my blog about my recent travels has moved to zenmindzeimind.wordpress.com. There re already three entries up over there!

Pushing my limits and getting out of my element were plans I had when booking my upcoming world adventure. As the weeks turn to days and the days eventually turn to hours, I can’t help but to realize the true anxiety I have about going overseas for the first time ever and doing it all alone.

I recently found myself waking up from a deep sleep to a panic attack about going to Singapore. The fear of the unknown and unexpected was running through my head. The idea of where I would go if I just wanted some “me time” since I’d be staying in a hostel and what would I do if I absolutely hated Singapore and wanted to come home immediately?

I have very bad teeth and often get excruciatingly painful toothaches. What do I do if that happens while I’m overseas? Another thing that comes to mind is about finances. While I have budgeted a certain amount of money based upon research and have more money than what I’ve budgeted for, what happens if I don’t have enough money with me?

There are so many questions and so many what-ifs that keep my anxiety elevated. I think my worst fears are getting stuck in Singapore or going broke until the time I am scheduled to come home.

I experienced this same fear about a week or so about going on my cruise, but it wasn’t as nerve-wracking or as intense as the fear I am feeling towards going to Singapore. Something else that is rather odd about my anxiety and fear of going to Singapore is that I don’t feel the intensity of my fear and anxiety when I think about going to Malaysia.

It’s crossed my mind to cancel my trip overseas except for my cruise and trip to NYC, but then I wouldn’t be breaking out of my box and getting out of my comfort zone. I have found out my airline tickets to Singapore are non-refundable, so if I did chicken out, I would be out well over $1,100.

My feelings aren’t uncommon from what people tell me, but that’s not as comforting to know as I thought. When it all comes down to it, I will be going on this trip and I will have a great time learning of the different cultures that make up the eastern part of the world. Only a few days left before I embark on my EPIC World adventure!

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Traveling has always been an interest of mine. My adventures have always been limited to where my parents have wanted to go or visit family and friends in other states. Last year, I traveled back to Missouri for my annual camping trip and to visit family and friends. In the end, I traveled nearly 2,600 miles by myself in a car. Spending time on the road by myself and exploring parts of Missouri on my own made me realize I enjoyed doing what I wanted on my own schedule, and quite frankly, I enjoyed the solitude. On my 29th birthday, I promised myself I would leave the country before I turned 30. With that promise I made to myself, my first transpacific trip and first solo cruise was born.

Deciding on the destinations and a cruise ship were definitely not easy. A timeline, budget and where I was going seemed to change just as quickly as I settled on them. A transatlantic cruise on board the Celebrity Equinox in April eventually changed to an eastern Caribbean cruise on the Norwegian Epic in March. A trip around Europe turned into a tour of Singapore and Malaysia. It only took four months and tons of research to finalize my vacation.

While I call my upcoming adventure a vacation, my intentions are far greater than just that. My cruise to St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Nassau, Bahamas is an ice breaker into solo travel and a time to unwind from the pressures of everyday life. Singapore is a trip to learn more about a different culture and to gain more enlightenment into religion – particularly in Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity in an eastern country. The entire vacation is about experiencing the world by myself and getting me out of my own comfort zone.

I’m planning to do things I wouldn’t normally consider doing, such as zip lining in St. Thomas and eating adventurous foods in Singapore to going to a remote island in Malaysia where there are no roads and the population is just over 400 people. I may be pushed to the limits at times, but I will learn a significant amount about other cultures and myself. I look forward to my EPIC world adventure and can’t wait to share my experiences with others.

Almost simultaneously last night, I received a text message from my sister, simply saying, “you surviving?” and a phone call from my mom asking if I was all right. Joplin, MO, a mere 75 mile drive from here was struck by a massive tornado that has devastated the lives of thousands. I was fortunate enough to quickly get in touch with friends I have in Joplin to find out they were OK after the storm.

As the dark clouds began rolling into Springfield, hours later, a thought crossed my mind wondering if we could be next. I shook off the thought and watched as the rain came down and not a warning presented itself in the area. I couldn’t help but to feel relieved.

My friend, Billy and I sat out on my patio with a cool breeze blowing by. I felt strange sitting there unscathed and feeling a sense of calm while just 75 miles down the road people were homeless, losing everything, some clinging to life and many others unfortunate enough to have lost their lives.

When one of my friends from Joplin texted me to say she was safe, her text said, “Joplin is destroyed… I’m safe but we’re trying to get to someone who’s trapped.” I got chills thinking about what they were going through, the grief those in the heart of the destruction were going through and how they were just beginning to process what happened.

