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Creativity and Technology Keep Members of the Military and Their Families Connected

Mackenzie Freeman

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When most people think of the people who serve in our military, they think about the sacrifices that are made by the service members. It is important for people to understand, that for every service member they see, there is a family somewhere praying for their safety, hoping that their loved one is finding some comfort wherever they are and longing for the day they return home. It is not easy being a military spouse, and although you are told to expect regular deployments stateside, occasional deployments abroad, nothing really prepares you for the loss and the loneliness you feel when a deployment actually happens.

The average American has no idea in terms of the demands that are placed on the families of military personnel and the sacrifices they make. The impact and the effects on spouses and children of military personnel can be immense. Separation can take a toll on a marriage, and when children are separated from their parents for a significant period of time, it can affect the way they interact with their parents, friends and the way they perform in school. Military families have to strive hard to keep their family unit happy and healthy, and connected, and they have to find creative ways to do so.

When Shannon Sandvig’s husband Gavin was deployed with the Iowa National Guard weeks after the birth of their first child, she was confronted with the challenges of having to balance being a supportive spouse, being a new mother and running a household all by herself. Shannon and her husband managed to keep things together during an extended deployment, but they learned a few lessons along the way. The couple now has three children, and with each child, Shannon learned how to balance the role of military wife and mother, and also how to make sure that her husband had the opportunity to build a strong parental relationship with each child. Shannon recognized early on that children grow and develop quickly, and she needed to make sure her husband had every opportunity to share in their milestones, and pivotal moments even during his deployments. 

During Gavin’s deployments, Shannon sends her husband pictures of the boys engaging in their daily activities. One of their children even sent their dad a stuffed chameleon for their dad to include in the photographs he sent to them. The family felt that Rocky the chameleon was a way for them to be with Gavin without actually being there. The toy had a dual purpose of the family. Gavin had something he could see and physically touch when he missed his family, and Shannon and the kids could look at the pictures Gavin took with Rocky and feel like they were a part of whatever Gavin was doing. 

One of the most difficult obstacles for service members and their families is trying to connect via phone calls. The service person rarely knows when they will have the opportunity to call home and when they do, they are often in different time zones, which can make staying connected even more difficult. To ensure her children could communicate with their father in real time, when he could text or call them, she provided her sons with cell phones. Being able to respond to Gavin in real time helps the family during their periods of adjustment.

Thanks to technology like smart phones, recordable books, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Hub, it is easier for military families to stay connected and capture every moment. It is important to remember that technology alone won’t solve every issue in terms of maintaining communication among family members and staying connected. Each member of the family unit has to do their own part to find creative ways to stay connected. Whether it’s sending a handwritten letter, or a picture drawn by a child, it is the little things that help to keep things going and mean the most.

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Life

You’re Never Alone, You’re Always Loved

Mackenzie Freeman

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When you look around, what do you see? You probably see people living care-free, going about their day to day lives with ease. That’s only because you only see the surface. If you were to peak underneath, though, you can see the truth. Everyone has struggles. Everyone has demons they are battling.

We all want to put our best self out for the world to see, so we put on a mask and show what we want them to see. With everyone carefully calculating the exact image the world sees them as, it seems like you might be the only one confused, or struggling, or feeling overwhelmed.

You might push yourself away, feeling like nobody understands the way you feel, like nobody has been through your experiences. Maybe you have even opened up to someone, but the response you got showed they didn’t truly understand you. This feeling of isolation, of being alone, can cause you to lock yourself up. 

But you’re not alone. You’re not the only one going through it. They’re out there, thinking those same thoughts, putting on the same mask for everyone to see, so they don’t seem hurt. So they don’t seem fragile. 

When we all wear masks to hide the pain, the turmoil of emotions that is what makes us human, we emotionally isolate ourselves from each other. If we don’t show the world our pain and struggles, we lose essential opportunities to help others with our shared experiences. We are all more alike than we might care to admit.

Nobody is ever alone. Whether it’s friends, family, caretakers, coworkers, neighbors, teachers, or lovers, we all have someone who can relate to our experiences. We all have loved ones looking out for us. They know you. They care for you. They are there for you.

Just because you might not get a text, call, or knock on the door every day from them doesn’t mean they don’t see you as special. You are important to them.

We all show love in different ways. Not everyone is vocal about their feelings, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. They might show it in different ways: a warm meal, a gift during the holidays, or even a hug when they see you. They love you and they want the best for you.

We all get lonely. We all feel like the only one who has gone through something or has felt a certain way. Even if you don’t feel like someone would care about your experience, you have support– someone to encourage you and help you throughout whatever it is you may be going through. They are always there.

It is corny and a cliche, but you will get through this rough time in your life. You will be stronger and you will have a new perspective. You are much stronger than you may think, and you’re even stronger when you’re not alone.

If you haven’t been told recently, you are loved.

If you haven’t been showed it recently, you are loved.

If you haven’t felt it recently, you are loved

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Life

Dog Goes to College in Michigan, to Study!

Mackenzie Freeman

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Golden Retrievers have long been one of the most friendly, affectionate dog breeds available, and one particular Retriever in Michigan lived up to her breed’s reputation. They are fun dogs, easy to train, constantly social with their human masters and others, and extremely loyal. No surprise, Golden Retrievers are often owned in pairs and referred to as one of the best companion dogs to have. They are also regularly chosen for guide dog roles for the same reasons as well. In the case of JJ McGrath, his dog Tahoe was more than just a home companion.

