Why “The Lost Kitchen” is Good For My Mental Health

My daughters gave me the most thoughtful, wonderful gift this past Mother’s Day. For at least two months I’d been saying I’d love to order Discovery Plus so I could watch the Magnolia Network shows. But another subscription? I felt guilty because my husband didn’t care about it, it was something just for me. So I shrugged it off, figuring I could do without.

On Mother’s Day, I was sitting at our kitchen table feeling like a princess, being served a beautiful breakfast made by my daughters. After we ate, they told me to turn around, my present is in the family room. There was no wrapped box and nothing that resembled a gift.

My eyes went to our TV, and there it was, displayed on the big flat-screen. Magnolia Table with Joanna Gaines. YES! They got me a year’s subscription to Discovery Plus!

The first show I wanted to check out was The Lost Kitchen with chef Erin French. I’d recently heard about her book, Finding Freedom, and was interested in reading her memoir.

Anyway… I’ve been riding our exercise bike on a pretty regular basis. I usually watch a cycling class, with an instructor motivating me and upbeat music playing. Or I listen to my Spotify playlist… loud! Something to pump me up. I tell myself I’ll just ride fifteen-twenty minutes, and that’s much better than nothing. And it is.

Last week I wanted to ride the bike, but I also wanted to plop on the couch and enjoy my new Discovery Plus. Specifically, The Lost Kitchen.

So I did both. Well, minus the couch.

At first I thought it wasn’t going to work. Would I be bored? How could I get pumped up watching a show about a chef and how she started a restaurant?

Chef Erin French in her beautiful kitchen

Oh my goodness! I quickly fell in love with the episode. Talk about being my cup of tea! The scenery is gorgeous. It takes place in the tiny rural town of Freedom, Maine. The Lost Kitchen is a place I’d LOVE to visit. It’s rustic, homey, elegant, and welcoming. There are always flowers and herbs in the kitchen and on the tables, fresh from the farm. The food–all sourced farm to table–looks incredible and is beautifully prepared, complete with edible flowers.

None of the women who work at the restaurant (including Erin French) had formal culinary training. They’re self-taught, learning as they go along. The kitchen isn’t a “yelling” kitchen. The women respect each other, have confidence in each other, and are a great definition of team. Their workplace is filled with kindness, compassion, and grit. No matter what challenge they come across, they get through it together. They’re family.

Freedom, Maine, Restaurant Owner Now Has Her Own TV Show

I was so engrossed in that first show, I easily pedaled for forty minutes without realizing it. Maybe I didn’t ride as fast or do as many sprints as I normally do. But that didn’t matter. I had a good workout, plus burned 180 calories.

From that day on, I was hooked. Yesterday I finished the final episode of the first season, proud to say I pedaled my way through each one. Burning calories, firming my legs, raising my heart rate. Great for my physical health.

But how did this help my mental health?

Simple.

The Lost Kitchen calms me. My legs spin around and around and my heart rate increases, yet I feel relaxed. I could look at that scenery all day–the fresh food, flowers, warm interior of the restaurant, the pretty globe lights and flickering candles. So cozy. One of my favorite things is a chalkboard sign hanging on a door in the kitchen. The word “Breathe” is written in the middle of a heart.

I love when guests arrive at The Lost Kitchen and begin tasting their meals. They close their eyes and hum “Mmm.” I can almost taste it. All the flavors are expertly crafted together in just the right way to please the palate… breads, cheeses, apples, peaches, greens, pork, meat, fish… even the oysters they get fresh from an oyster farmer look good to me. And that’s one food I’ve always said I never want to eat (too slimy). But the way she prepares them looks delicious. Even to me.

After watching an episode, not only am I inspired to go to the farmer’s market and be more creative with my cooking, but it feels great to take that time exclusively for me. A mental health break. I know I need that just as much as I need the physical exercise. For me, it’s a great form of self-care and self-love. And I don’t feel guilty about it.

Now that I’ve finished the first season of The Lost Kitchen, maybe I’ll buy Erin’s cookbook and try to replicate some of that deliciousness and beauty to my own kitchen. I’ve started cutting fresh thyme, herbs, and flowers from my garden and displaying them in vases in my kitchen and office. It makes me feel good.

I don’t want to ruin my workout streak on the bike. Guess for now I need to find another show on Discovery Plus to motivate me. Hm… What’s next?

