Make It Happen

be proud this year

I’m just now winding down from the hustle and bustle of the holidays. It was great, with lots of wonderful time spent with family and friends, tons of delicious food, and so much joy.

As I wrote that — so much joy — my thoughts went to the families of the mass shooting victims killed in a country bar in my city. And those who lost their homes in the fires here. My heart aches for them, and for so many others in this world, who did not have a joyful Christmas season.

There were countless times I thought about them over the past month. It felt like it grounded me, a painful reminder of what truly is important in life.

It’s been a rough beginning to the new year. My husband came down with the flu on New Year’s Eve and it’s totally knocked him out. We’re hopeful he’ll feel better this week.

With the beginning of the new year, I’m (somewhat) refreshed and ready to tackle new projects and opportunities. Even though I don’t make New Year’s resolutions — instead, I make goals throughout the year — it’s a perfect time to reflect on what I want to continue doing and what I want to improve on.

I’m focusing on being more mindful, soaking in and cherishing all the good times and difficult times too. To really be present and savor each precious moment. And, even if it’s on a small scale, I want to make a difference in this world. Practice and use the gifts I have and share them with others. This may mean as a wife, mother, friend, or mental health advocate.

I want to make things happen.

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For instance, instead of saying to a friend, “One day we should get together/have lunch/coffee/go for a hike, a movie/etc.,” I want to initiate it, take action and DO it. Not just leave it at “we should.

Last year, I started to work on that very thing — to make an honest effort to connect more with family and friends.

My parents live close by and I see them often. My husband and I have them over for dinner most Sunday nights, and I treasure our conversations and laughter. My mom is 82 and my dad is 90.

I don’t want to regret not doing something with them that I’ve been wanting to do. I’m happy to say I took action on one of those things this past holiday season.

My dad’s mom was Polish. One of my favorite childhood memories is eating her cookies that my sisters and I called “twisters.” They’re light and airy, sprinkled with powdered sugar. The real name for them is Kruschicki. They’re also called Bow Tie Cookies or Angel Wings.

For at least the past ten years, I’ve thought of making Kruschicki at Christmastime. I wanted my dad to have another taste of his mother’s cooking and I yearned to bring a lost family tradition back to life. But I was intimidated.

I love to bake, but couldn’t imagine how Grandma made them, it always seemed complicated to me. Heck, I didn’t even remember what they were called. I only knew them by “twisters.” Grandma made her own dough, cut each cookie into a fancy shape, and fried them. It made me nervous to think about duplicating such a delicate dessert.

Until this past year. I finally did it!

It wasn’t that easy. I threw out the first batch because they were too dense. I had to go back to the store for more ingredients and watch a YouTube video to learn what I did wrong (worked the dough too much).

I worried I wouldn’t get it right. More than anything, I wanted my twisters to taste like Grandma’s. I’d settle for pretty close.

I turned the dough like the video instructed, cut and “tied” the cookies, fried them, and topped them off with a dusting of powdered sugar.

My persistence paid off.

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I’ll never forget the smile on my dad’s face when he walked in and saw the platter of special treats. He couldn’t believe it. It made me so happy to see him so happy.

The verdict from Dad? Delicious. And almost as good as Grandma’s!

When my husband and I walked my parents out to their car, Dad thanked me again for making the Kruschicki. My 90-year-old father said, “Tasting those made me feel like a little boy again.”

Wow. His sweet comment made me feel incredible. I realized I had just given him the best gift I ever could have.

So that’s what I’m striving for this year. To not wait for someday. Make things happen.

Today.

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A Little Holiday Cheer, Thanks to Taco Bell

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Something really cool happened today…

My husband Alex and I were out, taking care of our businesses. We stopped for lunch, had a nice salmon salad and breadsticks. Next on the agenda was to go to a clothing store to buy a gift card for a friend.

We pulled into the shopping center and Alex made a quick turn into the Taco Bell parking lot.

“What are you doing?” I said. “Why are you stopping here?”

“I wasn’t going to. But remember last year we wanted to get the girls Taco Bell gift cards for stocking stuffers, (both of our daughters love TB!) and they were completely out? Let’s get them now, so we make sure we have them.”

“Great idea, I’ll go in.”

After I bought them, the cashier told me I got two free tacos for purchasing the gift cards.

“I have to get them now? Can’t I get the tacos on another day?”

“No, sorry.”

Thoughts raced through my mind. I don’t need two tacos, I really don’t want them. We just ate lunch. I’m full. Oh, I’ll just take them, they’re free. Maybe Alex will eat one, or we could refrigerate them and have them later for a snack. Or maybe we’ll see a homeless person to give them to. That would be the best thing. 