Going to college at Grand Valley State University, JJ wanted to stay connected with his furry friend as much as possible. So, the fellow decided to ask his sociology professor if Tahoe could join JJ in class. Sent by email, the request was titled simply “Dog” in the header, and at first there was no response. JJ wasn’t one to take silence as an answer, so she kept asking until there was a clear response one way or the other.

Now most teachers, whether in college or high school or some other training institution, probably would not allow a dog in a classroom for a variety of reasons unless the dog was there for a bona fide disability support, such as guide dog. Part of the reason is clearly liability and the fear an uncontrolled or nervous dog might harm someone. Dog bites are one of the most common forms of serious injury across the country every year, and they typically come with legal ramifications as well. No surprise, most schools don’t allow animals in classrooms at all unless under controlled lab conditions or as a certified personal aid. The other reason was the possibility of distraction. Small dogs are noisy enough but a large dog that starts making a rack can be heard around an entire neighborhood block. That clearly wouldn’t be conducive in a classroom setting either.

However, nature of dogs in social settings has changed quite a bit. Dogs are now regularly used in health and community setting such as schools and malls to provide companionship and stress-reduction. Even workplaces are allowing pets to be present. Of course, the dogs have to be trained and extremely calm in busy environments to be eligible, but the world has loosened up quite regarding dog presence versus just 10 years ago.

So JJ kept up the campaign and kept sending additional email messages, most including photographs of him and the dog and stressing how friendly the Golden Retriever would be, including not being a threat to anyone and probably making the classroom more interesting to be in. Finally, JJ was successful. His professor relented and agreed to allow it, probably on a trial basis the first day. Tahoe was so excited, she kept looking out the car window on the way school, dog bandana around her neck and all. But JJ and Tahoe weren’t the only ones wanting to know how things turned out the first day. 4,000 followers on social media were tracking the story, the email posts and the final response allowing the dog to attend class with her owner. The story was so interesting, it started to international.

As it turned out, Tahoe did just fine, and even got to participate in class presentations at the front of the class. There were no disruptions, lots of learning and one very happy, social Golden Retriever who probably became one of the few dogs in history to go to college.

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Life

Surprise! 13-Foot Burmese Python Found in Unusual Spot in Florida

Leslie Tander

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What’s the most surprising thing you’ve come across on the road? Maybe you found a spare tire on the road before or perhaps even some clothes.

You can find all sorts of things over the course of your many travels along America’s roads, although it will be pretty hard to top what one man stumbled upon.

Nick Bishop, a native of Los Angeles, was traveling through Florida together with a friend when they spotted something peculiar. What they saw was a large shadow that looked like it was being cast by a big log.

According to this article from Story Trender, Bishop knew right away that it was not just a log that they were looking at however. Bishop, who goes by the nickname “Nick The Wrangler” and was actually in Florida at the time to look for diamondback rattlesnakes, said that he knew right away that there was a python nearby.

Still, Bishop did admit that he did not expect to find the python when he did. He noted that he did not expect pythons to move that far away from where they usually reside. At the time Bishop saw the python, he said that he was about 30 miles away from where those animals are typically found.

Bishop could not afford to stand in awe of the snake for too long though. He knew that there was a vehicle closing in and that he would have to act quickly if he wanted to save the python from a potentially gruesome fate.

A Dance with the Python

Bishop knew he had to act quickly if he was going to move the python to a safe location. That’s why he decided to take matters into his own hands.

This article from The Daily Mail features a video showing Bishop as he attempts to wrangle the enormous Burmese python.

In the video, you can see that Bishop immediately goes for the python’s tail. The python then responds with hostility to Bishop’s actions by hissing in his direction.

Undeterred, Bishop keeps trying to lift the python off the ground in order to get it to safety. The python is not very cooperative though and even lunges at Bishop with its fangs.

Bishop continues with his efforts to wrangle the python and he eventually wears the animal out. With the snake visibly exhausted, he grabs the head and finally places the python under his control. He celebrates his triumph over the python by giving it a kiss on the head.

The snake wrangler goes on to describe his encounter with the wayward Burmese python as one of the most exciting moments of his life. He also regards it as a gift from Mother Nature.

Following his encounter with the python, Bishop handed the animal over to the authorities so that it could be cared for properly.

Learning More about the Python

Surprisingly enough, the 13-foot serpent Bishop saw that day may actually be on the smaller side. Per National Geographic, some Burmese pythons can grow to over 23 feet in terms of length and weigh over 200 pounds.

When they are younger, Burmese pythons like to spend their time high up in the trees. That becomes more difficult for them as they mature however.

Burmese pythons usually eat birds and small mammals. They prey upon those animals by first suffocating them. Thanks to their stretchable jaws, a Burmese python can fit its suffocated prey entirely into its mouth.

Sadly, Burmese pythons are still being hunted down for their skin and flesh. They are also having a harder time finding places to live. Because of that, Burmese pythons have ended up on the threatened species list.

Hopefully, more people like Nick Bishop will show care for Burmese pythons so that they can thrive once more.

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