Happy 13th Ordination Anniversary, Dear Friend

It is a special day for our pastor and friend.

Today, Fr. Jeff Lewis celebrates the 13th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. On May 26, 2011, he answered God’s call and became a living sacrament of Christ when Cardinal Blaise Cupich ordained him a priest for service within the Catholic Diocese of Spokane.

Fr. Jeff celebrates 13 years of priestly ministry today. He was ordained by Cardinal Blaise Cupich on May 26, 2011.

When I wrote about Fr. Jeff’s 12th anniversary of ordination a year ago, little did I know all he would do between that time and today. It certainly has been a banner year for our family priest. Over the past 52 weeks, Fr. Jeff delivered an incredible talk at SEEK, launched a parish-wide evangelization challenge, produced major increases in average weekend mass attendance, made a grand slam principal hire that positively changed the trajectory of our school, and so much more.

Fr. Jeff receives the gifts from Sloan during a St. Mary School mass just a few weeks ago.

However, this year’s ordination blog post isn’t about delving into his many successes as pastor of St. Mary Parish. Nor is it to highlight his numerous priestly merits (I did that last year). Rather, the purpose of this year’s post is to thank him for being such a good friend.

Fr. Jeff has a close relationship with Sloan and Beau. My kids think the world of him.

In the four years that we have known Fr. Jeff, he has always nourished our family with the sacraments and sound spiritual direction. Over the course of this time we have also had the pleasure of getting to know him on a personal level. Thanks be to God, he has always been just a text message away for our family. But this past year we grew even closer and our friendship blossomed.

We are blessed to call Fr. Jeff a dear family friend. (photo courtesy of Carl Lockwood).

When I look back on the past 12 months, it seems like many of our family’s memorable events included Fr. Jeff. From spending Hoopfest weekend together to watching Cougar football in Pullman to “guy’s night” at the rectory to birthday parties to dinners, we have had the blessing of enjoying these good times alongside Fr. Jeff.

We joined Fr. Jeff Lewis and other St. Mary friends on a fun road trip to watch the Washington State University football team defeat the University of Colorado.

There is nothing like hanging out in a seemingly “non-parish” public situation with Fr. Jeff. Although we might be outside the walls of the physical St. Mary church, he is truly always on call as a disciple of Christ. This is evidenced by the many people who approach him for counsel, request a blessing, or call out “FATHER” when walking in a crowd (alright, Fr. Jeff is really tall so he does stand out).

Achieving success during Hoopfest 2023 was great but spending the weekend with Fr. Jeff in-between games was just as awesome.

What I am trying to say is that being a friend of a priest is eye-opening because you are constantly reminded of how much they are needed. Observing this firsthand via our friendship with Fr. Jeff has not only underscored the importance of priestly vocation but has left little doubt about how much our tall friend cherishes his.

Sidney sits next to Fr. Jeff during a break in action during Hoopfest 2023 (and of course Sloan had to be close by as well 😂). It was so cool to see so many approach Fr. Jeff during that weekend.

For all the great times we had with Fr. Jeff over the past year, the undisputed highlight came just last week. Sidney and I had the blessing of presenting with him at the latest Spokane Diocese Engaged Encounter retreat. Over the course of three days, we worked together to deliver five different marriage-based presentations to 14 engaged couples. I would say the chemistry between the three of us was pretty evident 😉. To minister with our friend in such an intimate and important way was pretty special.

The last night of our Engaged Encounter retreat, we had a little celebration for Fr. Jeff after all the programing was done for the day. What a blessed weekend it was!

As Fr. Jeff celebrates his anniversary today, I know there are scores of parishioners—both from St. Mary and his past parishes—who are celebrating his 13 years of priestly service too. Count us in that bunch! For our family, we are celebrating a priest who gladly eats our cooking, humorously inserts Sloan’s name into mass, and gladly accepts Beau’s hugs. We are also thanking God for a priest who genuinely cares for our salvation. Whether Fr. Jeff is saying a mass for our family, hearing our confessions, blessing our house, or doing a multitude of other things, we know his desire is that we make it to Heaven.

Fr. Jeff blessed our house in September. We know our salvation means a lot to him.

Throughout this past year, I have heard Fr. Jeff express how he is filled with joy and peace for the gift of his priesthood. As he embarks on the next 13 years of his priestly ministry (and the next 13 years after that, etc.), I hope the Holy Spirit continues to swell those blessed fruits within him. Please pray for our friend. Don’t Blink.

Presenting With My Wife At Engaged Encounter

This past weekend, Sidney and I strengthened our marital vocation in the most blessed way. We presented at our first Engaged Encounter retreat. 🙏

Many of you know that Sid and I prepare engaged couples within our parish for marriage on an individual basis. But in June 2022, we joined another marriage-based ministry—Engaged Encounter. This is an international Catholic organization that stages weekend-long retreats for engaged couples. Our pastor, Fr. Jeff Lewis, invited us to join the Spokane Diocese chapter.

After a year of attending our Engaged Encounter monthly meetings and serving in support roles at the retreats, we timidly told our chapter’s leadership that we wanted to present at one. In June of 2023, Ric and Cindy Gaunt came to our house and planted the seeds for doing so. They ran us through what was expected, highlighted the presentations we would be responsible for, and provided us the materials to start preparing. We circled the March 1-3 retreat on our calendar!

We told our Engaged Encounter leadership that we wanted to present.

The next eight months passed quickly, with the latter half of those months heavily devoted to Engaged Encounter retreat prep. Sidney and I had to write our presentations, build slide decks, and practice! By the time this past Friday rolled around, although nervous, we were chomping at the bit to present.

