Take Me Out to the Ball Game

My mom loves baseball. Being a Southern California girl, her favorite team is the Los Angeles Dodgers. Mine too.

I’ve been to dozens of games since I was a teenager. My husband, two daughters, and I do our best to make Dodger games an annual summer tradition.

But Mom had never been. Until the past couple of years, I didn’t even know how much she wanted to go. She’d say, “The only time I’ve ever been to Dodger Stadium was years ago to see the Pope!” But never for baseball.

So… this past March for her 83rd birthday, my husband Alex and I surprised her with Dodger tickets. To top it off, our daughters gave her a Dodger T-shirt to wear for the occasion. To say she was thrilled is an understatement. She couldn’t stop smiling. She beamed. I loved how she expressed how she felt: “I feel so ALIVE!”

We couldn’t wait to take her.

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Courtesy of Pinterest

The big day was 5/27, Memorial Day. Los Angeles Dodgers vs. New York Mets. Game time: 5:10pm.

We picked Mom up and she was all dolled up for the game, complete with her new Dodger shirt, Dodger cap, jeans, and tennis shoes. Her excitement was infectious. It was like taking a kid to Disneyland for the first time. The wonder, magic, and surprise of it all.

My 90-year-old dad follows baseball too, but he preferred to stay home and watch the game on TV. He bought himself a big bag of Dodger peanuts and planned to make hot dogs, “all in the comfort of my own home.”

After not-too-bad LA traffic, we arrived. As we walked into the stadium, planes in formation roared by, in honor of Memorial Day. Mom was in awe of the huge crowd, the enormous stadium.

Our seats were field level, just past first base. Mom couldn’t believe that the players she followed on TV were right there. So close! Her favorite, Clayton Kershaw, was the starting pitcher. She was excited to see her other favs, Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger.

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Image of Clayton Kershaw courtesy of Sports Illustrated

There’s something about being at a baseball game. The crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, the energy, the enthusiasm. The cheering, clapping. The smell of hot dogs, pop corn, peanuts, and beer. Watching replays on the enormous Jumbotron. Being part of “the wave.” Standing for the seventh-inning stretch, singing “God Bless America” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

We were hoping for a good game, but never thought we’d get a GREAT game. With more than thirty hits, it was super exciting from start to finish. And yes, the Dodgers won, 9-5.

Mom talked about the game the whole way home. The next day, she told me she was so “amped-up,” she had a really hard time falling asleep.

It felt amazing that Alex and I were able to give her that feeling, that experience. We helped her check something off her bucket list.

I didn’t think about this at the time — but honestly, I got to check it off my bucket list.

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Image courtesy of bucketlistjourney.net

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What I Would Tell My Younger Self About Mental Health

The Child Mind Institute has an awesome campaign that I love to follow. It’s promoted in May for Mental Health Awareness Month.

#MyYoungerSelf offers inspiring messages of hope. Celebrities, athletes, business people, and social influencers give short videos about their struggles, and what they would tell themselves as a child. They’re super open about their own journeys and stress that if you’re suffering from a mental illness, you are not alone. It’s okay.

Emma Stone speaks about her anxiety and panic disorder, Mayim Bialik talks about depression, Michael Phelps about ADHD, Barbara Corcoran about dyslexia, and so many more.

Today I watched a video from Alex Boniello, a Broadway actor, whose anxiety began in high school. He was in the cafeteria when he experienced such frightening symptoms, he thought he was having a heart attack. He had no idea it was anxiety and panic attacks.

This got me thinking… I totally relate to what Alex says. My panic attacks started around age 10. I didn’t know what was going on, why I had such frightening feelings. I was embarrassed and didn’t tell anyone. Now I know that stigma and shame kept me from saying anything. I finally got medical help in my early 30s for panic disorder.

That’s why I speak openly about mental health. I want to encourage people to talk about it, to reach out for help.

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So, what would I tell my younger self?

Jenny, I know you’re scared and worried there’s something really, really wrong with you. You’re exhausted from keeping it a secret. You think no one else in this entire world could possibly understand what you’re going through. But millions of other people do understand! Because they’re going through the same thing.

The symptoms are terrifying, but you won’t die from them. Those horrible physical sensations and strange thoughts, like you’re living in a fog or dream, actually have a name: Anxiety and panic attacks. Panic disorder. You are not imagining it. It’s a real illness.

And something else… there is treatment, you don’t have to do this alone. There’s no magic cure, it’s not going to simply go away. You’ll always have to manage it, but you’ll feel a ton better than you do now. The road to recovery isn’t easy, but you’re going to do great.

I know you’re nervous about your friends finding out and you don’t want them to think you’re weird or treat you differently. They won’t. Having panic disorder is nothing to be ashamed of. Millions and millions of people struggle with their mental health. Talk about it and get help — the sooner the better.

Don’t ever forget, you are NOT alone.

Courtesy of The Child Mind Institute

What I Didn’t Know When I Boarded a Plane to Maui

A few weeks ago, my husband and I went to Maui for a business/pleasure trip. I was super excited and when I sat in my seat on the plane, I reveled in the fact that I could read my book for five hours straight if I wanted to, with little interruption. Life had been over-the-top busy, and I was more than grateful for the break. We were (and still are) in the middle of a major business renovation, plus other challenges that have added to our stress levels.

During the flight, I daydreamed about how wonderful it’d feel once we landed. Whenever we go to Hawaii, I always relax the minute we step off the plane. I breathe in the tropical air and bask in the warm breeze. That’s all it takes. It’s like a magical, calming elixir.

I had no reason to believe that this time would be different.