As the night went on, my Facebook and Twitter feeds blew up with people finding out their friends and families were all right. Some friends were saying their friends’ houses got blown away. I started seeing pictures and videos of the aftermath. I felt like crying. It was too close to home.

The more pictures and videos I saw and the articles I read made me begin to reflect on life. The small things that get to us become distant. The fights we had with our friends and families just days or weeks or months before seem moot. Personal possessions we just had to have seem pointless now.

While I was over an hour away from the storm, I still had a sense of thankfulness for being alive. I think of those people who were sitting down for Sunday dinner and now missing a loved one, or two or possibly even more.

As the debris settles and the needs of the Joplin area are better known, I have a sense of wanting to help while having a feeling of helplessness. I don’t want to see this tragedy go by without lending a hand in someway. I’m hoping to be able to help out in a few days, whether it be donating my time in Joplin, donating money or food, or whatever else may be needed. I truly hope those that are able will do the same.

As I lay down to sleep, I’m thankful for the friends, family and life I have. I always try to not take things for granted, but it sadly always takes an event like the Joplin tornado to remember there are still things we take for granted; life being a prime example. Thinking something like this can’t happen to us is another example. Life can be taken at any moment, without warning, and tragedies do happen to us. My thoughts will continue to be with those impacted by the events of yesterday.

… that’s me!  I hate Halloween, I mean I despise it.  Halloween is one of those days I would rather just forget about and just act as though it doesn’t exist. 

I hate dressing in costumes. I hate the idea of trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, haunted houses, being scared, and scary movies.

People have told me before that I’m neurotic.  I never really believed it, but Halloween definitely brings it out in me.  I was actually irritated I was off work this past Halloween..  I was going to close and lock my doors, close the blinds and shut off all the lights in the apartment just in case that stray trick or treater outsmarted the security doors and came panhandling for my stash of candy.  I instead went to a bar to watch the Steelers lose and the series premiere of, “The Walking Dead” on AMC?

I remember when I lived in the dorms a few years ago, the residence halls had a night of trick-or-treating for kids; my roommate wanted to sign up but I was adamantly against it.  We didn’t do it because of my protest.

On Saturday, I went to the biggest pub crawl of the year; the Halloween pub crawl.  As I looked at the various costumes I couldn’t help but to wish, deep down inside that I could dress up.  I’d go insane if I had dressed up and wasted my money, though.

A person dressed as a pumpkin walked by; she had dyed her hair orange and green, had orange face paint on, had an orange shirt on and made herself look round.  I looked down at my abstract version of a pumpkin I had dressed myself in which consisted of funky hair, an orange shirt and a green tie as one of my friends pointed out I had been outdone.

Some other people joined our group dressed as ninja turtles.  Their faces and arms were covered in green paint.  I caught myself several times rubbing my arms to get the green paint off, even though I wasn’t the one covered. 

Halloween is an excuse for teenagers and adult women to dress slutty.  It’s an excuse for people to act stupid and for people to get drunk.  The big thing I don’t understand is why should I spend $40+ dollars for strangers’ kids to have candy?  I just don’t get the concept I guess.

When I have a house of my own, I’ll gladly buy or make goodie bags for kids I know, but my porch light will otherwise be off. 
Halloween really makes me cynical and a negative Nancy.  It helps remind me of my neurotic tendencies as I hate make up or any feeling of something on my face, hands or arms, I hate to sweat like a mask would make me do, I hate looking weird or drawing attention to myself and I have a phobia of blood.  I really just wish October 31 could be a forgotten day.  We could always give February an extra day so it doesn’t feel so short.

I don’t see October 31 disappearing anytime soon, or a February 30th coming around every four years or even any change in how people celebrate Halloween.

But, I guess I may be the Scrooge of Halloween.

  I always have the choice of closing my door while others have their own sense of fun dressing silly and taking candy from strangers.  In the end, who am I to end the tradition of Halloween? 

I often think back to times with my childhood dog, Molly; a yorkshire terrier.  She had a full, loving life but died in 2004 after a long battle with glaucoma.  A few years before her death, her first eye was lost, and eventually her second eye became infected with glaucoma.  My parents fought vigorously to save her eye with costly treatments and surgeries.  They would end up failing and she eventually became fully blind.  It was during her life that I developed my passion for animals.  Next to children and the elderly, animals are the most vulnerable beings in the world.