The retreat took place at the Immaculate Heart Retreat Center in south Spokane. Although the quarters were a little cramped, I sure enjoyed having the time away with Sid.

Engaged Encounter retreats are presented by two couples and a priest at the Immaculate Heart Retreat Center in south Spokane. There is a senior couple and a junior couple. We served as the junior couple and were paired with an incredible senior couple with 38 years of marriage under their belts—Joe and Natalie Schroeder.

Sidney and I at our Engaged Encounter weekend retreat. After months of preparing, we got to present!

Completing our weekend team was a priest who I had looked up to for a long time. Fr. Pat Kerst, who will celebrate his 34th anniversary of ordination in May, sacrificed a busy Lenten weekend at his home parish of St. Thomas More to serve at this retreat. As a boy, I would listen to him say mass at St. Francis of Assisi in Walla Walla while I sat in the pew with my grandparents (a decade later he would preside at my grandma’s funeral). During my last couple years in Myrtle Beach I would listen to a podcast he contributed to. By the time I moved back to Spokane, he was the pastor at my parents’ home parish. Known for his personal and impactful preaching style, Sidney and I knew we would have to bring our “A” games to keep up with him.

We had 13 couples attend our retreat weekend, a healthy number for the current state of the Engaged Encounter ministry in eastern Washington. It was a lot of fun to meet these 26 soon-to-be newlyweds and learn about when and what church they were going to get married in. But after the introductions and the well-wishes concluded, reality set in: We now had to actually provide these couples with something useful.

Sidney and I were responsible for six presentations throughout the weekend. Using specific examples from our own marriage, we delivered talks on understanding oneself, communication, decision-making, unity, conflict resolution, and betrothal. The Schroeders presented on a host of other equally important marital topics while Fr. Pat provided his invaluable insight during each presentation. As a person who can get nervous enough just doing one presentation, doing a half dozen seemed pretty daunting. But with Sidney on my team and God’s abundant grace, it was much more of a blessed experience as opposed to a scary one.

Sidney presenting at the March 1-3 Engaged Encounter weekend while Fr. Pat Kerst and Joe Schroeder look on.

But the weekend wasn’t just about presentations. We watched videos, shared meals, and did activities. Confession was offered and the chapel was always open for prayer. On Saturday night, Fr. Pat offered mass. It was an intimate and beautiful way for our group to come together and celebrate the source and summit of Christian life.

It was gratifying to see the 13 engaged couples respond so well to everything we threw at them. Sidney and I really enjoyed getting to know the couples better as the weekend went on. We admired the overall humility, appreciation, and faith that was displayed. It wasn’t lost on us that they were giving up an entire weekend to sit inside the walls of a 1950s retreat house when they could be doing so many other things. Thanks be to God for their prioritization.

We had an incredible group of committed couples who brought plenty of faith and willingness to learn to the retreat.

Besides becoming acquainted with the couples preparing to be married, it was a complete pleasure to bond with the other members of our team. Collaborating with the Schroeders was extremely rewarding. They supported us immensely through our first weekend and we learned so much from the presentations they gave. The marriage that Joe and Natalie live out is one that Sid and I aspire to emulate. To share the stage with Fr. Pat was a thrill. Like I said, I have spent my whole life watching him and listening to him. But those nearly 34 years in front of congregation after congregation has surely not inflated his ego—Fr. Pat is as humble as they come! It was so special to see that up close.

This was our March 1-3, 2024 Engaged Encounter weekend team. What a pleasure it was to present with the Shroeders and Fr. Pat Kearst.

As I write this after allowing the weekend’s adrenaline to wear off and the significance to sink in, I just feel blessed for the opportunity Sidney and I were given. Thanks to Fr. Jeff for inviting us into the Engaged Encounter community, Ric and Cindy Gaunt for giving us the opportunity to present, Joe and Natalie Schroeder for teaming up with us, Fr. Pat for leading our weekend team, and everyone else in our EE chapter who so warmly welcomed us. Special thanks to my wife for being the best presenting partner ever! And, of course, praise to God for the grace to undertake such an intensive but worthwhile ministry. We can’t wait to present again. Don’t Blink.

Blue Cotton Candy Thursday Rundown

How lucky am I? It is Thursday and that means the pleasure is mine to offer five random topics for your reading entertainment. Let’s get started…

Beautiful Anniversary – Tomorrow will mark the 4-year anniversary of when we brought Beau home from the NICU! What a joyous day it was. Thanks to all the doctors, nurses, and staff who gave our little guy the absolute best care while he was a patient at the McLeod Health NICU Unit in Florence, SC. To learn more about Beau’s birth, the challenges he faced, Sid’s emotional ride, and the role our faith played, tap here. Thanks be to God!

This was the incubator that Beau rode in to the NICU.

Daddy/Daughter Dance – This past Friday was the annual St. Mary Catholic School Daddy/Daughter Dance. I shared photos on my social media accounts and made this video of the incredible time I had with Sloan. I will have an official dance photo to share in the near future but I thought for tonight’s post I would include some photos from dinner. Is there any question about where we went? Of course it was Red Robin (for like the 97th time since 2021).

Red Robin for the win! We double-dated with Sloan’s classmate, Colie, and her dad.

Cotton Candy Mess – My wife may have threatened my sister when she saw the mess Beau made with the cotton candy portion of his Valentine’s Day gift. The threat went along the lines of, “Miranda, if you ever give my kids cotton candy again, you will die a slow and painful death.” Verdict is still out on whether she really meant it or not 😂.

