Happy tears

Today has been an exceptional day, one that seems to improve as the day continues.

This move to Tennessee continues to show me on a daily basis that dreams come true. That our vision of what we wanted for ourselves is obtainable. All you have to do is set a plan, put it into action and continue to execute it until everything falls into place.

I told a high school friend tonight that it’s an incredible feeling to watch the plan unravel in front of your eyes, in a good way.

Each obstacle has been just that an obstacle . . . we keep pushing forward, so we can witness the dream we had before leaving Fort Myers unfold before us.

With that said . . .

I won’t lie, our move has been difficult, at times a little too stressful . . . . yep a few tears of frustration have fallen. The contributing factor of  course was and is money.

Through that stress I had and have a wonderful man by my side. We always seem to find a way to keep our eye on the light at the end of the tunnel, to keep chugging along until it became a little brighter.

The brightness is shinning a little more . . .

Jason and I were used to a certain pay scale living in Florida, one that left us somewhat comfortable. We knew things were going to be different in Tennessee because the cost of living was much lower than Fort Myers. Well, I was pretty stunned to hear what kind of pay cut Jason was receiving working in the restaurants as a chef.

Me on the other hand, as a freelance writer I get paid pretty well. Well, that is if I can manage my time . . . my pay per article is a good sum of money. The only battle with freelance work is waiting for your paycheck in the mail . . . that’s half of my frustration. After working for a newspaper for so many years, I was used to money in my account every other week.

Things are finally looking up! The stress lifts a little more every day . . . especially now with some promising work in Jason’s future.

He seems to have found a job that he is happy with . . . and just received word today that a second job may be in his very near future. I’m very excited for him, I cannot wait to see what kind of opportunities come out of these job opportunities.

And the good news continues . . .

I seem to have more work than I know what to do with at times. That statement alone brings a huge smile to my face.

What we have worked so hard for, our vision of creating a new life in another state, is blossoming, and it could not have happened at a better time.

Never ever give up . . . keep going until the satisfaction you are striving for becomes a realty. The best part is I would never ever change a thing. What has happened since we moved to Kingsport in May has only made us stronger. It has made me appreciate Jason even more.

Happiness . . . is a measurement of our success.

Now those happy tears . . .

First they came when text messages began flowing back and forth through my phone with a friend I have known since middle school. The words that were shared were words we both needed to hear, words that brough tears to both of our eyes.

“It made my heart smile.”

The second happy tears of the day came from a message I received from a friend I met in high school.

“I look forward to reading your blogs and posts; you have really been an inspiration and a force that has helped motivate me to pursue my dreams of moving to Washington. Thank you so much for that!!”

Wow, simply wow! Like I have always said, I hope I touch someone with my writing. Not a day goes by that I learn just how much it does. To be someone’s inspiration and motivation, what an incredible feeling.

Today was another fantastic day. Another day that showed me just how fortunate I am. I have a good life and I am sharing that with my best friend and love of my life.

‘Dunk Your Kicks’

One of the things I enjoy most about my journalism career is the various topics I have the opportunity to write about.

The article below appeared in the SanTan Sun News, a newspaper I write for in Chandler, Arizona today.

I enjoyed writing this article because of its unique fundraising initiative, “Dunk Your Kicks.” It’s a cool idea, collecting old sneakers and running shoes to raise money for pediatric cancer patients.

I talked to two mothers who have son’s going through cancer treatments right now . . . I could not imagine their journey, but am glad there are foundations like the Max Cure Foundation to help them through their hard times.

‘Dunk Your Kicks’ while supporting pediatric cancer patients

Published in the SanTan Sun News Nov. 16, 2013

Parents who are struggling to financially support their cancer-stricken children are receiving help from a unique fundraising initiative in the Southeast Valley.

Three Chandler youngsters Jayden, Angelisa, and Tylar Bailey, spent theirfall break dispersing boxes at various locations to help collect sneakers for Dunk Your Kicks after their mother Erica Bailey shared information about the cause.

Tylar says he is helping with Dunk Your Kicks “because I don’t want anyone to have to fight cancer anymore.”

Started in 2012, their campaign raises money to help find a cure for pediatric cancer. The trio’s goal was also to help low-income and military families who are experiencing financial struggles while their child is having treatments.

Now, instead of the 200 million pairs of sneakers being thrown away each year sitting in landfills producing toxins, the sneakers are earning a profit and helping many families.

The fundraising campaign was created by the Max Cure Foundation in December 2008 by the New York-based Plotkin family. Their son, Max, who was diagnosed with cancer before his 4th birthday, is in remission at 9 years old.

