Making the Most of Florida

Doing my best to reign in my attitude.

Recently Dear Husband and I took a trip that we are calling “Autumn Back East 2021”. Our goal was to visit friends and family, and I wanted to show DH what autumn leaves really look like in a region that isn’t primarily covered in evergreen trees, and introduce him to our nation’s capital.

We flew to Atlanta, picked up a rental car, then drove to Alabama, North Florida, Georgia, Eastern Tennessee, Western North Carolina, and then drove to Washington DC by way of Virginia. Then we flew back home.

It was an amazing trip which lasted 15 days, and since I’m now only blogging every other day, if I gave you a day to day account like I have on trips past, it would take a month, and you’d be heartily sick of the subject before we even left peach country. So I’ve decided to focus on highlights, which I’ll do my best to keep in order. You can find the first post in the series here and a link to the next post in the series, when it becomes available, below.

I had spent 40 years trying to get away from Florida, with its backward politics, its unrelenting heat, and its cockroaches and snakes and fire ants. And yet, here I was, crossing the state line once again. To say I was triggered is putting it mildly. I was fighting a panic attack.

For most of my time in this particular state, I had been lonely, scared, depressed, and desperately poor. I always felt like I didn’t fit in. I was beat up a lot in school, unsupported at home, and underpaid at work. I didn’t want to feel that way again. Not ever. Even worse, I didn’t want Dear Husband to see the person I was back then. It would scare anyone but the most loyal and devoted human on earth, which, fortunately, he is.

Forgive the awful picture. I was freaking out.

We were here to visit friends and family, so I was doing my best to reign in my attitude and look at the positive things. We had only been back in the South for a few days, and already I had noticed a few of those positives that I had forgotten all about.

There were squirrels. Oh, how I miss those. I’ve only seen about 5 in Washington in the past 7 years. I was also looking forward to seeing lizards (actually, anoles, but nobody calls them that). Some of the roads are sparkly. There’s different and familiar signage. The trees are different. The birdsong is different. The stores are familiar and don’t feel foreign. The parking spaces are actually wide enough to park your car in! There seems to be more space in general. The streets are wider. The highways have wider medians and shoulders. There’s more space between businesses.

There’s kudzu everywhere, and most Americans don’t realize that it’s edible, if not sprayed with pesticides. (Here’s how.) That’s a shame, because no one in the South would ever go hungry again. On the other hand, for some reason Florida DOT seems to delight in using Oleanders in their landscaping. I get it: low maintenance, pretty flowers. But they’re also toxic to the point where you shouldn’t even breathe the air if you burn them, let alone touch the sap or ingest any part of them. And please don’t let your dogs near them, either.

Kudzu

I’d forgotten how many billboards there are. You can’t get away from the ugly things. And there are more junk food chain restaurants than you’d see in the Seattle area in a million years. There’s plenty of opportunity to eat unhealthy food in Florida. Oops. There I go, being negative again.

One of the first things we did was buy bananas. I wanted DH to understand why I find the ones we get in Washington State such a crashing disappointment. They must pick them when they’re dark green to travel to Washington, and the result is that they barely have any flavor at all. When DH ate his first Southern banana, he exclaimed that it tasted like banana candy. We ate a lot of bananas on this trip.

North Florida was bringing back a lot of memories. We passed Blackwater River State Park, where I spent a week in summer camp the one and only time I got to go. We passed Eglin Air Force Base, where my oldest sister was once stationed, and where I saw my first burning cross after Cubans were housed here during the Mariel Boatlift. Scary.

Eglin is also where I worked on the Youth Conservation Corps, which I wrote about here. I couldn’t remember where any of my work sites were, and that’s probably for the best. I was really proud of the work I did, and seeing it after 40 years of wear and tear would most likely be heartbreaking.

