End of Summer Motivation

Summer has always been my favorite season. Growing up in a place where it’s not uncommon for snow to cover the ground six month a year or more, it’s probably not a surprise that most of my favorite memories of growing up were summertime memories. My birthday is at the end of June, so that is another reason for me to look forward to summer.

For me, summer has always been the most active time of the year. Baseball, golf, road trips, days spent at the lakes with family, and just constantly being on the go.

Last summer, my first summer in Florida, I was still in school and was incredibly busy. For those of you who haven’t read my previous posts, I attended a golf school in the Orlando area from 2015 through 2016.

When your life revolves around playing golf in the hot Florida sun, it’s pretty easy to start losing weight. I moved to Florida with the goal of getting down to 180 lbs, which is what I weighed when I graduated high school.

By the time I got home from the course and from class most days, I was too exhausted to workout or to care about cooking a healthy meal. I ate whatever random food I happened to have that required little effort to prepare, and I didn’t go to the gym at all. But, by the end of the summer, I had actually reached my weight loss goal without even really trying.

When I finished school at the end of 2016, my body needed a little break. I was sore, swollen, and just beat up. Yes, golf can be hard on your body. Injuries add up and become a problem over time.

I kept telling myself that I would take a break to let my body recover, then I would get back into a more active routine. I kept saying I would start working out again to get into “golf shape”, and then I would start playing again.

At the end of April 2017, I got an e-mail informing me that my tee time was set to play a round of golf at Bay Hill in Orlando, which is part of the reward for those of us who volunteered in the merchandise tent at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. I was excited to get out and play golf again, but I was also nervous, because I was finally starting to realize that I hadn’t played in almost six months. I started a daily stretching routine and stuck with it for the two weeks leading up to my tee time. I felt like my game would be rusty, but wasn’t worried about anything else.

By the end of the second hole, reality slapped me in the face, and I realized how out of shape I had become since I finished school. I was exhausted from two holes of golf!! Considering I had, at one point in the past, played 54 holes and then spent three hours in the gym in the same day, I was shocked, to say the least. I use a wheelchair to get around on a daily basis, but I walk when I play golf. Since I had remained fairly active wheeling around every day, I never thought about how little I had walked over the previous six months.

Luckily for me, a nasty thunderstorm ended up sitting right on top of Bay Hill after just a few holes, and my group wasn’t able to finish the round that day. I was thankful, because that meant we would get a rain check, and I would have a few weeks to exercise and better prepare myself before we came back to play again.

Once June began, the weather in central Florida turned absolutely terrible. From the beginning of June through the end of July, nearly every single day was filled with constant rain. When the weather is like that, it’s hard to feel motivated to do much, as far as exercise or outdoor activities… especially with the amount of rain we were getting each day, and the crazy sharp lightning we have here in Florida.

I have always had issues with establishing a consistent sleep schedule. When I was in school at Golf Academy, I slept well, because of the amount of physical activity I was doing every day. When I am more active, I sleep better. When I’m not as active, I don’t sleep well, if at all.

My sleep schedule became an absolute mess by the end of the first week in June, because of a combination of the weather, and also the fact that my summer blockout dates on my Disney annual pass had begun. Instead of wheeling 5-10 miles around the parks every day, I was now sitting at home watching the rain fall.

When I received the e-mail with my rescheduled tee time for Bay Hill, I was absolutely ecstatic!! The round was rescheduled for the afternoon of June 28th, my birthday!! Knowing that I would get to spend my birthday at my favorite golf course that I’ve ever played was pretty incredible. It was extra motivation for me to try to get back into shape as much as I could in a short amount of time.

As I said, I typically use my wheelchair to get around, unless I am golfing. Since there was pouring rain almost all day every day in June, I had to get creative. I started using my crutches and walked as many steps back and forth across my living room as I possibly could every day. I walked until my legs gave out and I literally fell to the floor. Although I wish I had been able to do more to get myself prepared, I was very happy with the progress I made in just a few short weeks. I went from only being able to play four holes of golf in May to being able to play 17 holes in June!! It was disappointing that I had to skip one hole, but I was just happy with the progress I’d made. And, to make my birthday even more amazing than it already was just getting to play Bay Hill, I ended up getting another amazing surprise. Playing in the group in front of me that day was baseball hall of famer Cal Ripken Jr.!! I didn’t get to meet him, unfortunately, but I have always been a huge baseball fan, and it was truly a thrill just to be able to see him and play in the group behind him.

When I look back at the rest of the summer of 2017, there honestly weren’t many highlights for me. July was another month of rain. August was hot, but finally drier. I got to go back to Disney again, starting at the beginning of August, so I tried to wheel around the parks as much as possible to make up for two months of inactivity. September’s big story was/is Hurricane Irma hitting Orlando. It was my first time experiencing the full force of a hurricane, and it’s something I will never forget.

The thing that stands out the most to me as I look back and reflect on this past summer, is the hard work I put in to get ready for golfing on my birthday at Bay Hill. I’m really proud of that, and I need to use that as motivation moving forward. I HATE using my disability as any kind of excuse, and I hate thinking about doing things that are “special” because of it, but I do have to say this… for someone with Spina Bifida who is in a wheelchair 95% of the time, the fact that I pushed myself in June and forced myself to get to the point where I was walking 10,000 steps every day to get myself back into “golf shape” is pretty damn impressive!! I am proud of myself! High five to me! haha

I am the director of a junior golf program for kids with special needs. The message that I always try to pass along to those kids (I try inspire through actions more than words) is, anyone can do anything they set their mind to, and the only person who can stop them is themselves. People with any kind of a disability can find ways to meet and exceed any goal they set for themselves. They may have to create their own way of doing things, but they can still achieve the same results as “normal” people. I’ve always had to find my own ways of doing things. I don’t do it to try to impress people. I do it because I have to do it. If people notice and are impressed by something I am able to do, that makes me feel good. I hope the kids I teach feel the same way when they accomplish something that isn’t easy for them.

