In January 2016, Taylor was sitting in the audience of the Desert Grill at Busch Gardens Tampa watching one of my final performances of Christmas Celebration. He had brought the script for Our Town to memorize during the show breaks, as he was in rehearsals for the production at freeFall Theatre in Saint Petersburg. Across the table, a mother and daughter looked on curiously and struck up a conversation not only about theatre, but life in general. Little did we know they would become inspiring friends, theatre supporters, and even give us the experience of holding a snake for the first time…
Dr. Marlene and Alyssa are as dynamic of a mother-daughter duo as Lorelai and Rory Gilmore. They work side by side at their veterinarian practice, Pasco Veterinarian Medical Center in Lutz, Florida, and have a passion for animals, growing their own food and living their happiest life. Both women also are very accomplished, as they have made strides in their careers by being adventurous and headstrong. Marlene was the first female paramedic in Florida at age 18, and is one of the leading veterinarians who practices integrated medicine. Alyssa is self-taught on all the diagnostic machines in the office, as she has been observing her mom since she was a child. She also has written and published a children’s book, Demi and the Dolphins: A Lesson in Ecology, a cookbook (Pay it Forward Recipes), and plans to write another cookbook using raw and paleo recipes. It’s a wonder they have time to do anything else!
After spending time at their house before we came to New York, Taylor and I were intrigued by how they had an innate ability to constantly be positive as well as strong in their convictions. We decided to do an informal Q & A to see where their inspiration and joy comes from in hopes to further motivate ourselves and others!
G&T: What inspired you to grow your own food?
Marlene: “As I started learning more about health, nutrition and how to take care of your body…there is an inspiration in and an extension of taking care of your environment…being able to take a part in nature and love it; it gives you back. The energy that is in food that I grow is extra special.” Marlene also went on to describe how homeschooling her two daughters [Alyssa, and her sister Demi] allowed her to teach them where food comes from and how it is harvested.
G&T: How did you start growing your own food? How has it expanded?
Marlene: “I was in college; I was living in a small farm town and had a garden out there. It started off as a little small thing, but I hired a neighbor to come and till it for me, and every time he did, it got bigger and bigger.” She was growing peas, corn, greens, and peanuts! Marlene even started selling the food to pay for the next year’s tilling. She also talked about the concept of “edible landscaping”-which entails planting crops and vegetation you can actually use. Since moving into their home in Lutz, Marlene has expanded her garden to include raised beds, microgreens, hydroponics, avocado trees, banana trees and herbs, to name a few. Interestingly, she does not see hydroponics (growing plants without soil, using mineral nutrients from fish waste or duck manure) as an option for her, as it is “crowded for the fish; it can’t be nice to live in a bowl. That doesn’t speak to me. The fish are under a lot of stress…there are a tremendous number of fish…now the water when you collect the poop is amazing; it’s great fertilizer, but it’s not a sustainable environment.”
G&T: Speaking of fish, when did you start fostering a love for animals?
Alyssa: “My love for animals came from growing up in the office. I was in the office at 12 hours old…I have pictures sleeping with the dogs, snakes around my neck, birds on my hand…I had really no other option! Laughs. I love them, and they love me. It’s a good fit!”
Marlene: “Before I could even talk. I only played with stuffed animals, I didn’t play with dolls. When I was in elementary school, kids would bring in their sick hamsters and I would literally bring it to the local vet’s office and he would never charge me. I would treat it and make it better.”
G&T: What makes your approach different from other offices?
Marlene: “So there is Western medicine, which is called allopathic, that is what we’ve grown up with in this country. You have a symptom, so you treat the symptom and you hope for a cure. But you don’t really focus on the root cause. For instance…you have a headache and your parents gave you medicine and that was the end of it. In the Eastern mindset, we see the symptoms as the body speaking to us, so if I get a headache, my first thought is, ‘Am I dehydrated? Is there stress? Am I not sleeping well?’. What I do is called integrated medicine. What that means is that I get to live in both worlds. So I take the best of the Western world: the diagnostics, the x-rays, ultrasounds…all the blood work, but at the same time I can practice all of the Eastern art. I do acupuncture, reading energy, magnetic resonance, [and] ozone. We are able to treat these animals both on the traditional side, and the holistic side. To me, I don’t think what we do should be called ‘alternative’. That’s what we should do, and have Western medicine as the backup. Let me tell you if you have a broken leg, herbs are not going to be the first thing I reach for. But it [Western medicine] shouldn’t be the only tool in our toolbox. We work with them all in the best way possible. It’s about knowing when to pick the right tool based on good diagnostics and good information so you’re doing the right thing. What’s really neat in my world is that I never run out of something to do. I never look at a client and say, ‘I’m sorry, there’s nothing more I can do for your animal’.”
G&T: What unique equipment do you have at the office?
Marlene: “We have most of the high end type of things…really I mean high end. We have digital x-rays [not film]…everything we do is digital. The quality of it is amazing. We can literally see the hair on the animal. We have digital ultrasounds and radiology. All of the high end diagnostics. On the alternative side, we do magnetic resonance [magnetosphere], we have ozone, we have hyperbaric chamber access. We do a variety of different herbs and essential oils. We also have have a whole slew of lasers. We have an entire diagnostic lab on site: basic blood work, urinalysis…our machine actually reads the cell. It’s much more accurate.”