The Gulf of Mexico is beautiful. I’d forgotten how nice it is to gaze on a body of water and know it will be warm enough to swim in. I wish we had spent more time doing so. Our hotel was in Destin, and a friend of mine says Destin is the place God goes when God goes to the beach. But we didn’t see her anywhere.

We spent our first evening in Florida having dinner with my dear friend Vicky. It was so good to see her after 9 years! I wanted to introduce DH to grouper cheeks, but sadly that restaurant that serves them had gotten taken out by a hurricane. In fact, a lot had changed on this coast. Nature is never kind to Florida. Instead, we ate at Schooners in Panama City Beach. It was wide open, and we had an excellent view of the sunset over the water. We didn’t warn DH until the last possible moment about the cannon they fire off every night at sunset. We did want him to have the opportunity to brace himself and cover his ears, though.

We visited Seaside, Florida, where The Truman Show was filmed. That’s something I had always been meaning to do but never quite did. Like Celebration, Florida (which I wrote about here), it is a community based on the New Urbanism philosophy. Extremely planned, to the point of feeling a bit Stepford Wife-y. Multi-million dollar homes, immaculate shops with cute names like the Blue Giraffe, the Badass Coffee Company, The Surfing Deer, The Perfect Pig, and Pizza by the Sea. Everywhere you looked there were over-privileged teenagers wandering around with nothing to do. The real world will probably hit these kids hard, if they ever see it. Now there’s another overpriced town adjacent to Seaside called Watercolor. More of the same. Cool name, though.

The next day we visited the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park. Think SeaWorld, only smaller. And with an albino alligator! We saw a sea lion show and a dolphin show. It was actually quite crowded, and few people were wearing masks. But it was the ultimate Florida tourism experience.

Then we did something that I’d really been looking forward to for months. We went parasailing! I had done this twice before, once in this very location, and once in Acapulco, so I knew what to expect. It was DH’s first time. We got towed out to the boat on one of those banana boat things. The water was choppy, so I had to cling onto it for dear life with my messed up wrists. That was the only part that scared me.

I highly recommend parasailing. Yes, you’re high up, but you don’t feel like you are. It’s like sitting on a swing. A swing that’s tied to a parachute and 800 feet of line, that’s being towed behind a motor boat, but yeah, a swing. It’s quite peaceful. And of course the views were beautiful. It was wonderful to enjoy the sunshine knowing that we were avoiding two weeks of crappy winter weather in the Pacific Northwest. As he was reeling us in, the captain playfully dunked us in the water as we were nearing the boat. That’s a traditional part of the experience. Refreshing!

We also visited some of the kitschy tourist shops full of plastic sharks and seashells from China. They kind of made me nostalgic, too, oddly enough. Except for the Trump bumper stickers for sale. I could have done without seeing those.

On this Florida leg of our journey, we also got to visit DH’s sisters, who both live in the area with their husbands. It was a pleasure to break bread with them and see their lovely homes. We spent the bulk of our time outside, because we didn’t want to expose anyone to any virus we might have picked up on the airplane.

From there, we went to see one of my oldest, dearest friends, Steve, along with his wife and grandson. I had arranged to meet them at my very favorite place in Florida, Ichetucknee Springs State Park. I wanted to show DH the most beautiful place in the state. That, and I wanted to avoid Jacksonville. I had lived there for 30 years, and for 30 years I struggled to leave. It would be entirely too triggering to go there. Not now. Not yet.

About two hours into our journey, our last hotel called to say that DH had left his laptop behind. Fortunately, his sister was able to pick it up and ship it ahead of us to a FedEx store in Asheville, North Carolina, where we’d be several days later. Crisis averted, but it gives me the opportunity to hit you with a Public Service Announcement: ALWAYS check all the nooks and crannies of your hotel room, even those you think no reasonable person would store stuff in, before checking out!