As we transition into a new season, I need to keep reminding myself of how proud I felt when I worked so hard to get ready for Bay Hill. To be honest, I have gained back nearly all of the weight I lost while I was in school. I need to force myself to get more active every day. The hardest part of any routine is just getting started. The rest is easy. Once I start getting more active, I will start to lose weight. When I start to lose weight, I will start sleeping better. When I start sleeping better, I will feel more rested and energized. When I feel more rested and energized, I will be able to easily become even more active. It’s simple, but I just need to start doing it.

Today is the last day of summer and the first day of fall. Along with that seasonal transition, this is a perfect time to transition the motivation I am feeling right now into getting active, and get back to the lifestyle that I enjoyed so much last year. It’s long overdue. The best part about living in Florida for someone who uses a wheelchair is that this is “The Land of Endless Summer”. I hear that all the time. It tells me that I won’t have to be stuck inside while there is snow piled on the ground. I can keep living the active lifestyle I’ve always enjoyed most. There is no better day to get started than today!!

Arnie StatueMatch Play

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Why You Should Find A Place You Love, And Become A Regular

Loyalty is something that seems to be less common nowadays. People are on a constant search for something new, instead of enjoying what they already have. While I do believe in enjoying the best things that life has to offer, I am also a very loyal person. I tend to be picky, and don’t want to “waste” my time on something I don’t absolutely love. When I do find something that I think is really great, I am very loyal for a long time.

Some people may feel that the life I live is boring, because I tend to spend my time in the same places, and I do the same things most of the time. But, I look at things in a different way. I don’t see it as repetitive and boring. When I find something I really love, I want as much of it as possible. Since I do tend to be picky, when I find something that I really enjoy, it is something that I know for a fact I will not get sick of quickly or easily.

I am a big believer that everyone should find a place that they really love, and they should become a regular visitor/customer of that place.

When I turned 21 and was finally able to go to bars, I started going to different places to hang out, and I had a lot of fun, but I had a hard time finding a place where I wanted to go regularly. Over the next couple of years, I ended up finding two places that were an absolute blast. They were the kinds of places where I felt comfortable.

For me, people always make the biggest difference in any situation. I was incredibly fortunate to meet some amazing people at both of these places over the next several years who became my friends. I still keep in touch with many of them to this day, and am still good friends with a lot of them.

Shortly after my 22nd birthday, I went to a local Buffalo Wild Wings location with some friends for some food and a couple of beers. While we were there, we noticed a trivia game on some of the TV screens throughout the restaurant/bar. We were curious what it was and how we could play, so we asked our server about it. This was an unexpected life-changing moment for all of us.

For the next eight years, until I moved away, I became a regular. Although the group of friends that joined me wasn’t the same every time, a few of my friends became regulars also. We planned our BWW nights around the food and drink specials (mostly the drink specials, to be perfectly honest), and we also planned our visits based on the days and times of our favorite trivia games. This led to countless fun, drunken nights, and it also led to me meeting some of the best people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in my life. I still keep in touch with several of the people I was fortunate to meet and become friends with throughout those years. One of them is somebody that I now consider to be one of my best friends.

About a year later, a new entertainment complex, called The Hub, opened in Fargo. The Hub was a big building with 6-7 different bars. Each bar had a different theme and drew a different crowd. There was something for pretty much everyone. I have always loved country music, so I started hanging out in the country bar, Cadillac Ranch, on the nights that my friends and I weren’t at BWW playing trivia.

By the end of my first night at Cadillac Ranch, thanks to my friends, I had met most of the staff. They were all awesome people, and I knew I would be back again soon. Over the next few weeks and months, I became a regular there, as well. I rarely visited the other bars in The Hub, but I could go into Cadillac Ranch and, without saying a word, my usual drink would be served to me.

After I had already become a regular at Cadillac Ranch, I ended up starting to travel with a local band that played the concert venue in The Hub a couple of times a year. My life changed quite a bit at this time, and this also changed how I decided whether I would spend a night at BWW, or Cadillac Ranch. BWW was my place to hang out and quietly relax. Cadillac Ranch was a guaranteed party. At the time, it was nice to have two different options like that so I could choose a place based on my mood.

After a few years, The Hub closed down, and I was back to having one regular hangout. To be honest, for me, things probably worked out for the best. While I still enjoyed the party lifestyle, I was reminded frequently that I wasn’t 21 anymore.

Trivia nights at BWW started turning into more frequent nights that only occasionally involved trivia. My friends and I knew most of the staff by this time, and just enjoyed getting to see our friends while they were working. Trivia was still fun, but we were now going there for the people who made that place so welcoming and so much fun for us.

I’ve always enjoyed connecting with people on a personal level. I don’t care who the person is or what they do for a living, I’ve always wanted to get to know them personally. When you go to a restaurant and the server sits down at your table so you can talk as friends, instead of just server-customer, that is something I really love. It makes the whole experience more enjoyable for me, and hopefully it’s more enjoyable for the server, too.

When we started getting to know the staff well enough that they would come in on a day off or stay after their shift ended and join us for some drinks, I knew we had made the right decision years ago when we decided to make this our regular hangout place. So many people throughout the years took such great care of my friends and me, and I hope they all knew how much we appreciated them and everything they did for us.

When I moved to Orlando, I knew that I would have to find a new place where I would become a regular. My life was changing significantly, and I knew that I would need to find something completely different. I didn’t quit drinking, but I cut back, and knew that hanging out in bars would no longer be my first choice for entertainment.

Between being constantly busy with going back to school, and some other issues I had to deal with shortly after I moved, I didn’t really leave home much, unless I was going to school. A few months later, I bought an annual pass for Walt Disney World. Once again, this was a life-changing moment for me.

I was 23 years old the first time I ever visited WDW. I had always loved Disney, but had never had the opportunity to visit the Disney parks until that time. The magic of that first time I was in the parks is something I have never forgotten. Now that I am an annual passholder and have become a Disney regular, I can happily say that every visit to the parks is just as exciting and magical as that first visit, almost nine years ago. In fact, I think it’s even more magical now!!

When I tried to figure out where I could find to become a regular in Orlando, Disney never even crossed my mind. It’s too big and there are too many people. Coming from a small town, I just didn’t see how I could possibly feel as comfortable at Disney as I had at BWW and Cadillac Ranch back home.

