Another chapter starts

Another chapter starts

At 6 a.m. I slowly crawled out of bed as my alarm woke me Monday. Pure excitement washed over me as I got ready for my first day as the new editor of the Sanibel-Captiva Islander.

I was leaving to go to work. I was heading to an office where I would be working with others. My streak of working only out of my home doing freelance work came to an end that morning.

The hardest part of Monday was saying goodbye to my little puppy who I have spent pretty much every day with since we adopted her in April 2014. The look she gave me as I closed the garage door made me smile as memories flooded of the time we have spent together. My heart broke a little knowing that she will now spend a good portion of the day alone.

The goodbye with Jason carried me through the jitters of my first day. He always knows the right thing to say at the right moment. His excitement shined through his sleepy words and his sweet smile as he looked into my eyes. For the first time in two years, I was the one who kissed Jason goodbye, wishing him a good day as I left and went to work.  As I walked out of our bedroom, a smile swept across my face.

It’s true I have the support of a beautiful man. A man that has continued to share how proud he is of me through my career changes over the past almost six years.

That morning reminded me of a day in September 2009. I moved back to Fort Myers from Arizona a few months prior and began a job search. After a few months, I found a listing for the Cape Coral Daily Breeze and went in for an interview. I was at Jason’s place when I got the phone call . . . I was hired as a new reporter for the paper. The excitement he shared with me that day was beyond supportive. A memory that still makes me smile.

The sky was blue with typical Florida temperatures engulfing the car as my drive to work began before 7 a.m. earlier this week. It was the most relaxing 40-minute drive. As soon as I crossed the toll for Sanibel my shoulders relaxed and my back hugged the seat a little more as I took in the view of the water. Cars were already parked along the causeway as another beautiful day unfolded. I stopped where no other cars were parked next to the water, took a picture and breathed in the salt water before continuing my trip to the office.

First day at Islander

I did it. I was offered a full-time position, a position that will allow my passion of writing to continue.

The same smile I had after walking out of our bedroom surfaced again as I opened the door to the office. It remained as I introduced myself to Craig who I am replacing.

We shared information about ourselves before diving into the responsibilities I will be taking over come Monday morning.

I honestly felt like I was home again. As I sat in his office, soon to be mine, the passion of my craft consumed me. I am faced with another challenge . . . well opportunity . . . of making another newspaper into a great weekly sharing the news and stories of the island.

One of the true beauties of this career is the endless opportunities it provides in getting to know, fully diving deep into the character of a community. Although I grew up in Southwest Florida and have spent time on Sanibel, I really do not know the community well. Now, working on the island I have the opportunity to really get to know what makes this area a destination for so many.

My first day sped by relatively fast. It was absolutely perfect. That smile remained throughout the entire day. I was introduced to people, got some leads on stories and had the opportunity to see some of the beautiful island.

That night Jason, Lucy and I went to Fort Myers Beach to embark on one of my favorite past times. We stopped at Publix and I ordered us subs before we headed to our destination. We used to eat dinner on the beach while watching the sunset before we left for Tennessee.

Before we left the house it started raining, but since we live in Florida we ran to the car and hoped for the best. It rained on and off the entire drive to the beach. We ended up eating dinner in the car waiting for the showers to finish.

Fortunately the rain stopped and an incredible sunset covered the night sky.

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That night was the first time Lucy truly got to experience the beach. Although she was extremely hesitant of the water, Jason and I eventually encouraged her to get her feet wet.

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It was a perfect ending to a perfect day.

The next few days were just as successful as the first.

There is truly no better feeling than working in an office with others who have the same passion as mine. It’s nice to be surrounded by others, instead of being isolated in my home interviewing people over the phone.

Another perk of working on Sanibel came to fruition Thursday night on my way home. For the first time since Jason and I started dating we work in the same area. So, before I left the island I stopped by Jerry’s where he cooks and said hello.