Beau made a big ‘ol mess with his cotton candy.

National Wisconsin Day – I am sad (actually, I’m not) to say that I have never been to Wisconsin before. But even though I have never stepped foot inside the state, I still feel like I have a connection. This past fall I wrote about my history with the University of Wisconsin. On two different occasions, I saw the Badgers play in the NCAA Tournament. The first time was when I was working for the University of Montana and we played UW in Albuquerque. The second time was when I was working Coastal Carolina University and we played them in Omaha. Then, this past football season, WSU hosted Wisconsin in Pullman. I had the opportunity to produce a video of Badger fans trying our famous Cougar Gold cheese. So, to the whole state of Wisconsin…I salute you.

This is me at the 2012 NCAA Tournament when Montana played Wisconsin in Albuquerque.

Lenten Anecdote – After my Lenten blog posts this week (here and here), I wanted to offer one final observation. I had the pleasure of attending the school mass at St. Mary yesterday with Sloan. These services are always a treat because Fr. Jeff Lewis always preaches so genuinely to the students. During his homily he noted that sometimes we frame Lent as simply a sprint to Easter Sunday and then afterwards we go back to our old ways. He challenged us to use Lent as a “boot camp” to prepare us for Easter but to also get us in shape for life post-Easter as well. Basically, what we do during Lent should draw us closer to God on a permanent basis—not just during these 40 days.

Fr. Jeff Lewis distributes ashes to a St. Mary student (photo from 2020 and courtesy of St. Mary).

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Thank you for your interest in Don’t Blink. Wishing you a fabulous weekend with plenty of relaxation mixed in. Don’t Blink.

2023: WE HERE

In November, Sidney and I had the opportunity to go to Pullman to watch the Washington State University football team host Coach Prime and the University of Colorado. When we walked on campus, we couldn’t help but notice the Colorado equipment truck parked near the fieldhouse. The back of the vehicle featured an image of Deion Sanders with his arms crossed in his signature shades with the phrase “WE COMING” written boldly across it.

The Cougars pummeled the Buffaloes that night. WSU was confident, prepared, and protective of their home turf. As we passed the truck on the way out of the stadium, Sidney and I couldn’t help but say “WE HERE.”

Ironically enough, even though we quipped that phrase on behalf of Cougar Nation, there might not be two better words that explain the Resers in 2023.

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The year 2023 will be remembered as the period in which we embraced our community, made a big commitment, and laid down roots. Surprisingly enough, for such a big year, things started out pretty quiet.

What a year it was for our family in 2023.

After such a tumultuous beginning to 2022, it was a smooth (and kind of boring) start to 2023. We threw my dad a retirement party in early January and then coasted through those first couple months. Probably the most exciting thing we did was upgrade from a queen bed to a king bed 😂. When spring arrived, the tempo started to pick up, beyond just my Bloomsday PR. We had our hearts set on a purchase even bigger than a new mattress. For the first time, we were seriously looking to buy a new house. So in between watching Sloan play t-ball and testing out the latest TikTok hacks, we were looking at homes. Thankfully we found something we liked.

My dad stands with the trophy that his employees presented to him at his retirement party.

Summer arrived and things heated up both figuratively and literally. While winter was laid back, summer was insanely busy. We attended multiple weddings, hosted Sidney’s parents, went on vacation, didn’t have a free weekend, and—oh yeah—closed on and moved into a new house. Autumn was also slammed. Both our children started at the same school, we traveled to Missoula for a Griz football weekend, Sloan played soccer, work was chaotic with the implosion of the PAC-12, I presented in Chicago at the AMAs, and we visited Myrtle Beach to spend Thanksgiving with Sidney’s family.

We had a ton of fun on our family vacation to Seabrook.

Of course there was much more to the year than that two paragraph rundown but I think that at least gives you an idea of the past 12 months, right?

When I truly reflect on 2023, I think of two unique themes. The first one is satisfaction. I know the popular adage is to never be satisfied, but I think we allowed ourselves in the second half of the year to be just that. With a home of our own, jobs we are fortunate to have, and both kids attending the same outstanding school, we permitted ourselves to be content. We have more goals and much to improve upon, but we took time to just be thankful.

We bought a house in 2023. During the second half of the year, we tried to be satisfied.

The second theme for us is unity. Sidney and I touch on this a lot with the engaged couples we mentor, but we specifically heeded it ourselves in 2023. The decision to purchase a home was part of other future plans that required Sid and I to be committed and united. We also had the blessing to take on some projects as a couple that required steadfast unity and teamwork. We are a force and so happy to be on the same team!

Unity was key for Sid and I in 2023.

In addition to those two unique themes of 2023, the same three values I highlight every year continued to be key for the Resers…

I start with family where it all begins with our Reser quartet. The four of us had a great collective year as we played, read, prayed, worshipped, ate, watched, and traveled together. A highlight was going on a vacation that necessitated we spend a lot of time in the car together. Driving to the other side of Washington and back gave us a lot of time to bond while the actual vacation on the beach was filled with memories. Speaking of driving, we made a road trip to Oregon for my cousin’s wedding that essentially doubled as an extended Reser family reunion. Before and after the nuptials, we stayed in a hotel where we shared a wing of rooms with my parents, my sister’s family, and my brother and his wife. When we weren’t spending time together in a random out-of-state hotel, you could usually find us all at my mom and dad’s house enjoying cookouts, celebrating holidays, and watching games. Hosting Sid’s parents in June was so nice and then flying to Myrtle Beach to spend time with Sid’s sisters and their families sure was a treat, especially after two years. Whether nuclear or extended family, we valued every moment we had together.