I bought my annual pass at the beginning of January 2016. At the time, I had family down here with me for a few months, and we went to the parks together. My favorite park has always been Magic Kingdom, while they tend to prefer Epcot. We visited Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom occasionally, too, but Magic Kingdom and Epcot were our go-to parks.

Our nightly routine when we visited Magic Kingdom was to try to get in a couple of attractions, and then watch the “Wishes” fireworks show and Main Street Electrical Parade right before the park closed. We started watching the parade in the same spot in front of the Main Street train station every night so we could leave quickly after the parade ended to avoid the rush of people trying to exit the park at the same time.

After watching the parade from the same spot several times, I started to notice that a couple of the characters and a few of the other performers were starting to wave to me every time. Since I was there so often and was usually in the same spot, they seemed to recognize me. With all of the thousands of people who visit that park every day, I never in a million years would have guessed anyone would ever start to recognize me or remember me, so that just added to the magic of the whole experience. I started looking forward to that 2 or 3 seconds where somebody remembered me, made eye contact, smiled, and waved or said “hello”. As small as those things are, they meant a lot to me. They still do every time I watch a parade to this day.

After my family left and I was, once again, all alone 1,500 miles from home, I started to spend more and more time in the parks, especially Magic Kingdom. Although I was alone in a place where I really didn’t know anybody, my nightly Disney visits became my opportunity to see some familiar faces, outside of school. It didn’t matter to me that I didn’t know anybody, I was just happy to see familiar faces and be in a place that made me happy. It made life in a new city feel somewhat more normal for me. Once again, I looked forward all day long to the 2 or 3 seconds where I could make eye contact with someone who was familiar to me, smile, and wave or say “hello”. As pathetic as it may sound to some people, that brief interaction was the highlight of my entire day most days. I hope that doesn’t sound depressing, because I don’t mean it in that way. Most of my days were good, but having a nice little moment like that at Disney to end my night was just a great way to end the night. It was something that still makes me smile thinking about it now.

The Main Street Electrical Parade ended in October 2016. I was sad to see that parade end, because it helped me to get through a time when I would have been homesick every night if I hadn’t been able to see some familiar faces.

My school schedule changed at around that time, as well, and I started to have more free time in the afternoons. Instead of doing homework in the afternoon, and then spending the night at Disney, I started going to Disney in the afternoons after class, and then went home to study and do homework.

I hadn’t really spent much time in the parks in the afternoons before this time, because of my school schedule, so it was fun to see the things I had been missing. Although there was no longer a nighttime parade to watch, my schedule allowed me to make it to Magic Kingdom a few afternoons each week in time for the Festival of Fantasy Parade. I, once again, was able to see a lot of the familiar faces I had looked forward to seeing every night for the past several months.

By this time, more of the cast members throughout the park started to recognize me as a regular visitor, and always gave me a warm welcome. Although I had lived in Orlando for over a year at this point, most things still felt new to me, so it was nice to have a place I could go to that was comfortable. I could just relax and enjoy living in the moment. While I do enjoy experiencing new places and new things, I think everybody really loves having a place they can go back to that feels comfortable.

I finished school in December 2016. My last day of school was the last day I was able to use my Disney annual pass before Christmas/New Year blockout dates began. My dad was in town for my graduation and isn’t a fan of big crowds, so he told me to go enjoy my last day in the parks for the year by myself. I went briefly, but didn’t want to leave my dad sitting by himself at my place for long, so I did a couple of laps around Magic Kingdom and then went home. While I was there, I took some time to do something that I do at the end of every year. I found a quiet place away from the crowds and took some time to reflect on all of the memories I’d created throughout the year. I think that may have been the moment that it really hit me that I had become a Disney regular. It was a pretty awesome realization!

Since I was now done with school and wasn’t working anywhere yet, I decided in January 2017 that I would spend as much time in the Disney parks as possible. After two weeks of blockout dates, I received a warm greeting as I entered Magic Kingdom for the first time in 2017. The security cast member working at bag check remembered me and said he was happy to see me again. What a great way to start off a new year!

Many of the familiar faces I had looked forward to seeing all the time in 2016 were still there as 2017 began. Since I now had even more free time than I’d had at any point since I moved to Orlando, I looked forward to seeing those people every day even more than I had in the past.

Just for fun, I started keeping track of the number of times I visited each Disney park in 2016, and I have done that in 2017, as well, with the goal of visiting the parks more times this year. Even if I only have an hour to spend in a park, it counts as a visit. When I think back and realize that it took me 23 years to visit WDW for the first time, I am proud of the fact that I have now visited the parks well over 100 times, just in 2017 alone. I am getting close to 200 total lifetime park visits. That may sound crazy to some people, but it just never gets old for me. Every time, I still remember the first time I was there. I love it even more now than I did back then. I have now started to get to know a few of the people who have become familiar faces to me over the past couple of years. Like I said earlier, WDW is a huge place with a lot of people, and I never in a million years would have expected anyone there to ever recognize me or remember me, but I am reminded constantly just how small that place can be sometimes.

Things have been especially different over the past week and a half since Hurricane Irma hit Orlando. The connection I had made with Disney starting to feel like home for me has gone to a whole new level. When I arrived at Magic Kingdom for the first time after the hurricane, the security cast member at bag check hugged me and said he was happy to see me. He was happy I was safe. When I boarded the ferryboat just minutes later, the ferryboat captain stopped me and introduced himself to me. He said he had seen me over 100 times (literally) and always wanted to say hello. He said he thought of me as the hurricane was hitting and hoped I had a safe place to ride out the storm. He told me about the damage to his home from the storm, which was minimal thankfully. We now speak to each other every time I am on the boat, and we now know each other by name.

When I got inside the park that first time back, I went to my regular spot for the parade. Within about 30 seconds, I had a group of five cast members walk up to me and welcome me back. They all said they were happy to see that I was safe, and I said the same to them. We all talked for about 15 minutes about our storm experiences. They were all people who had been familiar faces to me for over a year and a half, but we had never actually spoken before that day. I now speak with these people almost every time I am in the park.