Connecting After Covid: Nine Ways to Ease Reentry Anxiety

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I did something we haven’t done for more than a year. We drove to one of our favorite places, a harbor in Ventura, CA. The ocean is directly across the street, so we love to walk along the shore after spending time at the harbor.

First stop was a casual fish restaurant, Andria’s Seafood. We sat on the patio savoring every bite of fish and chips as it melted in our mouths. After a leisurely dinner, we took a stroll, basking in the activity and vitality of the area. Outdoor music at one of the restaurants helped set the vibrant, fun mood. People dined outside, laughing and chatting. The line for the ice cream shop was really long. We hadn’t seen it like that since two summers ago.

It was all so… wonderfully NORMAL. Even with masks on. I could see joy in peoples’ eyes, the genuine happiness of being out together. Enjoying life. Getting back to the things we love.

Me with those delicious fish and chips!

Like millions of others during the pandemic, I desperately missed being with people. Video chats are great and I was so thankful for the technology, but it’s just not the same as an in-person human connection. I’ve missed seeing smiles, giving and receiving great big hugs.

This past month I’ve been taking advantage of the loosened restrictions, enjoying coffee and dinner dates with friends and family. There’s nothing more important to me than connecting and nurturing those relationships. One lunch with a close friend was three hours long! I hadn’t seen her since Thanksgiving 2019.

But there’s a flip side to all of this.

I don’t like to admit this… but returning to life as it was pre-COVID-19 brings me anxiety. I wish I could say I was simply excited. I like to think of myself as a people-person, often up for going places, experiencing new adventures. In reality, I’m not super outgoing or adventurous. I’m more of a homebody, most comfortable in my own surroundings.

And what about meeting with friends and family I haven’t seen in more than a year? Will it feel like it used to be, pre-pandemic? Or will it be filled with tension and disagreements? With such extreme political division, racial strife and injustice in 2020, this is a huge worry. Even though we may be on different political spectrums, can we still get along? What about the issue of vaccination? Masks? Can we get together and agree to disagree? Will we be able to stay away from touchy subjects?

Talk about anxiety.

This past year, we’ve had to adhere to strict boundaries and have become somewhat conditioned not to go anywhere or gather in large crowds. To wear a mask, wash hands often, use lots of hand disinfectant. Keep socially distant. Quarantine. Birthday parties were replaced with drive-by celebrations. No usual holiday gatherings, dinners, or any type of social meetings. No travel. No hair appointments, routine doctor and dentist visits, book club wine nights, writer’s group, etc.

Even if I wanted to do these things, I couldn’t.

And sometimes–this brought a sense of relief. I wasn’t expected or obligated to participate in any of these activities. In a way, I felt freer with zero pressure to keep up a busy schedule. For me, that equals less stress.

I love being home with my husband and our pup Duke. Our daughters have been working remotely, so they’re able to stay with us for periods of time, which makes my heart so happy. We’ve taken advantage of the opportunity to be together, knowing this time was a mixed blessing and wouldn’t last forever.

My definition of family is a group of people wh make you feel at homw aand are their when you need them most, they are the people who even though they do not have time they will make time for you.

My daughters have gotten used to working from home, managing their busy schedules with countless Zoom calls and virtual meetings. They’ve enjoyed not waking up super early for the hour-long, traffic-filled commute to their offices. Or getting all dressed up for the work day. How will they feel going back? Excited? Stressed out? And what about kids, parents, and teachers who have struggled to navigate online learning. How will it be to return to school full time in person? Exciting? Yes. But it can also be an anxious time, consumed with apprehension and worry.

While it was really hard adjusting to the boundaries and restrictions, removing them can cause stress. There’s actually a term for it:

Reentry Anxiety.

As someone recovered from panic disorder and living with generalized anxiety, I’m definitely feeling reentry anxiety. Is it strange that I’ll miss the simpler days?

Note: I’m having such conflicting thoughts right now, it’s hard to put into words. Guilt. How could I possibly miss life during the pandemic? It was truly awful. It felt surreal. Extremely scary, so very sad, uncertain, overwhelming, horrible. Please know I’m often thinking of the 580-thousand plus souls who lost their lives due to this terrifying disease. So many families have been affected.