I thank my family for another great year.

Our journey to one day reach our heavenly home was hopefully bolstered by this past year. What a big role our faith played in 2023! Sidney and I mentored three engaged couples and continued our work with Engaged Encounter. Sidney organized a retreat for our Young Adult Catholic Group and I retained my involvement with the Knights of Columbus and our Catholic Men’s Group. We became godparents and explored a year-long theme of evangelization. I attended our diocese’s Eucharistic Revival event with Sloan and represented St. Mary at Hoopfest as our team of parishioners reached the championship game of our bracket. We had a blast at many family faith nights and enriched our prayer lives at home. I listened to the entirety of Fr. Mike Schmitz’s Catechism In A Year podcast. Through it all, St. Mary Catholic Church and School continue to be our epicenter for growing closer to God. We extend our gratitude to Fr. Jeff Lewis for his dispensing of the holy sacraments and his unwavering commitment to the St. Mary community.

Sloan and Beau stand outside St. Mary Catholic School on their first day of school on Sept. 5, 2023.

When it comes to career, Sidney definitely deserves to be mentioned first in 2023! She thrived in her first full year with Traveler’s Insurance as she continues to impress her bosses and receive high marks from her customers. She is used by the company as an example of “what to do” when it comes to training new employees. I had a very busy and somewhat tumultuous year. Our small but mighty marketing and communications team dealt with some major issues including the Idaho murder suspect, the implosion of the Pac-12, and college ranking messaging. But when I wasn’t arrow-focused on our comms efforts and was in my element doing marketing, it was another exhilarating 12 months. I ran point on our paid social media strategy for all nine installments of our #GoCougsMeans brand marketing campaign, oversaw an initiative that recognized WSU’s top senior grads, collaborated with the video team on some really cool projects, traveled to Chicago to present at a major higher ed conference, and managed to win our department’s personal trivia challenge at our holiday party this month 😂.

I presented at the American Marketing Association Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Ed in Chicago in Nov. 2023.

But as I said last year, my job is so great because I am allowed to be a father, husband, and child of God before I am a WSU employee. I love being a Coug, but there is a reason why the career portion of this blog post always comes after the family and faith portions. I am extremely thankful to my boss for always making sure that this is the case.

I feel lucky that family and faith come before work (photo courtesy of Ocean Simpson).

Time to send 2023 out with a bang as we savor these last couple days. As I wrap up this blog post, I feel extremely blessed that everyone within our extended families are healthy and that everyone who started 2023 with us will join us in 2024 as well. From just about every vantage point—whether it be from a physical, mental, faith, or foundational standpoint—I feel it is appropriate to exclaim WE HERE!! Thanks be to God for the past 365 days. Don’t Blink.

My Top 10 Blog Posts of 2023

Another Don’t Blink tradition celebrates its 10th rendition and it just so happens to be the biggest tradition of all. Today I present “The Big Blog Post”—my annual evaluation of the top 10 blog posts from the past 12 months. This end-of-year entry aims to recognize my most memorable and best work from the calendar year in an organized and fun fashion.

But it never is easy.

In 2023 I wrote 185 entries, a figure that bests the quantity of posts I wrote the previous four years (2019: 165 posts, 2020: 172 posts, 2021: 173 posts, 2022: 180 posts). Needless to say, signaling out 5% of the posts and then ranking them is no simple task.

However, as difficult as it may be, I do try my best. And when I say “my best,” I mean that I don’t pick and rank my top blog posts on total views and other vanity metrics. Instead, I make my picks solely based on what I feel is my best and/or most impactful writings. So let’s get to it…

10. Streaks (February 27) – This post cracks my top 10 because I feel it does a great job of explaining me. As a Type A personality who craves routine and wants to make sure everything is organized/planned, I depend on streaks to keep me on-task and challenged. I find motivation in simply doing something one day because I did it the previous day (and the day before that etc.). In this post I coined my obsession as streakism and shed light on some of the current streaks I was engaged with at the time. I also was frank that streakism can be good but also harmful if you let streaks rule your life and define whether you have a good day or not.

My Timehop streak is over 2,340 days.

9. Donut or Doughnut? (September 19) – A big question deserves a spot on the big countdown. Perhaps investigating whether America’s favorite pastry is spelled “donut” or “doughnut” might not be a big deal to you, but it kept me up at night. In this particular blog post I diplomatically laid out the merits for both spellings. If nothing else came of this post it might not have seen the light of day on this countdown but here is where things got really interesting: an actual donut business owner responded! Did I give away which spelling he sided with? Jon Fine, owner of Retro Donuts in Spokane, said that most of these pastries in question should be spelled “donut” because most of them aren’t made with actual “dough.” You can check out the post for the detailed explanation but Jon’s expertise made this blog post one of the best of the year.

Raise your hands if you know how to spell “donut.”

8. Third Year at WSU (March 16) – I will forever be grateful to WSU for the incredible employment opportunity I was given so whenever I write about my job it has special meaning to me. In this blog post I recapped my third year as a Coug and summarized it with one word: progress. I described how I “wasn’t new anymore” and that my third year was also an emergence of sorts as I “crept from behind the anonymity of the screen to the front of conference rooms” thanks to the lifting of COVID restrictions.

I had numerous speaking engagements in my third year at WSU, but none more important than my presentation with colleagues at the American Marketing Association’s Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Ed.