With our hours, most of the time we only get to see each other at the end of the day, when I’m falling asleep on the couch waiting for him to come home.

Although it was a brief visit, it was great to see him.

With a smile on my face I began driving off the island when a rainbow caught my attention. The water began calling my name, so I decided to stop on the causeway and get out of the car. The weather was perfect at that moment as my hair started flying in every direction with the wind coming off the water. I stood there taking in the scenery, smelling the salt water and listening to the wave’s crash against the shore. I probably stood there for 15 to 20 minutes.

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As I climbed back into my car I was completely relaxed as I drove the rest of the way home. It was at that moment that I truly felt grateful for the life Jason and I have. At that moment I began thinking about my journalism career here in Southwest Florida.

Since September 2009, my editor Val has taken care of me. I have gained heaps of experience as my duties change as a new position opened.

When I shared I would be moving to NE Tennessee in 2013, she kept me on as a freelance reporter. A phone call sharing that Jason and I were moving back to Florida offered her word in keeping me busy with freelance work until something full-time popped up. Val kept to her word. My workload tripled for the Cape Coral Daily Breeze as a freelance reporter.

Last week my world changed when I received an email from Val asking me to call her. That phone call, which led to a meeting in her office, was another promise kept.

I love what the beginning of this new chapter has offered so far. I’m excited to fully dig in next week when I no longer have to shadow the editor who is here now.

I firmly believe that our move back to Southwest Florida was meant to be. I continue to feel myself relax while the stress diminishes.

This week, although has worn me out, has been one of the best week’s I have had in a long time. I’ve met some really nice people, have seen some beautiful places and have contributed articles to a newspaper that will soon be filled with my byline.

More than a month ago

It’s hard to believe I returned to Southwest Florida more than a month ago. I have spent a great deal of time with family and friends since returning, something that was hard to live without for almost two years.

One of my new favorite routines happens every Saturday. I spend the week looking forward to my early start that morning.

In an effort to train for my third 5K race, which took place on Memorial Day, I ran with my mother and younger sister Maureen, who were also participating in the race with me. I was so excited to recruit two people to run with me, especially since it was Mom and Maureen’s first race. I’m happy to say I beat my best race time by more than three minutes that morning even in the awful heat. Mom and Maureen finished before me making their first race a memorable one. Although we did not cross the finish line at the same time, it was encouraging to know that they were running the same race with me. I kept my pace going and am happy to say I finally ran the entire 3.1 miles without stopping, making it truly an awesome achievement.

Every Saturday, we meet at Maureen’s house to run along McGregor. I still cannot put into words how much that first run meant to me. I have spent the majority of my time running by myself, or with my puppy Lucy. To run with other people, well it felt incredible, even if we all are not running at the same speed. Even though the race is over, we still meet every Saturday morning. Yes, it’s still a highlight of my week. This past Saturday as I pulled up to Maureen’s house, I saw Dad standing with Mom and Maureen, which made me smile. Our running group is expanding . . . I love spending that time with family first thing in the morning.

As I sit here and reflect on some of the highlights of my time back in Southwest Florida, a trying time, a time that kept me apart from Jason for 47 days already seems like a lifetime ago. I smile when I look back. I smile because of the strength we both had during the time he was in Fort Myers and I was in Kingsport. I smile because that is now a distant memory.

The best feeling in the world is being in the same state, the same city and living under the same roof again. Now we are back to our old routines, some that I love and will never grow tired of . . . a kiss before he leaves for work that is accompanied by have a great day.

I am now a firm believer that the heart grows fonder when you are away from your loved one. I have seen a new side of Jason that I cherish since returning. Our relationship is stronger than before. Jason’s affection and expression of how he feels comes more often making me feel even more loved.

For the first time in a longtime, I really feel like I am home. That feeling is not just because I am living in the area where I grew up surrounded by friends and family, but I am living my dream once again.

