Memorable Meetups

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I've moved around a lot in the last few years, so finding new people and places has been challenging. My medicine is a meetup, taken as needed.

What is a "meetup" you ask? Meetups are special interest activity groups where membership is free and there is no commitment. Perfect for busy people.

meetup logo.pngMeetups are an automatic way to find like-interested compadres. You don't have to know anyone to be received as a new friend. People extend their hand and introduce themselves immediately. Everyone is in the fold.

Leaders set the tone. A leader is a crazy and selfless person who is willing to put all these activities into the calendars of the disenfranchised. They are the go-to people at an event.

From what I understand, meetups are intended to be social clubs. There is a de facto "no meat market" law. In fact, sometimes groups get a slap on the wrist for treating as such. I wouldn't rule out meeting a romantic partner, but that's not what they're about.


Outdoor Adventurers Klub (OAK) -- adventurers.meetup/94
Blues of South Florida Meetup --
Coffee & Creative Minds --
Prime Timers Social Club --
South Florida Kayaking Meetup --
Film, Theater, Culture --

Boston/Cambridge Ethnic Food Meetup Group --
Women Sports Meetup --

Island bike

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island.pngI joined an Outdoor Adventures Klub (OAK) outing, biking Sanibel Island. Sanibel is a noncommercial island between Sarasota and Naples, Florida. It's also the home of J.N. "Ding" Darling National Park -- a wildlife refuge. OAK is a social organization where people get together for adventure activities. You never know who you'll be with. We were 8 strangers sharing a day of new experiences.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for grave.JPG Sanibel is 12 miles long with bike paths criss-crossing it. After a couple miles we stopped at a lighthouse for a photo op. The real find though came a little later when we passed a primitive, yet tropical cemetery. Seemingly for the disenfranchised, one gravestone said "Unknown Man Found Near Lighthouse." We wondered if the dead were in coffins. Sorry.

Riding down the path to our right were homes, condos and tennis courts embedded into the flora and fauna. It dawned on us that they were predominately vacation rentals. It hadn't been obvious because Thumbnail image for dunes.JPGthere
was no commerce. No hotels, no restaurants, and no outfitters lining the roads. Even the one restaurant we past and ate at was an oasis.

To our left were obscured sand dunes and wide beaches. We stopped at Tarpon Bay Beach, where everyone shell-shopped in the sunny bright white sand. I was struck by an oddly looming sky behind me, and the eeriness of the fog in the dunes. Spooky.

Collective hunger set in. We ravaged a list of restaurants. I wanted to pick one that sounded irreverent, like Island Cow, but no way -- that one meant backtracking. The most convenient was the tired sounding Doc Ford's Rum Bar and Grille ("Doc Ford" is a protagonist in Randy Wayne books).  It promised to be a sports bar with "gourmet cuisine" - an oxymoron. Apparently not, because instead of grouper on a bun, I ate panko-crusted basa fish on a role with a romoulade. Twas delicate, satisfying, and humbling.

Thumbnail image for bird.JPGDing Darling (I keep wanting to say Ding Dong) was a refuge for wildlife and for us! We followed a group of people with telephoto lenses the size of telescopes. One man allowed us to put my lens to his and snap a picture of a Roseate Spoonbill bird close up -- an event for us wanna be orinthologists. At the bottom of the mangrove estuary were multiple species of crabs. Below the water were Sand Sharks, translucent Needle, and other tropical fish. Black ducks swooped below the water, while Long-feathered Craines shook their booties on land. Most were scoping prey.

After 6 hours or so, I started to put out some harmless whines about my baking skin and sore bum. I knew I would get over myself. Despite me others remained upbeat and flexible. Nothing mattered to my new travel companions. Everyone was in the moment. Thank you OAK.

Outdoor Adventures Klub
Sanibel Island Chamber of Commerce
J.N. "Ding" Darling National Park
Sanibel Beaches
Tarpon Bay Beach
Doc Ford's Run Bar and Grille

My mother and I drove to West Palm Beach to see Susan -- my old professor, boss, landlord, and friend visiting from Pittsburgh. We made the trek. She made the plans. We were to visit her brother and sister in-law at their "jack and jill," vintage stores, Donovan Gray. Then lunch at a café, which Susan promised to please.

sandy.jpgFirst the Jill - It was rich with elegant couture clothes and jewelry from the 19h through the twentieth centuries. The entry tickled us with its playful vintage window display, which changes periodically. Apparently Sandy, the mannequin, and her environs have a cult following.