7. Vanity Tipping (April 18) – If you are looking for a post where my mild-mannered self became a little unhinged, you found it. In mid-April a shameless solicitation for a tip at a Papa Murphy’s restaurant put me so over the edge that I had to sound off. I blasted the current day gratuity culture that guilts you into tipping for everything, whether it be preparing your own froyo cup or paying for bowling. The passion that I injected into this blog post and my still-firm belief that tipping has catapulted out of control lands it a spot on this countdown.

I was given the opportunity to tip at the bowling alley earlier this month. It is out of control.

6. Happy 12th Ordination Anniversary, Fr. Jeff (May 26) – A very special man had become a regular in many of my blog posts over the past few years that it made sense to finally devote an entire entry to him. When Fr. Jeff Lewis’ ordination anniversary approached in May, I jumped at the chance to do just that. I commemorated the occasion by describing the amazing impact he has had on our family. Not only has “Papa J” brought the four of us closer to Christ but he has become one of our best friends. What a blessing it is to have him in our lives!

On Friday, May 26, 2023, Fr. Jeff Lewis celebrated his 12th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.

5. The Ice Cream Fruit Roll Up Hack (April 17) – One of the many TikTok hacks we attempted this year, the ice cream Fruit Roll Up hack actually exceeded my expectation. The Fruit Roll Up molded into a hard shell around the ice cream that produced a satisfying crunch and delicious taste when bit into. But the successful experiment itself is just a portion of why this blog post made the countdown, let alone found itself in a very respectable mid-spot. The reason why this post stood out is because the photography complements the writing. I wanted to make sure the photos I took chronicled the steps to pull off the hack and were also visually appealing. I think I accomplished that as this post was by far the one that used imagery most effectively in 2023.

The use of imagery played a big role in landing this blog post in the countdown.

4. Blessed By The Sacraments (June 11) – Our wedding anniversary will never be the same. This year we did more than just celebrate the date we tied the knot as we marked it by attending a baptism. And we didn’t just “witness” it as spectators—we participated in it as godparents! Ryan and Allyson Andrade made our year by asking us to be the godparents of their baby boy, Noble Josiah Andrade. This blog post underscored the even greater importance that June 11 now holds in our hearts. Whenever this date rolls around in the future, Sid and I will reflect on it as a day truly blessed in the sacraments for us with both the graces of holy matrimony and holy baptism.

Sidney and I became godparents to Noble Andrade. Fr. Jeff Lewis of St. Mary Catholic Church in the Spokane Valley performed the baptism. Noble is the son of Ryan and Allyson Andrade (photo courtesy of Rachael and Josh Photography).

3. Mary Reser: A Mead High School Legend (June 16)* – At the conclusion of the 2022-23 school year, my mom retired after 21 years at Mead High School. She spent those 2+ decades in the Developmental Learning Center (DLC) helping students with disabilities. I wrote this blog post to illustrate the talent, patience, and kindness that she displayed every single day in that classroom. I also described some of the typical situations my mom mastered with absolute grace and I took the reader through her last few minutes on the job when my dad, sister, brother, and I walked her off the campus for the final time. Mead High School is not the same without her.

My mom stands with her co-workers right before she walked off the Mead High School campus as an employee for the last time.

2. Tom Reser: A Devoted and Patriotic Career (January 8)* – My dad hung it up at the very end of 2022 but this blog post in his honor was published at the beginning of January. It was a tribute for the 37 years he devoted to the federal government as he helped thousands and thousands of our country’s veterans. Whether it was making sure they received benefits, housing, medical care, and so much more, my dad was (and still is) a fierce advocate of the men and women who served the United States of America. This post traced my dad’s career, chronicled the rapport he had with his team, detailed his tireless work on behalf of veterans, and examined his impressive legacy. My dad had a great first year of retirement with many more to come which is good—because he deserves it!

Besides helping thousands and thousands of other people, this guy taught me what it means to be a professional

1. Hoopfest 2023: More Than A T-Shirt (June 26) – An unforgettable weekend transpired at the end of June with a Hoopfest experience for the ages. Even though our St. Mary team had success on the court as we made the championship, our run to the title game was but a footnote. In my #1 blog post of 2023, I wrote about how we played for more than just wins. Four of us—JJ Nazzaro, Ryan Andrade, Amy Martin, and myself—were out on the hot downtown Spokane streets to give thanks to God, pay special devotion to our Blessed Mother, and promote the Catholic faith. In addition to the four of us, Fr. Jeff Lewis and our families also played key roles in our successful tourney run by being present for every game. From the basketball action to the bonding to the testimonies of our faith to the special mass after the tournament, this blog post captured the entirety of an incredible couple of days and is by far my favorite blog post of 2023.

There was no doubt that my 2023 Hoopfest blog post would be #1.

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This annual countdown is usually a challenge to put together but I must say the “top 3” was pretty straight forward for me this year. Thanks to everyone who takes time to read Don’t Blink. Your support is a main reason why I have invested more than 10 years into this project. I plan to continue to write in 2024 but I can never guarantee the frequency or quality 😂. I hope you will return here tomorrow for my final blog post of the year as I reflect on 2023. Don’t Blink.

* It was a tie between these two blog posts. Because one post had to come first, I flipped a coin to determine the order.

Past Annual Top Blog Post Entries
My Top 10 Blog Posts of 2022
My Top 10 Blog Posts of 2021
My Top 10 Blog Posts of 2020
My Top 10 Blog Posts of 2019
My Top 10 Blog Posts of 2018
My Top 10 Blog Posts of 2017
My Top 10 Blog Posts of 2016
My Top 10 Blog Posts of 2015
My Top 10 Blog Posts of 2014

Learning About Marriage From Bishop William Skylstad

This past Saturday I had the blessing of listening to one of my early Catholic role models speak to a small group of us at St. Mary Catholic Church.