Disney employees are called “cast members”, because they’re all part of the magic… part of the show. When they are any place where guests can see them, they are “on stage”, and have a role to play. In a place like that where everything is about fantasy and getting away from the real world for a while, it’s nice to be able to connect with some of those people on a personal level. I would guess it’s maybe nice for them, too, to have an occasional conversation with someone they see all the time. It might be a nice break for them from a typical interaction they would have with a typical guest. For me, once again, it’s like the “server sitting down at my table” situation. I think it’s really cool if I can have a great conversation with someone while waiting for a parade to start or while waiting in line for an attraction.

Everyone has their own interests and their own places they like to spend their free time. Everyone enjoys different kinds of entertainment. While the place will be different for everyone, I think everyone should find a place that is special to them… a place they love where they can become a regular. It’s natural for people to enjoy familiarity and comfort. Even thrill seekers who enjoy doing and seeing new things and new places eventually go home. They go back to a place of comfort. I think everyone enjoys feeling that same kind of comfort once in a while when they’re away from home, too.

Being a regular allows you to see things from a different perspective. You can slow down and enjoy the moment. You can see things that most people would never notice. If you’re a regular at a bar, restaurant, theme park, etc., you can get to know the people who work there. You can see things from their point of view and start to understand the things they do and have to deal with on a daily basis. You gain a whole new respect and appreciation for what they do. That is my favorite part of being a regular. I like to see things in a way that most people wouldn’t. I like to feel like I have some kind of personal connection with the people who are paid to be there, whether I actually know them or not. I always try my best to make the day a little brighter for those people. I try to let them know, in some way, that I appreciate what they do. I hope I am able to get that message across.

In my experience, if you can make someone’s day a little better, they will return the favor. It has not been uncommon for me to receive special treatment from people when I have shown them respect, kindness, and generosity over a period of time, but I would never expect or ask for any kind of special treatment. I treat everyone I meet the way I would want to be treated if we were in opposite positions. I believe in treating everyone equally well. Seeing a smile on someone’s face is reward enough. If you end up being the recipient of a free drink or are lucky enough to get to skip a line on a slow day, that is a great perk of being a regular and knowing people, but receiving that kind of special treatment should never be something you expect. It’s a gift. Enjoy it and be grateful for it! Most importantly, be happy that you have found some way to have a positive impact on someone’s life! If they are doing something special for you, you can feel good knowing that it is likely the result of you treating them well in the first place.

I know that this is REALLY long, so I would like to thank those of you who actually took the time to read the whole thing. I hope you enjoyed it!! If you did enjoy it, please “like” it. Please feel free to leave a comment if you’d like. I love hearing from people if they have any feedback or any comments they would like to share with me. If you’d like to read more of my posts in the future, feel free to follow my blog. I honestly never thought anyone would care to read the things I write, so it’s exciting that I have followers from around the world. It means a lot to me! Thank you all!

Christmas CastleMe and Tinker BellMe and Goofy

Love Yourself

The past two years of my life have been very eye-opening for me in a lot of ways. I went from living a lifestyle where I was constantly surrounded by people and had to create “me time” every once in a while, to living a lifestyle where the majority of my time is either spent alone or surrounded by strangers. As you would imagine, that big of a change takes a lot of getting used to. You have to find some kind of happy medium to avoid completely overwhelming yourself with change.

When I decided to move to Florida, I knew exactly what was about to happen to my social life. Instead of being surrounded by family and friends all day every day, I was moving to a place where I knew nobody at all. I basically made the decision to hit the reset button on my life and start over. When I stop and think about it, that sounds terrifying. At the time, I was so busy looking to the future that I didn’t really give myself a chance to worry too much though. I just believed that everything would work out in the end, and I kept moving forward.

When you’re constantly busy, you don’t have much time to allow your mind to wander. You are focused on the present and just take care of whatever it is you have going on in your life at that time. Once things start to slow down is when things change. I’m the kind of person who has always tended to over-think. When I have a significant amount of time to myself and there’s nothing going on around me, I have a way of convincing myself to worry about things that either don’t matter or that I can’t control… or both. Neither of those things are worth worrying about. If you can’t control something, then worrying about it is a complete waste of time.

Eventually, I got to the point where I started to notice a change in my mindset. Instead of just worrying about pointless things when my mind started to wander, I noticed I was starting to compare my current lifestyle to my past lifestyle. This was probably the best thing that could have ever happened to me.

Although I had kind of already known this for years, I started to realize exactly how much I had always relied on others for certain things. I relied on others for support, and worried about everyone else’s opinions of the things I did. Most importantly, I realized how much I had always relied on others for my happiness. The people you surround yourself with have a major impact on your lifestyle and the decisions you make, whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Certain people always had a way of putting a smile on my face and motivating/inspiring me to become a better version of myself. When those people weren’t around, I lacked motivation and wasn’t as happy.

When I moved 1,500 miles away from all of my family and friends, I quickly realized that I was on my own. I could no longer rely on those people to cheer me up and give me a kick in the butt when I needed it. The only person I had to rely on was myself. I knew that the only way this new journey I had begun was going to succeed was if I learned to rely on myself the way I had always relied on others. I’m still working on this, but I’m getting a little better about it all the time. I have to keep getting better. I don’t have a choice. I made this comment to people often before I moved down here, and it’s still true… I HAVE to succeed. I can’t afford to fail. The risk I took moving across the country was too big for me to fail. It’s hard to find better motivation than that!

I have learned to not really care what other people think of me or the life I have chosen to live. A different life may work better for other people, but I am living the life that works best for me. Some people don’t understand why I would want to begin a career in golf. Some people don’t understand why I love Disney so much and have made it such a big part of my life. Some people don’t understand why I choose not to worry obsessively over things that, honestly, I maybe should worry about a little more often. That’s fine. They don’t have to understand why I am who I am and why I do what I do. I am living a life that makes me happy, and that will hopefully lead me to being even happier in the future. If other people don’t like it or don’t agree with it, I honestly don’t care. They may know me, but they aren’t me. There’s a big difference between knowing someone and being someone.

I don’t know if this is just a Midwest thing, or if this is common elsewhere, too, but I recall being told repeatedly while growing up that people shouldn’t talk about themselves. They should never talk about their achievements and success. For that reason, I used to downplay the things I achieved. I didn’t want to tell people I was proud of myself, because I didn’t want people to think I was bragging, and I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I just quietly went through life without saying much.