I put a few hot sauces in the bag and got back into the car.

“Alex, look what they gave me. For free!”

He smiled. “I’m not hungry, but I guess I could always eat a taco.”

“I wish we’d see a homeless person to give them to, so they don’t go to waste.”

Alex backed the car out of the parking spot, and —  I’m not kidding — a second later, he looked to his left and said, “Oh wow, maybe we’ve already found someone.”

A homeless man was walking toward us. His thin body hunched over, his dark, curly hair flew every which way in the breeze. He looked tired and dirty. He held an empty cup and a crumpled dollar bill.

Alex rolled down the window. “Hey bud… Are you hungry? Do you want some tacos?”

The man looked surprised and bewildered, like he wasn’t sure if he heard Alex right.

Alex showed him the bag and said, “Do you want some tacos? You can have them.”

A huge smile spread on the man’s face. “Thank you, I love tacos! Bless you and have a Happy Holiday.”

Alex and I waved and said, “Merry Christmas!” We drove away, smiling at what had just happened. We were in awe. The timing could not have been better. God’s timing.

It felt amazing to know that we helped that man in some small way.

“Well, that was sure meant to be,” Alex said.

It sure was.

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Locker Room Talk: Good for Your MENtal Health

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I just heard a great message in the men’s locker room.

No, no, I wasn’t actually in there. I watched a new webisode series on my computer, called “Locker Room Talk.” It’s hosted by National Basketball Association star Kevin Love. Sponsored by Schick Hydro, the purpose of the videos is to raise awareness and funds for men’s mental health.

The five-minute videos are geared toward men, but of course, women can watch too! I loved each interview. Kevin and his guests are open and honest about dealing with their mental health issues.

Earlier this year, Kevin Love wrote an essay, opening up about his struggles with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. There was an outpouring of support on social media, and countless others were inspired to also speak out.

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Kevin said, “People don’t talk about mental health enough. And men and boys are probably the farthest behind.”

Back to “Locker Room Talk”… The series has an initial trailer and three episodes. Kevin interviews Olympic gold-winning swimmer Michael Phelps, Kevin’s friend and teammate, Channing Frye, and basketball legend Paul Pierce, who played for the Boston Celtics.

First up, Michael Phelps:

Everybody's journey

Michael has suffered from depression and thoughts of suicide. He’s candid about his mental illness and admits he still struggles.

“I don’t ever want my medals to define who I am,” Michael says. “What I’m doing now — to have the chance to save a life — is better than ever winning a gold medal.”

Next is Channing Frye:

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Channing sat out the 2012-13 basketball season due to a heart diagnosis, an enlarged heart. He was able to return in 2013, but says he’s had severe anxiety about his condition, and his game.

Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness have been life-changers for Channing. He stresses the importance of talking about your problems. “Speaking your truth is liberating,” he said. “It’s okay to be vulnerable.”

And Paul Pierce:

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Paul was brutally stabbed outside a nightclub in 2000, which led to anxiety and depression. He says he doesn’t like to be in crowds anymore, and it’s really hard for him to go to the mall, movies, or amusement parks. He says his mental illness affects not only himself, but his family too.

These four men are an inspiration. Let’s continue the conversation on mental health. It doesn’t matter if you’re at home, work, or in the locker room — just keep talking.

It’s okay not to be okay.

You are not alone.

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The Scariest Part of Panic Disorder: on the NAMI Blog

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I’m excited to have another article published on the NAMI Blog!

It’s about something I never thought I’d ever talk or write about. For me, it was the scariest part of panic disorder.

Derealization and depersonalization.

The best way I can describe it: an out of body experience. My body would feel numb and I’d feel disconnected and disoriented from the world around me. I’d look into a mirror and wonder if it was really me staring back. It was like living in a fog or dream, where things don’t seem real.

I used to worry that if I told anyone, he or she would think I was “crazy.” It wasn’t until years after I recovered from panic disorder, that I found out these symptoms can be part of the illness.

For more on my experience, please click here to read my post on the NAMI Blog.

Nami National Alliance on Mental Illness

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Healing

healing takes time

The past three weeks have gone by in a blur. I’m just starting to get back to “normal.” Honestly, I’m not sure what I’m going to write here. But I know I need to try. For me, writing is therapeutic. 

I’ve had some time to process the horrific events that shattered my community of Thousand Oaks, CA — the mass shooting and devastating wildfires. Sometimes it feels like it never could’ve happened, that it was a bad dream.

