A conversation with two female veterans

When I first met Sara and Alicia, I got a sense of quiet strength and fierce confidence. The two thirty-something friends have both been through a lot in their lives, but refuse to let that stop them.

When I spoke to Sara and Alicia I was learning about a small, organic farm that they run together. It wasn’t until later that I learned the two young women are both veterans. It is that very humble and giving attitude that makes them both so special.

Sara, an air force veteran and military wife, lost her husband to cancer three years ago. It was during his sickness that Sara and her husband started looking in to a diet based in healthy foods- vegetables, fruits, meats, nuts and grains.

After her husband passed away, Sara purchased a farm, like the two of them had envisioned doing together. It was during this time that she began to realize the healing power of producing food. Working with her hands to grow food and take care of animals was beginning to help heal her physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Sara met Alicia during a conference for veterans learning how to farm. After the conference, Alicia packed her bags and moved states to work with Sara on the farm.

Both women have seen the struggles of veterans when returning from deployment. Alicia, a combat veteran, learned firsthand the transition to civilian life is tough. After losing military friends to suicide after deployment, she wanted to find a way to heal and eventually learned that agriculture was a way to do that, she said.

Today the operation is a small-scale sustainable farming business that has sheep, pastured chickens, turkeys, ducks, pigs, beehives, apples, pears, strawberries, peaches, a garden full of vegetables and more.

Sara and Alicia have grown the operation to become a place of healing for others as well. They offer education and training opportunities to veterans who want to get involved.

“Seeing veterans connect with the land and build relationships with animals is magic,” Alicia said. “So much about being in the military involves destruction, but in agriculture you get to heal things.”

A look at some of the questions:

What is a challenge you have faced?

The industry can feel male-dominated. However, there is a growing trend of women farmland owners and we’re happy to be a part of that. It’s pretty special.

Advice you have to others:

Band together. A lot of times there is sexism in farming, or in any industry for that matter. It’s OK to have a voice.

Goals for the future:

Continue to work with the land and hope that other veterans will be able to reconnect with themselves through farming like we have.

Click here for more conversations.


A conversation with a rapper

Hip hop and rap music gets a bad reputation. Most mainstream contemporary rap lyrics today have a reputation of having superficial lyrics about partying, drugs, money and love.

That is not what Clarence “T.A.G.” Garrett is about. In fact, “T.A.G.” – an acronym for “Totally Against the Grain” is exactly what Garrett is trying to be.

The Indiana rapper describes his lyrics as faith-based. His beliefs are a big part of his music.

“Faith is a part of my life,” Clarence said. “I’ve always gravitated toward positive and encouraging music.”

Some themes listeners will find in his music include life, struggles people face, relationships and even tough subject matter such as suicide.

Advice he has is to find a common ground. He dedicated his second album, “One Love,” to encourage others to bridge the gap between their differences.

“If we find some kind of common ground then maybe, just maybe, we can change the world.”

Additional advice he has is to keep with it and believe in yourself.

It hasn’t been easy for T.A.G. He has been rapping since 2000 but just recently  started recording music with the support of a friend who believed he could do it.

“I was ready to believe in myself as much as my friend believed in me,” he said.

His songs are upbeat jams with optimist lyrics. Although some of life’s struggles are mentioned on the tracks, the lyrics are friendly for all ages.

Song writing has come easy to him over the years.

“I gravitate toward the music where you stop listening and your life for that moment freezes,” he said. “I’m attracted to that kind of writing.”

T.A.G. pulls inspiration from all genres. Although he is a hip-hop writer, he pulls inspiration from pop, country, rock and others. His goal is not to be the best hip hop artist but to be a very good song writer.

Overall, some of the best  advice he has is to keep a balance.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself and how to balance life, work, music and family,” he said.

A look at some of the questions

What has the response been to your faith-based rap music?
It’s interesting because whenever people first hear the music they tend to think, ‘oh, it’s hip hop’ and then they realize it’s different. I think it encourages people.