DH got to meet Steve for the first time as we rafted down the river, past turtles and cranes and cypress knees. The water is not as turquoise blue as it once was, but it did not disappoint. It was a quiet, lazy float. Some of my fondest Florida memories are from this place. Since Ichetucknee is far from the tourist trail, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. (That’s not the case in summer, though, trust me.) Toward the end of our float we punctured our raft on a cypress knee, and I spent the rest of the time trying to hold the hole closed as we slowly sank into the cool spring water. But that, too, is part of the Ichetucknee experience. It kind of made me smile.

Since this bit of paradise is in the middle of nowhere, there weren’t any hotels, so we rented cabins in a campground. Had I known that Steve’s wife is deathly afraid of bugs, I would have made another plan. Not that the cabins were infested, but we were, after all, in the woods. It kind of felt like I was the architect of her torture, and I still feel bad about that. But it was good to have some heart to heart talks with Steve, who gave DH some very high praise, so that made me feel good. His wife liked him, too, and I think that surprised her. Like she herself said, though, she’s seen some of the guys I used to date.

It was sweet, watching DH play with Steve’s 3-year-old grandson. But I’m still glad we don’t have children of our own. It wore me out just watching the little cutie. I don’t know how parents do it. Truly, I don’t.

One of the cool things about my Pokemon Go app is that it shows me nearby points of interest that might otherwise be overlooked. That’s how we came across the very old and neglected Ichetucknee Memorial Cemetery that is right next to the campground, lost in the underbrush. DH and I wandered there, looking at the tragic headstones from the 1800’s. One guy’s tombstone, below, says he was murdered, but I can’t seem to find anything online that describes the circumstances. And there were a lot of babies there who didn’t make it to their first birthday. It was kind of sad, tucking into our cozy cabin for the night, knowing that there were dozens of dead babies out there in the woods. To live in this swampy area of North Florida back then, without air conditioning or medical care, meant you were prone to endless numbers of diseases and viruses. Thank God for vaccinations, sanitation, and civilization.

We slept relatively well, despite the dead babies and the murdered guy and the squeaky, plastic-covered mattresses. We all went to the Waffle House for breakfast the next morning, and then parted ways. I hate saying goodbye to people I care about when I have no idea when I’ll see them again. It chokes me up just thinking about it.

And then, just like that, we left Florida. So simple. Has it always been that simple to leave Florida? No.

And I survived. Well, except for the chigger bites. Weeks later, I’m still trying to heal from them. I definitely do not miss chiggers. That’s what I get for wandering around untended graveyards.

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The Waste of a Perfectly Good Little Old Lady

Be a force for good.

If I make it to the age of 72, if I’m in relatively good health and if I have the good fortune to be able to retire, I hope I’m doing something with that amazing extra time. I hope I’m using myself as a force for good. I hope I’m volunteering for a few hours a week, and/or keeping up with my little free library and/or mentoring someone and/or cultivating a healthy organic garden. Something positive, no matter how small.

I believe that everyone makes some type of impact on this world. Only you can decide what kind of an impact you will make. There’s a wide spectrum that can range somewhere between dedicating every waking hour to some form of service, or, at the opposite extreme, being a completely toxic waste of space that everyone secretly wishes would hurry up and die already. (Harsh, but true.) I’d like to fall on the more positive end of that spectrum, but I doubt I’ll be too radical. I’m not Mother Teresa. Even in my 50’s I do cherish my spare time and my naps. But I hope that if I’m capable of acting at all, I’m able to be an asset, not act like a despicable liability.

Here’s what I will not do, under any circumstances. I will not cause my neighbors to fear for their lives, as Jan Myers, 72, of Shoreline, Washington has done. According to this article, she has been charged with one count of malicious harassment, but in essence she has made the life of one of her Vietnamese-American neighbors a living hell.

Apparently this toxic woman has been hurling racial slurs at her neighbor for years, but recently it escalated into actual threats. She started driving her car up and down the road, yelling for her neighbor to come out, calling her names, and saying that she (the neighbor) wasn’t going to live very long. Myers, of course, is denying everything, but that contradicts the multiple cell phone videos that her neighbor showed the police.

