Polk County’s Worst Hotel… Lakeland’s Regal Grand Lakeside Inn

When business sucks, rebrand.

Must be the first thing that Regal Grand Lakeside Inn owner George Chiang thinks when he wakes up at 2PM every afternoon before he slips on his 80s style Miami Vice sports coat to venture out to Five Guys to eat a ‘Garbage Burger’ (his words) to absorb the fruit-laden, sorority girl drinks that put him into the perpetual stupor the night before.

I first met George almost 8 years ago now. The self-proclaimed Yakuza wannabe who had the lakefront establishment (now inappropriately named the ‘Regal Grand’) bestowed upon him by a rich uncle. Back when I had the displeasure of this acquaintance, the hotel was branded the Kingston Inn. And before that the “Inn at Lake Parker”. In fact the place has undergone seven, yes count ’em, seven name changes in the 15 years that the Chiang Dynasty has ruled over it. In fact, I was actually brought in to help revive the flailing bar that is attached to the former Holiday Inn… in sort of a fruitless ‘Bar Rescue’ capacity.

Master Chiang had given me the ‘grand tour’ of the not-so regal grounds. The property has potential, and would actually make a great resort if anyone other than Mr. Chiang had the chance to own it. Situated on Lake Parker just off Memorial Blvd, the Regal Grand features a green swamp pool, a decaying boat dock and an overgrown beach inhabited by oversized gators presumably mutated by the Power Plant within eye-shot across the lake, the Regal Grand probably was at one point and could’ve been something other than a disaster. But I digress, let’s get back to the particulars.

With a predilection toward wooing Polk County’s finest female meth heads into his concubine via bottom shelf spirits, Mr. Chiang employed me at a cut rate to flip his country-sports bar into something of an upscale club/sports bar. The bar was at the time boasting daily revenues of anywhere between $10-$23. In actuality it was operating at a deficit due to the 70 plus year old barkeep’s necessity to pickle himself on the regular to alleviate his leprosy. My first order of business was to exile that detritus to the colony where he belonged.

Next, I was introduced to Matt, George’s head of security who carried not only a stun gun and a BB Gun on his hip, but also a rap sheet as thick as a composition book. His daily duties were to walk the grounds and keep any unsavory types off the grounds. However when the majority of your staff is just as delinquent as the figures which lurk about Memorial Blvd in that area, you are bound for disaster. Mr. Matt’s nightly rounds far exceeded securing the perimeter and bouncing. Seems that the master key he was provided turned him to the left and into one of the leading pimps in Lakeland. Matt was renting out rooms by the hour to the many hookers and drug addicts in the area unbeknownst to the ‘ever-attentive’ ownership. Mr. Matt was also cast aside quite forcibly after his gig was exposed.

As part of my ‘benefit’ package, I was given what they called a ‘suite’ and the now Regal Grand. I was allocated this room so that I could work as the interim bartender until close at 2AM, until I could interview and find a suitable replacement.

When I first entered my new perk, I was greeted by the overwhelming stench of mildew which was presumably emanating from one of the various brown stains both on the carpet and the paper thin overly starched sheets. The sheets of course came complete with ventilation in the form of several tears and holes. The pillows, ahem, felt more like a couple of socks rolled up inside a pillow case. Needless to say, I made my way across the street to Big Lots to purchase new sheets, pillows and odds and ends for the bar for my first evening of deployment at this establishment.

After my first day of work came to close the following AM, I flipped on the lights in my room to witness an entire entourage of German cockroaches scurrying to their respective hiding places in the many cracks and crevices this cell had to offer. Too tired to really care, I pulled back the comforter and sheets to find a lovely mattress with its very own camouflage stain pattern from God only knows what. The corners and folds of the comforter were riddled with bed bugs to the effect that it looked as if coffee grounds were cast on the mattress.

Looks like I was making the drive back to Tampa to sleep it off.

I could go on and on about the incidents at the Regal Grand in the month’s time I spent employed there. Like the time a former popular preacher from Lakeland who had fallen victim to the meth epidemic, had entered the Regal Grand’s lobby apparently intoxicated and more importantly with sewage leaking from the cuffs of his stained jeans. And, of course they gave him a room. Later that evening he was found in one of the ‘suites’ getting a ride on a shit covered mattress on the floor by one of the many local prostitutes which cruise the perimeter of the Regal Grand. Or the time I was asked to help evict a tenant and when we opened the door to the room, a flood of urine, feces and empty beer cans about two feet deep almost washed us into the courtyard.

So two weeks ago, I decided to revisit the Regal Grand with a couple of staff members to see if things had changed.

Upon entering the lobby, it was good to see that the cheesy Asian-American 1980’s décor was still in play. The front desk clerk looked, well like someone you would expect George to hire off of Craigslist. We were issued our room and it was certainly deja vu. The same smells, the same sheets, and the same mascots in form of various insects still inhabited this roach motel. And by insects, I don’t just mean the bed bugs, the roaches, and the dead fruit flies which lined our window sill, but the shady characters in the form of both guests and employees which still lurked about every corner. It must be why the Lakeland Police still had a patrol car staked out in the lot across the street from the Regal Grand. We counted five police visits to the Regal Grand in our 18 hour stay there. A stay without Wifi, a stay with only 8 television channels, a stay with extremely intermittent hot water, a stay with parchment paper to wipe your ass with and a stay with a funk so thick in the air that George Clinton couldn’t get it out.

Even though the name may change several times, at the least the shittiest of shitty hotels that I have ever had the displeasure of trying to stay at has remained consistent in the lowest common denominators of uncleanliness and discomfort. But don’t take our word for it, just take a look at the plethora of negative reviews on Google, Orbitz and TripAdvisor that are certainly on par with everything that I have ever encountered at the Regal Grand Lakeside Inn.

