The Soldier and the Squirrel introduces children to the Purple Heart

through a loving story of a friendship between a newly wounded soldier

and Rocky the squirrel with his backyard friends. This story began as a

blog during my first year in bed after my incident. With much

encouragement, it is now a book and has been placed in the

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum. Please watch the video

on the About page to learn for the Soldier & Rocky are changing children's






Glorious Rejoice Dots Glitter





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Just Keep Swimming by Mckenzie Brazina

Just Keep Swimming
By Mckenzie Brazina
A graduates reflection on leaving home
In high school all I wanted to do was grown up, go on a date, learn how to drive and ultimately be independent. I didn’t need mom and dad’s help. All I wanted to do was be on my own. Then the time came for me to leave for college and initially I was excited. Coming out of my skin thinking “this is it”. This is the time for me to show the world what I’m made of. 
 Entering college I couldn’t help but feel like a fish out of water. New friends, new environment, no one to do your laundry or cook for you. You are thrust into a vast open ocean, flailing looking for something to anchor you down to your new home. It feels as though family is a world away and familiarity has vanished into the abyss. Regardless of how many friend you make those fundamental first weeks, you feel alone. Searching for something to call your own, to make you feel somewhat at home. Buying food your mom would pick up for you at the local market, spraying a little Hawaiian Breeze Febreeze to make your dorm smell like living room, keeping the air conditioning at the same level as you would at home, simply to instill some sense of familiarity and comfort. 
You sit in that particularly well decorated dorm room with family photos, your boyfriend’s basketball jersey, the Hawaiian Breeze Febreeze’s pineapple and ocean air undertones resinated in your nostrils flowing down into your lungs, your heart begins to   ache and the tears begin to flow. Wishing so badly that you could just be in your mother’s arms just to feel her arms around you like she did in that photo, look up a that jersey and dreaming of looking up and sensing that endearing kiss on your forehead, smelling the febreeze and wanting so badly to curl up on that couch with your mom and watching the chaos that is the Real Housewives unfold. I begin to panic wishing I could be back home. And then I remember to: “just keep swimming”. 
In 2004, Pixar released the oscar award winning family picture Finding Nemo. In which a little clown fish named Nemo experiences something eerily similar to leaving home for college. He was the only one to survive a barracuda attack that took the life of all of his brothers and sisters and his mother, leaving Nemo with a gimp fin dubbed his “lucky fin”. Up until the first day of school, Marlin-Nemo’s father-refuses to let him out of his sight. Nemo is teeming with excitement and leaps into the class unable to control himself any further. He meets a few friends that get him into a trouble by coaxing him into a competition of “who can touch the boat first”. Marlin shows up demanding that he come right back. Out of defiance Nemo torpedoes toward the boat, touches it, and comes back. On his way back a diver emerges capturing Nemo and surfacing to the boat. Frightened and in a daze, Marlin begins his quest to find his Son. Marlin meets and angel fish named Dory who suffers from short term memory loss and accompanies him in his quest to find Nemo. Later in the film when things get hard and Marlin feels hopeless she tells him to “Just keep swimming!”. Nemo ends up in a fish tank of a Dentist’s office in Sydney, Australia and makes friends with several other lost souls who dream of getting out and exploring the real world. He is given the responsibility of clogging the filter so they can complete their task of escaping the tank. All nemo wants to do is make his way home and be with his father. But, he takes on the responsibility and successfully makes his way back into the open sea only to be reunited with his father. He proves himself by using the lessons learned in the tank to save Dory from being caught in a fisherman’s net. Ultimately Marlin and Nemo realize the value and importance of family and they learn to never take one another for granted.
I remember when I first saw this film. I was nine and my mom could not have been more excited to see a movie about talking fish. Initially that’s all I thought it was...a movie about talking fish. Then the first scene finished and I knew this film was something special. Here I am nine years later looking back on just how important this film is to me. It’s a film with heart, merit and resinates down to my very core. Looking back on the film it’s a story about family, determination and a less of how important it is to cherish the ones you love and the little things in your life. 