In the two years I’ve spent living alone, I have realized how much I disagree with that way of thinking. Obviously, you shouldn’t go out of your way to rub success in someone’s face and try to make them feel bad, but there is absolutely nothing whatsoever wrong with being proud of yourself and wanting to share your happiness and excitement with others. Anything you achieve in life should be celebrated! You should be happy and proud of yourself when you accomplish something that is important to you.

Another thing I remember hearing all of the time growing up is that you should put others first in your life, not yourself… focusing on yourself and putting yourself first is selfish. That couldn’t possibly be farther from the truth!! I do enjoy helping others whenever I can, but everyone, at some point, NEEDS to focus on themselves. You NEED to put yourself first at some point in your life. You need to spend time by yourself learning who you really are as a person. You need to spend time by yourself learning what is most important to you in your life. You need to spend time by yourself figuring out what you want to do with your future and how to make it happen. Nobody can tell you what is best for you. You have to figure that out for yourself. You need to learn to love yourself. If you don’t love yourself, then who will love you? There will come a point in your life when you need to decide what is best for you. You won’t have anyone to turn to for help with that decision. Once you learn who you REALLY are, and you learn what it is that you want in life, then you will start to find happiness. When you find happiness, you will learn to love yourself for the person that you really are, without being influenced by the people around you. Once you learn to love your true self, you will finally be able to really, truly love others.

To me, the two most important things in the world are love and happiness. When you think about it, they really go hand in hand. But, it all starts with you. You have to learn to love yourself if you want to live a life of happiness and be able to love those who are most important to you as much as they deserve to be loved. I think we all could agree that this world needs more love and more happiness. There could never be enough of either in this world. It starts with you. Take care of yourself before you try to take care of others. Love yourself, it’s important!!

I’ve Never Seen Anything Like This

Earlier tonight, I finally got a chance to go outside and see the damage Hurricane Irma caused in the area close to my home. When I think back to what the experience of the storm itself was like, seeing the damage it caused is pretty surreal. The #1 thought running through my head right now is, I am lucky. Things VERY easily could have been pretty terrible here… but they weren’t. During the storm, I knew there would be damage, but I never imagined it would be this bad around here.

The parking lot in front of my building is covered with scattered broken branches right now. About 75 yards way, a tree was completely uprooted. There is a giant hole in the ground with the tree lying next to it. Metal signs are twisted and facing the wrong direction. Other signs are bent over, or are just gone. There is damage to the buildings around here, but nothing significant that I could see. There is other random debris on the ground that I am guessing came from a building somewhere, but I couldn’t begin to guess where it’s from.

When I was finally able to leave home tonight, I decided I needed a few hours to go have some fun. I decided to head to the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival at Disney World. Along the way, I finally realized just how lucky I am to not have had anything bad happen to me.

The back road I take to get to Disney World is flooded right now. Hundreds of trees are gone in an area that just days ago was basically a forest. Power poles are leaning. Trees that didn’t break or blow over are leaning. On the back side of Magic Kingdom, the side tourists never see, more trees are either gone or were snapped in half. Disney’s Grand Floridian resort didn’t appear to have any damage, but there were more trees down outside of the resort. Driving by Disney’s Magnolia and Palm golf courses, you guessed it… more giant trees are down. Many of the trees appear to have basically been snapped like twigs. Some of the fairways are flooded. There is a lot of work that will need to be done to get those courses ready for play again.

As I headed toward Epcot, I passed by a broken pipe that was spraying water 20′ into the air. All of Disney’s signs have either already been repaired/replaced, or somehow managed to not be damaged.

Epcot was probably the busiest I’ve ever seen it tonight, which is not surprising after people were stuck inside for days. I think it was just a big relief for all of us to have a place to go for a few hours to just forget about the past few days.

This is probably something that was far from most people’s minds as they enjoyed their time in the park, but I made sure to thank every cast member I spoke with tonight. They all obviously experienced the same storm as the rest of us. They likely had damage to deal with at their homes. They all have family and friends they have been worried about. Yet, tonight they were at work (probably not by choice) doing their best to make the experience feel like a normal day/night for all of the park guests. I really hope more people thanked them for their hard work and for keeping the Disney magic alive for all of us who just wanted a little break from reality. I figured the least I could do was let them know that I appreciate the things they do for the park guests… not just now, but all of the time. Cast members put up with a lot of crap from people, and shouldn’t have to deal with that.

I’m sure I will see a lot more jaw-dropping things in the days and weeks to come, but this is just a quick little update on the things I saw in the short time I went out tonight. I don’t have any pictures of any of the damage around here, and I’m not sure if the descriptions I gave do justice to the severity of some of the damage. I think it’s maybe one of those things that you have to see for yourself and had to know what things looked like around here before for you to truly understand it.

I keep saying this, but I can’t stress enough how lucky myself and the people around me were during Hurricane Irma. The damage here is really bad in areas, but it’s nothing compared to what some people are dealing with. Those are the people we should all be thinking of at this time. They need help. It takes people working together to get things back to as close to normal as possible. It will be a long process for many people, but life will get back to normal eventually. Hopefully that “normal” life will return sooner rather than later.

Hypothetical vs Reality

This is something that has come up a few times over the past several days. A few people have asked why I decided to stay in Orlando and ride out Hurricane Irma, instead of evacuating to a place far away from danger.

I remember talking about hurricanes a lot when I lived in North Dakota. I remember saying that, if I lived in Florida, I would just fly home if/when a hurricane was approaching, and then I would go back to Florida after the storm had passed. Some people have asked why I didn’t just do that. And, well, there are many reasons.

Things seem so simple when you live in a place that is 1,500 miles from the nearest ocean and you have no chance of being affected by a hurricane. Hurricanes tend to not pop up suddenly. It can and does happen. Usually, you know days in advance that a hurricane could be headed your way though. Irma traveled thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean. People knew about it for over a week. But, this storm had a mind of its own. The experts who have been studying and forecasting weather for decades didn’t know exactly where this storm would pass through Florida until it started to happen. It’s a bit of a surprise when you wake up in the morning thinking you will be 75 miles from the eye of a hurricane that day, and then you end up inside of the eye wall of the storm just a few short hours later. That’s life. Life throws you curveballs sometimes, and you just have to roll with it and adapt.