What is something you’ve come to realize about the business?

People complain about the rap music that is out there in the market, but continue to buy it. You have to support music like this if you want it out there.

What have you enjoyed the most about making music? 
Meeting people. I’ve been able to travel and meet a lot of new fans.

Want to know more about T.A.G.? Visit his website here for more information.

Read other conversations here.

A conversation with a dietetic intern


Alex, a down-to-earth recent college graduate, is no stranger to working for what she wants. When she started college she was  in an athletic training program before she realized she was more interested in nutrition and using it as a way to  help others. 

Fast forward and the determined twenty something not only graduated with a BS in Applied Health Science from Indiana University but snagged a competitive internship through Andrews University.

Alex packed up her things, moved to a new state without knowing anyone and is working as a dietetic intern at Atrium Medical Center.

As if moving and starting an internship isn’t enough, Alex is also working on her Masters in public health and adopted a cat named Myrtle (pretty awesome, right?).

Here’s what an average day looks like for Alex.

During each day she sees patients, who may have nutritional deficits. She also does diet counseling if a patient needs to be on a specific diet when they go home.

On a normal day she will see and talk with 5-8 patients, document everything and work on projects or case studies.

The best part of her internship has been learning the ins and outs of being a registered dietician. She is completing the internship to be eligible for the registered dietitian board exam. Her ultimate goal is to become registered and become a dietitian. 

“There’s only so much you can learn in class, so it’s great to get some experience before actually having a job,” she said.

The internship has also helped confirm her interests in the field. She has found out she enjoys the clinical side of dietetics because it’s more hands-on.

How does she stay motivated? By knowing the internship is not only a great experience but also going to help with her career.

“I just have to keep reminding myself that I’m not going to be an unpaid intern forever, even though it feels like it sometimes…” she said.

Her proudest accomplishment is moving somewhere out of her comfort zone.

“I’m very much a creature of habit, so I was really nervous and anxious about moving to Ohio, but I’m so proud of myself for doing it,” she said.

Since college her schedule has changed. She said she finds she needs to study a lot more now, not just cram. She also goes to bed and wakes up earlier than she used to, even on weekends.

With the whirlwind of change adjustment, the twenty something has plenty of good advice for those experiencing something similar.

Something that keeps her going is knowing she made someone’s life better. Helping patients makes Alex feel like she is making a difference.

Advice she would give to others who want to get in to a similar field is to not freak out about internships. Although they’re competitive, decent grades, a genuine personal statement and some experiences raises someone’s chances of getting one.

Career advice she would give to twenty somethings is to “find something you like, and do that.”

“How can you do something you don’t like everyday for the next 40-50 years and still be a decent human being,” she said. “I don’t think that’s possible, at least for me. I’d end up being a hermit or troll that lives under the bridge.”

A look at some of the questions

How do you stick with it?

I just have to keep reminding myself that I’m not going to be an unpaid intern forever, even though it feels like it sometimes. Eventually, I will get paid. (Hopefully!)

Best advice you’ve ever received on your major or your area of interest?

This counts towards dietetics and also life in general, but my dad has told me countless times “The world doesn’t revolve around you, Aggie.” I get so caught up in working and learning and thinking about the menu I need to write later I forget people don’t go to the hospital because they were bored that day and thought they’d come visit. They’re there because of a severe illness, and they need help recovering. That kind of puts things in perspective. The first priority should be helping patients, and that’s something I have to remind myself often. (Sidenote: I don’t know why my dad calls my Aggie, but he’s called my that since I was born. It’s a weird nickname). 

What is your dream job?

As of right now, my dream job would be working with individuals struggling with eating disorders. I have a minor in psychology, and I really enjoyed those classes, so pairing psychology and nutrition would be a great asset when working with eating disorders.

Scariest thing you’ve ever done?

I accidentally walked into a tuberculosis patient’s room without a mask! (TB is contagious.) But probably moving to Ohio by myself. Before this year, I’d never lived anywhere where I didn’t know a single person, so that was a big deal for me. I’m only about three hours away from my family and friends, but I’m in a different state, so it definitely feels farther away.