I’ve been wondering how to ease into this new normal, post-pandemic life with the least amount of anxiety possible. Here are some ways:

  1. Take it slow. Don’t book a full schedule. At first, limit social activities to once a week.
  2. Set limits on the length of time of activity.
  3. Set limits on what is comfortable in regards to the amount of people at the gathering, if it’s outside, if masks are required. For me, I’m not yet okay going to a concert or a crowded movie theater.
  4. Make a list of things to do now that restrictions are lifted. For me, that’s travel locally, spend time with friends, make a hair appointment and doctor appointments I’ve put off for too long.
  5. Don’t judge yourself. Be compassionate. There’s a whole range of emotions you can have, which is normal. You can be excited, scared, happy, guilty, stressed–all at the same time.
  6. Accept that life may never be the same as it was before the pandemic. This could be a job, a relationship, your routine. Priorities may have switched.
  7. Get out for fresh air. Exercise. I love to walk in the mountains near my home.
  8. Practice deep breathing. Say a mantra while slowly inhaling and exhaling. “Life is good.” “This will pass.” “I am enough.”
  9. Remind yourself that just because you CAN doesn’t mean you HAVE to.

Like everyone else, I never dreamed I’d ever experience living through a global pandemic. It was life-changing. Even though reentry to this new phase of post-lockdown can be filled with anxiety, it’s also an exciting and hopeful time.

I’m already looking forward to a huge family gathering for Thanksgiving.

How Grounding Techniques Help My Panic Symptoms

Back in December 2018, I wrote an article for NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) that described my experiences with panic disorder, including derealization and depersonalization. You can read it here on the NAMI blog. Since it published, I’ve received dozens of emails asking how I was able to recover.

I wish I had a simple, easy answer. Although I consider myself recovered, I still have to work at lowering my anxiety. It’s an ongoing process. And we’re all different—what works for me may not work for someone else.

Before I explain what helps me, I want to give a little background:

I’ve had panic attacks since I was young. I don’t remember my first one. But I’ll never forget the first time I experienced feelings that were so terrifying and surreal—they felt unreal. I was in fourth grade.

My teacher asked me to go to the administration office to pick up some papers. When I arrived, a strange sensation came over me, like I wasn’t sure what I was doing. Am I really here? Is this me or someone else I’m watching? Is this real?

The best way I can explain how it feels is that I’m detached from myself, like living in a fog or dream. I wonder if I’m in the right body. My face and limbs feel numb, like a plastic mannequin. When I walk, it doesn’t feel like my own legs are holding me up. My arms don’t feel like they belong to me. When I stare at my reflection in the mirror, I question if the person looking back is really me. It’s as if I’ve stepped out of myself and am looking at someone I don’t know. My voice doesn’t sound like mine. I feel removed from the world. Objects look blurry, sounds distorted. It’s a struggle to bring myself back. In these moments, I have wondered if I was going “crazy.”

Image courtesy of The Recovery Village

The medical terms for these intrusive thoughts are derealization (feeling withdrawn from one’s surroundings, as if the world isn’t real) and depersonalization (an out-of-body experience in which a person feels separated from his own self). Derealization and depersonalization can be symptoms of panic disorder, which I’ve been diagnosed with.

So, what helps me?

Anti-depressant medication has lessened the frequency and intensity of my panic attacks and also the feelings of unreality. But it hasn’t taken them completely away. I know I’ll never be 100 percent cured from panic disorder.

But… I’m able to control my symptoms and live a full, productive, joyous life with the help of medication, mindfulness, and grounding techniques.

I used to think the terms mindfulness and grounding were interchangeable. They’re not exactly the same.    

Mindfulness: Purposefully paying attention to what is happening in the present moment, while acknowledging and accepting your feelings without judgment. Mindfulness helps me slow down and appreciate life.

Grounding: Rather than being nonjudgmental about what is happening in the present moment, grounding focuses your attention away from a place of trauma or stress, guiding it toward safety in the here and now. Grounding connects me to my body and my surroundings, reminding me that I’m here and I’m safe.

Grounding techniques use the five senses (see, touch, hear, smell, taste). The purpose is to keep yourself in the present moment. At first, this didn’t come easy to me. It’s taken practice!

Here are some to try:

List five things you can see.

Four things you can touch.

Three things you can hear.

Two things you can smell.

One thing you can taste.

Deep breathe (this is my favorite exercise, it calms me right away). Inhale through your nose while counting to seven in your head. Hold for a count of two. Exhale slowly through your mouth, counting to seven. 

Talk to someone.

Use a grounding object, like a stone, a small stuffed animal, a stress ball. Touch it and notice the texture.