Irma was expected to turn to the northwest. The storm moved due north. Almost nobody predicted that. Everyone was surprised. That is not the point I want to make though…

When people go on trips and fly across the country, they plan those trips well in advance. Travel arrangements are made and money is saved months before the trip. When you find out that a massive hurricane is headed directly toward you less than a week before it hits, you can’t always just get on a plane and fly across the country. Flights are expensive. Taking a trip and being away from home for several days is expensive. There is planning involved. Even in an emergency, packing up and leaving your home suddenly is not as easy as you think it would be. Flights fill up quickly as people start to decide to evacuate. Airports close as the weather gets too bad. You only have so many options. There are only so many flights and only so many seats in each plane.

During a hurricane, when evacuations are ordered, millions of people have to try to leave the area at the same time. When the Florida Keys and Miami were evacuated, millions of people tried to get out as fast as possible. Roads were jammed. Traffic was stopped. You can’t just get in your vehicle and leave Florida quickly when millions of other people have the same idea. Many coastal areas were evacuated, but Orlando was not. This is one of the places where people came to take cover when they had to evacuate their homes.

As I said already, everyone was completely caught off guard by the exact path of Hurricane Irma. When everyone was told that Orlando was not expected to be in the direct path of the worst of Irma, none of us who live here had any reason to believe that evacuating was necessary. Some people chose to leave, because they felt safer not staying here and riding out the storm. If they felt safer elsewhere, then they made the best decision for themselves.

Orlando is in the center of the Florida peninsula, so there was no chance that we would have to deal with storm surge. That is key. That is why people were not evacuated here. Storm surge is the biggest reason that people die in hurricanes. We were prepared to deal with the wind and rain, but storm surge was never going to be an issue here. Everyone has their own set of circumstances and comfort levels, but I would not have planned to evacuate even if I had known well in advance that I would be in the direct path of the worst part of the storm. I know that a lot of people worried about me and were concerned for my safety. I really appreciate their concern, but I never felt that my life was at risk. I don’t want to die. I would never intentionally put myself in a situation where I could lose my life. I planned all along to ride out Irma at home, and have no regrets about that decision.

I remember watching news coverage of several hurricanes while I lived in North Dakota. Specifically, I remember Hurricane Andrew. I remember seeing the damage and destruction that storm caused. That is something I have never forgotten. I remember thinking how scary it would be to experience a storm like that. There have been a few pictures that have popped up on the internet that compared the size of Hurricane Irma to Hurricane Andrew. I’m sure a lot of you have seen that picture. Irma was MUCH bigger than Andrew. I don’t know how many people really understand just how massive Irma was. This storm was enormous!! It was definitely something I will never forget.

Since I experienced it for myself, and it was my first real experience feeling the full effects of a hurricane, Irma will always be more memorable for me than it will be for some Floridians. You can see pictures and watch videos of hurricanes, but you will never fully understand the power of these storms until you experience one for yourself. The power of nature truly is incredible!!

I could probably make many more comparisons between talking hypothetically about a hurricane and actually living through one, but I will just discuss one last point. The times in North Dakota when I said I would just leave during a hurricane and then return to Florida later seemed a lot easier, because, at the time, Florida was just a vacation destination to me. I live here now. This is my home. This is my life. I can’t imagine just leaving behind a place I love so much just to avoid a storm. If I felt as though I were putting my life in jeopardy, then that would be a different story. Just leaving to avoid the storm itself just doesn’t make sense to me though. Abandoning my home and the people I have met here just doesn’t make sense to me. I love this place and I love the people here. We’re all in this together. We experienced the storm together, and we will recover and rebuild together. I’ve said this in previous posts, but this storm will bring our community closer together. It just wouldn’t have been the same for me if I had left. Everyone views things differently, but I am glad I stayed. If I had the option a million times to go back and do things differently, I wouldn’t have changed anything about this past weekend.

I don’t know if anyone who asked why I didn’t leave will ever read this, but, if they do, I hope this gives them a better idea of why I made the decision I made. They still may not agree with me, and that’s fine. Everyone is entitled to their own views and opinions. Staying here and experiencing the full force of Irma seemed like the right choice for me, and I still fully stand by it.

Unless you’ve experienced something for yourself, you really don’t know what it’s like, and you can’t honestly say for sure what you would have done if you were in that situation. You can’t judge people for doing what they feel is best for themselves. Hypothetical situations versus reality can change in an instant. There are just too many factors involved to really know what you would have done in any given situation. Remember that things always seem a whole lot simpler when you’re on the outside looking in.

What I Am Seeing So Far (Hurricane Irma Update)

Hurricane Irma has moved out of Florida, and I finally got some sleep today. The curfew here in Orange County has been lifted, and people are starting to get outside again. The elevator in my building is still shut off, so I will be staying on my floor until that is turned back on.

I did get a chance to look around outside a little bit from my floor though. What I am seeing so far is about what you would expect the day after a hurricane… it’s not pretty. Trees are broken or just completely knocked down. Branches are scattered everywhere. There is unrecognizable debris. It is hard to tell, but it appears there may be some roof damage to nearby buildings. Metal signs are bent and twisted. As bad as that is, the people who live near me were the lucky ones.

It sounds like my friends all made it through the storm safely. However, some of them are now starting the process of cleaning up damage, unfortunately. Millions of people have a long road ahead of them to get life back to normal. For some people, clean up will take days. For others, the process of cleaning up and rebuilding could take weeks, months, or years. I always try to find a way to put a positive spin on things, and, as much damage and destruction as Irma caused in Florida, I am thankful we didn’t have to deal with the storm being as strong as it was when it hit numerous Caribbean islands. The storm was bad here. It was really bad. After seeing the strength of the storm here, I can’t even begin to comprehend what it must have been like for the people in the Caribbean. I hope people from around the world pull together to help those islands and help those people put their lives back together.

Hopefully tomorrow I can get outside and get a better look at things around here. If I can, I want to help people get life back to normal as quickly as possible. I just don’t know how much I will be able to do. Maybe the best way I can help is by staying out of the way. I guess we’ll see.