Hardest part of your internship?

Getting up at the crack of dawn, and medications. I can never remember all the medications.

 What will you be doing after your internship?

After the internship, I’ll take a board exam to become registered, and hopefully find a job somewhere. I’d take a job anywhere at this point, as long as it pays me. 

Where do you see yourself in two years?

I should be an RD by then, if all goes according to plan, and hope to have a job in an area of dietetics I enjoy. I’ll also be finishing my master’s, which is exciting.

Read other conversations in the series here.

A conversation with an event planner


This week I talked with Ashley, a 24 year-old event planner from Valparaiso, Ind. Ashley  recently moved 2300 miles away from home to the Bay Area in California and started her own company, Elizabeth Ashley events. Check out her Facebook page (and like it) here.

Her favorite thing about the area is the endless activities she can choose from.

“As a tourism major, I’m so thrilled to be able to go out and explore where I’m living and see something new everyday,” Ashley said. “The views are gorgeous and endless.”

Ashley majored in tourism management: event planning and resort management and minored in ecotourism and park and recreation administration. She said she didn’t start as an event planner in college. She first began in elementary education.

“I’m really creative and educators run in my family so like any indecisive teenager, I settled with education,” she said. “I always knew deep down I wasn’t happy with it. I justified that I could be creative in the classroom, but it wasn’t my type of creative.”

She knew she wanted to get in to event planning when she dropped off a bride’s wedding invitations she had created.

“She just started crying. I was so shocked and touched,” she said. “I know this might sound cheesy, but I knew at that moment this is why I’m an event planner. I want to be part of these memories people will live with for the rest of their lives.”

Ashley is also working for her grandfather’s company. They train people to be bankers in casinos. She said California has a different law for casinos, where people can’t play against the house, so they need the third-party (Ashley and others) to come in and ‘bank’ the different tables. ‘So basically we’re professional gamblers,’ Ashley said laughing.

“It gets pretty crazy and we’ll be in charge of $20,000 + per shift,” she said.

Ashley said she is not nervous to be in charge of that much money because the training is thorough.

“I love that because they used to just throw people out there,” Ashley said. “We have to know the ins and outs of every game; the strategies, house way and all that.”

Ashley said the hardest part is getting used to distractions. They’ve been training in an office so when they actually get on the floor people are constantly going to try to distract them so they can have an advantage.

“I mean I’m in a casino right?” Ashley said. “Bright lights and loud music everywhere, but oh wait, I have about $35,000 in front of me right now. I need to pay attention.”

The best part has been networking. She has been able to meet a lot of people.

“There’s just a ton of opportunity for someone in my position who is trying to start a career out here on my own,” she said.

Since moving to California, Ashley recently started event planning for a non-profit organization, http://lifegoesonproject.org.

Her roommate’s son, who is a local rapper, was shot and paralyzed in 2007. He was standing outside a night club in San Francisco.

“It could happen to anyone,” she said. “He wasn’t in a bad area or anything.”

Ashley said they’re trying to reach out and make it known that gun violence isn’t just gang/street issue anymore, guns are affecting the suburbs too.

“It’s no longer a race issue, but an education problem and that’s what they want to get out there,” she said.

In the fall they want to do a back to school tour and educate youth. At the end of it, they’re going to throw a concert.

“I’m really excited to be in charge of a project like this and it’s really great because we have the support of local pro-athletes that these kids already look up to,” she said.

In event planning, she doesn’t have a specific market but would love to do everything.

“Why limit your talents to only weddings or specialty parties?” she said. “Everyone should be able to use your talents if they want, no matter the occasion.”

Advice she would have to for other twenty somethings is to go for it.

“The unknown is scary and we’re from an area where most of our parents grew up and the aunts and uncles and grandparents are all still there; not many people move away,” she said. “I knew for a while I was never going to settle down there. I’ve been to enough places and learned enough in the classroom to know there’s so much more out there.”

