Archive | September, 2015

The Day I Got My Daughter Back

16 Sep

(I originally wrote this story for AL.com, as the 2012 Alabama vs. Texas A&M game approached. As the game approaches again, I’d like to share this essay with you; it tells what the weekend, and this game, will always be for me and my family.)

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The Day I Got My Daughter Back

As a sports reporter, I live mostly within a kingdom of wins and losses. Things are pretty black and white.

On the eve of the game of the year (a little something called Alabama vs. Texas A&M), this is even more obvious than usual. Fans will live and die with every rush, tackle, reception, fumble, sack and touchdown.

The sports world sees Alabama vs. Texas A&M as an epic battle between two top 10 teams; one is attempting to cement a dynasty, the other is forging its way with the season’s most controversial yet talented player. There are storylines aplenty, and for that reason it’s the center of anything and everything sports-related this weekend.

It’s something entirely different to me.

Game day for the Alabama/Texas A&M matchup will now (and I imagine forever) be known as the day I got my daughter back.

Last year, my husband and I were sitting at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham watching our 8-year-ol d daughter recover from a diagnosis three days before of Type 1 diabetes. While people across the state were praying for AJ McCarron to rally the team back for a late-game win, I was praying that we would somehow learn how to deal with this disease that had tackled us out of the blue.

I was covering a Division II football game days before when I got the call that Sydney had been rushed to the hospital and quickly diagnosed with what used to be called juvenile diabetes. She had a blood sugar of 760 and was in a diabetic coma.

We learned over the next several days what an insidious and life-altering diagnosis this was. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that keeps Sydney’s pancreas from creating insulin; for the rest of her life (or until there is a cure), she will give herself insulin shots at least four times a day.

On the day we were learning all these things (from someone called an “educator,” but who felt a lot—in our sleep-deprived state–like a slave-driver), the Crimson Tide’s lone loss of the season was taking place. Our educator taught us about blood monitoring, and ketoacidosis, and carb counting, and long-term dangers while nurses, technicians and parents of patients whooped and clapped and then wailed throughout the halls.

A few hours later, the staff loaded us up to be discharged.

It was an eerie experience; if you’ve ever witnessed the reaction of the general public to an Alabama loss you will know what I’m talking about.

People’s faces were long; no one seemed capable of smiling; strangers nodded at each other the way they do at funerals.

And yet, here we were … relieved, dare I say jubilant.

Alabama had lost, but we had won.

The rest of the Tide’s season was, of course, a quest to learn from mistakes, get better, stay focused, show character, prove what they were made of. It’s something that all teams attempt to do after a loss.

Our family similarly came up with a game plan. We learned everything we could about Type 1 diabetes. We armed ourselves with the best doctors and the best medicine. We taught Sydney to take charge of her daily life and body. She learned when her blood sugar was low and when it was high; she learned to eat high-protein snacks and drink water all day long; she learned to give herself shots.

To borrow Coach Nick Saban’s favorite word, we learned that the “process” was the thing. Coping with the disease was not a one-afternoon win or loss; it was something that had its ups and downs, goods and bads, challenges and blessings.

One of my favorite post-diagnosis moments came during an all-star softball tournament in which Sydney’s team played for the 8-and-under district championship. During an early inning, she rounded the bases and headed for home. As she crossed home plate, she found me in the stands and yelled, “Mom, I’m low, I’m low, I’m low, I’m low.”

How the girl had hit a ball into the outfield and made it across all the bases with a blood sugar of 52 I still don’t know, but it represented something to me. It showed me that she was learning, even thriving, and that nothing would keep her down.

Legendary football coach Vince Lomabardi once said, “It’s not whether you get knocked down. It’s whether you get back up.”

Sydney’s favorite quote about the disease that has changed her life forever is, “Type 1 diabetes doesn’t own me. I own it.”

Our entire family has learned—crazy as it sounds—that this awful disease could actually do wonders; it brought us closer, strengthened our faith, taught us to treasure the really important things.

It taught us that even a defeat could be cause for celebration.

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Write about your hobbies–and get paid for it

12 Sep

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(This article originally appeared in Writing for Dollars.)

When you’’re not working or writing, how do you spend your spare time? Are there activities or hobbies that you just simply love?

Perhaps you knit or build model airplanes; you jog or garden; take photographs or read romance novels; fly kites or grow vegetables.

Those things that you might consider casual hobbies can actually provide you with a wealth of writing ideas. There is an almost limitless market for articles related to a myriad of hobbies and special interests. The key is to find out what your marketable hobbies are, and to then determine where to sell your writing.

Over the years, I have written about a number of my hobbies and special interests. I’’ve written about scrapbooking, mystery novels, photography, journaling, and quilting. And I’’ve written these for some unlikely sources. (I wrote about scrapbooking, —my current favorite “obsession, ”—for a Christian magazine, profiling a group of women who get together each month at a church to engage in their hobby. I wrote about photography for a parenting magazine, on how to take great holiday pictures.) And that’’s the real key here—–to discover how you can sell your hobby articles in a creative way.

Do you want to get started doing something similar? Here are several keys to getting paid to write about your hobbies—

1 – Determine your hobbies. Start by sitting down with a blank sheet of paper and simply listing all of the hobbies and “extracurricular” activities that you’re involved in. Think about the way you spend your time when you’’re not doing your “day job”; what takes up most of your time, extra money, and energy? You probably will end up with a list that includes crafts (things such as painting or sewing), athletic activities (weightlifting, adult softball), performing arts (singing, playing a musical instrument), and collecting (coins, dolls).