Once again, this isn’t a very detailed update. Hopefully I can update in more detail over the next day or two. I think perhaps the best thing for everyone tonight is to just relax and take a break from everything storm-related. Crews are working around the clock to restore power as quickly as possible to people who are still in the dark. While they are out working hard, I think it might be good for the rest of us to just take a breath. We made it. We’re safe. There is a lot of work to do as we move forward and get Florida put back together, but taking one night to unwind before that work starts could be a good thing for everyone.

People have shown throughout Irma and the preparation for the storm that we can pull together and love each other. People have shown that we can unite and set aside our differences. I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again… I hope people remember this time. I hope we can learn from this experience. I hope Irma is the turning point that this country (and this whole world) so badly needs. We all share one planet and we are all human beings. If we want to, we can all unite. We just need to stop talking about how nice it would be, and actually start to make it happen.

While You Were Asleep… A Night I’ll Never Forget (Hurricane Irma Update)

While most Americans settled in for a good night’s sleep, I had an experience I will never forget. As I said in a previous update, I have always been a “weather nerd”. Many people are scared to death when they hear a storm is headed their way. When I lived in North Dakota, storm chasing was a hobby of mine. Driving out to a random country road to get a good view of a tornado is a thrill that can’t be beat. This storm, however, caught my attention, but also made me curious. My whole life, I have absolutely hated missing out on things. I would rather be exhausted the next day than miss out on something the night before. It’s just the way I am. Live for today!!

Before I continue, I want to apologize in advance if there are spelling/grammar errors in this update. I normally proof-read my posts 4-5 times before publishing them, but I have done some decent damage on a case of beer tonight as this storm has moved in, so editing is not something I’m concerned with right now. haha

Anyway, Hurricane Irma basically got ripped apart over central Florida. Wind shear caused the eye to get destroyed. In the process, the strong winds were expanded by almost 450 miles!! That is pretty unbelievable. People as far away as North Carolina experienced strong, damaging winds from a hurricane that was centered over central Florida. That just doesn’t happen… ever… except tonight. As a result of this change in the storm, the strongest winds ended up hitting where I live. I ended up inside the eye wall of Hurricane Irma.

I am struggling to find the words to do justice to the experience. Imagine a jet hovering directly above you for an extended period of time. That may not fully describe what it was like here, but I can’t think of a better description. It was LOUD!! Palm tress that are 30 feet tall were completely bent over. The tops of the trees were touching the ground. You know those things you see on TV, but you think “that will never happen here”? That happened here. I was stunned and amazed. It sucked me in and I couldn’t look away. Now that I am safe and out of danger, it was SO COOL!!!!

Throughout this storm, I have been hoping that I would not lose power. My lights flickered for about 20 minutes as the worst of Irma moved in. I have no idea how, but the power never went out here. Millions of people were not so fortunate. I have heard that well over 3 million people across Florida have lost power. The storm is nowhere near being done here, but I am hopeful that I won’t end up in the dark, now that the worst of the storm has passed.

All night long, I have been hearing loud bangs outside. I have no idea what those sounds are from at this point. Perhaps I will find out tomorrow. The only real concern I have had during this storm is that my car is parked right next to a tree. The trees that I am able to see from my balcony are all still standing, and very few branches have been lost. I am hoping when I get a chance to go check on my car tomorrow that there isn’t a tree on top of it.

Growing up in North Dakota, one experience you never think you will have in your life is being inside the eye wall of a hurricane. I experienced it, and it was incredible!! I will not say that it was “fun”, but it was something I will say I am glad I got to experience, now that I’m out of danger. This storm did a lot of damage, and areas of Florida will take days, weeks, months, or maybe even years to rebuild and get back to normal. I have said this all along and I will say it again, Florida will come out of this thing stronger and better than ever!! People will pull together. We will all help each other to get life back to normal. Friendships will be made. Neighbors will become closer. Communities will be stronger. I’m an optimist. I just am. I don’t want my personal experience to diminish the damage and destruction this storm has caused. Now is the time for all of us who were very fortunate to step up and help others in need. We are all Floridians. We are all Americans. We are all human beings. Nothing else matters. Now is a time to love each other and help each other. We can all pull together in times of need, so why can’t we all pull together like this ALL of the time? We can. We just need to remember times like right now and remember how easy it is to be kind to each other and help each other. Irma was, and is, a horrible storm that has changed many people’s lives forever. Let’s all use this storm as a turning point to unite and spread love to everyone around us!!

It’s Show Time, Folks!! (Hurricane Irma Update)

The worst part of Hurricane Irma has started in central Florida now. It is here, and it announced its arrival with a bang… literally. I have no clue what that sound was, but it was loud!!

About two hours before the hurricane force winds arrived, a possible tornado passed through the area where I live. I didn’t seen any damage, but it hit suddenly. The only way I can describe the sound is that it sounded like a jet was flying about 100′ above my roof. For a few minutes, I couldn’t even see the building across the street from me.

Winds have gradually increased throughout the day. I still have electricity, but the lights have flickered a few times. The strongest rain bands (accompanied by the arrival of the hurricane force winds) just hit here about 45 minutes ago. Once again, it hit suddenly. There was no gradual increase this time. I heard some loud bangs outside that I have to assume were from debris hitting something.

The biggest change, which none of the “experts” predicted is that this storm is moving north… STRAIGHT north. It was supposed to move north-northwest, and the eye was supposed to pass over the Tampa Bay area. The eye of the storm, if it stays on its current track, will either pass directly over (or just to the west of) Disney World. If that is the case, the eye of the storm will pass just a few miles to the west of where I live. There is even a slight chance that I could end up inside the eye of the storm.

As I am typing this, the constant roar I have been hearing outside for the past hour or so seems to have calmed down a bit. Not a sign that anyone can let their guard down, but it is nice to hear things quiet down for a little bit.

So far, I haven’t seen any damage, but I have to imagine there is some damage in this area. The wind has been crazy at times. The rain has been blowing sideways most of the day, and, at times, it has been so heavy that it has looked like snow. In a way, watching the rain blow over the buildings around me reminds me of a North Dakota blizzard.

The rain is still pouring down here right now, and the wind gusts have to be well over 80 mph. The wind will likely continue to increase as the eye of Irma moves closer. Strong winds will continue until around sunrise tomorrow. After that, we can start to breathe a sigh of relief.