“David, Max’s father, gave up everything to run the foundation,” says Erica Bailey, who began working with the foundation at the beginning of the year.

Instead of asking individuals for monetary donations, Dunk Your Kicks collects gently used sneakers and running shoes.

“It’s been a phenomenal campaign and it’s growing and growing,” Bailey says.

Her children placed boxes at 10 Audio Express locations and Fix 24 Chiropractic, which will remain there until Fri., Nov. 22. Audio Express is offering a $10 off coupon for every pair of sneakers donated.

“Their goal is to raise 20,000 pairs of sneakers,” Bailey explains.

Each sneaker earns $1, which in turn goes to families.

“I will be able to physically show my children that 20,000 sneakers equates to $20,000. It’s visual. It teaches them morals and values.”

An international recycler helps the foundation resell the shoes to merchants in developing countries.

“The more sneakers we collect, the more children we can help and the longer we can help them for,” she says. “We are putting shoes on men, women and children who die from diseases.”

The Baileys’ efforts are providing assistance to three families this year via the Dunk Your Kicks donations. Their children are undergoing cancer treatments.

Delilah Dow’s son Buddy, 5, was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, high-grade brain tumor, in 2011. Soon thereafter, Buddy underwent surgery for tumors on the back side of his brain. He also has tumors on the front of his brain as well as his spinal cord.

The initial diagnosis was shocking for Dow, who lives in Phoenix. Buddy began chemotherapy after his diagnosis and now has treatments every three weeks, Monday through Friday, for three hours at a time. Dow says the chemo is helping the tumors and preventing further growth.

“He is really strong,” Dow says. “He doesn’t like chemo, but he deals with it. He gives me the strength to keep doing what I am doing for him.”

The young boy started school this year at William T. Machan Elementary School where he also attends physical, occupational and speech therapy.

“He misses a whole week of school because his energy level is down,” Dow explains of his week of chemotherapy. “He doesn’t like to miss one day of school. He’s just a kid that likes to learn a lot.”

Another mother has a similar story.

Amber Foley has a similar story. Her son, Maurice Harrison, 9, was diagnosed with a nervous system disease and subsequent brain tumor in 2011.

“Since then he has had two brain surgeries,” Foley explains.

Maurice had his first surgery on Nov. 9, 2011, which was followed by unsuccessful chemotherapy treatments. An MRI was done in March 2012 and he had his second surgery in April of that year.

“Because of where it was, they weren’t able to get all of it,” Foley explains. “That’s why they are doing so many treatments.”

Maurice has had 33 radiation treatments and is on his second round of chemotherapy. Foley says he has at least another year to go with treatments. He has chemo treatments every two weeks for six to eight hours at a time.

“He goes one day every other week,” she explains. “He is just tired that day. This chemo is a lot calmer than other treatments we have tried with him.”

Foley explains her son is willing to give this cancer a fight.

“He is so kind hearted and so willing to help other people before he is worried about himself,” she says.

Although the diagnosis has been with the punches. She says as a single mother of four, she tries to work as many part-time jobs and seasonal jobs as her schedule allows.

“We try to make the best out of what we can and the situation,” she says. “For a child to go through it, it’s heartbreaking. God has a final say and take it day by day.”

The two families voice their appreciation for the Bailey family.

“I am really overwhelmed with happiness with how much help they were able to give me and my family,” Foley says. “I think it’s a wonderful foundation helping kids out here and kids in different countries that don’t have shoes. Everyone wins with this foundation.”

Bailey says so far they have collected 165,000 sneakers this year.

“Most of the time we collect them through mud runs and races,” she explains. “We collect muddy sneakers after the event (because) they typically end up in the garbage.”

If individuals are unable to donate their sneakers, they can log onto dunkyourkicks.org/match-a-dunk, and make a donation. Bailey says the donation will stay in Arizona.

Storytelling town

I am now working in the storytelling capital of the world, Jonesborough, Tenn. One of my assignements at the end of October was to write about a new afterschool class that is taking place, “Story to Performance.”

Jules is teaching the youngsters what a story is . . .

It was really cute to see the kids turn their interviews into plays that included all kinds of props from the classroom. It’s a great class, one which the kids all said they enjoyed.

Students Learning through story

Published in the Herald & Tribune Nov. 12, 2013

Students from the afterschool “Story to Performance” class at Jonesborough Elementary School are putting together a radio show that feature stories and music they have created.

They will perform the play for the community at the McKinney center at Booker T. Washington School later this month.

Mary B. Martin Program for the Arts Outreach Program Director Jules Corriere began working with six students, ages 6 to 12, in the new “Story to Performance” pilot class in September.