As a freelance writer, there is good and bad. I absolutely love the freedom of making my own schedule. I enjoy working from my home having the luxury of walking into my kitchen to grab a snack or cook lunch. I also love having the opportunity to be in the same vicinity as my one year old puppy.

What I was lacking did not show its presence until I moved back to the Fort Myers/Cape Coral area.

I am now spending more time out in the community, interviewing people face-to-face, making my passion for writing truly surface once again. There’s something special about living in the same community in which you work. I did not know how much I missed that interaction until the first assignment my editor gave me took me out into the community.

My passion is in full force again. My passion of writing has taken on another dimension.

Our move back to Southwest Florida was one of the best decisions we have made, especially because of the opportunities that we have found. Jason and I continue to grow as a couple, I’m writing more for editors I truly love working for, I’m spending my weekends with Mom once again and my best friend is only 30-minutes down the road.

Although our lives have been enriched with so much beauty here, I still find myself thinking of Tennessee. I miss the mountains. This past week it hit me pretty hard. Oh, how I miss the pure beauty of that state.

The hiking, getting lost in the woods, is what I miss the most. The clarity the hills and mountains gave me was truly special.

“I really love my country”

Army intelligence photog to speak Saturday

Published in Cape Coral Daily Breeze March 13, 2015 issue

A U.S. Army intelligence photographer, who served in the 1st Infantry Division “The Big Red One,” will speak at the Northwest Regional Library on Saturday about her experience.

Rebeca Brown, who moved to Southwest Florida from Los Angeles 10 months ago, joined the Army in 1980 and served until 1984.

“I wanted to join the Army because I wanted to travel the world and take photos,” she said. “I really love my country.”

Brown recalls that one of the biggest issues in the 1980s was a couple female congresswomen saying women should not be a part of the military.

“I was raised that you could do whatever you want in life,” she said. “I was part of the feminist movement that helped women work in nontraditional positions.”

As an intelligence photographer Brown had many jobs. She flew in planes and helicopters and took aerial photographs of the terrain for the government, as well as photographs of the ground terrain in auxiliary tanks.

Brown flew in the SR71, which had cameras in the belly of the plane. She recalls flying over hostile combatants while in the SR71.

“You put on this jumpsuit and put on a diaper,” she said. “In a blink of an eye you could go anywhere to take photos.”

Some of the aerials were, both in the air and on the ground. of the Russian borders. She also took pictures of large community areas through which people would walk.

Large bodies of water and related terrain were also photographed, in case troops had to go through.

One of the experiences that really stuck out from Brown was while she was stationed in Germany. She spent time with the auxiliary unit riding in tanks to take photos.

“If we had a conflict and NATO had to move in the troops, we would need to know the depth of how to get our troops over,” Brown said.

During that time she also took aerial reconnaissance over the Berlin Wall.

The veteran also enjoyed taking photographs of Hitler’s bunkers. She said not only did she have to take photographs of the artwork and other common items, but she also had to make duplicates of his horrible crimes for the government.

Some of those photographs included the guillotine and shooting of Jewish people against the wall.

Brown, who had top secret clearance, said there were times she was not in uniform when she went to other countries.

The government would drop a portable photo lab by helicopter wherever she was, so she could process the film and give it to one of the generals.

“It was a good experience, an awesome experience for me,” Brown said.

After the military, she became a law enforcement officer for the state of California. From there she earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology, as well as a bachelor’s and master’s degree in business.

While in California she worked as a specialist with children between the ages of 5 to 18 who had signs of becoming serial killers. Brown said she would teach them empathy, love and how to connect to the community, so they would have some type of connection.

“Then I became a program director with Phoenix Health in Los Angeles for the probation department,” she said.

Brown created and implemented programs that dealt with such issues as substance abuse and cognitive behavior. She said she would be contacted to go to the prisons. Brown also would hire staff for youth camps and teach them how to connect with kids and mentor them, so they would sustain goals to attend college.

