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This country has some beautiful landscapes. Our national parks are national treasures, and we should treat them as such. They are not just tourist destinations. They are places to be properly appreciated. Admired. And treated with respect. They are not just places to take your family for a good time and a trip to the hotel pool.

I highly recommend visiting as many national parks as you can during your lifetime. Go camping, go hiking. Take pictures, but don’t take anything else. Be respectful to the wildlife, remember it’s their natural habitat. Be conscientious of where you are. Don’t litter. Treat nature as you if you were a guest at someone’s house. In a way you are a guest.

Most of all help support the national parks. Places like Yosemite and Yellowstone only exist because of public support (the government is a form of public support, since the public has to support government actions). So find ways to help keep our national parks open, and the national parks association running.

I’ve noticed something. It’s a rather obvious observation. People ask stupid questions. But why? When people say that there is no such thing as a stupid question, they are lying through their teeth. There are some very obviously stupid questions that people ask. For instance, is the fire warm? Yes it is, it’s a fire. Fires are warm.

So what’s the point of a stupid question? Sometimes I think people ask them as a way to start a conversation, as a way to fill an awkward silence. I am under the opinion that there are better ways to go about doing this. Often the stupid question does not start a conversation and just make awkward silence more awkward, and possibly more embarrassing.

Sometimes though a stupid question is someone’s actual question. Sometimes a stupid question is just the product of a stupid person. To them it is a legitimate inquiry. In those cases I can never decide wether the person should be pitied for being a few brain cells short of the average person, or be annoyed at them.

Why do some people never seem to grow up? This is a question that I have asked myself repeatedly. In college some people I met seemed to be very unwilling to sever their ties with their high school and their hometown. They would go home on weekends to visit their friends in younger grades. They would talk nostalgically of high school escapades. They seemed to live in the past. It was almost as if they missed high school, and maybe they did.

I didn’t miss high school. I got sick of hearing them talk about it. I wanted to separate from my home town and my high school. I didn’t have the same memories that brought on feelings of happiness. Mostly I just got annoyed or angry when I thought of my high school. These people I met in college were stuck in the past, refusing to grow up and become the adults they were.

So what is it that keeps some people from growing up? And why do some people do it so willingly? Maybe it’s the way they were raised. Maybe it’s how their parents treated them, maybe it’s not their refusal to grow up but their parents refusing to let them. Or maybe it’s a combination. I just hope that they can eventually get some separation and realize that in order to get by in the real world they have get some distance from mommy and daddy.

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This is very relevant to me right now. I have started to realize that everyone that I once thought were my true friends weren’t really and that some of the people that I had thought I’d lost contact with are actually there for me even though I may not always be the most pleasant person to be around and I have struggles. It is the later group that I am most grateful for, the ones that realize that sometimes real life hits a person hard and it can effect their mood, but does not make them unworthy of friendship. To the other people, all I have to say is grow up, life happens, and sometimes it really sucks. Thank you to all of my friends.

I’ll continue with the topic I started yesterday, midwestern weather. The last two days have been the perfect example of a midwest seasonal weather swing. Yesterday it was 80 degrees, today the high was in the mid-50s. The weather changed in a dramatic fashion last night. Thunderstorms and torrential rains rolled in in the late afternoon with cold air following on their heels. It was beautiful outside yesterday, sunny and unseasonably warm in the morning. Then the next time I went outside it was down right chilly and, to top it all off, it was damp. That wonderful combination that chills you to the bones and makes getting warm again seem almost impossible. Luckily for me I’d planned ahead, like any good midwesterner this time of year, and brought an extra layer.

This morning I woke up to a cold (no longer chilly) dark morning. It didn’t look like it was going to be a day that I would want to walk outside. The high was something like 54, after a high of near 80 that seemed miserable. Then the sun came up. It was one of those crisp, cool fall days, where the air is bordering on cold but the sun is warm and makes up for any discomfort caused by a breeze. It was, what I classify as a perfect apple orchard day. The kind of day when you can’t quite decide if your cold or not. A beautiful blue sky and warm sun, tempered by cool air and a cooler breeze. One word to sum it all up: fall.

I’ve lived in the midwest my whole life. I was born in the west suburbs of Chicago and raised there. Luckily I’ve had the opportunity to travel around the country, otherwise it would’ve been a rather boring childhood. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate everything about the midwest. I like Chicago, which I believe is the saving grace of what is quite possibly the world’s largest corn field. I also like the seasons, or at least 3 out of 4 (though winter’s not all bad).

I like that seasons change. I like that summer turns to fall. Fall turns to winter and winter turns to spring. I like that I have had the chances to experience all temperature and weather extremes. Some people don’t, they get one or the other. Some kids grow up in regions were it feels like summer all year long and it’s always sunny. Some grow up where there is snow on the ground for most of the year. I got to see both, hot summer days, cold and snowy winter nights, and the in between.

What I love most is fall. When the leaves are changing, the weather is getting cooler. It’s my favorite season by far. It’s the colors on the trees; the reds, golds, and organs. It’s the cool mornings and nights, with warmer days. The warm sun and cool air. The way that the sun will warm your face, but the air will make you have to wear a sweater. There’s something in the air. It’s “apple crunching” crisp and cool.