I feel so sorry for her neighbor. No one should be made to feel unsafe in one’s own home. It should be a sanctuary. It should be the one place where you can count on feeling secure, unjudged, and completely yourself.

I wish I knew who that neighbor was so that I could go over and befriend her, take her flowers or cookies or something, and let her know that not everyone feels the way Myers does. I’d exchange contact information with her, and tell her that if that evil old bat threatens her again, just call me and I’ll come over and stand by her side, and that my home would always be a safe place to come to as well. I hope that if her other neighbors see what is going on, they have done so. We all need to take care of one another.

If you haven’t learned how to be a decent human being by age 72, you are wasting your gift of longevity. If all you can do is hate, and make the people around you be afraid and miserable, you are doing nothing but taking up space in this world and making it a much worse place. Is that really the hill you want to die on? I wouldn’t want that to be my legacy at any time in life, but especially not in my later years. I want to make those years golden, not sh** brown.

Just sayin’.

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Gratitude, Not Optimism

To hell with optimism.

I happen to love someone who is the most positive person I have ever met. It’s a delight to be around most of the time, but it’s also a hard yardstick to be measured by. Anyone standing next to this guy will automatically look like Eeyore by comparison.

Fortunately, I’m secure in the knowledge that I’m not, in fact, Eeyore, because I used to live with an Eeyore. An Eeyore can suck the life out of any room he enters. An Eeyore is convinced that the world is out to get him.

My Eeyore refused to smile in photographs because he thinks it’s unnatural. Because of that, everyone assumes he is constantly miserable. I think he wears this like some kind a suit of armor. Then he accessorizes this suit of armor with every negative experience he has ever had in his life. He glues those things to his exterior like some twisted decorator crab. All this stuff weighs him down. This makes people avoid him, which, in turn, makes him more miserable.

An Eeyore likes to insult himself out loud, and is under the mistaken impression that others will find this funny or charming. In fact, it makes people extremely uncomfortable. It also makes them feel sorry for him. It’s very hard to like someone whom you feel sorry for, at least for long stretches of time. It’s exhausting.

When I tried to address this negativity in my Eeyore, he would get very defensive, and accuse me of trying to force him to put a plastic smile on his face. I could never understand that. I was trying to say that your attitude, the lens through which you view the world, impacts your emotions. Attitude is everything.

But now I realize he extrapolated a false conclusion from that. He believed that I was trying to force him toward optimism, which is nearly impossible to achieve if you don’t come by it naturally (speaking from personal experience).

Actually, that was not my intention at all. Optimism is about expectations for the future. I don’t think you can predict the future, and therefore optimism kind of feels like magical thinking to me. I hope for the best, yes, but no one knows what will happen down the road. As we’ve learned from all the false election fraud claims, wishing doesn’t make it so.

Instead of optimism, what I was trying to get across, rather ham-handedly, it seems, is the notion of gratitude. Gratitude focuses on the present. It’s about appreciating the good you currently have in life, rather than focusing on the negative aspects. This is more realistic, but it also seems a bit magical in the best sense of the word, because when you give more energy to the good that is around you now, somehow more of your future tends to become positive as a result.

I wish I had tried harder to get this point across to my Eeyore. But in retrospect I realize that he was too heavily invested in his own unhappiness to hear me. I’m sure he’s still unhappy to this day, and that makes me sad to contemplate.

To hell with optimism, frankly. But gratitude is an extremely valuable commodity. It might take some practice, but it’s a state of mind that is available to all of us. I may not always be Little Mary Sunshine, but I am grateful for so many things that it has been known to bring tears of joy to my eyes. That’s a gift I keep being given.

Gratitude, like negativity, tends to perpetuate itself. And gratitude allows you to smile in photographs. Which is another thing to be grateful for. See how that works?