But it was all too real.

It’s hard to describe how it felt to hear the gut-wrenching news that a shooter killed twelve people at a popular country bar in our tight-knit, safe city. And hours later, to receive a mandatory evacuation order because our home was in “imminent danger” of a fast moving fire.

Each event was tragic enough on its own. But together? Unbelievable.

None of us had time to mourn those murdered at the Borderline Bar & Grill, before we had to pack our cars and rush to leave, worried our homes might burn.

My daughters and I were talking about this the other day, how it seemed like it wasn’t fair that the shooting didn’t get the immediate attention it deserved, because of the fires. Not that anyone could help it… But still.

Now that the smoke has cleared — literally — our community is able to grieve the twelve innocent souls who lost their lives much too soon.

Thousands have visited a beautiful memorial at an intersection near the  Borderline bar. A man from another state made twelve white wooden crosses with each victim’s name on them. There are photos, American flags, candles, angel wings, hearts, and so, so many flowers.

People wrote poems, letters, and messages to the victims, like God has 12 new angels, We love you, and You died a hero; and notes to the community, such as T.O. Strong. And, We will get through this TOgether. 

My husband and I visited the memorial late one Saturday night. The grandparents of one of the boys killed were there, standing vigil by their grandson’s cross. It was so sad to see the grandmother break down as she read the loving messages and mementos left for her grandson.  

Disasters bring people together. It’s heartwarming to see neighbors working to help support those who lost so much. There are memorials, fundraisers, and vigils scheduled throughout December and beyond.

I’m more than grateful that my family and home are both safe. I wasn’t directly affected — well, yes I was, because I live here. I didn’t lose my home or a child in the shooting. But my daughters know kids who were there and lived through that horror. One of my friend’s friend lost her son.

The shooting and fires affected the entire community in some way. It’s hard to push these tragedies aside and move forward. I guess that’s part of healing. It can’t be rushed.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think of the shooting victims and how hard it must be for their families. And of the hundreds of people who lost their homes and the three who died in the fires, unable to escape. It seems especially difficult now that it’s the holiday season.

My heart breaks for all of them. And I know it will for a long, long time. These harrowing events changed our community forever. We will never forget.

Together, we’ll heal. It just takes time.

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Tragedy After Tragedy in My Hometown

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This is my hometown. I live in Thousand Oaks, CA.

Our beautiful, tight-knit community, consistently rated one of the top safest cities in America, experienced heartbreaking loss and extreme devastation this past  week. We are in mourning.

I’ll start at the beginning:

Last Thursday, my husband Alex and I woke to a text from our niece, who’s  deployed in South Korea. I’m thinking of you today, sorry to hear the sad news in Thousand Oaks.

“What?” I said. “What sad news is she talking about?”

Alex checked his phone and we could not believe it.

A mass shooting. HERE. In Thousand Oaks. Last night at Borderline.

Our oldest daughter, Mackenzie, is 26. Our youngest, Talee, is 23. They’ve been to the  Borderline Bar & Grill numerous times. It’s a super popular place for college-aged kids and country music.

Wednesday was “college night,” for those 18 and over. I shuddered when I thought of how our girls were excited to go there when they turned 18.

Around 11:15pm, the line-dancing and laughter turned to horror. The gunman walked in, threw a smoke bomb and started firing. He killed 12 people. Then shot himself.

Alex and I watched the news all morning, stunned. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that the city of Thousand Oaks was now on the list of mass shootings. Emotions swirled through my mind. Shock, sadness, confusion, anger. Another mass shooting? 

If it can happen here, it can happen ANYWHERE.

I sat in front of the TV and tried to eat breakfast. I felt sick and heartbroken. The news reports said that families of victims were gathered at the Thousand Oaks Teen Center, where our girls used to play basketball and go to dances when they were in middle school.

But Thursday morning the Teen Center served a grim purpose.

That’s where parents anxiously waited to find out if their sons or daughters were still alive. Even though I don’t know them, those mothers and fathers going through that hell are my neighbors. Our kids are similar ages, have attended some of the same schools, we visit the same shops, restaurants, and movie theaters.

I couldn’t fathom the pain. One father spoke to a reporter, constantly dialing his phone, desperate for his son to answer.

I got the chills when I heard the shooter was two years older than Mackenzie and went to the same high school. Even though she didn’t know him, she knows other kids who did.

Literally — this was too close to home.

An outpouring of love flooded social media.

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Details were just coming out. No victims had been named, except Sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus. I knew that as the day went on, we’d hear stories of people we know who were injured or killed.