Taste food or a drink. Is it cold, hot, creamy, crunchy, sweet, salty, sour, or bitter?

Chew gum, noticing the flavor and how it feels in your mouth as you chew or blow bubbles.

Smell a flower, essential oils, coffee, a lemon, lavender. Does it relax you?

Listen. Is there a dog barking, sirens blaring, birds singing, wind rustling?

Stretch or exercise, aware of how your arms and legs feel with each movement.

Take a walk. Feel your footsteps on the dirt, gravel, or pavement.

Pinch yourself, pull your hair, wiggle your fingers and toes.

Count to 100, then backwards.

Sing a song or say a nursery rhyme in your head.

Describe your surroundings in detail. Focus on an object, memorizing details about it. Look away and list everything you saw.

Name all your family members and their ages.

Use an anchoring phrase: say your name, your age, the date, what time it is, where you are, what you are doing.

Repeat a mantra while deep breathing. Like: “I am safe.” “Life is good.” “I am real. The world is real.” “Here. Now.”

Pet an animal.

Take a shower or bubble bath.

Listen to your favorite music.

List five things you’re grateful for.

Journal.

Practice visual imagery. Think of a place you love, describe it to yourself in detail, and picture yourself there.

Think of someone you love and what they would say to you.

Be kind to yourself. Tell yourself: “I matter.” “I will get through this.” “I’m doing the best I can.”

What I Noticed While Talking to Teens About Mental Illness

Teen Mental Health

Last week I spoke to teens about mental health, like I’ve done dozens of times before. But this time it felt different. This was my first set of presentations since early 2020, before COVID-19 lockdowns.

I’m a speaker for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I present NAMI’s Ending the Silence program to middle grade and high school students. My co-presenter and I talk about the warning signs of mental illness and what to do if they notice those signs in themselves or a friend. We speak openly about anxiety, depression, OCD, bipolar disorder, PTSD, eating disorders, and suicide.

So last week, instead of being inside a classroom with students and their teacher, we talked to them via Zoom. The presentations went great and I was so thankful to have the opportunity to meet with them. Technology can be wonderful!

But there’s nothing like actually being there with the kids, looking them in the eye, feeling that emotional connection and energy.

On Zoom, some of the students preferred not to be seen. Their cameras were on, but instead of a bunch of faces, I saw ceilings, bedroom walls, or a silhouette of a person. But that’s fine, I get it. It’s high school.

Even if I couldn’t see them, I knew they were there, listening. When I give these presentations, I never know who needs to hear what I say that day.

Through my computer screen, I could sense the kids were stressed and frustrated. Most likely some of them were anxious and depressed. There’s no doubt that distance learning this past year has taken an immense toll on students (parents and teachers too, of course).

At the end of our presentation, my co-presenter and I open it up to questions. We let the kids know they can ask us anything at all. We’re open books. Sometimes there’s only silence. Which again, I totally get. Mental illness is hard to talk about. Kids don’t want to be thought of as different. They don’t want their peers to think they might be struggling with a mental health condition.

A question at the end of one of our sessions last week broke my heart. Through an anonymous direct message, a student asked: If someone is thinking of attempting suicide, but isn’t really planning to do it, does that person still need to get help?

Our answer: YES. Talk to a trusted adult. A parent, teacher, school counselor, family friend, adult-age sibling. Tell someone you trust so you can get the help you need.

Another student wrote: How do you get help without your parents knowing?

Our answer: It’s hard to do that for a minor. Talk to an adult you trust. If that person can’t help, go to another. And another. And another. Until you get the help you need.

I pray they’re getting help. It’s rewarding to know that at least we opened the conversation.

While the stigma surrounding mental illness is beginning to weaken, there’s still a long way to go. My hope is that with future generations, mental health conditions can be spoken about as easily as physical diseases.

Keep talking about it.

The goal is to end the silence.

How an NFL Team is Kicking the Stigma

Hurt | By Darius Leonard

It inspires me so much when athletes, celebrities, and famous people speak out about their struggles with mental health. It’s comforting to know that despite living with a mental illness, there’s hope to live a productive and successful life.

Athletes are thought of as tough, strong, powerful. Resilient. Which is why it can be super difficult for them (especially men) to speak out about a mental health issue.

But mental illness does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter how physically strong someone is or how much money they have.

Anyone can be affected by mental illness.