Of course there are a few 5-Star reviews that owner George Chiang pays random people and staff members to post to try and boost his rating; nor should you be misled by the photos of the grounds and rooms of this Butt Sweat Lodge. Like the one from ‘Matthew D’ who remarkably took the time to post his 5-Star review on every site out there. C’mon guys use at least little common sense; not everyone out there is a complete moron like you obviously think they are.

But let’s look on the dark side… it is October, so if you are looking for a true nightmare experience and can make it through the night it could actually be a real life American Horror Story: Hotel. After all several people have been murdered and passed from overdoses at this daunted haunt. If we can take anything away from all this… the Regal Grand Lakeside Inn could be legitimately haunted.

Looks like it’s time for a rebrand again George. You can thank me later.

Homeless ‘Resort’ Faces Resistance from Polk County Officials

Sean Cononie is dozing off mid-sentence again.

The founder of the COSAC Foundation, which offers services to homeless individuals, has gotten about two to three hours of sleep each night for weeks after moving to the outskirts of Haines City, a municipality in Polk County about 40 miles from Orlando. He makes an honest attempt each night to get some rest, but sooner or later his cellphone pings or someone wakes him up to handle an issue that has arisen for the homeless people who live at his Stay Plus Inn on U.S. Highway 27.

The 51-year-old runs on cigarettes and Nestea iced teas as he deals with minor matters, like a disabled resident not charging his electric wheelchair, to major ones, like the relationship between his “homeless resort” and local officials. Toward the end of the day, he’s exhausted, but he wouldn’t change a thing.

“At least 10 times a day my staff and I will look at each other in awe, thinking, why are we doing this?” he says. “This is where I’m supposed to be.”

Cononie moved to Polk County in April, bringing with him 112 homeless people from Hollywood after the South Florida city paid him $4.8 million to leave town. It purchased the homeless shelter he was running there, much to the city’s consternation, and banned him from moving back for the next 30 years. Equal parts abrasive and loving, Cononie did for many years what other shelters in South Florida could not – like take in, sometimes for free, people who are too old or too poor, chronically homeless, people with mental disabilities, those who have been kicked out of other shelters or who have addiction problems. The shelter he ran in Hollywood, Cononie says, was self-sufficient and used zero tax dollars. It paid its bills by having homeless people sell Cononie’s newspaper, The Homeless Voice, on street corners.

Hollywood wanted Cononie out ever since he converted a former nudist hotel into a homeless shelter in 2002, and the city unsuccessfully sued him in an effort to shut the shelter down. He settled with the city this year and bought the 125-room Stay Plus Inn, located in unincorporated Polk County, because he liked the facility and the $2 million price tag. He calls his hotel a “homeless resort” and provides low-income housing, ranging from free to $24 per day, to his guests.

But since he’s gotten here, there have been various issues with Polk County officials, issues that seemed to have started before he even arrived.

Cononie says he was greeted with food baskets and invitations to lunch for the first couple of days after he arrived, but then his residents told him Polk County Sheriff’s Office deputies were stopping them, asking them how much they paid to Cononie from their incomes.

“Before we got here, they were already claiming we were doing human trafficking,” he says. “I thought that this being a very Christian county and Sheriff Grady Judd being a Christian, they would be a little more welcoming.”

On May 1, Cononie says a resident at the inn called for an ambulance that arrived quickly, but when he called one a little while later for a resident who was in his office having a hard time breathing, a Haines City ambulance arrived and sat in his parking lot for more than 30 minutes.

Both Haines City’s City Manager Jonathan Evans and the city’s public safety director, Rick Sloan, say the ambulance was told by the county dispatching services not to enter the building. Carrie Eleazer Horstman, spokeswoman for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, said the ambulance was staged nearby in the parking lot for 37 minutes because they were waiting to be cleared to go in by dispatch. The call taker, she says, heard someone was causing a disturbance, creating a dangerous situation.

Since Cononie moved to the area, Sloan says there have been 102 calls to the property, including 67 calls for service and 35 calls for emergency services.

In late July, the local newspaper, The Ledger, published a piece in which it reported that a former resident family of the homeless resort said Cononie was taking advantage of them by using their Social Security income and food stamps to pay for his services. (This reporter used to work for Ledger Media Group, which owns both The Ledger and the Winter Haven News Chief.) Local homeless organizations like the Homeless Coalition of Polk County and Tri-County Human Services told the paper they would not send people to Cononie until they figured out what he was doing.

Cononie says it’s a common practice for shelters to ask people to pay a program fee, and Jacque Henderson, a director of Tri-County Human Services who was quoted in the original story, says pretty much every shelter or assisted living facility in the county collects some type of income from their clients.

Henderson and Dr. Tony Fusaro, executive director of the Talbot House Ministries in Lakeland, both said the Polk County Sheriff’s Office told homeless organizations during a meeting that it was “investigating” Cononie, though so far, no criminal charges have been filed. Horstman says she can’t confirm or deny if there’s an investigation into the inn.

The situation took a further turn on June 26, when someone filed an anonymous complaint with the Agency for Health Care Administration.

“During a follow-up visit at the unlicensed facility, state Department of Children and Families staff were informed that untrained staff members of the Stay Plus Motel/Homeless Shelter/Extended Living Facility were providing care for at least four other residents who were unable to take care of themselves,” the complaint says. “This care included: passing medications, insulin injections, bathing, transfers, as well as management of meals, finances and health care.”