This shop impresses the best. Michael Kors and Donna Karan have come for inspiration. My mother and I oogled over Pucci, Christian Lacroix, Bergdorf Goodman and more. When we commented how skinny the wearer and bearers needed to be, Louise, the in-law, observed that they must live on alcohol and cigarettes. That made sense.

We moved next door to the Jack.  This was Susan's brother John's domain. Susan quickly pointed to the breakfront made top-to-bottom of mercury etched glass and featured in Architectural Digest. We also talked "Nakashima." John lauded Nakashima as the hottest furniture designer out there. My mother shared that a coffee table recently sold for 43k.

Thumbnail image for lamp.JPGA little back-story: George Nakashima was a Japanese furniture-maker based out of New Hope PA. Fifty years ago my parents went to his studio and had him custom build pieces. At the time they were the same price as  mainstream furniture. Then considered artful, now as art, some pieces are displayed at museums like the MOMA in NYC. Who knew then?

My parents bought a HiFi cabinet (now used as a buffet); a coffee table (now my sister's); and a dining room set, which is now mine. I had left my set with my sister when I moved to Manhattan in 1990 -- the home of the itty-bitty apartment. She kept it during her family-rearing years -- need I say more about the condition?

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We talked about him finding a buyer. It was a potentially lucrative day for both of us.

Next, Susan led us down this unlikely long, 2.5 foot wide café entrance. I'm not sure how they painted murals on both walls! We squeezed through the alley into a hidden gem, The Little Tea House -- Shangri-La. We sat on the porch. hugged by colors, palms, and a perfect breeze. This was real Florida.

The day made me giddy. immediately knew I would be writing about these finds. Luckily Susan had a camera.

Donovan Gray 3623 Dixie Hwy, WPB,Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for patio.JPG

The Little Tea 3627 1/2 South Dixie Hwy, WPB, 561-832-5683,

Cool Aunt Dana and Film Fests

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miamifilm fest.pngThe Miami International Film Festival ended yesterday. I have some remorse because I only made it to one film this year. I could blame all the people who canceled on me, including my young nephew. But the reality is that I was too lazy to make the trek alone.

I was particularly disappointed that my nephew didn't go because I needed to redeem myself for the last film fest debacle. You see, I took him to the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival in the Fall.  It was a chance to get him away from the cold plexes with 100 million dollar movies, and for him to see people and film in a new way.

Since he is a 13 year-old boy with 13 year-old boy taste I didn't want to overwhelm. So I picked a light picture that he would think was fun - Senior Skip Day. That choice was the first of a string of misguided ones, which earned me the regrettable honor of being "Cool Aunt Dana."Thumbnail image for senior skip day.pngLet me see... we had 2 hours to kill so I had a drink and a cigarette (he's never seen me do that before), which led to a long conversation with a man in a perpetual state of drink. I let it continue because Andrew was having so much fun with the immature guy who could speak my nephew's language. Most of all I didn't want to pass the long wait with a bored, self-pitying, preteen.

The next thing I know the man was sitting with us, drinking a beer, watching this college-aged super-raunchy picture, laughing it up with Andrew. Oh goody -- they had the same sense of humor! My brother-in-law later summed it up as Porky's meets Ferris Bueller. I never saw Porky's but suspect he was right. My sister asked what I expected from a 10:30pm movie.

Oh I'm so proud. Such a role model I am.

I thought I could seek redemption at the Miami International Film Festival. We were supposed see "Captain Abu Raed" --  an old man, who read a lot about the world but never actually left Jordon. The spin was a group of young boys who idolized him for his supposed worldliness. It promised to be charming.
 abu raed.pngMy secret revenge was that it was about an underprivileged preteen and get this -- it was in subtitles! Best of all, I knew Andrew would love it anyway and that I would be "cool Aunt Dana" in the most of respectable ways. Too bad we missed it.

