgiving spirit.

Have a wonderful holiday, my friends. Don’t Blink.

 

2017 Thanksgiving Blog post

Real Apologies

Last night, I praised the example set by former Navy SEAL and Congressman-elect Dan Crenshaw. The target of a savage joke by a Saturday Night Live cast member, the rising political star didn’t freak out over the nasty jab. Instead of demanding an apology, he did something refreshing and commendable. Stating his belief that political correctness has spun out of control, he said he didn’t need to be told “sorry” each time someone did something that should offend him. Bravo.

Make no mistake about it, I agree with Mr. Crenshaw’s stance 100%. As a society, we need to thicken our skin and tone down our outrage levels. However, let me make this clear: The act of apologizing on a personal, non-political level is still an act of humility that we all must do frequently.

In our lives, we have many relationships: spouses, family members, friends, co-workers, etc. Many of these people we interact with on a daily basis. We do a lot for them and they do a lot for us. Because it is only natural (unless you happen to be a saint), sometimes we do something that fails to either develop or maintain these bonds. In other words, we personally wrong someone. In this instance, an apology is necessary.

As humans, we are great at expecting apologies but not very good at giving them. Admitting fault and asking for someone’s forgiveness is a very humbling act. It is basically an admission of guilt as well as a shot at one’s ego. Who wants to own up to that?!

Well, it isn’t necessarily about us. Rather, it is about the other person. It is about re-establishing the bond by acknowledging to your spouse or friend that an act (or lack of an act) caused some unnecessary pain. It is recognizing a shortcoming and admitting to it. When we confess to this, it shows the other person our commitment to the relationship.

On a different level but with the same theme of humility, it is also important that we apologize to God. We all sin and we all need His forgiveness. It is crucial to constantly pray for God’s pardon and go to confession.

An apology that is a reactionary response to a preconceived notion of what society believes to be tasteful is empty. It is only meant to humiliate and push an agenda. Apologies that come from the heart and are delivered with conviction have meaning. They heal.

As we approach Thanksgiving and the holiday season, find the courage to apologize to someone who deserves to hear it from you. Free your conscience and start the healing process. Don’t Blink.