She is currently a member of the Cape Coral VFW Post #8463, Cape Coral VFW Post #8463 Honor Guard, American Legion Post #90 and the American Legion Riders Florida Chapter #90. She is also a volunteer at the Pine Island Museum.

“Eventually I will start again, either try to work with veterans and kids,” Brown said.

Brown will speak at the Northwest Regional Library at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 14.

“I am hoping I get a good turnout,” she said.

In addition to sharing her experience, Brown also wants to share the message that as long as you dream about want you want in the future, you always have a goal to work for. She said it is also very important to teach kids about patriotism.

Brown is speaking on behalf of the SW FL. Military Museum & Library.

“Gallery Hopping”

Gallery Hopping

Take a Trip through the local art world

Published in Cape Coral Community Lifestlyes November/December 2014

Gallery Hopping1Southwest Florida offers a variety of art galleries representing works of art from the 20th century to present day. Make a day – or evening – out of it, and gallery-hop to several fantasticlocal exhibits and displays throughout the area.

There are many opportunities to indulge into the art world through monthly exhibits, independent films and a casual stroll through galleries highlighting talented artists from around the country – and the world.

Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center: Downtown Fort Myers

A building that used to house the U.S. Post Office in the early 1930s was eventually turned into an art center that offers a great deal for residents of Southwest Florida throughout the year.

Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center Assistant Director Devon Parker said the building that houses the center was built in 1933. From then until 1965 the building served as the U.S. Post Office before serving for the federal system as a courthouse until 1998.

The building was eventually purchased by the City of Fort Myers and leased to the nonprofit organization, Sidney & Berne Davis Center, under the conditions that it would be restored and used as a multi disciplinary art center.

“The art center has been opened since 2008,” Parker said.

IMG_4061_stitch-2The Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center offers everything from monthly fine art gallery shows to cutting edge theater and independent film, to classical and popular musical concerts, fashion shows and culinary arts, as well as playing host to several networking events throughout the month.

Parker said the center opens a new gallery show on the first Friday of the month during Friday Art Walk.

Last month’s art show featured Stage 16 by Arturo Correa and November will feature Art by Veterans. The last show of the year will be comprised of Abstract 9, a show by students of Florida Southwestern College visual art students.

The center is featuring a new event this season, First Taste Dinner at the Davis, on the first Thursday of the month through June before Art Walk. Individuals will have the opportunity to view a new art exhibition that is paired with a dinner prepared by the center’s new Executive Chef Mike Gavala.

The Ghostbird Theater will feature an original piece “Wooden Mouth” in November, the last one of this year. Independent films are shown on the first Monday of the month and the 5th annual Fort Myers Film Festival gets rolling in March. The concert series, which is always popular among attendees, showcases an array of renowned musicians.

“We have a strong classical concert theater,” Parker mentioned.

The center also hosts an annual fashion show every winter that has grown since its inception.

“We will be entering the third year of the fashion show,” Parker said.

This year it will be held the last weekend of January, Jan. 30 and 31.”

A fundraiser, Cooking for the Arts, was another special event held earlier this month. Parker said it is an interactive cooking fundraiser where attendees helped cook their own dinner with Gavala.

The Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center is at 2301 1st St., downtown Fort Myers, and available for rentals for special events for individuals or groups. For more information, visit SBDAC.com, or call 239-333-1933.

Reverie & Rock Art Gallery: Downtown Fort Myers

Owners of KMK Publishing, Inc., which publishes Happenings A&E Magazine and Lee Family News Magazine, opened an art gallery downtown in October 2012.

Reverie & Rock Art Gallery Owner Jamie Kuser was among one of the creators of ArtWalk in downtown Fort Myers and was the co-chair for nearly six years. After his wife began doing digitalsurrealism artwork, the idea of opening up a gallery blossomed.

“In the past two years she has sold 75 pieces,” he said.