I was not a big fan of the movie I did catch - an Indian film, translated as "4 Women". Supposedly it was about village women who stood out and challenged convention. In actuality it was a depressing film about these four women who got screwed in life - two of them nondescript and in arranged marriages.

It did have original production value though. The camera did not move with the actors' motion -- instead, people and things moved up and down, right and left, in and out of the lens. The technique made the scenes feel natural. The pace was tediously slow but made each moment relevant. Not so enjoyable, but definitely provocative.

On a last note, you know how much I appreciate the FLIFF, but MIFF is where I felt at home. The patronage seems more urban. When I look at them I feel like I have more in common - intellectually and lifestyle-wize. Too bad I'm not based in Miami right now.

Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival
Miami International Film Festival


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I set out in search of a new favorite beach -- a place that makes me smile in that unexpected, blissful kind of way. Beach 1 - nah. Beach 2, ho hum. Beach 3 - bingo.

My friend Jackie had led me to this private patch of a sand. At first the only other person there was a woman who bragged to us that we were all alone. Deserted as it was, it is a public beach. But with about 8 public parking spots, traffic had to be from local walkers and bikers.

The ocean swept me as soon as I saw it thrashing and splashing. I had had no thoughts of going in the water at the other 2 beaches, but this one was clean oh yeah. Every molecule was spinning high, low, and sideways. It screamed "take me on," and I did. It was not hot out, but I stripped to my suit so quickly I shocked myself (and Jackie). I jumped and dove and rode the waves. I giggled. Jackie shook her head thinking, "the ocean's not heated." She said I was brave. But I was not, I was seduced.

Lauderdale Beach is a residential oasis on the Galt Ocean mile, known for ginormous apartment buildings and hotels. Nevertheless, there were no garish mc'mansions amid the original houses. The homes tucked into flowering bushes. The trees branches wove through them, producing  lush green surroundings. I wished I had time to stroll the streets for a neighborhood tour. I smiled anyway.

An empty beach in South Florida makes sense now -- right? By the time we left there was a boy playing with his mother and 2 men who came up just to breathe the ocean for 5 minutes.


Lauderdale Beach, just South of Oakland Park Blvd -- 27th St & N Atlantic Blvd -- South of Oakland Park Blvd/East of AIA.

Ft Lauderdale 2.png
Cultural events can be quite pricey, but I've always had a bargain outlet wherever I've lived - Manhattan, Boston, and now in Ft Lauderdale. They're all are must-buy deals if you live in the local areas. To do the cities justice I'm devoting one blog to each of the three. This one, #3, is about Ft. Lauderdale metro.

FLIFF.pngFort Lauderdale International Film Festival (FLIFF). South Florida is not famous for culture, so a formidable film society was not what I expected for life in this area. In actuality, FLIFF  is just one of the culture scenes that I've delved into down here.

Thumbnail image for paradiso bldg.pngFLIFF is the membership organization. Cinema Paradiso is its home. The cinema lives on prime real estate in downtown Ft Lauderdale and was born of a classic deco church.

Paradiso is distinctive. The membership flow-eth over with enthusiasm, so every film is like a party. People know each other. They gab. The staff must live there because it's the same people over and over. They are part of the spirit. It seems like everyone takes such pride in what they have created and are raising. I do too in my quiet, out-of-the-fold way.

Paradiso wins the genius award.
In addition to the  continuous flow of large and small indies, the theatre brings unexpected programming to the big screen:  

Old movies. Imagine Citizen Cane, Where the Boys Are, or Monty Python.

5 nights of DGA screenings of Oscar picks -- free and for members only!

"La Traviata" as part of the monthly Opera Series.

Concert events, like Bruce Springstein and Greenday.

Get this: FLIFF also broadcasts special events, like the Super Bowl, Academy Awards, and New Year's Eve -- each with food and drink celebrations for a reasonable fixed price.

For only $70, Membership includes the following:
  • Guaranteed 50 free films a year (they say it was over 70 last year)
  • About 30% discount on movies
  • Free members-only events
  • Frequent sponsored sushi and cheese trays
  • Jolly good time

The art house is like an old movie house -- it still serves wine, beer and sometimes spirits. Buck sakes during special events are my favorite, and I hear there is champagne at some events.