Ashley plans to stay in California for a while.

“Unless something amazing comes along, and I mean amazing; I’m here for the long haul,” she said.

A look at some of the questions:

Were you scared to move?

I’ve always seen myself living out here, and have said I would one day; I just didn’t think it would happen this fast. I was a little freaked out at first, but my grandma said it right, you can always come home. Which is so true. Most people would never try something like this. you have no friends here, your family is 2300 miles away. It’s scary, really scary. but a plane ride is only 4.5 hours away so I know if I really needed something family is still close

Have you met/seen anyone famous since moving?

Visiting LA, I’ve met Nick Swardson twice. He’s hilarious and seemed annoyed with us, but here’s my official apology to him, Nick we’re so sorry but you’re funny and IU had just won; so can you forgive us? 

Also, Frank Ocean skated past us and Gerard Butler came into Dope right after we left. Which sucks, but the fact I was even in the same place as him rocks 

and he supported Dope Couture.

When did you decide to move?
The move idea kinda just happened over night. I was talking to my friend the night before about any possible jobs in LA. there weren’t any and I was bummed. Well, the next day I was talking to my grandma, and she was like why don’t you go out and work for GFG? Next thing I knew I had a job. They stress to us in college it’s all about who you know, right? biggest over-sight of my life.

Had you visited California before you moved?

I’ve been flying out here since I was 5 to visit my grandpa. I was absolutely devastated when I found out he was moving back to San Francisco, but now I know why he did it. The opportunities out here are endless


What is your dream job?
Dream job? easily would be to work for David Tutera or become the David Tutera of the west coast.  He’s creative and brilliant and I love his style he brings to each of his weddings. He is personable and you can tell he cares. We’re in the business where it’s all about the customer, and they need to know that you care. this is the most important day of their lives and they’re relying on you to make it special.

Read other conversations from the series here.

A conversation with a national service volunteer


After selling her computer and car, Samantha packed everything she could fit in to an AmeriCorps-issued bag and boarded a flight to California.

Samantha is a 23-year-old who went to Indiana University and is now doing a program for a national service, AmeriCorps NCCC FEMA Corps. She is a project specialist.

While trying to narrow down a choice of major, she decided to join AmeriCorps and jumped in to the decision without hesitation. She had thought a lot about joining the Peace Corps when she was in high school, but AmeriCorps was an option that had a shorter commitment and seemed more lax.

“I couldn’t decide what I wanted out of life,” she said. “It was difficult for me to narrow down an area of interest for a major and I knew I didn’t want to work as a receptionist forever; service seemed like a viable option in the meantime, while I figured out what I wanted.”

Samantha said it has become clear what she wants and what she doesn’t want. Her goals are clear and she has decided on a major moving forward with her education.

Although she will be all over the United States for the next several months, Samantha is currently located in Queens, N.Y. She said a lot of what she is doing is paperwork.  She is doing paperwork to prepare the road system affected from hurricane Sandy. Even though it’s six months out from the disaster, there are a lot of things that need to be done.

“It’s hard to stay motivated sometimes, but this work still needs to be done,” she said.

Samantha said there have been mixed public views on what they are doing. She said a lot of people along the way to New York didn’t know how to take them.

“They would ask us what we’re doing and not really understand,” she said. “It’s been amazing because the second we got near the coast and mentioned we would be doing Sandy (hurricane) relief, people on street corners and Starbuck’s baristas would tell us thank you. They have been genuinely grateful.”

The best part of her job, she said, has been learning so much about herself. She said she didn’t expect it to be as hard as it has turned out to be.

“I’ve learned how I work with a team and how to define myself,” she said. “You’re in a situation when you’re in a uniform all day, everyday. You don’t define yourself by what you’re wearing or what you have.”

Along those lines, Samantha said the people she has met along the way have surprised her.

“You don’t have those defining characteristics, like an iPad or your Sperry’s, so you have to get to know people on a very basic level of being in the same program,” she said. “My best friend on my team was homeless for a period of time and I don’t think I would have been friends with him without this opportunity. The friendships I’ve made have been great.”