The gallery is split into two sides, the Reverie showcasing Kathy’s work, and the Rock highlighting Jamie’s photography.

gallery hopping2A magazine graphic designer of 10 years, Kathy puts together fantasy and mystical worlds through placing up to 500 images together to create a specific scene of more than 600 layers. Jamie said his wife will use techniques like lighting and shadows, so the image looks like someone took a picture of a fantasy world.

The prints are done on canvas and often include photographs she has taken at various locations. Jamie said one of her pieces included a picture of a manmade lake and a brick.

“She likes to hide things in the photos,” he said. Jamie, who has photographed live concerts for national performers for almost 20 years, has his work displayed in the gallery, as well. Some of his photography has appeared on tour T-shirts, VHI’s Behind the Music, the Associated Press Archives, as well as Happenings Magazine.

“People look at them and say ‘I have seen them in concert,’” he said. “It provokes memories.”

Before moving to Southwest Florida, Jamie photographed many concerts in Ohio and Michigan.

“I have a preference to 80 rockers,” he said, of who he enjoys photographing.

The genre of music has changed to country music performers since moving to Southwest Florida.

Reverie & Rock Gallery is open one night a month, during ArtWalk. It is also open by appointment. For more information, call 239-278-5236. The gallery is located at 1528 Jackson St., Fort Myers.

Watson MacRae Gallery: A Sanctuary of Art: Sanibel Island

After Maureen Watson had a business in New York City for many years, she left and studied painting.

“I learned a lot about painting and about art, what it takes and what a good painting looks like,” she said. “I learned a lot by doing it. I painted for about three years and I realized I wasn’t going to be good enough to make myself happy.”

gallery hopping3Watson eventually started an art school with artist Hollis Jeffcoat, which remained opened for three years. She said she learned a lot about business and found that her real love was owning a business.

A New York City native, who had lived in Naples for a number of years, had visited Sanibel from time to time before moving back to New York City. She said after hearing that Southwest Florida needed a fine arts gallery, she thought about Sanibel.

“Everything just worked out perfectly,” Watson said of opening Watson MacRae Gallery: A Sanctuary of Art. “It’s a wonderful community.”

The gallery started its seventh season this year on Sanibel, at 2340 Periwinkle Way, Suite B3. Watson said the gallery has been redesigned, providing an opportunity to show additional artists.

Watson MacRae Gallery is a fine art and contemporary craft gallery that features 30 to 50 artists from around the country. Each month during season, October through the end of August, a new themed exhibit graces the gallery.

“I mainly look for people that do things that are very well done,” she said of artists located all over the United States. “That has soul and is visually and emotionally engaging and that can be work in wood or glass.”

Watson said it is like an adventure finding new artists.

“Many are represented in museums, which is a criteria you look for when you look for good artists,” she said. “Sometimes they are in other galleries.”

The first two exhibits of the season will open on Nov. 11. Entitled “Jewelry: More than Adornment,” it will feature seven award winning artists. The exhibit will showcase contemporary handmade jewelry.

“It is an introduction to the expanded jewelry that I am going to show,” she said.

The second show, “Multiples,” will feature an artist’s series or sets of pieces of artwork with nine to 12 pieces.

“Each artist that I am going to show will have at least nine pieces of their work,” Watson said.

The gallery is open from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 239-472-3386, or visit WatsonMacRaeGallery.com.

 

Wicked Dolphin Florida Spiced Rum

Southwest Florida’s only distillery sets up shop in Cape Coral; tours available

Published in South Fort Myers Community Lifestyles February 2014

A Cape Coral distillery has created quite a following from individuals who enjoy savoring a rum created with all Florida ingredients.

Wicked Dolphin Florida Spiced Rum Owner JoAnn Elardo said, after traveling back and forth from New York to Florida, the idea of starting a distilling company took hold.  Many of her friends always asked her to bring something back from Florida, which usually meant oranges or perhaps a key lime pie.