The cinema offers other amenities too. Thumbnail image for paradiso theatre.png

Surprisingly enough this not-for-profit enterprise houses the most comfy, springy recliners. Plus, there's not a bad seat in the house. It's virtually impossible to have your view blocked by tall people or big hair. Unfortunately they haven't solved the perfume your neighbor doused herself with issue.

Plus, there is an outdoor, tented patio set up for celebrators and watchers. paradiso patio.pngParadiso just announced the opening of the Reel Café for pre-work breakfast. I wonder if members will have a discounted ride there as well?

Then of course there is the actual Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival, which ran for 3 weeks this year! I suspect it is a big membership drive for them - that's where I was seduced. It was a dynamic film festival  20 years ago when I lived here the first time. I saw world premieres like, "Roger & Me" which brought Roger Moore's work into the public eye. And how about Babette's Feast -- a charming and succulent film that endeared itself into commercial success?

I am thankful that this cultural spot is here and is affordable for me to share with other movie "foodies". Cinema Paradiso is a gem. Find this somewhere else. HA! I knew you couldn't!

NY 1.pngCultural events can be quite pricey, but I've always had a bargain outlet wherever I've lived - Manhattan, Boston, and now in Ft Lauderdale. They're all are must-buy deals if you live in the local areas. To do the cities justice I'm devoting one blog to each of the three. Tip #1 was about Boston. This one, #2, is about NYC.

Chuck O'Connell. I call him my "Ticket Guy." I inherited Chuck in "a divorce" from an ex-boyfriend. For months he held out on the name of his contact. He finally revealed Chuck as the source right before I broke up with him. I swear I didn't wait till he gave it up! Just lucky I guess.

Chuck sells last-second (1-hour to 5 days) performance tickets for cheap, cheap, cheap - cheaper than a movie. Over the course of 12 years I enjoyed Broadway, Off and Off-Off Broadway, Dance, Music, movie screenings, and other events. Prices ran from $2-$5 - no joke! He gets the tickets free when a venue wants to "paper the house". This means that the theatre doesn't have the advanced sales they need (it's new or it's a holiday, or it doesn't have promotional bucks), but  they still want a full house for a couple reasons: first so that the performers don't get depressed! They need the energy from the audience; second to get a buzz going. Sometimes you get stinkers, but for $4, if it's that bad it's acceptable to leave over intermission. Never fear -  many are gems and many become or already are commercial hits.

Broadway.pngHe works with local customers because they learn the drill. You call him up and he rattles off everything he has. Make sure you have your NY Magazine and a pen in front of you because he gets cranky when you ask him to repeat or for his opinion. After using him for years he cut me a little slack and we stop to chat. It's also good to know that  Chuck spends a lot of time at his house on the Cape. So if you call and no one answers it means, "closed".

Chuck has some strict rules of engagement -- all for good reason. Never ever EVER no-show on your tickets. It make s Chuck look unreliable to his suppliers. He doesn't care who, but someone better be in those seats. Time at the box office is another big deal. He tells people to be there 45 minutes in advance. That's because people like us should not be crowding the line for people who are spending $75/ticket that night. It's only fair.

I live in Ft. Lauderdale right now, but I miss Chuck and will call him soon.

Email me at for Chuck's contact info.

Boston 2.png
fashion photography.pngCultural events can be quite pricey, but I've always had a bargain outlet wherever I've lived - Manhattan, Boston, and now in Ft Lauderdale. They're all are must-buy deals if you live in the local areas. To do the cities justice I'm devoting one blog to each of the three. Tip # 1 is for Boston -- simply because it is finish first!

Museum of Fine Arts (MFA). I had just moved to Boston and was starving for cultural pleasures. It's Boston -- they had to be there. But where?

I finally got my butt to the MFA. "Fashion Photography" was on special exhibit. At $25 it was a bit excessive but turned out to be worth it. The energy. The imagination. The curation.

mfa store.pngThe love fest continued after the show when I made the pilgrimage to the museum store - my temple. I was sure to spend more money than justifiable on books, jewelry, and creative gifts for people for no reason.