Alyssa: “Did you mention thermography?”
Marlene: “Oh, we also have thermography, where you take temperature gradients. It’s like taking an x-ray but in temperature [readings]. As you’re taking pictures of that animal, it’s interpreting temperature differences.”
G&T: Tell us how you learned all this information, Alyssa!
Alyssa: “I learned on the job training. I didn’t have time to go to school because of the circumstances we were put in; I had to learn it immediately. I would either study on my own, or go take classes; I would hire someone to come in and teach me. I learned a lot watching [my mom] growing up. It’s really the hands on experience…I really enjoy doing dental. I clean all the animals teeth. The laser is awesome! Any time we see results, it makes me want to learn more. We also have a lot of continuing education that we do.”
G&T: So, how many people do you have on staff?
Alyssa: “Three total.”
G&T: Wow! Do you have interns?
Marlene: “We do have a teaching program which is unique to us. We have a program I designed about ten years ago. First, we have veterinarian receptionist training, where we teach people who just want to get into the field and they learn about the over the counter products, customer service and care. We also have a veterinarian technician assistant…they receive about 20 hours of lecture and 100 hours of practical time. It gives an introduction to see if it’s a career option for them. Most practices now do not offer hands on training, because the liability is too great. This [program] gives people who want to get their foot in the door a great opportunity.”
G&T: Tell us about where the practice is located and what led to it opening.
Marlene: “Out of school, I worked in a five doctor practice, and then moved to Lakeland [Florida] to work at an emergency clinic as well as daytime relief work for about a year. My intention was always to open my own practice. So I searched for an area to ‘grow up’. Meaning, I was young and I wanted a community where I could establish myself and we were able to grow together. I found the property in Lutz (which is five acres) and it was something I could afford, so I bought it!”
G&T: And how many animals do you have on property?
Marlene: “So, we have four horses, one snake, three birds, three cats, and lots of chickens (that are ours).
Alyssa: “We can also board up to 72 animals. If we were over that number, we can turn our exam rooms into ‘mini condos’. Rooms and cages included [in that number].”
G&T: Now to the most pressing question: what inspires you and what makes you happy?
Marlene: “I’ll start with what inspires me. Being a positive force in the universe. Helping people, helping animals and the environment to be more sustainable, healthier and happier. It starts with animals, it extends to people, but it’s about the whole environment. Seeing the bees thrive…the world living in harmony and balance. I love being a contributor to that. I have a 63 acre farm in Dade City [Florida] and I want to turn that into a sustainable community. Sustainable meaning not taking away from the environment, but adding to it. Creating different ways of growing food and living on the land. Putting up buildings in a green fashion. Giving back and not taking. Living in balance or contributing more than you’re taking.
What makes me happy? You know this is going to sound really cliche…but everything I do makes me happy. I literally focus on things that bring me joy and gratitude. Working with animals and healing [and] inspiring people. Sharing [my life] with new people and being an influence on others by being an example. I create my life through the desire of what I want to see my life look like. I live with purpose and intention.”
Taylor: That is so important. Without that, you’re living someone else’s life. You have to make your own happiness.
Marlene: “I love being fully present in the moment. Being engaged. That is everything. You’re really showing up 100%. Most people don’t even realize they’re not present.”
Taylor: We can apply that to our lives, being actors. In order to be the character or the role you have to be fully present and in the moment. And that’s how you can really live on stage.
Alyssa: “So I have to be totally honest…I am still figuring out my passion, my purpose and my plan. But I have gone through experiences that have helped me grow and made me who I am today, so I’m not discounting that at all. What makes me happy is cooking and being around kids. I love animals. I love seeing the owners see [that] their animals are improving naturally. It brings me so much joy to know I was a part of that. It’s so rewarding to know I’ll always have that connection to them. I [also] teach Sunday school every week because I love being around the kids. Inspiring them to not always listen to what the world is telling them: negativity, bullying…I want them to find their own purpose. Having a healthier mindset at a younger age. I have an outline for six other books I want to write [in addition to Demi and the Dolphins]. I want to travel and educate using those books. That is going to be one of my goals. Sharing positive messages with the world.”
Taylor: Wait…tell us about your cookbook(s)!
Alyssa: “The cookbook was done as a bat mitzvah project. All of the proceeds went to the Wounded Warriors foundation. It’s not 100% mine; we had our best friends and our family donate their favorite recipes to the cookbook. The next cookbook [I’m writing] is going to be raw-infused recipes: vegetarian to paleo, you name it. I want to encourage people who aren’t experienced with cooking to know that they can make something healthy. I like to help other people and share what I’m passionate about doing.”
These women are not only inspiring to us in what they have accomplished, but yet still have so many goals and plans for their future. We know they are going to change the world and have already given us a different perspective on how to be positive, present, and loving in every moment. Taylor and I can’t wait to see what they do next!