Every election cycle, we hear its the most important election of our lives.  This year’s midterm elections on November 2 are no different, not just for humans, but for the dogs of Missouri.  For those that don’t know, Missouri is considered the “puppy mill” capital of America.  For Missourians, we will see the “Missouri Dog Breeding Regulations Initiative” or better known as Prop B on the ballot.  The initiative, spearheaded by the Humane Society of Missouri and U.S.A.; hopes to put guidelines and restrictions on “large scale” dog breeders.  On the surface and from the wording on the official ballot, prop B looks like a great thing to vote for. 

I bought my pug, Harvey in January from a “large scale” breeder in Bolivar.  As I pulled up to the small house, I could hear dogs barking in a warehouse larger than the house in the backyard.  After I signed the papers and started carrying Harvey out of the house, the lady asked for a few minutes of our time.  She ran back in the house as my friend and I stood in the cold snow covered ground.  The lady came back with a petition.  At that time the Humane Society of the U.S. was fighting to get prop B on the ballot.  Her petition was to stop them. 

The lady told us how breeding pugs and yorkshire terriers was her and her disabled husband’s livelihoods.  If prop B passed they could lose everything.  They were a legal breeder and maintained healthy animals in good conditions.  With the restrictions the initiative would put in place, her and her family would have no choice but to close their doors.

I became a skeptic about her story after reading the text of the law.  I thought who couldn’t support such a great initiative.  It wasn’t until I saw the American Kennel Association, Missouri Bureau of Farms, Missouri Veterinary Medicine Association, and the Libertarian Party of Missouri was against prop B that I began questioning my own skepticism.  If it was a good law, why would these reputable organizations be against it?

As it currently stands the Missouri department of agriculture periodically inspects licensed dog breeders’ facilities.  After the proposition made it on the ballot, the Missouri Department of Agriculture came out with the following starement; “no current licensed breeder can comply with the regulations set forth by prop B, no matter how clean and well run.  Cost prohibitive space coupled with misdemeanors for the most minor of issues will eliminate the legal industry in our state.” 

After seeing that statement, my skepticism for the breeder’s story and support for prop B diminished.  While prop B places stringent restrictions on legal and licensed breeders, it fails to address the true atrocity of cracking down on non-licensed breeders and animal hoarders.  The not-so-obvious intention of the Humane Societies of Missouri and the US is not only to shutdown the legal business of breeding dogs, but to lock away the hobby of dog shows in Missouri. 

Legislation to improve the treatment of dogs in “puppy mills” must happen and I’m an avid supporter of this, but prop B is overreaching, will only hurt legitimate breeders, dogs and most importantly the Missouri economy while creating bigger government.  We cannot allow this to happen. 

Harvey is still intact.  I could buy a female dog, or stud him out.  As long as I don’t intend on selling the puppies, I can do whatever the hell I want without the intrusion of the government.  Harvey was an extremely healthy puppy when I bought him at four months old.  I saw some of the other puppies this woman had and they seemed healthy as well.  Under prop B, this woman could lose the business she loves and the house her and her family lives in.

Prop B holds some great potential, such as requiring dogs exercise time outside, space to be able to stretch out and turn around in their cages but the initiative simply goes too far. 

For those who own a dog, have owned a dog or ever intend to own a dog; you come home to see your dog has puked a few times.  Based off a few up chucks, do you intend to take your dog to the vet?  More than likely you’d dismiss it as an upset stomach and not take them to the veterinarian.  If you were a breeder, under prop B you’d be guilty of a class c misdemeanor of “cruelty.” 

How many of you have given clean food and water to your pet only to see hours late they dropped a piece of food in their water?  If prop B becomes law you just committed cruelty and you’re guilty of a class c misdemeanor if you’re a breeder.

Maybe you’re thinking you don’t have a problem with the law so far.  OK, that’s fine.  Take these other items into consideration;

Dogs love to be outside.  Under prop B, dogs must have constant access to the outdoors.  For those familiar with Missouri weather, they know the summers can be scorching hot and the winters bitterly cold.  We often hear the weather service or newscasters tell us to bring pets inside.  According to prop B, dogs must be allowed out during this time risking serious illness or even death.  They don’t know any better and will go out regardless of the health risks.  After a puppy learns to walk after birth or before they’re weaned, they will feel protected by their mother.  With her unfettered access to the outdoors, the puppies are going to follow; yet another example of risking death, not to mention the cold and hot drafts this will create in the dogs’ living quarters.