Bishop William Skylstad, who led the Spokane Diocese from 1990-2010 while also serving as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, devoted his morning to speaking to our small group about marriage.

As some of you know, Sidney and I provide Pre-Cana/marriage prep counseling to engaged couples. We received this incredible opportunity from Fr. Jeff Lewis, our pastor at St. Mary Catholic Church. Although we should be the ones thanking Fr. Jeff for this blessing, he wanted to thank all sponsor couples in our parish with this exclusive audience with Bishop Skylstad.

I was a mere few feet from Bishop William Skylstad on November, 18, 2023, at St. Mary Catholic Church in the Spokane Valley.

During our three-hour visit with the 89-year-old Bishop Emeritus, he touched on many marital points and freely distributed advice while focusing on three themes: “The Call,” sacrament, and communication. Although I could recap the intricacies of this trio of topics, I just wanted to touch on three of the finer points he made…

Help make your spouse who they are made to be. We can become so focused on trying to change our wife/husband according to our own ideal on how we think they should be. Instead, it should be our mission and duty to help our spouse realize their true, authentic self that was molded by God.

Communication is key in marriage but realize what it is comprised of. Bishop Skylstad said that 60% of marital communication is conveyed nonverbally, 20% is through tone of voice, and the remainder is the actual content. I can say unequivocally that Bishop is right. Sid and I can say whatever we want to each other but if it is expressed in a way that doesn’t match our nonverbal cues than it will fall on deaf ears.

We don’t love/preach from perfection, we love/preach from redemption. Bishop Skylstad said numerous times during Saturday morning that no marriage is perfect. We can’t become discouraged when we encounter obstacles in our marriages but we must learn from them and grow from them.

A look at our group huddled inside St. Mary Catholic Church in the Spokane Valley just a few moments before Bishop William Skylstad started his third talk.

Thank you, Bishop Skylstad, for your precious time. What an honor it was to be mere feet from the man I usually saw on the news or from afar in packed churches. Don’t Blink.

High Dive Thursday Rundown

Have you walked outside in the early morning this week and felt it? By it, I mean the crispness in the air that is reminding us that autumn is on its way. Let’s take a look at tonight’s five topics…

House Blessing – Last night we had a special visitor as Fr. Jeff Lewis, our pastor at St. Mary Catholic Church in the Spokane Valley, came over for dinner. Well, the evening was about much more than just eating chicken bog with us. His primary reason for dropping by was to bless our house. He went to each room in our home and sprinkled it with holy water and applied sacramental oils. The house blessing is a way to protect our home from both internal and external forces while inviting the Holy Spirit into our residence to promote family life. You are the best, Fr. Jeff!

Fr. Jeff takes a photo with our family after he blessed our house.

Bishop Fleming With Pope Francis – This photo is everything. When I attended the University of Montana, the priest in charge of the Newman Center and pastor of the parish in the University District was Fr. Jeff Fleming. Since the many years after I graduated, we have kept touch via social media. I was ecstatic when Pope Francis appointed him as the Bishop of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings last year. Recently, Bishop Fleming visited Rome for Bishops School and met with Pope Francis. I love how authentic and joyful this photo is. Please pray for Bishop Fleming as he continues his very important vocation.

Bishop Jeff Fleming greets Pope Francis in Rome. When I was in college, then-Fr. Jeff was the priest of the University of Montana Newman Center.

Diving Act – Our family visited the Spokane Interstate Fair last Friday and besides all the rides and food we enjoyed, something else stood out. We watched an extraordinary diving act presented by Milord Entertainment. The show was delivered via a police academy theme and we couldn’t believe some of the dives these performers were making. The most memorable moment was the grand finale when the emcee climbed up 80 feet and gracefully dove into the water tank below. We were amazed!

The Top Cop high dive show by Milord Entertainment at the Spokane Interstate Fair was awesome!

Donut vs. Doughnut Explanation – On Tuesday I wrote about the great “donut” vs. “doughnut” debate. I expressed my support for the former spelling and later that night I received some major firepower to back up my preference. Jon Fine is the owner of Retro Donuts in north Spokane, my favorite donut shop in the whole world. He gave a very technical and logical response about why our favorite morning treats should mostly be spelled as “donuts.”

I mean, how do you argue with this response?

Bad Lobster Chowder – Earlier this year, I mentioned I have only seen three movies more than once in the theater. “Jurassic Park” and “Rise of the Guardians” happen to be two of them. The third? Well, “Titanic” of course. Last night I learned an interesting tidbit from the filming of the movie. One evening the crew ordered some late-night lobster chowder but it didn’t exactly hit the spot. Someone had spiked it with PCP! Numerous people were hospitalized including director James Cameron. Those working on the movie didn’t allow the sabotage to sink their film—we all know that “Titanic” went on to become a box office smash.

James Cameron speaks with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Look how young Leo is! (photo courtesy of @historyinmemes)

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That puts another Thursday Rundown in the books. A wedding weekend in Oregon awaits our family and perhaps I will have an experience or two to write about when I return. Take care, everyone. Don’t Blink.

#QuinnTheDay

This past Saturday, our family had the blessing to attend a special wedding. We sat inside St. Mary Catholic Church as Brendan Quinn and Sarah Hiller entered into the sacrament of holy matrimony. We became part of the lives of Brendan and Sarah when Fr. Jeff Lewis asked us to provide their Pre-Cana marriage prep counseling. It was a very rewarding few months for all involved as we went through six content lessons plus an introductory meeting and then a casual debrief session at a Spokane Valley Mexican restaurant with Fr. Jeff.