When I went to pay they asked me if I was a member. Apparently I would get 20% off (a special promotion that week) my pile of goods. Savings added up to about $18. So I ask the requisite question - how much?

Membership was $70. For that I would get:

  • Free museum entry ($15)mfa art 3.png
  • Free special exhibits for two ($25 each)
  • 40% discount on music and film
  • 10% off store and restaurant
  • VIP lounge with wireless (possibly the most valuable benefit)

Hmmm...I had already spent $43 of it. One more special exhibition will more than pay for membership. Then a light bulb went off -- there may be another perk. Maaaaaybe my guest at special exhibits would buy me a meal or drink at the restaurant. Tacky, entitled, and wishful thinking - I know. But the food was delectable, the menu was innovative, and the execution artistic.edward hopper 2.png (By the way, I have very generous friends). It was a treat -- dutch  or not.

Membership? It was a no-brainer.

Forgetting museum admission, membership paid off. I was a regular at the film fests and alternative music concerts, which were usually intellectually accessible to us common folk. The films were true independents - you know, the kind that cost 5k, which took the director a year to raise.

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Here's an example: I saw a film about an African young man who, after his father's death, finds out that he has 49 brothers and sisters. Well, he sets out to meet them all. It wasn't clear whether he did, but cultural disparity between how he was received by the siblings and their mothers there verses how he might have been here was riveting.

Now let's get real. When you see these things your ego inflates. Wow, aren't I cool? But it was an authentic glimpse into a world that, sadly few would see -- I am truly privileged.

This membership was a meaningful gift to me from me.

Museum of Fine Arts (Boston)


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More friends visited from Boston. Since they were only in town for one night I picked a place to eat and took the quick tour of Ft Lauderdale there. We did one big loop, passing all the icons that define the city. Hitting the road at 6pm, I returned them satiated to their hotel by 8:30 pm.

discovery museum.pngWe started downtown on Avenue of the Arts, first passing the Broward Center for the Performing Arts and then the Museum of Discovery and Science. The former is a towering building that oozes culture. The latter is a modern that pays tribute to its art deco roots. Across the street is the red brick Riverwalk. The promenade runs along the New River for the length of downtown. Continuing on we saw some busy local spots; the library, another nod to colorful South Florida history; and a health club appropriately named Sweat.

las olas.pngWe continued straight to Las Olas Blvd, (translation: the waves) a sweet 10-ish retail blocks reminiscent of old Spanish Florida. Not a William Sonoma or GAP in sight - or at least my sight. Las Olas was congested that night - always a fair mixture of locals and tourists.

Next we moved on to beautiful homes and yachts onintracostal.png stunning waterways. We veered off the path and tooled through a series of cul de sacs. The homes alternated between authentic old and new copies of them. Most modest ones had been knocked down to make way for the new oversized ones.

We landed on AIA, smack in the middle of the Beach Blanket Bingo Ft Lauderdale. This time I could tell that tourists dominated. We mosied up the seashore a few miles, observing personality changes on the way.

The scenic portion of the trip came to a halt once the traffic lights kicked in at Commercial Blvd. So we took the drawbridge across the Intracoastal to South Florida-strip-mall and found our restaurant. It was Flanigans, inexpensive American fair in ticky-tacky South Florida style  -- another must-experience.
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Did we miss stuff? Hell yeah! Did they get the flavor of Ft. Lauderdale? Very tasty.

Thumbnail image for loop.jpgBroward Center for the Performing Arts
Museum of Discovery and Science
Las Olas Boulevard
Fort Lauderdale Beach


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I lost $40 in 15 minutes in a poker game in 1988, which really hurt. I was a moonlighting as a Chinese food delivery person at the time. You see, at the end of the night the staff bore the essence of egg roles, so going out in public was a no-no. Instead we'd come to my house or to the owner's, Yim and Peter, for an impromptu night of gambling. I don't just mean a game -- I mean a casino of poker, mah jong, dominos, and blackjack. The stakes were a little high for me, but that was their culture, and I, the gringo, wanted to fit in. So that's when it happened. Since then my official response is the contrite, "no thank you, I don't gamble".

poker.pngLast night I finally got back up on the horse and played in a funny money game at a Learner's Poker meetup at Boca Muse a mellow local bar in Boca Raton FL. Sounds like a pretty safe environment to learn, no? No, I lost it all there too. Usually the impulsive one in the crowd, I cowered and kept giving up pretty good hands for fear that I would lose it all - and in the end I did. No thank you. I don't gamble anymore.