You may still seem skeptical about voting no on prop B, but here are some other points to consider;

–  If you breed dogs for hunting, you’re exempt from all prop B guidelines.
–  All wired cages that provide a tray under for easy removal of urine and feces is banned from use.  Stacked cages would also be banned. 
–  Due to the above cage law, people who show their dogs can at no point use these cages to prepare for showing or grooming if they have more than 10 intacted females. 
–  If the wired cages are so detrimental to the health of a dog, they should simply be banned, right?  Not according to Prop B.  No science has proven the cages to harm the health of a dog and in fact, the exact organizations that support this law such as the Humane Society of Missouri and the vets you see in pro-prop B commercials are exempt from this guideline and all of prop B.  I know for a fact the southwest humane society uses these types of cages. 

So, prop B will place such stringent restrictions on legal and licensed breeders that they will lose their businesses, lose their animals, lose their houses and livelihood while keeping animal hoarders, breeders of hunting animals, unlicensed breeders, shelters and humane societies out of being held accountable for the same standards.

In an unstable economy, Missouri is not in a situation to shut the doors on legitimate businesses, lose taxes and jobs because of ignorance and misleading information.  We may be the “puppy mill” capital of America and we do need laws to change that and improve the situation for the vulnerable and defenseless canines of Missouri, but I think its safe to say if they had a voice, dogs would adamantly be against prop B; I’ve heard Roy Blunt – congressman for the 7th U.S. district of Missouri and current republican candidate for the U.S. senate is against prop B.

If you’re still skeptical on my stance on the Missouri Dog Breeder Regulations Initiative or prop B, I hope you will consider looking into both sides of the issue.  You have a little less than two weeks.

When you go to the polls on November 2 and read prop B on the ballot know that its biased towards its passage; understand that if you read the law, it sounds great.  As much as this kills me, I think an appropriate quote for this situation is by Barney Frank (D-Mass) “it is very important that the people who make the law be subject to the law.  People who are not subject to laws will make harsh laws because they don’t have to live with them.  Having the people who make the law be fully covered by the law creates a safeguard against unfairness.”  This quote is relevant because the vast majority of us are not dog breeders and so we won’t be subjected to the law.  Don’t be duped by the language of the ballot, the actual law or even by the recent commercials of veterinarians calling for the passage of prop B; remember the Missouri Veterinary Medicine Association has said NO to prop B.

If you’re considering staying home on November 2, at least consider going out to vote no on prop B.  This isn’t about us, its about what’s right for all the Harveys and Mollys in Missouri.

Harvey Milk once said, “Should a bullet enter my brain, let the bullet destroy every closet door in this country.”  I’ve attempted to live by Harvey Milk’s words since I heard them several years ago.  Today marks National Coming Out Day for the gay community; not just in America, but across the globe.  With recent events, I realized now is a pivotal moment in our history to finally make that pronouncement.  On my 25th birthday, in 2008 I came out to most of my friends.  In 2009, I came out to my parents and sister and in 2010 I am coming out to the rest of you.  I am gay. 

For those that are just finding out now that may feel hurt I didn’t tell you sooner; I am truly sorry.  For some of you, I found it hard to find the words to say.  For others, I didn’t feel it was necessary to point it out.

The road to discovering and accepting my sexuality was not an easy one. In American society we are raised to believe heterosexual relationships are the only natural and accepted “lifestyle” and homosexuality is evil, wrong and unnatural. Science has proven that statement to be untrue.

I began noticing myself to be different from my other classmates when I was around 14. As the boys started showing interest in the girls and the girls in the boys, I couldn’t help but to sit back and think of the boys. I remember trying to ignore my impulses and try to mask my orientation. I was able to fairly well for many years, but my feelings towards the same sex only grew more intense as the years went by.

I was raised in a house that believed in God, but we never spoke about it or went to church. My freshman year of high school, I joined the Fellowship of Christian Athletes with a few other friends. I served on the leadership team my sophomore year. My interest in FCA sparked a religious interest for my family. Soon after I joined, we began looking for a church home.

During this time, while I served on the leadership team, I developed a very conservative outlook on religion. I believed homosexuality to be an abomination. This began an inner battle within myself over my natural feelings and what I had been taught growing up. As the fight grew, I confided in a close friend. I told her I had feelings for men, but I was going to seek treatment. I was researching ex-gay ministries to help cure me. A few months later, I chose to accept myself. Although I believe today it was my interpretation and insecuruties, back then I didn’t feel she was supportive of my decision and I quickly retreated back in the closet claiming it all to be a big joke. I didn’t come back out to her until 2008; 8 years later.