This may be great camouflage, but in the end, you’re having
to carry a bunch of crap everywhere you go.

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The Silver Lining of This Pandemic

I may lose my mind if I don’t find something positive.

I heard a scary statistic regarding this pandemic recently. One American is dying from it every 80 seconds. That’s no joke. And my heart breaks for every loved one who has had to experience that type of grief. If we had managed this crisis a little better, if our leaders took science seriously and we all wore our masks as we should, there would be a lot less to mourn in this country right now. What’s happening is nothing short of criminal negligence.

Having said all that, I have thought of a few silver linings to this scary, scary clown… er… cloud. I have done so not because I’m trying to diminish the seriousness of all this death and economic destruction, but simply because if I don’t find something to appreciate in all of this, I may just lose my mind.

So here’s my short list of COVID positives:

  • My commute has been a lot less congested. At least at it was at first. And I love what that has done for the planet.

  • If I do have the urge to eat at my favorite restaurant, odds are that I won’t have to make reservations. In fact, I’ll most likely have the place to myself. And I kind of feel that it’s my duty to patronize these businesses in these trying times.

  • I haven’t really seen as much political advertising, and definitely haven’t been subjected to the number of rallies that would be normal while building up to this presidential election. And I don’t miss them. Not even a little bit.

  • I’m no longer being made to feel guilty for my introversion. People expect me to keep myself to myself right now. It’s a shame that I need an excuse to do so, but since I’ve got one, I’m definitely taking advantage of it.

  • It’s easier to weed out the fools around me than it once was. They’re the ones refusing to wear a mask, or the ones who wear their masks with their noses sticking out. I don’t even have to speak to them to know. Less energy expelled by me that way.

  • And for those of us who do wear a mask, we have a whole new way to express our individuality.

  • Oddly enough, I’m getting to attend church a lot more. I work on Sunday, so physically attending church has been a rare treat for me. But now my church does services on zoom, so I can attend from work. I hope they continue to have a zoom aspect to their services when this pandemic finally runs its course, because it’s a real benefit to shut ins, and to people like me who just can’t be there.

  • Despite the politicizing of masks, I genuinely believe this pandemic unites us more than it divides us. Because the only way we’re going to get through this is together, and through our mutual losses and all the related stressors, I think we’re beginning to realize that we have more in common than we thought.

All these things count for something, I suppose. At this point, I’ll take what I can get. Stay safe, everyone.

Masks

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Reclaiming the Day

It’s possible to turn things around.

Have you ever had one of those days? A day of traffic snarls, annoying errands, clerical stupidity, unwanted expenditures, stupid people and disappointing friends. I was tired, hungry, I had to pee, and I was annoyed at the world. That’s never a good feeling. Even while it’s happening, I realize that that is not a headspace for making major life decisions.

When I’m in that state of mind, I have awful thoughts. People suck. Why on earth did I move out here? I don’t belong in Seattle. I don’t understand people out here. Nobody likes me. They don’t give a sh** about me. I hated Florida with its horrible politics and its oppressive heat, but at least there things made sense, and people could be counted on. There are too many people here. I feel like I’m suffocating. I want to go home.

I felt like crying.

Instead, I text-vented to a good friend in Florida, who had the sense to just listen and not try to talk me out of it. He knew I already knew I needed to pee, eat, and be around the one person I can count on out here: dear husband.

And sure enough, Hubby was on his way. And he had some idea what he was driving into. Storm clouds on my horizon.

There’s a reason I chose Always Look on the Bright Side of Life as his ring tone. That man could put a positive slant on the four horses of the apocalypse. And he does it in such a charming and sincere way that you can’t even get annoyed. He also does that “I’m a guy, so I’m supposed to solve stuff” thing. Which must be upsetting from his perspective, because not everything can be solved.