“We thought this was a perfect thing,” she said of Wicked Dolphin Spiced Rum, which uses all Florida ingredients. Elardo said now people are returning home with rum when they leave Florida, rather than just the proverbial citrus.

She said it took a long time to acquire the Cape Coral location and build a distilling facility. Cape Spirits Inc. is located at 131 SW 3rd Place, near the Kohl’s plaza on Pine Island Road.

“We fired up the still in 2012,” she said, adding that they came out with their first batch in July 2013. “We took some time, perfected it,made rum and put them into barrels.”

A true family-like atmosphere, the company employes 10 staff members.

“It’s a family business, we want to keep it that way,” Elardo said. “We want to keep that look of a family business.”

Shortly after Elardo opened the business, she began looking into a Florida law that eliminated the opportunity to sell products from a distillery.

“We started here in 2012 and as we were cooking and making our rum, people were knocking on our doors asking for a tour,” she said. “I said we had to do something about this.”

A guild was formed after Elardo got in touch with an individual in St. Augustine to try and get a bill passed to allow sales at a distillery. That bill was Florida HB 347, which allows craft distilleries to sell to customers two bottles of spirits at the distillery.

“It is a start and it helps us generate some income to hire enough help to cover the tours,” Elardo said. “It has worked well for us in helping market our Wicked Dolphin Rum.”

Because of that bill, Elardo can now offer free tours at her Cape Coral facility, as well as set up tastings. A retail store is also offered on premises that sells everything from small barrels to glasses and apparel.

The hour-long tours and tastings are held every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, on the hour between 1 and 4 p.m. The tour takes individuals through the entire facility while showcasing how Elardo and her staff makes Wicked Dolphin Rum, from start to finish. The tour provides a glimpse into the barrel room to show individuals how they are made and what it looks like inside. The bottling line is also showcased during the tour.

Elardo said they have volunteers who come in and bottle the rum, which ranges from two to three times a month. The volunteers show interest by emailing the company.

“The first 20 people come in and they get a free bottle of what we have done that day,” she said, adding that they have pizza on hand for the fun day of bottling and labeling.

She mentioned sometimes individuals have an opportunity to taste rum right out of the still during the tour.

“We started out doing tours with maybe 30 a day,” she said, adding that now they have about 100 people on each tour. “We get buses as far away as Boca Raton.”

The rum is made from products solely from Florida. Elardo said since 50 percent of the sugar cane grown in the U. S. is grown right here in Florida, they are using local sugar cane farmers to make their product.  They also use Florida oranges, various spices found in the Sunshine State and honey from Lehigh Acres.

“We have one of the best rums, nationally award-winning rums,” Elardo said.

The first rum, the Wicked Dolphin Silver Rum, which received a gold medal from the annual Miami Rum Festival and an award from the American Distillers Best in Category for white rum, is a premium silver spirit. Elardo said the white rum is made with 100 percent Florida sugar cane and distilled in small batches, barrel-aged to give the concoction a creamy vanilla flavor.

The second rum, Wicked Dolphin Spiced Rum, is referred to as “Wicked Coke.” The spiced rum includes notes of Florida oranges and honey, with a warm vanilla undertone and a spicy finish.

“Age rum is added to the blend for a smooth and mature taste,” Elardo said.

The company goes beyond just a good-flavored concoction. The most detailed thoughts and considerations even went into the bottle design. It’s narrow at the bottom so women can hold it with one hand, and the logo is embossed on the side, curved at the top for easy grabbing by bartenders.

The company plans on announcing another blend within the next month or so, she said.

If you can’t make it on a tour for a while, individuals can purchase the spirits at Publix, ABC Liquors, Total Wines, some smaller package stores and most local bars and restaurants.

“We are in over 800 locations throughout Florida,” Elardo boasted. “We are becoming known as Florida’s rum because we are strictly using Florida ingredients.”

She said becoming a part of the community has been the best part about opening the distillery in Cape Coral.