AHCA sent Cononie a letter on Aug. 4 telling him the agency determined he was operating an unlicensed assisted living facility and the penalties could include a $1,000 fine for each day he provides care for residents, or a possible injunction to restrain him. Cononie’s lawyer, John David, sent the agency a response stating that the guests retain and pay for their personal caretakers themselves, something that doesn’t need a license. AHCA press secretary Shelisha Coleman says that providing one or more personal-care services, such as the administration of medication on a 24-hour basis, classifies Cononie’s hotel as an assisted living facility.

Cononie says agency investigators told him, among other things, that he could not give residents an aspirin, change someone’s sheets if they urinate in bed or allow residents to have their blood pressure checked. He also says that by the same standards, homeless shelters that control their residents’ medication would also be classified as assisted living facilities.

“You start to question yourself,” Cononie says. “You start asking yourself if you’re doing anything right when you’re getting this type of heat from everybody. … I just want to do my job.”

Donald Whitehead, director of men’s services at the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, says he has known Cononie for almost 15 years.

“I think he’s one of the most caring advocates I’ve ever known,” he says. “The reason I say that is because he’s willing to work with people who don’t fit into the norm, people with more severe issues than your general homeless population. He’s a person always willing to have compassion for those hardest to serve.”

Whitehead also says the Department of Housing and Urban Development has told homeless organizations across the county to focus on putting more people directly into housing, rather than transitional services, which is exactly what Cononie is doing.

“Polk County should be finding ways to assist Sean because he’s a valuable resource to the community and in the long run will save them money,” he says. “It’s more of a not-in-my-backyard issue. People don’t want to take care of the homeless and would rather criminalize them.”

Cyndi Malvita likes to call the homeless resort a “hotel for hope,” she says.

Malvita, who also runs an organization called Charlie’s Angel Outreach in Palm Beach County, works with Cononie day and night helping residents with their issues. Last Monday, she was trying to get school supplies and backpacks for the 33 children who live at the inn.

The kids and their parents have bonded with the older residents, Cononie says, forming a tight-knit community in the short time they’ve lived together. “It’s so cute,” he says, “because you see the older people giving the kids advice, like ‘Don’t lay in that puddle because you could get ringworm,’ or ‘Go inside, there’s a lightning storm.'”

Each room has two beds, a TV and a bathroom. It may not be much, but it represents dignity to many of the residents. Jeffrey Cohen shares one of those rooms with John Gilbert. Both of them are disabled. Cohen says he got here in May and likes it so far, but now that the state has stepped in, both of them are at a standstill with their care.

“I don’t want to go to a nursing home,” Cohen says. “I don’t want to go to an assisted living facility. I found this place, and everything was going positive, but now it’s negative.”

At the peak of his frustration, Cononie puts out his cigarette and steps outside his office. A few feet away, the kids at the homeless resort have taken over the pool, swimming, playing and just being children. An ice cream truck pulls around the corner, and they scramble, wet feet slapping the pavement to reach the truck. Their parents and the other adults who are sitting on their porches come to the ice cream truck and get in line.

One small boy looks at the line and whispers to Cononie, “But we don’t have any money for ice cream.”

Cononie leads him to the truck and takes out his wallet.

“Don’t worry,” he says. “I do.”

Winter Haven’s Legoland Hotel is ‘Blocks Office’ Hit With All the Family

ORLANDO has always been a hit with vacationers and now it’s even better.

Just a short jaunt to Winter Haven and you’ve arrived at the Legoland Resort.

We stayed at the new Legoland hotel which is right at the entrance to the Legoland Florida theme park.

All kids will love the multi-colored hotel, which is made to look like a giant Lego set, its jaw-dropping, dragon-guarded entrance a hint of the delights inside.

Even the stuffiest of visitors will struggle to resist a boogie in the disco lift and the kids can spend hours building Lego to the ceiling or running around the magic castle dressed as a knight.

A session with the Lego master builder is included, allowing kids to learn some building tricks.

The rooms are available in a choice of themes: Adventure, Kingdom, Pirates and Friends, with each decorated in Lego themes.

There are lots of treats to discover the longer you stay, with youngsters having their own separate room, all of which include a treasure chest of goodies that can only be unlocked after cracking the code.

There are two options for dining – family-friendly buffet-style in the Bricks restaurant or slightly more formal in the Skyline lounge.

Both boast a sumptuous menu from locally sourced fresh produce for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The resort itself is a two-minute walk away and is a fantastic mix of roller-coasters, live shows and, of course, incredible displays of Lego creations – from New York to Star Wars, made up of more than 58million bricks.

There is something for all ages, with the flying school and the Lego Chima ride proving to be Lucy’s favourites, although be prepared for a thorough soaking on the latter.

Within Legoland is the water park, catering for all ages and the perfect place to cool off in the Florida sunshine.

You can build your own Lego life raft while floating down the lazy river, take a dip in the wave pool or test your nerve with a hurtle down one of the huge water slides.

Around half an hour’s drive from Legoland is another amazing new Orlando destination – the i-Drive 360. It is a stunning dining and entertainment complex on the bustling International Drive.

Florida Family Discovers $1M in Shipwreck Treasure

While tens of thousands of families travel to Florida each year to enjoy the beaches and sunshine, the Schmitt family take their annual holiday just a little off-shore in search of something else: treasure.

For several years now, the family of professional treasure hunters has been returning to search for gold in about 15 feet of water off Florida’s aptly-named Treasure Coast. The region is home to several notable shipwrecks, including a dramatic 1715 event that claimed 11 Spain-bound galleons and the lives of over 1,000 sailors.

The Schmitts acts as sub-contractors to 1715 Fleet-Queens Jewels LLC, which owns rights to the site where the ships foundered 300 years ago. It’s estimated that only a little over a third of the $400 million in gold and silver held on the vessels has been recovered –– leaving plenty of opportunities for professionals to reap the rewards.