But in this case, he handled my mood with aplomb. He drove up, wearing a bright, sunny, yellow shirt, and had my favorite Jason Mraz album playing on the radio. “Hey there, Sunshine!” He said. “Let’s find you a bathroom.”

After accomplishing that mission, he took me out for seafood. He made me feel special. He made me feel heard.

I could see what an effort he was making to be positive, and that naturally made me want to be positive, too. So I started saying things like, “What lovely weather we’re having,” and “Look at those beautiful flowers.” All while grumbling inside. But I was trying.

Your attitude impacts your outlook. If I had continued in “people suck” mode, the evening would have gone completely down the drain. Instead, I decided to follow his positive lead, rather than make his day as awful as mine had been up to his arrival.

After that, we went to see Wings Over Washington, which was so much fun it got a blog post of its own. And then we went home, watched Handmaid’s Tale, hugged the dogs, and went to sleep smiling.

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, we resurrected the day. And that made me realize that looking at days as a solid unit can be a mistake. A day doesn’t have to be all bad, from beginning to end. It’s possible to live in the moment. It’s possible to turn things around.

I hope I remember that. If I don’t, I have someone walking beside me who will remind me by example. And that’s pretty darned amazing.

Moon Phoenix

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Vandalism

I’ve never understood the instinct to demolish and destroy.

Barely a day goes by without some young fool putting graffiti on my drawbridge. I’ve also noticed that if something is breakable and it’s accessible to the public, it will be broken. Signs are defaced. Stickers appear everywhere. Human beings seem to love to trash things.

I’ve never understood this instinct to demolish and destroy. It makes me angry. I don’t see the point of it.

When discussing it with a wise friend of mine recently, he said that he thought it was people’s way of making their mark. Everyone wants to be able to say, “I was here.” “I existed.”

Okay, I can understand having that instinct. It’s why I blog. It’s why people have children. It’s why we create art. Everyone wants to have a legacy. We want to have something to show for having lived on this planet.

When it comes to youth, I suspect they feel as though they will never have an impact, and therefore this petty destruction is their only outlet. They don’t realize that they’ll grow up. They don’t comprehend that there will be other opportunities, but that some of those opportunities will take hard work and sacrifice. Graffiti, on the other hand, happens right here, right now.

I think it’s really important that we teach young people to be positively creative. We should give them projects and outlets for their energy. They should be taught to build their communities. They need to learn to problem solve, not problem create. And dare I say it? The worst, absolute worst educational trend is that of defunding art and music programs in schools.

Producing beauty is essential for everyone who wants to make a mark on this world. Otherwise, ugliness will prevail.

vandalism

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Support vs. Supremacy

Everyone has felt like an outcast at some point. But take the high road.

Do you feel like an outcast? Do you feel abnormal? Do you have social anxiety? Are you lonely? Misunderstood? Having trouble fitting in? Do you have a health issue, or a fetish or an addiction? Can’t get a job? In a toxic relationship? Do you want help?

Odds are quite good that there’s a support group out there for you. Thank God for support groups. I highly recommend them. Having the camaraderie of like-minded people, who are working together toward self-improvement, is priceless.

A good support group will discuss the issue at hand. It will help individuals talk about their struggles with said issue, and also allow them to brainstorm possible solutions. It will celebrate triumphs and parse failures to redirect people toward a more positive path. The ultimate goal is to get you into a better headspace, and help you build a better life for yourself.

Self-improvement isn’t easy. It takes work. It requires commitment. There are no shortcuts.

Unfortunately, in this era of social media, it’s easy to think that there are shortcuts. For every support group out there, there’s an online forum for people who want to stay right in their toxic place. Want to remain an anorexic? There are plenty of people just like you who will be more than willing to encourage your march toward death. Don’t want to face your fear? You can simply hide in your house and interact with a wide network of people who are doing the exact same thing. Do you prefer to blame others rather than make changes yourself? You will always be able to find people who will join you in casting blame, spewing hatred, and inciting violence.