She described the hardest part has been being around the same group of people 24/7 saying, “The same four people share a room, beds, drive to work together, share a desk at work and do physical training together.”

She describes the scariest things she has ever done is volunteering for AmeriCorps.

“Volunteering for something and not really having any idea what it was going to be like was scary,” she said. “I had to leave all the comforts of home.  Even when I moved away from home before, I had a plan, freedom and my things. The not knowing of this program and jumping right in is scary.”

In her time off she has been writing, traveling. She said she has visited Central Park, the Museum of Natural History and more.

Best advice she has received while preparing AmeriCorps was from her father, who she described as her inspiration.

“Before I left, my dad told me ‘this is the time of your life. You’re going to make memories and meet friends you’ll keep the rest of your life,’” she said. “It’s true and I try to keep that in mind when I’m having a hard time.”

After Samantha finishes her time working for the service, she hopes to finish her degree and is thinking about focusing on pre-law, international studies or policy analysis. She said she started at Indiana University and would like to finish there, saying, ‘It has been fun to tell people I am from Indiana and went to IU, especially during basketball season.’

Advice Samantha has for those hesitant and scared to do something is not to overthink it.  She said it’s unnerving to take a leap of faith, but the feeling is liberating

“I went to somewhat of an extreme, gave up my job, apartment, relationships and sold my car, all to join a program I knew very little about,” she said. “I had hesitations and was scared but more than anything I felt relieved. Don’t overthink it, just jump.”

Advice she would give twenty somethings following their dreams is to go for it.

“What’s the worst that could happen? You could fail. Good. Fail. Fail hard, be miserable. Then get up, wipe your tears and do it again,” she said. “What’s the best that could happen? You could succeed and get everything you ever wanted. How will you know if you don’t do what you want to do and follow that dream? It’s worth it.”

Samantha also said people should be decisive and direct about what they want. She said making your own decisions and being as open and clear about things you want out of life will eliminate all the other clutter.

“How will anyone – a friend, your parents, your boyfriend, your coworkers, how will they know what you want if you don’t tell them?” she said. “People will recognize you know what you want and you go out and get it.”

A look in to a few of questions:
1.) Where do you get your inspiration? My dad. He’s always proud of me and works so hard. He is a great father who gives great advice. He is my mentor, friend and greatest inspiration.”

2.) Do you feel like a badass? (after laughing) I kind of do. A lot of what I’m actually doing is paperwork. It’s six months out of the disaster. These are a lot of the things that need to be done. I’m doing paperwork to repair the road system.

3.) What do you wish you had more time for?  It might be selfish, but I wish I had time to myself. I would like to have time to read a book, paint my nails, and take a little bit longer shower. I also hope to read a book I just ordered, “Frozen in Time,” a non-fiction book about WWII.

4.) What is your dream job or what are you interested in doing? I am very interested in law and policy analysis.

5.What is your proudest accomplishment? It will be finishing school. It’s something I’m passionate and thrilled I will be able to do. I’m dedicated, driven and looking forward to that moment. 

Check out other conversations in the series here.

A conversation with a TV, radio broadcaster

Next in the Collecting Conversations series is Bradford, a twenty something who describes himself as a TV/radio broadcaster with big aspirations. He is currently employed as the news director at DC Broadcasting in Jasper, Ind.

Bradford is a recent Indiana University graduate who says looking for employment for six months before landing in Jasper really slapped him in to reality.

“Everything in life is a competition,” he said.  “You have to earn what you get in this world. That was the biggest lesson I learned and it really has changed me since I left school.”

He said the hardest part of being a news director is overseeing an entire department from top to bottom.

Bradford first got in to broadcasting his senior year of high school.

He said he reluctantly agreed to try a broadcasting class after his mother told him he was an amazing talker and ought to give broadcasting a try.

“I fell in love and never looked back,” he said.