Last month proved to be one of those moments. Diver Eric Schmitt was using a metal detector to analyze the seabed, when something caught his eye. Sweeping away the sand, he found one, then, two, then more than 50 gold coins. The haul, estimated to be worth more than $1 million, also included over 40 feet of gold chain and an extremely rare Tricentennial Royal coin minted in 1715. That one piece alone is estimated to be worth more than $500,000, with only six known to be in existence.

“Those are things you dream of finding a royal coin, finding a presentation piece. And there are people who have been doing this for 40 or 50 years who have never found one,” Schmitt told CBS News.

According to Florida law, up to 20 percent of the rarest treasures will be displayed in museums, the rest will be split between the Schmitts and 1715 Fleet-Queens Jewels. The family, who in previous years has discovered 60 feet of gold chain and other artifacts, said that what they do is hard work — and definitely a passion.

“There are good times and there are bad times and this is definitely one of our good times,” Schmitt added.

Check out video of Schmitt discovering the gold coins on the seafloor below.

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12 Things About Being A Kid That We Need To Reclaim

For a lot of us, memories of our childhood bring up feelings of nostalgia. Maybe it was a time where we truly felt free and happy; maybe we’ve spent some of our very task-driven, results-focused adult life wishing we could get back to that place. Whether this is something you’ve dwelled on, given a passing thought to or haven’t considered much at all, I think there are quite a few lessons we can learn from the kid that still lives inside each of us.

1. Willingness to hope

When we were kids, we weren’t afraid to hope – and even more than that, we weren’t afraid to share what we hoped for. We’d proudly tell people that we wanted to have the dual career of being Santa Claus and an astronaut when we grew up. As we got older, we learned to be more selective about what we revealed that we hoped for, because we learned that there exists something called rejection (and that with rejection often comes judgment from others). As if it could lessen the blow of not being accepted into the college we were most excited about, not being chosen for a job that we really wanted or being turned down upon expressing our interest in dating someone, we started to believe that hiding what we hope for is the way to protect ourselves from feeling the effects of rejection. We started to believe that we should only share that we’d hoped for something once we know we’ve gotten or achieved it. I couldn’t disagree more. Hiding what we hope for is one of the fastest routes to creating shame, because it leads to self-blaming, feelings of powerlessness and a victim mentality when we don’t get what we want. Hiding what we hope for also dulls our lives down to a dead heartbeat, making us unable to feel true excitement and attaching a “so what?” mentality to perseverance and hard work. Because when you spend more time telling yourself that the things you care about don’t matter, you put up more and more of a shield to your ability to be happy. It’s a risk to share with others what we most hope for, because there is always a chance we’ll be rejected, but there’s also something very courageous, liberating and ultimately intensely gratifying about it, no matter the outcome.

2. Sense of awe

When we were kids, we were impressed pretty damn easily. If you’ve ever seen a bunch of five-year-olds at a magic show, you know exactly what I’m talking about. There will be no fewer than two kids trying to sneak through the guy’s travel bag of tricks; revealing a rabbit in a box that was empty five seconds ago will all but produce mass hysteria; and in general, not one ass will stay planted on the floor for the entire show. As we got older, we became that adult standing in the background with arms crossed, maybe smirking, generally unmoved by what we’re seeing because we know all the secrets of the universe by this point, or at the very least the secret behind that card trick. I don’t know when it is exactly that we lose that sense of wonder, when we start to feel like we’ve seen and heard and experienced it all, but I think that might be one of the more damaging beliefs in the entire world. We need awe, badly: it makes us more generous, kind, cooperative and altruistic. It makes us feel like we’re part of a more collective whole; it makes us less entitled and less self-focused. Whether it’s going for a hike, sitting on a beach, listening to live music or something else entirely personal to you, do whatever it is that you need to do to experience awe and wonder every day, to tap back into that kid inside of you.

3. Openness to love

Last year, I was visiting an old babysitter, who now has two young kids of her own. Though I hadn’t seen them in nearly a year and almost didn’t even expect her daughter to remember me, when I walked in, she immediately ran over and flung her arms around my neck without any inhibitions. I almost tripped backwards – there was some pretty serious momentum to that hug, but that wasn’t why. Over time, I’ve become more and more closed, less and less of that child who runs over excitedly and hugs people, who shows love openly. That scared me; when is it that we learn to be so cautious about loving others? Why was it so shocking and difficult for me to receive that hug? At what point do we become so guarded, so protective, of who and what we trust? If we could tap back into the part of ourselves that gives and receives love without fear or caution, I wonder in what other ways we might become more open and freed.

4. Allowing ourselves to be comforted

This is fairly similar to openness to love, but different – and important – enough that I think it deserves to be its own category. When we were kids and we fell and scraped our leg, dropped our blankie into a dirty pond or were just plain exhausted, we allowed ourselves to be comforted by others. As we got older, we learned the art of pretending to be fine, of pretending to not care when something hurts us. We learned to internalize and bury our pain rather than talk about it and seek comfort from those who love us in an eternal effort to never be seen as “weak.” There’s a lot to be said about our ability to comfort ourselves – it’s part of growing up and fostering our independence – but there’s also something very important and very undervalued in our society about asking for help when you need it and letting others in when you’re hurting. It’s interesting just how willing we often are to talk about the times that we comfort others, but just how unwilling we are to admit that we’d like to feel comforted sometimes too. Next time you find yourself feeling hurt or upset, it’d be if anything an interesting experiment to see what it might be like to allow yourself to be comforted like you did as a kid, rather than trying to go at it all

5. A bedtime

Sort of kidding but mostly not. There’s something to be said about having some structure and stability to our lives. Also something to be said about getting eight hours of sleep.