National Football League player Darius Leonard of the Indianapolis Colts, says he suffers from anxiety and depression. In a personal essay for The Players’ Tribune, Darius talks about losing his brother eight years ago and how the pain is still so deep.

“If you look at me and you see a Cinderella story, or a superhero, or the Maniac, or whatever, just know that underneath the helmet is a real person who is still working through some real pain.”

Colts Kicking The Stigma Initiative

Darius gets support from Colts owner Jim Orsay, his family, and the Colts organization. They started an initiative called “Kicking the Stigma,” bringing awareness to mental health and providing support for mental health services in Indiana. The program is part of a larger NFL initiative, “My Cause, My Cleats.”

Jim Orsay says, “‘Kicking the Stigma’ is our commitment to eradicating and getting this environment changed. We need to find ways to get people to feel safe and not to feel judged or persecuted when they’re trying to seek help.”

Absolutely. The more we speak out about mental illness, the weaker the stigma becomes.

Thank you, Darius, for sharing your story. It’s not easy to talk about a mental health condition. And thank you Colts, for shining the spotlight on mental health.

Mental illness is not anyone’s fault. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. There is medical help available.

You are NOT Alone stock illustration. Illustration of diary - 169511383

Forget About Life for a While

This past week has been especially difficult on an emotional level for me (and millions of others), with the political turmoil and our extremely divided nation. Plus, the ongoing pandemic. I live in southern California, where positive Covid numbers and hospitalizations continue to increase. There’s no date in sight for the end of the shutdown.

A few days ago, I was at my computer paying bills. I did something I’ve rarely done the past few months while working. I put on my favorite Spotify playlist. I love music, so I have no idea why I haven’t listened to it much lately in my office. Maybe it’s because I’ve been so overloaded with information, I’ve just wanted it quiet.

Anyway, the first song to play was “Sittin’ Pretty” by Florida Georgia Line. It took me back to the long, lazy days of summer.

Pretty as a peach
As a postcard picture of a West Coast beach
So pretty if I had to bet
This is pretty much as good as it gets

Ah, summer… Backyard barbecues with loads of family and friends chatting and laughing together. Fourth of July fireworks lighting up the black velvet sky. Lounging by the pool reading a book. Gardening and picking tomatoes, with my pup Duke by my side. Walking hand-in-hand along the beach with my husband. Licking a melting ice cream cone and munching on my favorite summer fruits — peaches, watermelon, cherries, and plums. Carefree hot days. Summer nights glittering with twinkle lights and tiki torches.

While listening to “Sittin’ Pretty,” something happened that I totally didn’t expect. I felt enveloped by warm sunshine, like a weighted blanket comforting me. I took some deep breaths and let my mind drift. I basked in the memories of summers before 2020, feeling completely and utterly refreshed.

I allowed myself to take a mental break and forget about life for a while.

Which reminds me of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”:

It’s a pretty good crowd for a Saturday
And the manager gives me a smile
‘Cause he knows that it’s me they’ve been comin’ to see
To forget about life for a while

This experience has made me realize how much I’m craving peace and tranquility. Normalcy. Who knows when that’ll come. But despite these days of unrest, worry, and uncertainty, I need to make positive changes for my mental health.

Music can help me do that. Not that it’ll cure the problems in our world, but it offers a much-needed respite from it all. Music reminds me that this period of time won’t last forever. We will get through this. It WILL get better.

In the meantime, I’m going to make a point of turning on my Spotify playlist much more often.

New Year’s Refresh and Reveal: From Anonymous to the REAL Me!

I’m so excited to finally write this post. I’m not big on New Year resolutions, but this is definitely something I’ll be able to check off my list.

When I started this blog six years ago, I knew I wanted to write about mental health in general and specifically, my journey to recovery from panic disorder and agoraphobia. Like many other blogs centered on mental illness, I chose to be anonymous.

Over the years, I’ve become more open about my issues. Now I’m a mental health advocate, something I wasn’t necessarily striving for when I started my blog. But that’s what has evolved — by writing about it here and on other mental health-related websites, including NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), The Mighty, and Thrive Global. I’m also a speaker for NAMI’s in-school mental health awareness program, Ending the Silence. I talk to middle grade and high school students about the symptoms of mental illness and what to do if they notice those signs in themselves or a friend.

All of my writing in regards to mental health has been under the pseudonym Jenny Marie. I’ve always known that one day I’d change that. I just wasn’t sure when.