A photo of us with Brendan, Sarah, and Fr. Jeff in March. This was taken at De Leon Foods in the Spokane Valley at the conclusion of our marriage prep program with the Quinns.

We were delighted and honored that Brendan and Sarah extended the relationship we had forged by inviting us to their special day. The entire afternoon/evening was beautiful but here are three quick things that I remember especially fondly from the #QuinnTheDay experience.

Sidney and I pose for a photo with Brendan and Sarah at their wedding reception.

Holy Wedding – Whenever I attend a Catholic wedding, I am always in awe at the reverence devoted to the most holy sacrament of matrimony. Saturday’s mass was incredible and such a fantastic start for the Quinns. In Fr. Jeff’s homily, he preached how God made woman as the perfect complement to man. However, he illustrated this point in the direct context of Sarah and Brendan which was pretty hilarious. Brendan was portrayed as a golf-obsessed cave man and Sarah was the woman who carried him out of the stone age 😂.

Sarah and Brendan up at the altar with Fr. Jeff Lewis. Sarah and Brendan were married at St. Mary Catholic Church in Spokane Valley on July 22, 2023.

Sidney on the Altar – Brendan and Sarah humbled Sid and I by asking if one of us would do the opening reading at their wedding. Believing that the guests would be more captivated by a sweet Southern accent proclaiming God’s word instead of my boring, accent-neutral monotone, Sidney represented us. She read Genesis 2:18-24 and did a really nice job. Sidney has expressed interest in becoming a full-time lector at St. Mary for regular Sunday masses and this was a perfect way for her to get a taste of what it takes…I think she has it!

Sidney delivers a reading at the wedding of Sarah and Brendan at St. Mary Catholic Church in the Spokane Valley.

Butch Appearance – The reception was at Center Place in Spokane Valley and it was so much fun! Sloan and Beau had a blast dancing the night away and the food/drink was such a treat. But what really stood out was the ultimate wedding reception surprise of all! Early on, the DJ teased that a special guest was about to make an appearance. At that moment, the WSU fight song started to play and Butch T. Cougar ran out onto the dance floor, a grand entrance indeed! Butch stayed for a couple hours as he interacted with guests, posed for pictures in the photo booth, and gave plenty of well-deserved attention to the Coug-crazed bride and groom. Both my kids were starstruck!

A big highlight of the #QuinnTheDay experience was Butch. What a surprise!!

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Sidney and I wish the Quinns a happy, faith-filled marriage. It is worth saying again: We are so blessed to be part of their lives. Don’t Blink.

Hoopfest 2023: More Than A T-Shirt

Going into Hoopfest 2023, I was just hoping for a win. When the dust settled on Sunday, I felt like our team scored many more victories than just quadrupling the on-court win total I was crossing my fingers for.

I felt like our team overachieved in a pretty competitive bracket. People in this photo include (from l-r) JJ Nazzaro, Amy Martin, Fr. Jeff Lewis, me, and Ryan Andrade.

How It Went Down On The Court

What an experience this past weekend was. The St. Mary Squad started off the tournament on Saturday morning with a tough 20-15 loss to the Rez Runnaz. We knew the team we played was pretty decent and didn’t let the small setback get us down. We would win our 12:30 p.m. game (20-14) and then return the next day ready for a big run.

A look at our finalized bracket. We came through the loser’s bracket to play in the championship game.

Our team notched two comfortable victories early Sunday morning and then held on for a victory at noon to successfully seal our loser’s bracket odyssey to the championship game. For the title we played our opening round opponent—the Rez Runnaz. After playing three games seemingly back-to-back-to-back we had little gas left in the tank for the team that was undefeated and had last played at 10 a.m. Although we fell short, we had secured second place and a coveted finalist t-shirt.

We brought home a t-shirt! Ryan, Amy, myself, and JJ sport our finalist t-shirts in front of the Hoopfest backdrop on Sunday afternoon (photo courtesy of Amy).

But just a little bit of context about all those victories: I didn’t have too much to do with them. My St. Mary Squad teammates and fellow Young Adult Catholic members were simply spectacular. Everything started with our lead scorer and athletic specimen JJ Nazzaro. Then we had our 2-point ace Ryan Andrade who would answer the 1-point baskets of our opponents with bombs from downtown. Last but definitely not least, we had our team’s heart and soul—Amy Martin. Because of Hoopfest co-ed rules, a member of the opposite sex must always be on the court so that meant Amy played every single minute of all six games we competed in. Not only did she have the guts to go the distance, but she was an incredible contributor on both sides of the ball and never stopped hustling.

Ryan’s flawless shooting form is captured as he drains a 2-point basket.

Me? I was the fourth man who would give JJ and Ryan breaks while trying to play some defense and pull down a rebound or two. It was an honor to share the court with my teammates.

Even though I contributed the least to our team, I am pretty sure my kids thought I was the MVP 😂

Playing For More Than Hoopfest Glory

But enough about our on-court exploits and team scouting report. Hoopfest 2023 was so special because our St. Mary team was playing for more than a t-shirt.

Our team came together because we wanted to give thanks to God, pay special devotion to our Blessed Mother, and promote the Catholic faith. Helping us with this mission was Fr. Jeff Lewis, our pastor at St. Mary in Spokane Valley. At coffee and donuts one Sunday as our team was starting to come together, Fr. Jeff said that St. Mary would sponsor us once our roster was finalized. However, our dedicated priest did so much more than just make sure that our registration and uniforms were paid for.