The class was made possible through a two-year, $17,000 youth endowment grant program from the East Tennessee Foundation in Knoxville.

Last year the grant money went towards training staff. This year, the afterschool program was implemented.

“The project that we are doing is in association with EPIC Revolutions, an anti bullying program,” Town Administrator Bob Browning said. “It’s a character building program.”

Leaders decided to use story as a basis to help enhance self-confidence and self-esteem in the children.

“Being a storytelling town, we are tuned into the fact that the use of story can be a great vehicle to engage kids in community building and relationship building,” Browning said.

“Story to Performance” is held once a week for an hour at Jonesborough Elementary School.

The class involves special guests on occasion from the local Storytelling Guild, as well as many hands-on opportunities for the kids to learn the knack of storytelling.

“What’s amazing is the growth I have seen in all of these kids and the empowerment they are feeling and exhibiting,” Corriere said.

During one class session late last month, the students shared the stories they learned through interviews they conducted with individuals older than them. They dis so using such methods as poetry, skits and pictures they created on story boards.

Rhett Carver, 10 and his sister Ella, 8, made their homework assignment come alive through a performance that told a story of their father when he was younger.

In order to enhance the story, Rhett took charge as the director.
“I like to direct,” Rhett said.

What started out as a simple production, eventually included props found around the classroom and sounds of drums created by the students banging on objects to enhance the overall message of the story.

“We are teaching the kids what a story is – the important elements, how to tell a story and how to turn it into a performance piece,” Corriere said.

It seems to be working.

Jasmine Speer, 12, said her love of storytelling has expanded over the years and her interest in becoming an actress has intensified.

“I think it’s fun,” she said of storytelling. “It’s interesting and expands my knowledge of the world.”

Aisling Hagan, 12, has taken her love of writing and put it to use to create a family newsletter.

Now, Hagan also has a 30-40 second bit on the radio show “A Night with the Yarn Exchange,” providing her with writing and editing experience.

The students’ own production, “Junior Yarnspinners,” will be in the format of a radio show featuring real stories with real people, comedy skits and music written by students.

They will perform it on Thursday, NOv. 21, from 7-7:30 p.m. at the McKinney cente.r The public is invited to attend.

“The show will engage other community members  of different ages,” Corriere said. “It has provided the kids with all kinds of help and guidance.”

Browning said the town has established a mechanism that will allow them to continue the program even after the grant money is used.

“I am hoping to have a lot more students and engage a lot more students for the spring semester,” Corriere said. “I’ve had direct talks with some of the counselors and vice principal to see what students would be encouraged with this, would benefit from it.”

Snow falling

This afternoon as I opened our door the cold breeze kissed my face and sent a chill to my toes. My purse was slung over my shoulder, my mini computer tucked under my arm and keys in hand ready to lock the door. As soon as I turned around and looked at our trees, which are now almost empty of leaves, I saw little white speckles float through the air cascading to the ground. I instantly got my phone out so I could take pictures, which didn’t seem to be enough, so I started recording this beautiful site. It was snowing!

Well my fingers started to become frozen, so I walked to the car a few steps away in a rather rushed motion, so I could get out of the cold. I opened the car door, set all my stuff on the passenger side and looked at my black jacket, and my dark hair, both full of little snow balls. I couldn’t help it a smile crept across my face.

I turned on the car and my dashboard starting flashing telling me the roads may be icy, again a little smile spread across my face. Well, like they say there is no better time than the present, so I put the car in reverse and went on my way to Greeneville to do my in-person interview with an artist.

You see, although I lived in Illinois once upon a time, we moved to Florida when I was only 8-years-old, many years before getting my driver’s license, many years before the thought of driving crossed my mind.

So, as I drove down our driveway I was thinking, “oh my gosh I am driving for the first time in snow!” I have to admit I was a little nervous about it, but as soon as I turned down the road that took me to the interstate the nerves started slowly going away. I actually became emotional. The emotions started deep down and slowly made its way up to my throat where I fought back a few tears. You ask why? I have no idea. Maybe it’s because this is Jason and my first winter together in a state that actually has a winter, maybe because I was driving in snow for the first time, who knows.

It snowed the entire ride to Greeneville (40+ miles) and the farther I drove from home the larger the flakes became. It was an experience like no other.

I’m used to driving in the rain. After living in Florida for most of my life, it became second nature to flip on your lights, turn on the wipers and drive until you reach your destination.