I may or may not write another update again tonight. I imagine the rest of the night will be more of the same… just windier. If anything comes up that is worth sharing, I will do so, if I can. If not, I will try to update everybody again tomorrow once things start to settle down, if I still have power.

And Now, We Wait… (Hurricane Irma Update)

Hurricane Irma has officially made landfall on the southwest coast of Florida. The wind here in the Orlando area is now gusting up to around 50 mph. Moderate to heavy rain has been falling for the past few hours. I didn’t sleep very much last night, due to getting notifications for Tornado Warnings on my phone every 45 minutes or so. You know you’re in “hurricane mode” when a Tornado Warning alert doesn’t even phase you anymore. haha

I hope everyone along the coast who was told to evacuate listened and got out safely!! I have seen pictures and videos from both the Gulf coast and the Atlantic coast. There is already a ton of damage, and this storm is just getting started. While I am on the “dirty side” (the bad side) of the storm, I am very thankful to live in the middle of the peninsula, and not on the coast. There will be wind, rain, and possibly tornadoes here for the next 12 hours or so.

I slept in as late I could today to make sure I’m as well-rested as possible for tonight. The worst of Hurricane Irma is expected to impact central Florida at around 2 AM tonight, so I will likely not be sleeping tonight.

Hopefully I will still have power so I can update again later, but all I can do now is wait. I spent the afternoon finishing some last minute prep work at home. I have plenty of water and food to last me for several days, if needed. I am now done with my storm prep. I am as ready as I can be for Irma.

In such a serious situation, it’s important for people to not panic. We all need to stay positive and remember to laugh on occasion. Keeping your sense of humor and positivity helps to keep things feeling a little bit more normal. I was watching a live hurricane report from a local golf course a little bit ago, and, while the reporter was standing in a foot of water on one of the fairways, there were guys on the course playing golf!! hahahaha Obviously, that’s not smart, and I hope they get home safely, but it was nice comic relief from the seriousness and severity of this storm.

This isn’t a very detailed update, but there’s still not much to update everybody on so far here in the Orlando area. Conditions are continuing to deteriorate, but the storm seems to be weakening some now that it has made landfall. Hopefully it will weaken more quickly than forecast. If possible, I will write another update later tonight. Hopefully there won’t be much to talk about then either. Stay safe, everybody!!

The Eve of Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma started its turn to the north a couple of hours ago, as predicted. The storm has moved off the coast of Cuba and is headed toward Key West, FL. This will be my first experience feeling the full effects of a hurricane. I got a little taste of the power of hurricanes last October during Hurricane Matthew, but Orlando was on the weaker side of that storm. In the area where I live, I think the highest wind gust we had was 68 mph. Irma will be a completely different experience.

The strongest winds (outside of the eye wall) in a north-bound hurricane are on the northeast side of the storm. As Irma makes its way along the Florida Gulf coast and through Tampa/St. Pete, Orlando will be on the northeast side of the storm. Nobody knows yet exactly what we can expect here. A slight shift in the storm one direction or another could make a big difference, either good or bad. The last few updates have moved the path of the storm slightly farther west each time, so the eye keeps moving farther away from me. A big shift to the west isn’t likely at this point, but those of us here on the Florida peninsula can always hope this storm stays offshore.

Friends and family have asked me two questions repeatedly so far: 1. What’s the weather like there right now? 2. How bad is it supposed to get where you live?

The answer to the first question is, tonight was a beautiful night… but things are changing. Anyone who has ridden out a tropical cyclone of any kind before knows that it just has a different feeling to it. It’s hard to describe. Florida is always humid, but it’s almost like Florida humidity on steroids. You go outside and everything just feels wet instantly. The outer bands of Irma have arrived, and the wind has started to pick up with gusts to 30 mph right now. There is some heavy rain coming, and there will be a high risk here over the next two days for very weak, short-lived tornadoes.

The answer to the second question is, I’ll know tomorrow night. The storm is looking like it will weaken slightly more than was originally forecast, but winds here in the area around Walt Disney World could still gust over 100 mph. Sustained winds could possibly still be around 80-90 mph. Between Sunday afternoon and Monday night, the Orlando area is expecting to get around 14″ of rain, so flooding will be an issue in areas. I do not live in a flood plain, so that shouldn’t be an issue here. I also don’t live on the ground floor of my building, so I have no concerns with flooding.

A lot of people have sent me well wishes and have expressed concern for my safety. I very much appreciate everyone’s concern and positive wishes, but I ask that none of my family or friends who read this panic. This storm is going to be bad, but I am remaining calm. I have always been a “weather nerd”, and am more curious than anything. I am not scared, and I feel safe. I am prepared. I have food, water, and other supplies to last me for several days. I am more concerned for my friends who live along the coast, especially the Gulf coast. The biggest reason people die in hurricanes is because of storm surge. I really hope that anyone who lives in an area that is vulnerable to storm surge and flooding made the wise decision to evacuate.

As much as I am curious about what this storm could bring, I also am not stupid. I know not to take risks. I am in a safe place and will not be going outside until probably Tuesday.

At this point, there is not much else to say as far as an update. There will be occasional heavy rain and gusty winds overnight tonight, and a chance of a weak tornado. Starting early tomorrow afternoon, conditions here will start to deteriorate. It will get progressively worse throughout the day. Between 9 PM on Sunday and 5 AM on Monday is the time that people in the Orlando area are being told to “hunker down”. The worst of the storm will likely be around 2 AM on Monday here. I will try to write as many of these updates as possible throughout the storm, but widespread power outages are expected across Florida. If I lose power, I won’t be updating, obviously. If that is the case, then I will fill everyone in on the details of the storm after power is restored in my area.

Please keep sending positive vibes and prayers to everyone in the path of Hurricane Irma. It looks like the forecast will not change much now, but we can always hope for a miracle. I hope everyone in the path of this storm, especially everyone on the coast, stays safe!! While preparing for the storm this week, I was reminded several times of just how great this place is. I am proud to live in central Florida, and am amazed how people here never fail to pull together in times of need. We will all make it through this storm together! Irma may cause damage and destruction, but Florida will come out of this stronger and better than ever!