Fr. Jeff Lewis poses with our team after the first day of the tournament. What a blessing it was to have him as our team chaplain.

Fr. Jeff rode the shuttle downtown with us, cheered our team on from the sidelines, and hung out with us after the games. But most importantly, he was there as our dedicated team chaplain. He led us in prayer before/after each game, had the materials in his pocket to distribute the anointing of the sick if needed, and was on-hand to give blessings and answer questions to the numerous people who approached him. Regarding prayer, as Ryan said, it was such a peaceful way to begin and end competition while at the same time drawing other people in. In fact, before the tournament was over, we had everyone praying with us from an opponent to our kids to the court monitor.

Fr. Jeff Lewis rides the STA Hoop Loop shuttle with us after the Sunday games.

This mission to put God before Hoopfest glory motivated those associated with our team to make sacrifices. Fr. Jeff gave up his Sunday morning masses to accompany us. Ryan and JJ both left their close-knit Hoopfest teams to play for the St. Mary Squad. And Amy played through serious knee issues. What selfless commitments from some truly great people.

Amy, Sloan, Sid, and Fr. Jeff walk through Riverfront Park on Sunday. Fr. Jeff hung out with us throughout the tournament.

Team Bonding

Because we were all so invested in this opportunity, it came as no surprise that we had such a fulfilling experience that went beyond the streets of downtown Spokane. Prior to this weekend, we got together for a couple of practices. We also had a lively text thread that was full of planning, joking, and anticipating (sorry for all the countdown texts, guys).

Perhaps I was a little too excited to play in Hoopfest.

Between our first and second games on Saturday, Sidney provided us all refuge from the heat by taking us to the break room of her work which happens to be in the heart of the downtown area. The four of us, some of our families, Fr. Jeff, and Fr. David Gaines took time to just relax and chat. Some of this break was spent talking about faith matters and some of it was spent talking about other things. But it all equated to some really nice fellowship.

Thanks to my wife’s connections, we had access to an air conditioned “team room” where we could find relief from the baking hot streets of downtown Spokane. In this photo, Fr. David Gaines and Fr. Jeff Lewis join the four of us and some of our families for a nice break.

Later that night, Sidney and I hosted a cookout at our house. Once again, us players and our families came together for more fellowship on a beautiful evening. In fact, do you want to know how close this Hoopfest experience has brought us together? We were all comfortable enough to play the game Stir the Pot as a big group. Don’t know what that is? Look it up! 😂

We had a team cookout on Saturday night that was pretty dang relaxing.

Finally, the icing on the cake was that when the tournament was over, we gathered for mass that night. With Fr. Jeff’s permission, we wore our finalist t-shirts to the service and he even incorporated our team’s Hoopfest success into his homily.

Holding up the number “2” after earning second place in our bracket. What a great weekend it was.

Gratitude

Before I close out this post, just a few shout outs: First and foremost, thanks to our families. Whether they were supporting us at the games or watching children at home, I know the four of us really appreciated the opportunity to concentrate on our six games we played throughout the weekend. Thanks to our spectacular court monitor, Keith Miner, and his daughter/scorekeeper, Maddie, for taking such superb care of our bracket. These fellow St. Mary parishioners always kept everything under control and applied all the rules perfectly. And finally, thanks to St. Mary for the sponsorship of our team.

Special thanks to my wife for all she did to prepare/take care of our family during the Hoopfest weekend.

I am grateful for the special Hoopfest opportunity I had this year. Amy, JJ, and Ryan…thanks for making our team work and for putting up with my less than stellar basketball skills. Fr. Jeff…you went above and beyond for us, thank you. Now, with all that said, who is sore?!

Thanks be to God. Don’t Blink.

Back For Hoopfest 2023

I’m back! After not winning a game in Hoopfest last year, I am returning to Spokane’s signature event in search of a “W.” This weekend I will hoop it up on the streets of Spokane at the same Main and Post location I played at last year. But not everything will be the same…

I hold the 2023 Hoopfest player shirt while Sloan holds the Inlander Hoopfet guide.

This year I have a new team. With my siblings caught up in other obligations, I had to find different teammates. Luckily, I wasn’t a free agent for long. Instead of playing with my biological family this year, I am playing with my faith family. For Hoopfest 2023, I am representing St. Mary Parish and School with my good friends Amy Martin, Ryan Andrade, and JJ Nazzaro. We are bringing our love of competition and God to our bracket.

This year we are playing on the T-Mobile court. When I was downtown at Team Check-In yesterday I found our backboard. It is quite…pink.

A cool thing about our team is that we are legitimately sponsored by St. Mary. Fr. Jeff Lewis made sure that not just our registration fee was covered but our uniforms too. The tops we will be sporting this weekend have the St. Mary Spokane Valley logo on the front and a different Marian title special to each of us on the back.

Amy with our Hoopfest uniforms. I am wearing the Fatima top. Amy’s top pays tribute to Our Lady Undoer of Knots.

We begin our Hoopfest quest at 10 a.m. on Saturday. You can find us on the T-Mobile court right in front of the P.F. Chang’s restaurant on Main. Depending on the outcome of our first game, we will play at either 12:30 p.m. or 1:30 p.m. and then will resume our ballin’ on Sunday. Insert our official team name (St. Mary Squad) into the Hoopfest app to follow our progress or just come watch us in-person.

This is our bracket. Come watch!

Thank you to St. Mary for allowing us to represent our faith-filled community this weekend. Let us pray that everyone participating in Hoopfest has a safe tournament. Hope to see you on the court! Don’t Blink.