My friend told me that her friend’s oldest son died. My daughters know a girl whose brother was killed. A boy Talee went to high school with jumped out of a window to escape, and was hospitalized with severe cuts from broken glass.

Another boy Talee went to school with, and I’ve known since elementary school, saw the gunman walk into the bar and start firing. He got down on the ground and ran when he could. He had also survived the Route 91 shooting massacre last year in Las Vegas. There was another victim of the Vegas shooting who was at Borderline. He survived in Vegas, but was killed in his hometown.

After watching the TV for several hours Thursday morning, and reaching out to friends and family, I tried to take a break from the horrific news. I did some yard work and paid a few bills. Then I got a call from my mom.

“Jenny, I’m on the freeway, and I see smoke. It looks like it’s near you. Do you see it?”

“No.” I peeked out my office window. “Wait, I do see something.”

Alex and I went to the backyard and saw a huge plume of smoke. Within minutes, the smoke cloud turned bright orange and grew.

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As bad as it looked, we didn’t think it was that close. We were hoping it’d be put out quickly.

Less than half an hour later, we got the text and phone call emergency alerts from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office: “Your neighborhood is now under a mandatory evacuation order. The threat is imminent, please evacuate the area immediately.”

WHAT? Can this really be happening?

Alex brought me boxes and I filled them with important papers, jewelry, and external hard drives. He took pictures off the wall and unplugged the computer. Adrenaline rushed through my body. I was jittery and my heart was racing. I forced myself to take a deep breath and calm down. I thought about the shooting.

The parents of the victims will never see their children again. Mine are safe at work, an hour away. Those killed never had time to prepare and get themselves to safety. But I do. I have time to pack and get out of harm’s way. They didn’t have that luxury.

Those thoughts helped put things into perspective and get me through our current crisis.

We didn’t have time to process the reality that there was a mass murder in our town. And then we had to face another catastrophe.

We went from being in shock from the shooting, praying for the victims and their families, to being stunned from the fast-moving firestorm, praying that our home wouldn’t burn.

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Alex and I drove away from the home we’ve lived in for the past 19 years, confident we had all we truly needed. The road out of our development was jammed. Cars were stuffed with precious belongings and the look on people’s faces was nervous, frantic, disbelief.

The Thousand Oaks Teen Center went from a gathering place for families of shooting victims to a fire evacuation center. All in one day.

We had lots of offers from family and friends to stay with them. The problem was, so many roads and freeways were closed, we couldn’t possibly get there. We went to one of our daughter’s apartments in Los Angeles, and the second night, slept on sofas at my parent’s house.

Over the course of two days, 250,000 people in Thousand Oaks and surrounding areas were evacuated.

We felt such relief when our evacuation order was lifted, two days after the fire began. We’re safe and our home is too. We’re beyond grateful.

My heart breaks for the hundreds of people who have lost their homes in the Southern California fires. Two people died in their car, trying to escape the flames.

As I write this, the Santa Ana winds gust wildly. I look out my office window and see water-dropping planes and helicopters fly overhead on their way to retrieve more water. Fire continues to rage in Malibu and neighboring cities.

Alex just told me there’s another flare up. I went out to our backyard and a gigantic cloud of black smoke is creeping over the mountain. I see bright orange flames. Here’s what it looks like:

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We haven’t  unpacked our car yet… just in case.

I can’t express how much appreciation we have for the firefighters and first responders.  They are working tirelessly, saving lives and thousands of homes. Saying ‘thank you’ doesn’t seem like enough.

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Thanksgiving is next week, and we have so much to be thankful for. We’re hosting this year, there will be 23 of us. I’m looking forward to our family filling our home with hugs, laughter, and love. These tragedies have given Thanksgiving even more meaning.

I pray for the firefighters, for those who died in the fire, and for the people who don’t have a home to return to.

I pray for the families of the Borderline shooting victims, the survivors, and the twelve beautiful souls who lost their lives much too soon.

Our community will never be the same. We’ll never forget the horrific day our lives changed forever.

But we are strong, as we support and love each other. The countless acts of kindness, generosity, and heroic efforts are what will get us through.

In the midst of all of this heartache and disaster, it may not seem possible, but eventually we’ll heal and rebuild.

Together… We are strong.

Thousand Oaks Strong.

“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate action of its members.” ~Coretta Scott King

Rebecca Raede holds a sign reading ‘We are T.O. Strong’ across the street from the Thousand Oaks Teen Center, where relatives and friends gathered in the aftermath of the shooting.