“We are having a lot of fun with the people of Cape Coral,” Elardo said. “I love Cape Coral; that is why I am here.”

For more information on Wicked Dolphin Rum or to schedule a tour call 239-242-5244 or visitwickeddolphin.com.

Spontaneity

One of the many things that attracts me to Jason is his spontaneity.

The cherry blossom trees are starting to bloom around our house.

The cherry trees are starting to bloom around our house.

Monday afternoon while Jason was at work, I sent him a text telling him he had to get me out of the house on Tuesday, his day off. That’s one of the many beauties about being a freelance writer, I can take time off whenever I choose, as long as I hit my deadlines on time. With this said, it’s going to be hard to ever go back to a job where I have to clock in and out.

So, yesterday after waking up and doing a phone interview, setting up an in person interview for Thursday, the day was ours.

Yesterday was beyond perfect. We woke laughing, which carried on throughout the day. There was a lot of friendly banter going on back and forth as the morning continued. It was contagious, the laughter just kept going, everything was funny, everything made us both smile. I absolutely love days like that, which are quite often in our house.

Jason started searching the internet for things to do. He found a waterfall to visit along the Blue Ridge Parkway, so we got dressed, hopped in the car and were on our way. It wasn’t until we reached North Carolina that Jason revealed all of our plans for the day. After stopping at the waterfall, we were going to take the Blue Ridge Parkway into Asheville, a city that I have been wanting to see in North Carolina.

IMG_1389As we were driving, my mind continued to wander. I love this journey we started now almost five years ago. Yesterday marked one month until we arrived in Tennessee. It’s really hard to fathom that as of May 1 it has been a year since we moved to Tennessee from Southwest Florida. I remember that last month, it was insane. Jason was working nonstop, I was working nonstop, all while fitting in as much time with friends and family before we left. I remember being in awe . . . Jason’s determination to put our plan into motion completely blew me away. I remember missing him like crazy because of his insane hours, his go to work super early, come home really late, kind of hours. But now looking back on all of that, I’m so glad he did what he did to make this dream a reality, that dream of experiencing another state.

Yes, this last year has been hard as we tried to establish ourselves in a new location. Controlling our finances has often times been stressful, but Jason has managed to keep me calm, constantly reminding me of all the positive. I have learned a great deal about myself, about Jason and about us as a couple as this past year has gone by. I tell Jason often thank you for showing me another world, thank you for taking me to so many beautiful places, so many incredible sites I will cherish for a lifetime.

Is it possible to fall in love with someone a little more every day? Is it possible to love your life this much?

So, as we drove through Tennessee into the mountains of North Carolina I was beyond happy as these memories flooded my mind. One of the things I enjoy about our trips is we allow each other to get lost in our thoughts. Often times we hold conversations, but other times we both enjoy each others company in silence with the occasional “hey look at that.”

We eventually made it to the Blue Ridge Parkway and it was absolutely breathtaking. Jason mentioned that it was hard-driving the road, while enjoying all the scenery. The mountain ridges were plenty and the sky was a beautiful blue. Unfortunately our travels on this road came to abrupt stop, only a few miles before we reached the waterfall. We learned that a wind storm came through the area a few ways before closing part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, as well as a sinkhole that is still in the process of being fixed from a few months before. This of course ended our adventure on the parkway.

We were both bummed, but our journey continued, Jason took me to Asheville. This is where the spontaneity comes in, we drove to Asheville, took a ride downtown, had lunch, well almost dinner, and then drove back home to Kingsport.

It was so out of the blue, so unexpected, and I loved every minute of it!

Our trip to Asheville turned into planning for another day trip, so we could experience more of the sites and take in the area a little more.

Throughout the drive to North Carolina and back we saw nature at work. There were so many beautiful trees showing signs of spring along the journey. The farther we drove into North Carolina the deeper the pink flowers became on the trees. I could only sit there in awe as a smile spread across my face as I took in its beauty.