It was crazy driving, and having these, what looked like little cotton balls, hitting my windshield. It was incredible really. I felt like a little girl seeing snow for the first time. It was almost like there was a little wind tunnel right in front of my windshield grabbing a hold of all these little white circles that hit the windshield before flying off the side or onto the roof.

As soon as I arrived at Lawrence’s house, I apologized for being a little late. Yep, I was a little cautious driving in these new conditions, so my lead foot drove the speed limit and at times a little below.

We instantly hit it off . . . he lived in Fort Lauderdale for 30 years after growing up in Chicago as a child. I love interviewing artist, especially this gentleman because of his love for animals. His paintings were incredible, each set of animal’s eyes drew you into the painting.

I have to be honest when the interview was over and I said my goodbyes, I was a little disappointed that the snow stopped.  But with that said, I made it home a lot faster.

I remember driving the entire way home excited to tell Jason about my new adventure. His excitement matched mine . . . he said he stuck his head out of the door at work a couple of times to look at the snow, which in Johnson City he said were a good size.

So now that I drove in my first snow, the next battle to tackle, the ice!

It’s in the high 20’s right now and I plan on getting up early to exercise before my hectic day begins with writing. I wonder what kind of weather conditions I will face then.

‘Adversity breeds character’

Yesterday I wrote an article for a newspaper, The Cape Coral Daily Breeze, which I started working at in 2009 after moving back to Florida from Arizona. It was the first newspaper that brought me as a reporter after moving back home from college. I will never forget that day when Val, the editor, called me and offered me the job. I was with Jason that day, it was shortly after we first starting hanging out . . . the excitement he shared with me was priceless.

Although I no longer live in Southwest Florida, I still remain on the Cape Coral Daily Breeze staff as a freelance writer. I mostly contribute articles to their publications, South County Community Lifestyles, Cape Coral Community Lifestyles and Bonita Community Lifestyles. I was excited when Val sent me an email asking if I wanted to do a phone interview with one of the five finalist of the Southwest Florida Blue Chip Award, who ended up winning the award.

Dr. Brown was fun to interview, she was filled with so much life, passion and so much excitement. It was a great story to tell. This woman has overcome so much adversity since opening her clinic in 2007. It is an inspiring story.

“When you have a failure, that is how you succeed by learning from it,” she told me during the interview.

East West Veterinary Care Center culls top business award

Published Nov. 7, 2013 in the Cape Coral Daily Breeze

East West Veterinary Care Center was named the winner of the 2013 Southwest Florida Blue Chip Award Thursday afternoon at Harborside Event Center.

“I’m honored, I kept blushing,” veterinarian Dr. Dixie Brown said when her name was called. “It was quite an interesting luncheon. Lots of very successful people. I think that’s what made it so honoring. All of them were really there to celebrate adversity.”

At first, when her name was called, she said she did not believe it until everyone at her table told her it was really her name, that she had won the award.

“I was super happy,” she said.

The annual award recognizes small businesses in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties who have overcome adversity while achieving success.

“In general, adversity breeds character,” Brown said. “I have had a lot of adversity. I believe the most successful people have.”

This year East West Veterinary Care Center, Ardent Manor, Direct Access Home Health, Gatsby’s Pizza and Purely You Spa were named finalists.

“I heard that we were nominated as top five finalist, that was plenty for me,” Brown said.

She entered into the veterinarian practice after graduating from Ohio State University in 2002.

“I had been an animal trainer in the film industry in my early 20s and trained animals since I was 14 and wanted more out of my life,” Brown said of why she chose the profession. “And somebody said to me, have you ever thought about going back to school to be a veterinarian.”

Brown began taking classes.

She purchased what she said was a failing enterprise in Cape Coral in June 2007. That’s when her business, The East West Veterinary Care Clinic began.

She started with about 30 clients and had maybe one or two appointments a day.

She also needed to immediately hire staff, Brown said, adding she had to hire someone over the weekend, so she would have another employee the Monday she opened.

“It was a very fun time,” she said.

The hours also changed after Brown purchased the business from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Unfortunately a month after she took over the business the economy turned.

“We opened up this clinic and who knew the next month the economy crashed,” Brown said. “The clinic wasn’t very strong, but I dug in and sunk my feet in and took baby steps until it was successful.”

Eight months later, the center was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for their clients if there was an emergency.

“We did that for many years and recently were able to get strong enough to get in a few part-time veterinarians,” she said.

When Brown purchased the business she signed a three-year lease to rent to own because she could not come up with the money to purchase it then.

“Literally the month after I bought this place everything was crashing,” she said. “It was pretty sad at that point.”

At the end of her three-year contract there was still a lot of money owed on the building.

The contract was renegotiated for another three years.