6. Exploring our creativity

As kids, we didn’t look at the Crayola 64 pack (complete with sharpener, yes) and say, “Oh, no, thanks anyway, but I’m not creative.” We sat down and colored. As adults, however, we learned to divide ourselves and others into two camps of people: those who “are creative” and those who “are not creative.” I think this is possibly the biggest load of horseshit out there. Merriam Webster defines creativity simply as “the ability to create.” Just by being human, you possess the ability to create. And part of why creativity is such an important aspect of our lives as humans is that it’s the ultimate expression of our originality. It’s freeing, it’s fun and it gets us closer and closer to our true self, rejecting the believed need for constant comparison between ourselves and others. Through whatever form of “creating” most speaks to you, by tapping back into that creativity that you so enthusiastically explored as a kid – and by simply being you, with all of your nuances and abilities and imperfections – you’ll be bringing something to the world that no one else can offer. That’s powerful.

7. Honesty

We didn’t learn to lie until we learned shame and consequences, because before then, we didn’t know that we’d ever need to lie. Over time, we became hardened and guarded, learning how, when and why to be dishonest. Maybe we viewed it as protecting others or protecting ourselves; maybe it was how we learned to get ourselves out of sticky situations. But a careful consideration of our tendencies when it comes to dishonesty might be the thing that helps us get back to that more pure, optimistic and liberated state that we associate with kids. What in our lives now makes us feel like we need to lie? Who do we tend to lie to? Others? Ourselves? Do our lies tend to help or do they tend to hurt? What might happen if we became more forthright with truths?

8. Playtime

Playtime is hugely important to our happiness and yet it’s often the first thing to go for many adults. We’re so busy trudging through to-do lists in our jobs and at home that to make time for play is basically unfathomable; after all, playing doesn’t produce anything of value and we’re living in a “time is money” world. But when we don’t set aside time to do things that are nothing but fun for us like we once did as kids – when we lose our willingness to be silly – we’re missing out on a major part of our lives. (Not to mention we’re sacrificing the kind of energy and joy and excitement that we can bring to the tasks we have on those to-do lists, so if you were feeling skeptical about getting away from that pile of work you have for an hour, now you know why you downright need to go run around on an adventure.)

9. Curiosity

Before we learned that knowledge was something that would be tested, we wanted to know things purely out of curiosity. We weren’t learning for the sake of a GPA or to drop facts in some insecure attempt to impress others. We just wanted to know things – a lot of things. And maybe over time we retained that curiosity, that desire to know. Or maybe we lost some of that as we became more and more wrapped up by all the things that we were told we had to know. What would get you excited to know again? What would make you approach your world with a more child-like curiosity?

10. The occasional act of rebellion

A little (legal) rebellion can be good for us. As kids we knew this. My friends and I ran away from home; we ate tubs of icing in a closet; we used all the lemonade mix in the kitchen for lemonade stands, broke tables by dragging them out to the sidewalk and generally ended up drinking all of it ourselves and being wired till midnight – so on and so forth. Half of the time our parents were probably ready to put us on the curb with a “FREE” sign strapped around our necks, but at least we were pushing boundaries. A little rebellion is fun, it’s exhilarating and it definitely teaches us a few things, at the very least about who we are and what we’re willing to try. It makes us a little bit braver, a little more courageous. As we get older and filter into adult life though, with its obligations and expectations of us, we start to rebel less and less and conform more and more. Part of that’s probably because the part of our brain that houses our rationality complex is finally fully developed by 25 (which is to say that it’s probably a good thing), but maybe another part of it is just that we start to forget what it was like to live a little on the edge, to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones. I’m not sure what the adult equivalent of running away from home would be (please don’t not show up at work after reading this), but I think you should go do that. A little bit of it. Occasionally.

11. Living in the now

When we were little, we ran around without much worry as to the future or anxiety over the past, living fully and in the now, and maybe that’s because at that point we hadn’t yet developed an ego. I think the ego is that fear-driven place inside us that tells us that we’re not good enough, that taking a risk might not pay off, that cautions us from getting hurt and tells us to avoid, to back away. So we spend years learning to be afraid, and then, maybe sometime in our early adult life, we realize that it’s job to unlearn that a little if we ever want to be happy, if we ever want to again be able to live fully in the now. Maybe it’s in living in the now that we allow ourselves to wake up every day and discover what life at our most alive really means.

12. Authenticity

As kids, we may not have been fully developed, rational, introspective human beings, but we were very much our authentic selves. After all, we hadn’t yet learned what was “cool” and “uncool.” We hadn’t yet learned that there’s such thing as social hierarchy. We hadn’t yet learned that you might have to actually work to simply belong, that belonging amongst other people just like you could possibly be an active pursuit. We hadn’t yet learned to be worried about how we’ll be perceived, that we might need to control and measure our actions against the behaviors of others to make sure that we’re safe and in line with those around us. As we get older – as we become all of these things – we tend to get further and further from who we really are. What might we be like if we tapped back into that place inside of us that lives more by what we love than what we’ve learned we should love? What might we feel towards ourselves and towards others? How might that kid inside each of us come through?