But how’s that working for you? Being allowed to vent your bile with people who agree with you might feel good at first, but has it solved your issue? Are you happier, healthier, more functional now than you were before? Or are you simply more angry?

Let’s take, for example, your basic Incel group. There are many reasons why one might be involuntarily celibate. If your self-esteem is poor, if you feel ugly or awkward or socially-inept, if you’re isolated or depressed, you could benefit from a group of others who are going through the same thing. You could learn from each other’s mistakes and successes. You could learn that you’re maybe a lot more normal than you first realized, and that would do wonders for your self-image. A group like that, with the goal of helping you find ways to form a healthy romantic relationship, would be ideal. Unfortunately that’s not what on-line Incel groups do.

Incel groups place the blame on others. It’s the fault of women that you’re not getting laid. Yeah. You’re just fine the way you are. Its them. They are shallow and only go for muscular, gorgeous men. Because of that, you are not getting the sex you’re entitled to. That attitude rapidly devolves into misogyny, and then you get people encouraging violence. They celebrate mass killers. They encourage rape and spousal abuse. They say they’d feel soooo much better if someone threw acid into women’s faces.

But the thing is, how does that solve your problem? Do you think that attitude or behavior is going to bring you love? Because I’m here to tell you that you could be the most gorgeous man on the planet, but I’m not going to find you attractive if you want to throw acid in my face. And I’m fairly certain I’m in the majority, there.

Incel groups are also based on a lot of false premises. Most women aren’t looking specifically for muscular men. In fact, a lot of us find extreme muscles kinda gross. We all have different tastes. The fact that many men, who are fat or not well endowed or deformed or have scars, still manage to find love, will tell you that most women aren’t as shallow as these Incel groups would like you to believe. We are looking for love, too. (In fact, the way these groups insult the physical attributes of women, and only prize the “gorgeous”,  “unattainable” ones, show that the members are the shallow ones, not the women.)

And, uh, by the way, no one is “entitled” to sex. Healthy sex is a mutually given gift that is shared between people who respect, admire, and love one another. Love. Not hate. Equality. Not superiority or entitlement.

Incel groups are not about support. They’re about male supremacy. That gets you nowhere. Believing others are inferior isn’t going to render you more popular with them.

If you really want to improve your life, look at the people you associate with. Are they trying to help you improve? Are they a positive force, or are they toxic? Are they encouraging anger or violence? That isn’t going to do you any good.

To be clear: groups that marinate in negativity become extremists, gangs, and/or terrorists. You can do better than that. Everyone has felt like an outcast at some point. I guarantee it. But I know there’s awesomeness within you. You just have to nurture it to make it grow.

Hate is the wrong path. Take the high road. It may take some effort to get up there, but in the end, you’ll be all the better for it. Onward and upward!

https _2.bp.blogspot.com_-hDlp3Ou1Iuw_UQz1dYGU57I_AAAAAAAALwQ_ulE8WKTtjgE_s1600_Divorced+Praying+Mantis+Support+Group
The right group for you is out there. I promise.

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Much Better than a Cult

Look for the good in the world. Accept nothing less.

As strange as it may seem, it took me years to figure out that I should only surround myself with kind, loving, and decent people. No one ever told me that. I think deep down, had the concept even occurred to the younger me, I wouldn’t have really believed I deserved it.

So I wasted a lot of time desperately trying to gain approval from people who were way too busy pumping toxic waste into my life to ever grant said approval. What a shame.

But slowly, ever so slowly, the number of amazing humans in my world started to outnumber the bad apples. That made that rotten fruit seem increasingly unpalatable to me. I’ve come to realize that it’s okay to expect quality in all my relationships. What a notion.

It’s so wonderful to know so many outstanding people now. It’s a gift. It’s priceless. Sometimes it brings tears of joy to my eyes.