And now, I’m ready.

Going forward, I’ll go by my real name (drum roll)…

Jeni Driscoll

Eeks!!! It’s hard to explain, but it feels so strange (and a bit scary!) to reveal that. Plus, I’ve never posted pictures of myself!

It’s like opening the curtain, letting people get a glimpse of the real Jeni. I feel vulnerable. But it’s not like I’m a different person or haven’t been authentic in my past writing. I’ve been true to my real self through ALL of it. Every single post I’ve penned is filled with my own thoughts and experiences. My life. Just different names.

I was away from the blog for much of 2020, but am happy to be back! I’ve had fun giving my site a little update, like changing the header background to olive branches. I chose them because they symbolize peace.

As with different seasons of life, my direction pivoted this past year. Partly because of the global pandemic and partly because I chose to focus on other endeavors.

Last year I completed a manuscript for a middle grade contemporary fiction book about a girl with anxiety and panic attacks. I’m currently querying agents, hoping to find just the right one to champion my book.

Sometimes we all need fresh starts. What better time than now, after making it through the extremely difficult and challenging year of 2020.

My wish and prayer for all of us is a healthy, peaceful New Year.

Take care,

Jeni

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Self Care on My Morning Walk

This morning I was out walking our dog, Duke, by myself. This is rare because my husband usually joins us, which I love. But today it was just Duke and me. I didn’t have my phone so that meant no music, no talking. That left me to daydream, letting random thoughts swirl through my mind. It felt like I hadn’t done that in a long time.

At first I started thinking/worrying about health issues my mom has been having. And how the pandemic has so negatively affected our businesses. The bills I need to pay when I get home. How I need to research how to stop a puppy from jumping on people. And on and on, reflecting on things that make me unsettled, sad, or nervous.

Then my mind switched to something I love: my writing. I’ve completed a manuscript for a contemporary middle grade fiction book and am querying to find an agent. While it can be a long, frustrating process, not to mention a ton of work and so hard to get those rejections, it’s also exciting and fun for me. I’m busy researching agents, reading books in my category, and making a game plan for my next steps.

Anyway, as quickly as the writing thoughts came, I pushed them out of my head. I had a strange feeling of guilt, like I needed to spend more time thinking about the important things I need to (or wish I could) fix in my life, like health and business issues. It was like I was being overindulgent or selfish by letting myself enjoy something just for ME.

Then the words “self care” popped into my head. Yes, of course. I reminded myself to listen and pay attention to those words. Self care. Self love. I’m important. I deserve this time. And I can use it however I want, letting my mind wander and dream.

So I did.

As my white lab pup and I walked under shade trees, I took deep breaths and focused on being mindful. I noticed the perfect, warm, fall day and the soft breeze. The quiet, except for Duke’s light panting sounds. Peaceful thoughts came and went.

It felt, well… delicious.

Before I knew it, we were walking up the street to our house. Not only did I log a bunch of steps on my fitbit, I cleared my mind. I’m refreshed and ready to tackle those bills. And maybe even find my dream agent.

Plus, I have a pooped-out pup.

My New Love

Meet… DUKE! Our new bundle of joy, filling our home with a ton of love and lots of laughs. To be perfectly honest, exhaustion too. But that comes with the playful puppy stage, and I’m soaking it all in. Now at eleven weeks, he’s growing so fast. Soon I won’t be able to hold him like I can now.

Duke is a bright light, a wonderful distraction from this anxious, frustrating, uncertain world we’re living in. He came to us at just the right time.

For the past couple of years, my husband and I talked about getting a dog, since our beloved Buddy died in August 2017. We started looking seriously last October. We searched high and low, researching all of our options. We didn’t have our hearts set on getting a dog from a breeder. But this opportunity came along and seemed, well, perfect. We felt it deep inside, that THIS was finally it.

We knew we wanted a boy, and we knew we wanted to call him Duke. We named him after Duke’s Beach House in Maui, a super special place to our family.

Duke, an English lab, was born in the middle of May. It would be eight weeks before we’d bring him home. In the meantime, we busied ourselves preparing for a new pup; reading books on how to crate train a dog, which food to use, which chew toys to buy for a teething puppy.

After the litter was born (seven boys and three girls), the breeder would post pictures and videos. Each pup wore a different colored collar. One of the males who had on a red collar (eventually our Duke) was always at the top of our list. When the pups were about four weeks old, we were watching a video in which a woman said to red-collar pup, “Good boy, Duke.” I looked at my husband and said, “Did she just call him Duke?”