BOK TOWER GARDENS… HIDDEN GEM

Bok Tower Gardens was the dreamchild of Dutch-American publisher and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward W. Bok. His desire was to create an outdoor sanctuary that would “touch the soul with its beauty and quiet” as a gift of appreciation to the nation that had afforded him so many opportunities. To design the sprawling gardens, Bok enlisted the famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr., whose designs also grace the Biltmore Estate, the National Mall in Washington, DC, and various National Parks across the nation. Later, Bok commissioned a 205-foot gothic revival and art deco “Singing Tower” of marble and native coquina designed by architect Milton B. Medary to become the centerpiece of the gardens. The tower would house a 60-bell carillon set whose discordant tones would echo throughout the property. Dedicated in 1929 by President Calvin Coolidge, the site is now a National Historic Landmark and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

You should begin your visit to Bok Tower Gardens at the Visitor Center where you may view a brief orientation video, collect a garden map, and peruse the historical museum. The Visitor Center complex also houses the Blue Palmetto Café and the Tower & Garden Gift Shop. When you do your tour of the property, in addition to the Singing Tower, Olmsted Gardens and Pinewood Estate, be sure not to miss the Endangered Plant Garden, Sunset Overlook, and a personal favorite the Window By the Pond.

So when is the best time to visit Bok Tower Gardens? In a news release from a previous year, Director of Horticulture Nick Baker said, “We expect azaleas to peak the third week in February and continue through March.” Although the gardens are beautiful any time of year, the landscape is especially lovely in the early spring.

Bok Tower Gardens 1151 Tower Boulevard, Lake Wales, FL, 33853 (863) 676-1408

20 Interesting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Facts

1) His name was originally Michael, not Martin.  His father was also Michael King, hence why Martin Luther King Jr. was originally named Michael King Jr.  However, after a trip to Germany in 1931, Michael King Sr. changed his own name in homage to historic German theologian Martin Luther.  Michael King Jr. was two years old at the time and King Sr. made the decision to change his son’s name to Martin Luther as well.

2) At the age of 12, he seems to have tried to commit suicide.  It was May of 1941 when his grandmother passed away after a heart attack.  At the time of this event, King Jr. was off disobeying his parents by going to watch a parade when they told him not too.  When he came home and learned his grandmother had died, he went upstairs and jumped from the second story window of his house.

3) King wasn’t the only one to die at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968.  After he was killed, one of the hotel workers, Lorraine Bailey (who was also the wife of the motel owner and who it was named after), upon seeing King get shot, had a heart attack and later died from this.  This was partially why there was such a delay in getting an ambulance as Lorraine was also the switchboard operator and so when Reverend Samuel Kyles attempted to call an ambulance using the phone in the motel room, nobody was at the switchboard to make that happen.  In Rev. Kyle’s own words,

I ran into the room and picked up the phone to call an operator or to call an ambulance. But, the operator had left the switchboard. There was nobody on the switchboard. I was saying, “Answer the phone, answer the phone, answer the phone.” And there was nobody on the switchboard. So the phone was not answered. (I learned later that the operator had gone out into the courtyard to watch Dr. King. When she saw what happened, she had a heart attack. She was the motel owner’s wife, and she died subsequently.) The police were coming with their guns drawn, and I hollered to the police, “Call an ambulance on your police radio. Dr. King has been shot.” They said, “Where did the shot come from?” … While waiting for the ambulance to come, I took a spread from one of the beds and covered him from his neck down. … I cannot tell you the feelings I had seeing my friend there on that balcony bleeding to death. Finally the ambulance came and took him away.

4) Also on the day King was killed, he was out on the balcony for a smoke.  While you’ll be hard pressed to find a picture of him smoking, he smoked regularly, though had a habit of hiding this partially due to the stigma, particularly within the church at the time, but also because he didn’t want his kids to take up smoking, and so didn’t like pictures of himself doing it, nor did he like to smoke when they were around.  According to Rev. Kyles, after King was shot but before he was taken away by the ambulance, Kyles removed the package of cigarettes from King’s pocket and got rid of the cigarette butt, partially to attempt to hide the fact that King was smoking at the time he was shot.

5) Martin Luther King Jr. was nearly assassinated a decade earlier than his ultimate death.  While on a book tour, signing copies of his book Stride Toward Freedom, on September 20, 1958, King was approached by Izola Ware Curry who asked him if he was Martin Luther King Jr., which he of course replied affirmatively.  When he said he was, she said “I’ve been looking for you for five years.”  She then pulled out a letter opener and stabbed him in the chest.

It took three full hours to remove the blade.  The reason?  The sharp point end of the blade was pressing against his aorta and the doctors had to be extremely careful while removing it because of this.  The doctor, Dr. Maynard, told him after, “If you had sneezed during all those hours of waiting, your aorta would have been punctured and you would have drowned in your own blood.”

6) King Jr. skipped two grades in high school, 9th and 11th, and entered college (Moorehouse College) at the tender age of 15 in 1944.  By 19, he received a bachelor’s degree in sociology.

7) He almost didn’t become a minister.  After graduating from college, he still had serious doubts about Christianity and the Bible and told his father (who was a Baptist minister, as his grandfather had also been) that he didn’t want to be a minister and instead was considering becoming a doctor or a lawyer.  He later decided that the Bible had “many profound truths which one cannot escape” and chose to become a minister, entering seminary at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania.  He graduated with his PhD at the age of 25.

8) Although King today is often remembered as being an amazing public speaker, he got a C in public speaking during his first year at seminary.  This likely isn’t because he was actually bad at public speaking at this point.  His father noted that even before going to seminary King Jr. was one of the best public speakers he’d seen.  Whatever caused his professor to give him a C, by his final year King had straight A’s, was the valedictorian of his class, and the student body president.

9)  His honeymoon was spent at a funeral parlor… not because someone died, simply because a friend owned the parlor and offered to let him use it for his honeymoon.

10) King convinced “Uhura” on Star Trek, Nichelle Nichols (who incidentally later went on to work for NASA), to continue on with the role after the first season. Nichols stated he told her not to leave the show because she was not only playing a black person as a main character on TV, but she was also playing a character that didn’t conform to the stereotypical black person of the day, usually portrayed.  Rather, Uhura was portrayed as an intelligent member of the crew and an equal to those around her.