I’ve experienced every season now and I have to admit, I don’t know if I could live in a state again that didn’t show the seasons. Although I grew up in Illinois, I don’t remember the seasons as vividly as I do now since I was a young girl. I loved growing up in Florida. I loved having the beaches only minutes away and experiencing the nice warm weather almost year round. Now as an adult I have come to appreciate the changing of the seasons. I am much more in-tuned to nature and love experiencing how it changes from the summer, to fall, to winter and then to the spring. This is how I experienced my first seasons.

Here are a few more pictures of the beauty right outside our front door.

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Extremely inspirational

She did it again . . . she finished another race . . .  and she continues to be inspirational to all of us who watch from the sidelines.

Jen finished her first triathlon on Captiva Island in SW Florida this morning, beating the time she set for herself, beating it by 13 minutes. I could feel her excitement through the messages we sent back and forth. I could feel her sense of accomplishment – she swam in the Gulf of Mexico, pedaled away during the bike portion of the race and finished it all by running through that finish line.

She can now add another race to her scrapbook of achievements.

Her story is incredible, one I love sharing with others because she completely transformed her lifestyle and lost 137 pounds – all from exercising and changing her eating habits. I love watching that person’s expression as they hear her journey and share the same excitement for what she has accomplished.

Jen’s story goes to show that once you put your mind to something you can achieve that goal, you can achieve that goal beyond your wildest dreams.

What has unfolded since she lost all that weight is incredible . . .

When I worked at the Cape Coral Daily Breeze, I included Jen’s story in an article I wrote because I am extremely proud of her, proud to know such an amazing, determined woman.

An excerpt from the Dec. 3, 2010 article in the Cape Coral Daily Breeze:  “Full marathon to step off from Cape Harbour on Dec. 12”

The Mangrove Marathon holds a “special meaning” for one Fort Myers resident,  Jen, because almost two years ago she made a complete lifestyle change that led her to losing 137 pounds, or half of her body weight.

She explained that it is special because it is “a matter of days between the race and the date that I started with my dietician” two years ago.

With her new lifestyle, came a new-found passion of running that really took off last September.

“It is so therapeutic, physically and mentally,” Jen said. “It makes you feel so good and it burns a lot of calories.”

She decided to register for her first organized run last November for the Veterans Day 5k after training for about a month. She explained that after she finished the 5k she “definitely got the bug” for running and decided to register for a half marathon in Naples last January after the women at the gym told her she could do it.

Jen did not do any specific training for the half marathon, but wanted to try it and see what type of results she would achieve. Although it was a “really tough” 13.1 miles, she decided to begin training for another half marathon in March.

“I shaved 14 minutes off my time for that one,” she said, adding that she was much better prepared.

The idea of trying her first marathon began to seep into her thoughts after completing two half marathons, but she did not want to travel to Orlando or Fort Lauderdale to participate. Over the summer, she began hearing rumors that a marathon was going to be held in the area. Once Jen found out for certain that a marathon was being held in Cape Coral, she registered and began her four months of training.

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I went to Jen’s first marathon, stood at the finish line with Ed, Jason’s dad, waiting for her to come around the bend.

I remember the anticipation . . .

I remember us watching the path waiting for Jen . . .

I remember a smile instantly crossing my face as she came into view . . .

It was exciting for me to see her cross the finish line, to witness the completion of her first marathon. The best part was watching Ed run the last little bit with Jen as she finished that race. I took quite a few pictures of this amazing accomplishment, which was later turned into a Christmas present.

There is no stopping Jen, she’s constantly signing up for new races and taking on new adventures.

Jen you are extremely inspirational. Every time I lace up my running shoes I think of you and everything you have accomplishment . . . every finish line you have crossed. I hope one day I will sign up for my first 5k and see where my adventures take me.

I am proud of you, proud to know such a determined woman, one that continues to kick butt in everything you do.

I look forward to hearing about your next race . . .