When we needed to make our choice, it was between Duke and one other pup. My husband, daughters, and I wanted to make SURE we were doing the right thing, taking home the perfect dog for our family.

I told my husband, “God is probably saying to us, ‘What do you mean you aren’t sure? I’ve given you the clearest sign! Choose DUKE!'”

Absolutely. No need to second-guess anything.

Two weeks later, we picked up our sweet “little polar bear.” Life has changed in the most lovely, delightful way.

Thank goodness both of our adult daughters (now working from home at their apartments) were able to stay at our house the first two weeks we had Duke. They got in some great bonding time with their “brother” and helped out more than I can say.

Everyone told me that having a puppy is like having a baby. This is really pretty accurate. I can’t tell you how excited I was when Duke finally slept through the night! BUT… he’s still waking up at 5:30am, starving and ready to play. Needless to say, I am NOT.

But I’ve learned to take advantage of my early hours, sneaking in some deep stretches and yoga at the crack of dawn. My new schedule (and my tired eyes) have forced me to slow down, which is a good thing. I’m not hard on myself when I’m not as productive as I think I should be. I tell myself I’m doing the best I can, and everything else can wait.

And those lazy days of summer? It’s been years, but I’m finally experiencing them again. Sure, part of it is because of the Covid-19 shutdown. But much of it is being home to keep a watchful eye on our curious pup. One of my favorite parts of the day is sitting in the shade with Duke in his backyard playpen while he sleeps. I read a book or magazine and sip an iced coffee. It feels indulgent.

Oops, time to go. Duke needs to go outside. I don’t want to clean up another mess on the carpet.

Why I Haven’t Felt Like Writing During COVID-19

I honestly thought I’d be blogging a ton since COVID-19 began. Writing is therapeutic to me, so it makes sense that I’d be penning my emotions as quickly as they’ve been changing—every day, sometimes every hour.

But I haven’t been in the mood to write. I know it’s not a big deal, it really doesn’t matter. But then why does it bother me? Why do I feel guilty for not being able to gush my thoughts out during this global pandemic?

Expressing my feelings in writing is an overwhelming task that I just haven’t wanted to tackle.

In mid-March, when this got all-too real and we were on lockdown, I was paralyzed by fear and uncertainty, barely able to process what was going on. Maybe my history of anxiety and panic disorder made it worse. Or maybe this is what everyone was feeling.

I kept thinking how strange it was that the entire world was totally united by this ravaging disease.

When a community goes through a disaster (such as my city of Thousand Oaks, CA did during a mass shooting and devastating wildfires), the rest of society feels terrible about it. People you don’t even know are praying for you and your town.

But this is so different. Every single person in the world has been affected by the pandemic. Not in my wildest dreams would I ever believe that our lives would abruptly halt.

Life as we know it, ceased to exist.

Drastic measures—like quarantine, social distancing, and wearing masks—have helped us save each other from this deadly virus. Which truly is, a beautiful thing. Staying home, not just for our own health and safety, but for the health and lives of people we don’t even know.

I’ve finally figured out why I haven’t wanted to write about the virus. Writing is too personal. I’ve looked for ways to escape reality, not delve into it.

So instead, I’ve chosen things that feed my soul, that are good for my mental health. Like…

  • Revising a manuscript. I know, this is writing. BUT, it’s middle grade fiction and is a wonderful escape from reality
  • Yoga in my family room or back yard
  • Video chatting with friends
  • Cooking with my daughters
  • Playing board games with my family
  • Taking lots of hikes in the mountains (until the state and national parks were closed), walking in the neighborhood
  • Riding our exercise bike
  • Deep breathing and meditating
  • Painting my nails
  • Gardening
  • Reading books and magazines
  • Painting my daughter’s bedroom, which motivated me to now paint our master bathroom
  • Decluttering. I’ve done a bit, much more ahead

I’m doing my best to cope. It’s amazing how many emotions have been swirling around, different from day to day. Scared, frustrated, angry, sad, and stressed.

But I’ve also found joy and happiness in this “new normal.” For the most part, life is simpler, quieter, less frazzled. Time to slow down and appreciate life.

I know I’m not alone. We’re in this together and we WILL get through it. And you know what? I do feel better that I’ve written this down.

Take care, and stay safe and healthy,

Jenny