This seems to have had the intended effect.  Whoopi Goldberg once stated when she first saw the character of Uhura on TV, she said “Momma! There’s a black lady on TV, and she ain’t no maid!”  It was partially because of this that Goldberg became a huge Star Trek fan and later pushed so hard to get a character on Star Trek the Next Generation, despite the disbelief of the producers that she’d actually want to be on the show.

Astronaut Ronald McNair, the second black person in space (who also died in the Challenger explosion),was inspired to become an astronaut because of the character of Uhura.    McNair’s brother stated,

Now, Star Trek showed the future where there were black folk and white folk working together. I just looked at it as science fiction, ’cause that wasn’t going to happen, really.’ But Ronald saw it as science possibility. He came up during a time when there was Neil Armstrong and all of those guys; so how was a colored boy from South Carolina – wearing glasses, never flew a plane – how was he gonna become an astronaut? But Ron was one who didn’t accept societal norms as being his norm, you know? That was for other people. And he got to be aboard his own Starship Enterprise.”

11) King is to date the youngest male to win a Nobel Peace Prize, winning it in 1964 at the age of 35 (at the time he was the youngest overall for the Peace Prize).  The youngest ever to win the Peace prize today is Tawakkol Karman of Yemen who was just 32 when she won the prize in 2011.

12) King donated all of the $54,123 (about $400,000 today) he received for his Nobel Peace Prize to the Civil Rights movement.  During his acceptance speech, he stated “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”

13) King won a Grammy and was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal and a Medal of Freedom.  The Medal of Freedom and the Gold Medal make sense, but how on Earth did he win a Grammy, you say?  He won it in 1971 for Best Spoken Word Album for “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam”.

14) His house was once bombed.  This was during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted a total of 385 days.

15) His mother, Alberta Williams King, was also murdered.  She was killed while attending church in Atlanta in 1974 by a 23 year old man, Marcus Wayne Chenault, who believed “all Christians are my enemies”.  He shot and killed her while she was playing organ at the church.

16) King Jr.’s autopsy revealed that stress had taken a major toll on his body.  Despite being just 39 at the time of his death, one of the doctors noted that he had “the heart of a 60 year old”.

17) It wasn’t until the year 2000 that all 50 states officially observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  The last states to join up where Arizona in 1992, New Hampshire in 1999, and Utah in 2000.  The holiday itself was originally signed into federal law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, with the first MLK holiday on January 20, 1986.

18) His “I Have a Dream” speech painted an even bigger target before on his back, not just with certain people in the general public, but with the FBI.  This was a memo circulated throughout the FBI offices after the speech:

In the light of King’s powerful demagogic speech yesterday he stands heads and shoulders over all other Negro leaders put together when it comes to influencing great masses of Negros. We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security.

The FBI later discovered King was supposedly having numerous affairs and sent him various anonymous letters stating such things as “You are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that” and threatening to blackmail him.  In another anonymous letter supposedly from the FBI, they stated,

The American public, the church organizations that have been helping—Protestants, Catholics and Jews will know you for what you are—an evil beast. So will others who have backed you. You are done. King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days in which to do (this exact number has been selected for a specific reason, it has definite practical significant). You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy fraudulent self is bared to the nation.

Many of the FBI’s surveillance records, written and audio records, concerning King are currently held in the National Archives, but are sealed from public access until 2027.

19) There are only two other people in American history that have a national holiday in their honor, George Washington and Christopher Columbus.  As such, Martin Luther King Jr. is the only native born United States citizen to have a national holiday in his honor. (*note:  While Washington was born in Virginia, obviously the United States did not yet exist. For reference, the first President to be born in the country of the United States was Martin Van Buren.  He was also the first President not of Irish or British ancestry- his ancestors were Dutch.)

20) Today over 700 streets in the Unites States are named after Martin Luther King Jr., with one such street in almost every major city.  This is not even counting the amazing number of buildings, schools, and the like named after him.

We’ll end this post with the following quote from the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on non-violent resistance:

Non-violent resistance is not for cowards. It is not a quiet, passive acceptance of evil. One is passive and non-violent physically, but very active spiritually, always seeking ways to persuade the opponent of advantages to the way of love, cooperation, and peace.

LEGOLAND® Sets May 15 Opening for LEGOLAND® Hotel

LEGOLAND® Hotel at LEGOLAND® Florida Resort is officially opening May 15, 2015. The announcement came today from General Manager of LEGOLAND Hotel, Kevin Carr, during a press event at the Hotel site, located just steps away from the theme park entrance. LEGOLAND Florida Resort General Manager Adrian Jones also announced Heartlake City, the newest land based on the popular LEGO® Friends line of toys, is opening this summer.

“We’re moving the Model Shop into our Hotel and guests will be able to learn and build with our Model Builders daily in the Master Model Builder Workshop.”

“LEGOLAND Hotel offers a unique experience unlike any other in Florida,” said Carr. “Imagine how excited children will be to wake up in a giant toy box full of LEGO bricks and to be the first to enter the theme park each day.” Jones also announced a Master Model Builder Workshop being offered exclusively to Hotel guests. “LEGOLAND Hotel is an extension of the theme park experience and the stars of our Park are our Master Model Builders,” said Jones. “We’re moving the Model Shop into our Hotel and guests will be able to learn and build with our Model Builders daily in the Master Model Builder Workshop.”

Today’s event at the Resort included a hardhat tour with a behind-the-scenes look at the Hotel. Media and VIP guests were taken to one of the fifth floor suites to experience the spectacular views of Lake Eloise, the theme park with its 50 rides, shows and attractions, and the site of the future expansion, Heartlake City.