After his high school broadcasting class he said he knew right then he should get away from everything else and focus on honing his broadcast skills.

He’s had numerous internships throughout college, including one with WRTV 6 in Indianapolis.

“Through all of my internships I’ve learned to enjoy my fields and understand the challenges that go with it,” he said. “Now, as I begin my professional career, I’m truly excited to see where my career takes me and the things I can accomplish through being a news broadcaster.”

He is also looking forward to the people he may meet who he wouldn’t meet in his normal life.

He describes the best part of his job as being able to gain experience at what he does in order to get better every single day.

Through high school classes and four-years of college he received both good and bad advice from professors, students on broadcasting.

The best advice he ever got was to stick with it and never give up.

“The business can beat you down and make you question everything about yourself I you allow it to,” he said. “You have to be strong, fight hard every day and get better everyday. It isn’t always easy, but it can be very rewarding if you work at it hard enough.”

The worst advice he ever received was to make the news. He said ‘your job as broadcaster is not to make news.’

“You don’t create what is happening around you in the world,” he said. “You take what you know is going on and that is how build news. You can build and develop news from stuff you know is happening, but you can’t ‘make’ news from nothing.”

He also has developed advice of his own. Advice he would give to someone wanting to get in to journalism is to ‘grow the thickest skin you possibly can.’

“Thin-skinned people will not survive in this business,” he said. “People from every walk of life will criticize you, question you, dislike you, anything you can think of. You have to take it in stride and drive yourself to be the best that you can be everyday.”

Like any other new twenty something, it’s easy to question new careers, but Bradford said his internships and love for what he is doing helped him stick with it.

“When you love what you’re doing, it is a whole lot easier to stick with it than if you didn’t like what you were doing,” he said.

Career advice he would give a twenty something is to start looking for work ASAP.

“Getting the first job in broadcast, or in journalism in general, is the hardest thing about this business. Nobody wants to trust a college graduate with a reporting job,” he said. “It’s very challenging to get in the door. Never give in though. Fight for what you want and you’ll eventually break through.”

A look at a few of the questions:
What is your dream job?
My true dream job is to anchor the CBS Evening News and follow in the footsteps of Walter Cronkite and the man that was running the show at CBS when I was young: Dan Rather.
Scariest thing you’ve ever done?
This will sound silly, but riding on a rollercoaster. I literally thought I would fall out of the car and splat on the ground and be dead. It was the most panicked I’ve felt in my life.
Favorite book at the moment?
When the Game was Ours by Jackie MacMullan. It’s the story of Larry Bird vs Magic Johnson from the perspective of the two players. It’s my favorite because I am a competitive person by nature and these are two of the greatest competitors of all-time in my book. Learning from them through reading about it is an honor for me.
Proudest accomplishment?
My proudest accomplishment was winning an indoor drumline state championship my very first year of marching. I was the big kid that couldn’t hack it as a marcher. I was going to be the downfall of the group. Yet I wound up helping the group to win it all. Never felt so proud. I still have that gold medal too. I’ll never let that one go.
Where do you get your inspiration?
My inspiration comes from basketball. Watching players compete at the highest level striving to be their best and winning championships is the stuff that drives me. I want to be the very best at what I do because if I’m not striving for that, I won’t last long. It’s such a competitive business.
Where do you see yourself in two years?
In two years, I hope to be better at what I do than I am today. That’s all I can ask for. Whatever works out job-wise during that timeframe is what will happen.

Collecting conversations

I’m starting a series in my blog. The series will involve once-a-week interviews with some pretty awesome people.

The interviews or “conversations” will be with young writers, students, entrepreneurs, aspiring doctors, travelers, fishermen and more. You name it,  I’ll be interviewing them.

My first interview of the series is A conversation with a writer. I spoke with a 25-year-old technical writer who has a writing degree from the University of Tampa and hopes to one day be successful at creative writing.
I’m excited to share their stories with others. Here’s to collecting conversations.

Editor’s note: if you would like to be interviewed, feel free to leave a comment or ask how you can email me.