But recently I’ve come to see what it would have been like if I had kept my emotional garden free of weeds and decay all along. My boyfriend seems to have done an excellent job of doing so, and the results have been profoundly positive. There is so much good in his world. It’s one of the many things I admire about him. He is a lodestone for kindness.

Recently we announced our engagement, and the outpouring of love and support has been overwhelming. In the best possible way. This is all new to me. I keep telling him I feel like I’m being love bombed. He reassures me that I’m not joining a cult. Receiving this kind of encouragement is just as it should be.

Well, alrighty then! I’ll take it. Please and thank you!

In case no one ever told you, dear reader: Look for the good in the world. Accept nothing less. You’ll be amazed at how much it multiplies. Proof positive that love conquers all.

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Shaping Your Life

When all is said and done, your life will be what you make of it.

Until very recently, I thought of my life as being linear. Birth, growth, death… aren’t we all on that inevitable path? But that makes life sound way too much like a treadmill. (All you’d have to do is look at me once and you’d know that I hate treadmills.)

Now I think of life as being three dimensional. That allows room for a lot more options. It more accurately reflects the diversity of the thousands of lives being lived on this planet. We each shape our lives. We are architects. We are sculptors.

We can be smooth and calm and uniform. We can be rigid and boxy and rough. We can zig and zag and branch off in wild directions. We can embrace. We can repel. We can circle back upon ourselves, or we can shoot forward like an arrow. We can take inspiration from others, or we can set out on our own. We can be steady and solid, or we can wobble unpredictably.

Don’t restrict yourself to a linear life, unless that’s what you truly want in your heart of hearts. Create something beautiful. Only allow others to influence that creation if you can look upon them and see the beauty within. (And don’t forget to thank those who help you shape your life in a positive way.)

When all is said and done, your life will be what you make of it. So make it special.

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Clicking Your Way to a Better World

I must admit that I spend entirely too much time on the internet. You do, too. Don’t believe me? What are you doing right now? Tiptoeing through the tulips? I think not.

(Not that I’m not happy to see you. I’d miss you if you weren’t here. I really would.)

Sometimes I think I really should make a permanent, all-encompassing change in my life and reduce my screen time to, say, an hour a day. But gimme a break. I’m as likely to do that as I am to give up pizza, and I have the thighs to prove it.

I do try to do the next best thing, though. There are quite a few sites out there that allow you to have a positive impact on the world simply by clicking a button. That’s amazing. I can save the world while staying comfortably potatoed on my couch. (Yup. Potato is now a verb. Because I say so.)

What follows are some of my favorite “positive click” sites. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

  • Ecosia. This is a search engine, similar to Google, with an important difference. For every 45 searches you do on Ecosia, they will plant a tree. They’ve planted more than 20 million trees so far. That makes me incredibly happy. So Ecosia is now my default search engine.

  • Free Rice. This is a fun site. You can feed the world while learning things. Basically, you choose a topic, such as English Vocabulary, or World Landmarks, or Language Learning, or SAT Test Preparation, or Human Anatomy, and you’ll then be asked a series of questions. For every question you get right, they donate 10 grains of rice to the World Food Program. 10 grains of rice doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up quickly. So learn stuff and feed people. It’s the ultimate win/win situation!

  • The GreaterGood. I cannot say enough about this site. Everything you do there will have a positive impact. They have various categories, such as Hunger, Breast Cancer, Animals, and Veterans, and if you go to those sections of the site once a day and click, you will be helping these causes, and it won’t cost you a penny. But beware. They also have a store, and it has the coolest clothes and shoes and jewelry that you have ever seen in your life. And when you buy an item, more donations kick in. For example, I bought an awesome jacket, and because of that, they donated 50 bowls of dogfood to an animal shelter. I think about that every time I wear that jacket, and it makes me feel even warmer.

There are all kinds of websites out there that have positive side effects. You just have to look. If you can suggest any other sites of this type, by all means, include them in the comments section, below! And keep on clicking!

make a difference

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