“When it opens in summer of 2015, Heartlake City will be a colorful and vibrant new land offering adventures for all ages,” said Jones. “The centerpieces will include a fantastic horse-themed disc coaster called Mia’s Riding Adventure and a new interactive show, ‘Friends to the Rescue’ as well as new shops inside Heartlake Mall. Between our constant expansion, the new LEGOLAND Hotel opening in May and the Water Park re-opening in March, LEGOLAND Florida Resort is definitely a multi-day attraction.”

Guests may book reservations by visiting www.LEGOLANDHotel.com.

LEGOLAND Florida Resort is a part of Merlin Entertainments Group, the second largest attractions operator in the world. For the most current information, log on to www.LEGOLAND.com.

Absurd Florida: You Must Be Connected to Big Electric or We’ll Kick You Out of Your Home!

Robin Speronis lives off the grid in Florida, completely independent of the city’s water and electric system. A few weeks ago, officials ruled her off-grid home illegal. Officials cited the International Property Maintenance Code, which mandates that homes be connected to an electricity grid and a running water source.

That’s like saying our dependency on corporations isn’t even a choice. The choice to live without most utilities has been ongoing for Robin, the self-sufficient woman has lived for more than a year and a half using solar energy, a propane camping stove and rain water.

In the end, she was found not guilty of not having a proper sewer or electrical system; but was guilty of not being hooked up to an approved water supply.

Speronis is still being hassled by the municipality of Cape Coral for not having a connection to city water, nor proper sewage. That. regardless of the fact the city capped her sewers themselves.

Is Off-Grid Really Illegal?

In essence yes. To live off the grid means to not have to hook up to any corporate or municipal utilities. If a municipality makes it illegal to disconnect from any given utility, they are in essence making off grid living illegal.

“It means living independently, mainly living independently of the utility companies. Providing your own power. It does not mean living in the stone age, it’s not about bush craft. It’s about generating your own power, your own water, dealing with your own waste. Probably as part of a community, not living on your own like a hermit. It’s also about being more self-reliant and being less dependent on the system. Perhaps realizing that the system isn’t really protecting us anymore and we have to look after ourselves.” – George Noory

Exploring Our Potential Beyond The Grid

Our potential as a human race is quite extraordinary, we just don’t realize it. Sustainable living is not about giving up a certain lifestyle. We can still have all the modern amenities, design and beyond. We simply need to transition from one way of seeing housing to another.

One potential issue with off the grid living is that corporations will lose their ability to control others with their utility. This could be the type of political and corporate agreements that give people like Speronis issues to begin with.

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozled has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” – Carl Sagan

Moving Away From Dependence

The human race does not need to be dependent on these corporations for basic needs in the manner we have now. While we continue to feed this dependency, the planet continues to suffer. In order to move forward, we must start cooperating with each other, and realize just how much potential we have to create something we can take into our own hands and do sustainably. We can’t wait for these corporations to come up with solutions as they will likely be very profit oriented.

The Perfect Explanation to Why We Hate Crossfitters

Doing Crossfit is a giveaway that you are a huge douche-bag.

You guys want to know how to be able to tell if someone does Crossfit? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

In fact, they will make sure to tell you within seconds of meeting you, and then they’ll proceed to talk about Crossfit and nothing else. This just happened to me on my lunch break: I was going to ask for no onions on my sandwich but cool, you flip tires in your spare time; now I know. Thanks, and I’ll take my sandwich to go.

I don’t know when exactly it happened but Crossfit is a big thing now. Crossfit studios are popping up everywhere. Anywhere that fitness is remotely a thing, there’s a least three different Crossfit studios around. If you live in a big city or on a college campus, forget about it. Left and right, here and there, POP! POP! Nothing ruins a nice morning stroll than a group of girthy people running behind you carrying tires above their head while moaning and groaning with veins popping out of their necks. Like, I’m just trying to get myself a Skinny Vanilla Latte and you’re ruining it for me. (I wonder if Crossfitters order a Bulky Vanilla Latte, sub espresso, add protein.)

Crossfit is for sure a cult and nothing else. Here, I’ll prove it to you. Have you ever met someone who just dabbles in a little Crossfit? No. Everyone you meet that does Crossfit is a little something like this:

(while clenching fists, thrusting, bouncing and probably spitting)

“YEAH I DO CROSSFIT! TRAIN EVERYDAY MAN! IRON PLAYGROUND! I LOVE IT! WHAT YOU KNOW ABOUT THAT PALEO DIET?! HASHTAG PALEO. HASHTAG CROSSFIT. CROSSFIT IS A LIFESTYLE. IT’S MY LIFE. CROSSFIT, F YEAH.”

(…just a mild preview for you.)

Look, I totally comprehend how it’s a ‘manly’ thing to do Crossfit and have that ridiculous body but if you’re showing up to a cookout primarily for the protein and not the cleavage and sundresses, you are not a real man. You’re just a random guy with aggressive veins eating too much chicken.

If you’re a girl who is really into Crossfit, then…my advice to you is to ditch the Crossfit studio and walk next door to the Yoga studio. Guys want to see you in tree pose, not literally picking up a tree.

I have a feeling that it’s a rule in the Crossfit community that once you leave Crossfit, you go and tell everyone you know that you went to Crossfit (either before or after you try to convince them to participate in the paleo diet.) Speaking of the paleo diet, um, please go away. It’s cool if you want to eat like a caveman, whatever, do you your thing. You want to know what would be even cooler? Not talking about it all the damn time. If you paleo people keep professing your obsessions for ‘caveman’ life, then I’m pretty sure you will end up living an actual caveman life and no one will want to be around you. Get back in your cave and shut the fuck up about your weighed out meat and nuts!