“They owed so much, I couldn’t get a loan. I could never work it out,” Brown said.

Everything fell into place after that. Although her dream of moving into a new facility was not an easy task, Brown eventually obtained financing to make her dream come true.

“It’s been a growing process. I have wanted this building for almost four years,” Brown said. It’s been a lot of patience.”

Now she is expanding the center to a fully renovated building three doors down, going from about 1,400 square feet of useable space to 5,000 square feet.

“We are excited about the new building,” Brown said, which is located at 3625 Del Prado Blvd on the waterside. “People can visit by boat or by car. It is so cool.”

The facility will have a new digital x-ray and ultrasound machine and new services like physical therapy.

“God willing, we will be seeing patients there in the next week or two,” Brown said.

In addition to the new building, the center is also expanding their hours.

“We are now officially open seven days a week until 9 p.m.,” she said, adding that they open at 8 a.m. “I am an emergency critical care vet. I know how scary it is. You don’t want to wait for two days because the animal is uncomfortable.”

The center, which started with two employees and Brown, has now expanded to 14 employees plus Brown.

“I foresee it doubling,” she said of the number of employees.

Her practice, East West Veterinary Care Center, focuses on eastern medicine, such as acupuncture and chiropractic care and western conventional medicine.

“It’s nice for me because I can put both hats on,” she said adding she can pick if eastern or western medicine is a better choice to improve the animals health. “It really makes for a well-rounded treatment plan.”

Throughout the years, Brown explained everyday to be rewarding.

“I like the interaction with people on a personal level because it is really truly their baby and I get it,” she said of the animals she sees.

“Elizabeth Brown demonstrates the determination and ingenuity required to succeed in today’s business climate,” said Scott Gregory, CIC, CRM, BB&T-Oswald Trippe and Company vice president and event director in a Prepared statement Thursday. “Through hard work and innovation she took a business in trouble and turned it into a thriving enterprise. By recognizing her today, we hope others will learn from her experience.” BB&T-Oswald Trippe and Company and BB&T Bank sponsor the annual luncheon at Harborside Event Center each year to recognize small business owners who have overcome adversity. Brown is a classic example of this intrepid breed of entrepreneur, Southwest Florida Blue Chip Community Business Award organizers said. The 2013 Southwest Florida Blue Chip Community Business Award is endorsed by the Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce, Business Observer, Cape Coral Chamber of Commerce, Charlotte County Chamber of Commerce, Charlotte County Economic Development Office, Christian Chamber of Southwest Florida, City of Cape Coral Economic Development Office, Edison State College, Englewood-Cape Haze Area Chamber of Commerce, Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida Weekly, Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce, Greater Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce, Gulfshore Business, Hodges University, Lee County Economic Development Office/Horizon Council, Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce, Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce, Southwest Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, The Greater Fort Myers Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce.

More opportunities have surfaced

This morning I drug myself out of bed a little before 7 a.m., so I could get a workout in early, rather than going later this afternoon. It was a great way to jump-start my day, especially since there was only me and two other’s working out that early in the morning.

That’s the nice thing about a 24-hour gym, whenever you get that urge to workout, all you have to do is swipe your key and walk in the door of opportunities.
imageI was a little skeptical at first that a staff member would not be present during the hours the gym was opened, but I now love that feature. That was the downfall about working out at the last apartment complex we lived at, I could only workout during the hours of the clubhouse, which was limiting at times.

I spent about an hour at the gym doing my typical run, some miles on the elliptical and some weights. I’m starting to feel those leg exercises I did, especially walking up and down those darn stairs 🙂

Once I got back in my car, I thought to myself, today is going to be a fabulous day. How could it not when I did something for me first this morning – working out?

So after getting ready, I drove to Jonesborough to meet with my editor and the publisher of the Herald & Tribune. It turned out to be a fantastic meeting, one that only lead to more incredible opportunities for me.

Kristen and Lynn offered me more work, which I gladly accepted. I am now covering the town hall meetings for Jonesborough, the school district, as well as submitting feature articles. I am beyond thrilled! I will now be submitting weekly articles instead of a few a month! My portfolio will be growing once again.

I really enjoy working for this publication. The remarks I received from both Lynn and Kristen about my writing were wonderful to hear. It’s safe to say that I am cloud nine once again.

I absolutely love what I do, and yes, I know I have said that a time or two. But really, never in my wildest dreams did I think my career would go in the direction it has! I am supporting myself doing freelance work, this is incredible! I am so fortunate to have found a career I am so completely passionate about. I am excited to see what other opportunities are waiting for me.

It just goes to show that it is important to follow your dreams!