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Why Asking for Help Isn’t Easy: My Post on the NAMI National Blog

I’m excited that a piece I wrote for NAMI’s National Blog has been published! How stigma prevented me from receiving medical help for panic disorder. Please Click here to read.

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(Note, this is not an excerpt)

Sometimes people ask how I was able to hide my panic attacks for 20 years. My first thought: I have no idea, I just did. I felt there was no other choice.

The reason, even though I wasn’t aware of it at the time?

Stigma.

Growing up, I felt different than the other kids. I was sure they’d never understand the frightening symptoms I experienced. I didn’t want my friends, or even my family, to know. I didn’t want them to worry and think I was strange.

Most of the time I was fine. So why talk about it? I can handle this on my own.

Years later, I realized I didn’t need to handle it by myself. More importantly, I shouldn’t have.

I didn’t know there was help available. I thought I was alone.

Now I speak out about mental illness because I don’t want others to feel like I did. I want people to know there is hope. You are not alone.

Click here to read my post on the NAMI website.

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Let’s Talk: World Mental Health Day

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I feel a bit rusty as I write this. I’ve been away from blogging, writing, and the regular routine for three weeks. Just a few days ago, my family and I returned home from our grand European adventure (it was incredible, more on that later).

Yesterday, while jet-lagged and bleary-eyed, I scrolled through my Instagram feed and saw a post from Miriam at Out an’ About. She mentioned World Mental Health Day.

Wait, what’s the date? Of course, tomorrow is October 10! How could I forget?

Miriam is in Australia and I’m in the western U.S., so my afternoon is her next day. I’m messed up with days, nights, and dates, from traveling. So thank you, Miriam, for the reminder!

I couldn’t let this day slip by without saying something about it. AND… this year’s theme focuses on young people and mental health.

I’m passionate about spreading mental health awareness, and in particular, to our youth. As a speaker for NAMI’s in-school program, “Ending the Silence,” I visit high schools and talk to students about mental health issues and what to do if they notice the symptoms in themselves or a friend.

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Half of all mental health conditions start by age 14, but most cases are undetected and untreated (from the World Health Organization).

I can definitely relate to that fact.

I was about 10 when my panic attacks began. I didn’t have any idea what was wrong with me and never wanted to tell anyone. I didn’t want my friends or family to think I was weird, so I dealt with it as best I could, on my own. I kept my scary and strange symptoms a secret for 20 years before I got help.

I don’t want this to happen to other kids. That’s one reason I love presenting “Ending the Silence” to teens. Awareness and education are crucial.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds. Adolescents need to know that it’s okay not to be okay. There is help available and there is hope.

This quote from NAMI is a great reminder to parents:

“Odds are, your children won’t go to a counselor when they feel something isn’t quite right. They’ll come to you. So please, stay open and believe them. Believing may save their lives.”

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While the stigma surrounding mental illness is beginning to lessen, it remains strong.

This morning I read an essay co-written by Lady Gaga and the Director-General at the World Health Organization. Here’s what they said about the reality of stigma:

“Yet despite the universality of the issue, we struggle to talk about it openly or to offer adequate care or resources. Within families and communities, we often remain silenced by a shame that tells us that those with mental illness are somehow less worthy or at fault for their own suffering.”

I’m grateful that there is a World Mental Health Day, recognized each year on October 10. Mental illness is a global issue. It does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter how old you are, where you live, what nationality you are, if you’re rich or poor… we all can be affected by mental illness.

World Mental Health Day encourages people to speak out about mental health and mental illness. But the conversation can’t stop after today.

End the silence. End stigma. Let’s talk about it.

#WorldMentalHealthDay

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Up, Up, and Away

Of all the books in the world,

I’m super excited because later this week, my husband, two daughters, and I are heading out to explore parts of the world we’ve never seen before. We’ll be visiting several European countries.

I feel blessed, and can’t wait to immerse myself in these other cultures. I’m looking forward to meeting new people and tasting each country’s delicious cuisine.

As happy as I am, this trip has been overwhelming to plan, and for the past few months, I’ve been nervous and anxious about so many things. It’s stressful for me to be thousands of miles away from friends and family, our business, and well… the familiar.

But when I sit on the plane, I’ll take a deep breath, knowing we’ve taken care of as much as we could, and it’ll all be fine. I’m going to be mindful and treasure every minute, because I know this grand adventure will pass much too quickly.

These upcoming experiences will become a part of me, and a part of our family. Special memories that will enrich our lives forever.

I can’t wait to share my travel stories with you, when I return in a few weeks.

Take care!

Jenny

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