Learner's poker

Boca Muse,0,4981162.story


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I've always heard about high tea but never attended one. It sounded part hokey, part lovely. Now that I've been to one I can tell you that it is both. It was at Carriage Light Tea Parlor & Gifts in Parkland, FL.
 We were seated at a table with fabulous authentic hats on the seats - each different (that's the hokey part). But I gotta say it was really fun searching for THE ONE. Some of us looked for the least embarrassing while others embodied the glamour. I was a convert who started as the former but then moved sheepishly to the ladder.Thumbnail image for tea 2.png

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We ordered 2 kinds of tea for the 7 of us. Going with the flow I accepted the 2 desserty types - caramel crème brulee and mocha kiss - not exactly my cup of tea. Later someone ordered a South African one with depth - kind of musky, kind of spicy. I preferred it. My friend Mary thought it tasted like medicine though. Each to her own.

Carriage Light Tea Parlor & Gifts


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I never understand when people, like my sister, could care less about their birthday. A birthday is a once-a-year celebration for just being.

Thumbnail image for mangroves bird.pngPlans for a Saturday birthday gained momentum when my friend Kerry from Boston, decided to visit. Of course like all great birthdays they start before the date and if you're really lucky end about a week later. Thursday was a massage, then Friday was kayaking on the Gulf of Mexico.We rented our kayaks from Salt Water Sports on the Isle of Capri near Naples, FL. They had a few obscurely nudged up against a tiki restaurant, The Capri Fish House.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for mangroves.pngUnfortunately that day did not have the dreamy blue waters ideal for small-island-hopping. So after fighting an unrelenting tide we relented and made way to the local mangroves, passing a few dolphins along the way. (The mangroves were so trippy that I'll have to save them for another time). Afterward we lucked out with a $12 early bird special at the tiki restaurant on the water. The flounder and grouper were yum yum.

Saturday was the Delray Beach Garlic Festival. It was more like your everyday street festival with tasty, yet uninnovative food and a $10 cover charge. I expected something like garlic balls in a garlic sauce with a side of garlic salad washed down with garlic soda. It sounds icky, but I would have been impressed. I did glean a gem though: There is always a Starbucks around when you gotta pee, which beats the unsavory porta-potty experience. For the first time I was happy for a Starbucks on every corner.
Thumbnail image for Shakaru.pngNighttime. I picked a little-known 18-person restaurant outside of Wilton Manors (a neighborhood in Ft. Lauderdale), called Café Sharaku. It's French-Asian fusion with a small and delectable menu.

Café Sharakaru was beer and wine only, so I looked for a happy hour close by that stocked the real stuff. All I could find was Red's Bar and Package Store where the review said something about "free jello shots for the ladies". Am I crazy to suspect it was a dive fraternity bar? UGH.

Thumbnail image for jello shot 2.pngDon't get me wrong -- there is nothing better than a good dive, but truth be told I was a little nervous as to what I was getting my well-dressed birthday clan in to. In fact it was a real bar's bar -big u-shaped and wooden without any small tables or restaurant in sight. By the way, I highly recommend their jello shots.

The Capri Fish House
Garlic Festival
Café Shakaru, Ft Lauderdale FL
Red's Bar and Packaging Store: Ft. Lauderdale, FL 954-564-0233's


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blog profile.pngI've spent a lot of time living experientially and not knowing it. Friends and family have had to convince me! Dictionaries have lame definitions of "experiential". But when I tried to define it I began to believe it -- deriving pleasure, pain and/or wisdom from your immediate surroundings. If this is experiential, I have lived it. Thankfully I've rarely taken it for granted. I have gawked at life in 40 US states and 20 countries on 3 continents (having lived in 7 states and 2 countries).

To start this blog I have articulated 5 experiential necessities: Pursuit; Moment; Humanity; Reality; Resourcefulness. I plan to explore them as they happen (mostly in Florida these days) to me and other fascinating "regular" people around.