“Ladies and Gentleman we are cleared for take off, please fasten your seat belts, make sure your tables are in the upright and locked position and enjoy your flight. Thank you again for flying Southwest Airlines!”. I can feel my heart beating out of my chest, the butterflies doing their dance in my stomach and the smell of the airplane fuel and the business men’s cologne filling the air. I was headed home for the first time since I moved to Arizona. This trip is a surprise for my boyfriend and little sisters. All I could think about was seeing their faces, feeling their hugs, and hearing those irreplaceable laughs. The longest hour an twenty-five minutes of my life goes by and I’m finally home. Hailing down a cab, zipping down the california highways, taking in the familiar time-capsule like streets and realizing nothing has changed. Pulling up to my home seeing Cassie May, my nine year old sister, light up when she realizes the sea monkeys she thought she was getting in the mail was really her big sister. Reggie, the dog, bolting out of the house, his stumpy legs barely able to catch up, as he excitedly rolls over and kisses me. Seeing little Emma Jane, seven, leap off the couch of the playroom, throwing herself into my arms and feeling her hug me tighter than ever before. Genuinely hugging my younger brother, Joey, 15, and saying “god I missed you guys”. Hugging my mom and holding her as though I was attached to a kite ready to fly away again.
I tell them I’ll be right back and make my way over to surprise my boyfriend. I arrive and tap his speed dial and wait for him to answer. I tell him to come outside. 
He says okay and makes his way outside. I step out from my hiding spot and see his face. Stunned, in shock, as his hand covers his eyes. I feel my bare feet smack against the asphalt as I run and jump on him. He begins to cry. I feel his breath shortening, his cheek against mine and take everything in. 
That night we went to my house where we were surrounded by family. A fire pit glowing the darkness of the back yard. Cassie and Emma hell-bent on playing a game of charades, Joey playing his guitar, and my mom sitting back with a glass of wine relaxed at ease and enjoying a familiar evening with her babies. For once, I am able to feel everything around me. From the course seat cushions, to the warm summer night breeze, I feel every finger and callas of my boyfriend’s hand laced into mine. My senses are magnified, my mind could not be more excited to take it all in, and-for the first time in 5 weeks- my heart is finally at ease. I was back in my natural environment. No longer a fish out of water, but rather a fish flourishing in the depths of the sea. It occurs to me just how important the little things are in life. Every touch, every smell, every word spoken is priceless. You never realize what you have until it’s gone. 
The whole weekend went by all too quickly but I tried desperately to slow down time by appreciating every little moment. I think to myself during all that time of wanting to leave home did I ever stop to appreciate the simplicity of a home cooked meal? Did I take in the subtle magic that is being with family? The answer is no. I never stopped to think that one day I would be the fish out of water, I would be Nemo, desperate to simply be home, to be with his father again. 
On the plane back home my heart was in my stomach. I laid down in the empty row and closed my eyes in hopes of falling into a dream land where I was home with my family and that nothing had changed. “Ladies and gentlemen we are now making our final descent into Phoenix, please fasten your seat belt make sure your tables are locked and your seats are in the upright position. We hope you enjoyed your flight! Thanks for choosing Southwest Airlines!” My heart drops even further into my gut. 
The cab pulls up in front of the time capsule like dorm. Nothing has changed. I picture Nemo and his father reunited and how perfect everything must be. I wonder what Cassie May and Emma Jane must be dreaming about, if Reggie is curled up next to my mom, and if my brother is still up yelling profanities at his Xbox. I think how perfect everything must be back home. Then the little blue angel fish, suffering from short term memory loss rings in my head: “Just keep swimming”. And I did. 
That first week back was the hardest transition I have ever been through. My heart ached terribly wanting to just be home again. The Hawaiian Breeze febreeze traveling through my lungs making my heart ache. Wanting to be in my mother and boyfriend’s arms like I was that weekend, striving for some sense of normalcy. Then the little blue angel fish, suffering from short term memory loss, rings in my head again: “Just  keep swimming”. And I did. I gained my bearings about campus and began the process of anchoring myself to the ocean floor of this vast open sea we call “College”. 
Being in college has taught me many things. Don’t talk to people on the light rail, make it to class on time, to stick with what you know in the dining hall; But, most importantly that family is everything. Family will always be there and will support you no matter what. Family sticks together, never letting anyone fall and persistently being right there to pick one another up. I have learned to never take anything for granted and to appreciate the little things. When thinking in terms of Finding Nemo, the value of family is priceless and you never realize what you have until it is taken away from you. Since I was nine years old this film has taught me lesson after lesson about life and all of its obstacles. Anytime things get hard or I feel like giving up, I remember family is forever and they are not going anywhere; but, most importantly, I remind myself to “just keep swimming”. 

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