2 – Determine if those hobbies are marketable. Ask yourself: Is this hobby something that a significant number of other people do? Are there any magazines published on the topic? You need to make sure that the articles you could write about your hobby would be ones that would be interesting or beneficial to readers. You can’’t, for example, simply write about your stamp collection; you must find a specific slant to the topic that is marketable.

3 – Determine the kinds of writing you can do on the hobby. Some of the possibilities here include: how-to get started on the hobby or activity, how to improve aspects of the hobby, personality pieces on individuals involved in the hobby, a unique personal perspective on the hobby, historical articles on the hobby, even travel pieces connected with the hobby.

4 – Find specific markets for your articles. Some of the best places to sell your hobby articles include specific hobby magazines. Look in the Writer’s Market and you will find magazines devoted to everything from teddy bears to hot air ballooning. Another excellent market is children’s magazines; children love to learn about interesting hobbies and activities. Other possibilities include retirement magazines (older adults often have more time to devote to hobbies), women’s magazines, and religious magazines. And don’t forget your local newspaper or regional publication if you can find a local slant to your topic.

5 – Do research for your article. Your own expertise and experience with your hobby will be the first place to start when it comes to doing research for your article. Consider talking to other experts in the area, however—specifically, others who share your love for the hobby. There are many places to find such sources. Find out if there are any national or regional organizations dedicated to your hobby (there are groups such as the Craft and Hobby Association of America devoted to things such as scrapbooking and paper arts, for example). Look to see if there are any hobby groups in your area (my local library, for example, hosts crochet, quilting, and calligraphy groups each month). Then consider talking to salespeople and managers at hobby stores, or other stores dedicated to the hobby or activity you’re writing about.

6 – Become a “specialist” in the area. Once you’’ve published a few pieces on your hobby topic, begin promoting yourself as a specialist. You can start saying, “I’’m a writer who specializes in cycling” or “I’’m a freelancer who writes often on stamp collecting.” By promoting yourself in this way, you are showing that you have expertise in the field and you will find more receptive markets.

Writing about hobbies provides you with numerous opportunities to get published and be paid. And what could be better than getting the chance to write about something you love?

Moment to remember: Wheelchair bound 10-year-old scores touchdown

6 Sep
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(Stories like this make my job one of the best you could ask for. I had the privilege of talking to this awesome family, and sharing this inspiring story.)

Ask Erin Jones about her 10-year-old son, Braden, who is confined to a wheelchair, and she’ll tell you about a simple plan for his childhood.

“We are always going to make sure we find a way to not limit him at all,” she said. “We want to make sure he has the same opportunities as any other child.”

Erin and her husband, Mike, want to make Braden’s life normal, despite the challenge of living with hypophosphatemic rickets, a disease that makes bones weak and often causes multiple breaks.

Jones said that her son’s attitude is always inspiring.

“He has the best heart, the most open mind, the best positive attitude,” she said. “Very seldom does he have an ‘I can’t’ attitude.”

That spirit was on full display Friday night when Braden did something he’d never dreamed possible by scoring a touchdown for a high school football team, in his wheelchair.

In so doing, Braden and Victory Baptist School in Millbrook, Ala. created a moment to remember for the boy and the many fans in the stands.

(Watch the video here of Braden scoring the touchdown.)

Victory football coach Jim Hardy came up with the idea, after he met Braden as part of his Outdoor Friends Forever organization, which is committed to giving children with special needs different opportunities to hunt, fish and do other outdoor activities. Many of his football players volunteer with the organization and had become friends with Braden, who is from Talladega.

He knew Braden was a football fan, so it seemed natural to get him involved with the team.

Victory Christian plays 6-on-6 football in the Alabama Christian Education Association. The school won the state ACEA championship in 2013 and 2014.

Hardy invited Braden to participate in Friday night’s game against Brooklane Baptist Academy from Hueytown, but didn’t tell him about the plan to get him on the field until the game was underway.

He was given a jersey, spoke to the team during pre-game meetings, wheeled onto the field with the team and was asked by Hardy if he wanted to help coach the team.

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“He was so excited on the sidelines that I asked what play he might want to call. He was nervous and wasn’t sure,” he said. “Then, a few minutes later I asked how cool would it be to go on the field? He said he’d want to, but that he didn’t want anyone to tackle him.”

“I got some of the seniors to talk to him, and we reassured him that he would be fine,” Hardy said.

Players and coaches from Brooklane were also in on the “secret” and helped make the moment special by missing tackles and then celebrating in the end zone afterwards.

“We are grateful to the coaches, players and cheerleaders at Brooklane, the fans on both sides and everyone that made the night so special,” Hardy said.

After the game, Hardy said that many players, family members and fans went to a dinner party to celebrate Braden. When he tried to serve food to the guests, Braden stepped in and helped serve alongside him.

“It just took it to a whole other level,” he said. “You’ve got high school players learning what it means to care about others.”

Jones said that the night, and the way Braden was treated, is something she’ll always remember.

“Both teams made it special. They were falling down, getting tackled, and they all celebrated with him in the end zone. To witness his face right then and see the acceptance he felt, was just wonderful,” she said.

“Some people talk to him differently, sometimes he is treated like he’s not normal, but all those players cut up with him, gave him high-fives, treated him like the regular kid he is,” she said. “All of these experiences have helped him come out of his shell. Now he knows he can do so many things.”