Then there is the weird periods of time during the transition seasons, fall and spring. The days when it is in the 80s then drops overnight. The week when one day is 78 and the next the high is in the 40s. Those are the times when I can only say WTF? Like the April that is sunny and 85 followed by a cool and rainy May with highs only in the 60s. The March when it snows one day and the next people are wearing shorts. So, really, WTF? What happened to predictabilty?

If you live in one of those regions that has any of the above as a common pattern. The only predictable thing about the weather is that the weatherman will be wrong.

How come it never seems as though problems, especially large scale ones, never really get resolved? Could it be because we often waste our energy working against instead of with each other? Why can’t we all just get along? Are we really that different? Do we really want things that cannot coexist? Or are we just so stuck in our own ways that we can’t work together, we refuse to? 

We spend time talking about reaching across party lines, but it never seems to happen. One side always seems to want the other to do all of the compromising. This is not really compromising. In a compromise both sides have to give a little to reach common ground, but what seems to happen most often is that one side refuses to budge and expects the opposition to basically give up everything they stand for. If the opposition holds true to there values then they are the “problem,” even if they give a little they are still a “problem” because they haven’t given enough. 

In order to get anywhere, to make any changes, to move forward. Everyone needs to give a little. Both sides, not just one. If both sides are so ridged that they can’t do this we will stay just as stuck. Nothing will move forward, there will be no improvement, no resolution, and no one will be happy in the end.

In my last post I wrote about travel and how it was important in becoming a well-rounded and mindful person. I wasn’t just talking about international travel. 

To truly understand who you are as an American it is crucial to travel inside your own country. The United States is large, very large. The third largest country by both area and population in the world. Think about it. Within our borders there are 3,794,000 square miles to explore. There is about every climate imaginable. And with different regions come different cultures. So, even in the U.S. you can learn a new perspective, a new way of doing or seeing things, and a new normal. What is normal for someone in rural Arkansas is definitely not normal for someone in L.A. There are different dialects, different regional cuisines, different traditions, different past times. There are different local issues to be explored, and different debates to witness. There are natural wonders to be seen. National parks and forests, and state parks and forests. There are cities of every size, small towns and country side. This is a very vast country. We are all different. 

I have traveled all over the United States. By plane, by car, and even by Amtrac, which I highly suggest. If you have a chance take a train across the country, seriously. You will see areas and scenery that you can’t see from a car or a plane. At the very least drive. Drive across the state, drive across the country. Stop in small towns, talk to local people, eat at roadside cafes. When traveling try to buy local, don’t do the chain stores or chain restaurants, they are everywhere and they are all the same. Step outside your comfort zone without leaving your home country. 

I for one highly suggest visiting national parks, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Teton, Grand Canyon, etc. This country is beautiful, breathtaking, awe inspiringly beautiful. Words cannot describe and pictures do not do justice to the scenery that this country has to offer. It should be enjoyed and respected and preserved for future generations.

So go, get in your car, buy a train or plane ticket. Explore America. You don’t even need a passport. 

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Everyone should travel. Travel far and wide. Go to distant lands. Step outside your comfort zone. Discover. Explore. Learn.

This is my advice, so take it. Traveling, seeing new places, is essential to being a well-rounded and informed human being. It is through traveling and seeing different cultures and people that one learns more about them selves and their culture. Through travel you learn that there are different perspectives, different ways of seeing a problem and then solving that problem. You learn that you are not superior because you are right. You start to learn that there is no right and wrong, just different. If you travel, and not the tourist type of travel, real travel where you experience first hand local norms and customs you can learn more ways to see the world. It’s about discovering and exploring. It’s about stepping outside your normal into someone else’s normal. And it’s about learning that normal is relative.

That is why people should travel: to learn that normal is relative and what is normal for you is not normal for someone across the world. So go out and explore, and learn a new normal.

High school, I’m sure everyone looks back fondly and thinks about how much they would love to relive those four years. Just kidding. Chances are you probably don’t. Most people’s high school experience was less than ideal. You were not the head cheerleader or the star quarter back on the state championship winning team. You were probably not prom queen or king, you were probably not the most popular kid in your class. Chances are you were fairly average, good group of friends, good grades, etc. There were probably cliques, there were definitely groups of friends that didn’t interact and tended to talk trash about the other groups (these are cliques, by the way). Cliques are what made high school, at least socially, if not hell at least very unpleasant. Cliques create drama, they thrive off of it. They create situations that encourage rumors and animosity. They are separate and certainly not all equal. There is the “cool” group, the “band geeks,” the “nerds,” the “jocks,” the “preps,” and so on. Each school is different, the cliques have different names, different hierarchy, different fluidity, different structures. But each high school has the same drama creating social structure. And so do situations in real life. In any place where a group of people, especially (sadly to say) young women, different groups tend to form. These groups create drama both inside and outside the group. There is trash talk of the other group and well as within the group. Changing loyalties, changing enemies. Cliques are dynamic, ever changing to suit there needs and reap the most benefits. It’s complicated and messy. No wonder high school was so horrible for so many people. How is an awkward and still developing teenage brain supposed to navigate that mess. It’s like a see in a storm, a storm of hormones. Adults can barely manage it.