When I was 20, I was still trying to suppress my orientation and pray the gay away. I moved to Springfield in 2004 and joined Campus Crusade for Christ. In January of 2005 Cru took a trip to Denver, CO for the Denver Christmas Conference.  I shared a hotel room with several other guys. I couldn’t help but to peak when they would be changing. I felt guilty, disgusting and wrong for doing so. One of the last days of the conference, a speaker came to speak about how he was gay and changed his life through God. He was “happily” married to a woman and had children. I was very interested in hearing his sermon, but decided to go up in the mountains of Colorado instead.  Looking back, it was probably a good thing as it would have confused me even more than what I already was.

Another four years would pass before I would really come to grips with and face my sexual identity. A friend of mine had recently come out and started dating another girl. That year her birthday was at the gay club in town.  When I got there I was mortified; drag queens, dance music, men kissing other men, women kissing women, “ugh!” I thought. I was highly uncomfortable.  At the end of the night, a guy who would become a dear and very supportive friend of mine came up to me, put his hands on my shoulders and said, “I know you’re straight, but you’re adorable.” His remark stuck with me. I soon realized I was 24 years old and I’d been battling for 10 years. It was about damn time for me to live my life for me and not for how society wanted me to live it.

Throughout my struggles I never had the support of people that could relate to me. With my friend coming out, I finally did. I could finally talk to someone about how I was feeling and they’d understand.  Being friends with her helped give me the ability to meet other gay people and create a support line.  Although I have extremely supportive straight friends, they couldn’t quite understand the battles going on within me.  I am very grateful for the friends I do have, and thank them for being so supportive.

Besides coming out to my parents, the hardest path on my road to acceptance was reconciling my Christian faith and my sexual orientation.  Through my voyage of finding the “truth,” I began questioning God.  How could He create me as I am and yet the majority of His “people” condemn me to Hell, when it’s not even their place to do so?  The God I believed in was a God that loved people regardless of who they loved.  I guess people forget the underlying theme throughout the New Testament is love, acceptance and tolerance.  It was Jesus that came up to a group of people about to stone a gypsie and said, “He who is sinless should cast the first stone.”  One of my favorite TV shows, Queer as Folk, has a quote that I like to carry around with me, “… He created you in his image.  At least that’s what I’ve always been taught.  And since God is love, and God doesn’t make mistakes, then you must be exactly the way he wants you to be.  And that goes for every person, every planet, every mountain, every grain of sand, every song, every tear…..  and every faggot.  We’re all his.  He loves us all.” 

With the recent rash of gay teen suicides, Kathy Griffin does a great job of summing up who plants the seeds in these bullies’ minds to believe what they are doing is right; “…they weren’t born with it, the politicians, so-called religious leaders and pundits who have made careers out of saying being gay is wrong, or immoral or that gays are somehow less than all have blood on their hands.”  People have the right to their own religions and their own beliefs.  I’m not trying to change anyone, but people need to realize when we talk about how wrong being gay is, we are teaching our children they are less than others.  For those children that may grow up and realize they are gay, it only confuses them even more, they internalize their emotions more and feel they have no where to turn to.  Mom and Dad are supposed to be our protectors, but how can they be when they say my feelings are an abomination.  I remember when my dad’s friend came out several years before I started accepting myself, my parents sat me down and said, “it’s OK to be gay, we just hope you’re not.”  Do you think that helped me?  Of course not.  It made me even more terrified and confused.  Luckily I was older, but for those that aren’t, it’s hard to comprehend.  They may feel suicide is the only avenue open to them.  People need to put their opinions aside and accept their children, their parents, their friends, teachers, pastors, etc. for who they are, even if they differ.  If we all did this, we’d see a reduction in teen suicides. 

We as a society are opening the door to the anti-gay bullies.  For the people that believe in God, you should be showing love and acceptance for the person, not condemnations.  Who wants to be a part of a group that has to justify themselves everytime they go to church and why you’re just as much as a Christian as the next person?  Who wants to belong in a group claiming to be inclusive, and yet tells a gay person they’re going to Hell if they don’t change their ways?  I know I don’t.  This is a continuing struggle for me, and I really can’t wait to do more research into the matter because I really believe the majority of people have it wrong.  My life is between God and I, not you, God and I.

  I’m asking those that do believe in God, and may believe homosexuality to be wrong, to really watch what you say, especially around children.  It’s fine if you don’t want to accept or tolerate the lifestyle, that’s your problem, but tolerate and accept the person and teach your children to do the same.  I’m sure that’s what your God would want. 

Through the nearly 13 years of my struggles, I am finally coming full circle and I have accepted myself.  I’m a much happier person and I hope my story has inspired some, given others more understanding and challenges others to think.