After a brief layover, we landed and took the shuttle to the car rental office. We’d never seen the line that long before. There were hundreds of tired and frustrated people, anxious to get to their hotels. Including us. Almost three hours later, we finally drove away.

We didn’t let the annoying car experience ruin the rest of our evening. We stayed in to barbecue steaks and enjoy some wine on the lanai. Tiki torches flickered in the night sky and balmy air felt like a comforter on a cold night. I was so relaxed. At least I thought I was.

The next morning took me by surprise. Normally I feel totally calm when we arrive, and for sure, by the next day. My worries melt away with the warm Hawaiian sun.

But I was still wound up, worrying about things back home. I couldn’t stop feeling jittery and nervous. There I was on this incredibly beautiful island, so uptight and unable to clear my mind.

I had no idea I was holding in so much anxiety.

I thought about how terrible that was for my body. It felt like I had been desensitized to stress… it had become a part of my life and I let it fester.

I knew I needed to concentrate on my mental health, give it my full attention.

Breathe… slowly… inhale for seven seconds, exhale for seven. Leave the worries behind. Enjoy this beauty. Focus on what’s happening right here, right now. Nothing more.

So inviting!

It was hard to decompress. But I didn’t want to lose one more minute to nervousness. I desperately wanted it gone. Leave me alone, anxiety!

Courtesy of nami.org

Life goes at a much slower pace in Maui than in Los Angeles. First, there aren’t any freeways and not nearly as many people. But what I love most about Maui is “the island vibe” — hang loose, no worries. Everything will be okay. And more importantly, “the Aloha spirit” — living a life filled with love, compassion, kindness, and grace. And sharing that with others.

As I let myself indulge in the slower pace, I couldn’t help but feel better. Nothing compares to long walks on the beach with my husband, letting my feet sink into the soft golden sand, looking out at the turquoise-blue ocean. It sprinkled every day (liquid sunshine, as they call it in Hawaii), and the rainbows were spectacular. The colors were so bright and sharp, I’d swear there really were pots of gold at the end! We didn’t miss a sunset. It was like Mother Nature put on a fantastical show for us every single night.

Eventually I felt it — complete peace. And when I did, it was heavenly.

So happy 🙂

I made a promise to myself:

To not ever forget the delirious, delicious feeling of total calm. Of walking on the beach, sand in my toes, warm clear water splashing up on my legs. No worries. Just enjoying — no, better yet — treasuring each moment.

And when I feel stress creeping in, to practice deep breathing and use visual imagery to thwart off anxiety.

Now that we’ve been back home for a couple of weeks, I wish I could say I’m not stressed or anxious. That’s not true or realistic.

BUT… I can say I’m more mindful of how I feel, and am keeping my anxiety in check. I often remind myself to breathe in deep and exhale slowly, while imagining being right there, in my happy place.

One last walk on the beach



Finding My Zen… With Goats

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Zen: feeling relaxed and peaceful.

A couple of weeks ago, I had such a fun experience with my two daughters, who are in their mid-20s. We went to a yoga class — a goat yoga class.

For Christmas I bought three passes and put them in Mackenzie and Talees’ stockings. We laughed about it, and couldn’t imagine what role the goats played. We watched videos, where goats climbed on people’s backs when they were in different positions, like Downward-Facing Dog or Child’s Pose.

I wasn’t too sure I’d like goats nudging and climbing on me, but thought it’d be a  memorable time with my girls. I hadn’t taken a yoga class in several years. I figured that wouldn’t matter, as we’d be so distracted by the goats, laughing the whole time.

We got to the farm and parked in a dirt lot. There was a huge pen, for both us and the goats. Straw covered the ground and everyone brought their own yoga mat or beach towel.

There were about ten goats, seven of them were babies. SO cute! If you can believe it, they were actually supposed to wear pajamas (yes, the goats… not the people). But it was too warm that day for pj’s.

It was quiet, with a soft breeze blowing the eucalyptus trees surrounding us. The goats seemed super calm, just walking around or lying down. Their little sounds — a-a-a-a-a-ah — were adorable.

The instructor (I’ll call her Julie) set her mat at the front of the pen. I happened to be right next to her, and hoped people wouldn’t look to me for direction. I knew my yoga would be pretty rusty.

Julie warned us that the goats may sniff, chew, or take items that were on the ground. She said the goats could care less if a bag is from Target (she pronounced it Tar-jay) or Cartier, both would taste the same.

She said to go at our own pace, no one will judge, just like the goats don’t judge. They’re simply glad we’re there.

And if a goat poops on your mat, oh well… just brush it off and move on. No big deal.

Class started. At first I was leery, wondering if the goats would chew my mat or grab my shoes or cell phone. But they were kind and gentle. I guess I expected them to be more, well, annoying (in a cute, playful way).

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I settled in while taking some deep breaths. My eyes were closed and I relaxed, appreciating the warmth of the sun and the warm breeze. It had been a really cold and rainy winter for Southern CA.

I couldn’t remember the last time I was that still. I concentrated on my breathing and reveled in the fact that I was at a farm, out in nature, with sweet animals walking around.

It was so peaceful, so Zen.

It reminded me how important it is to do nothing and just be. The fresh air felt amazing, rejuvenating. It’s funny how goats helped me realize that.

And the workout? It wasn’t too strenuous, but we definitely did more yoga than I thought we would. It felt great to breathe, stretch, and balance.

The goats weren’t a distraction. They enhanced the experience. I guess that’s why goat yoga is a thing.

At the end, while we laid down in the Shavasana pose, Julie said to breathe and let our worries go. She told us to remember the gentle goats that don’t judge. And when we’re back out in the real world and our busy lives, if someone “gets our goat,” just brush it off, let it go, and move on.

After class, we were able to hold the baby goats and take pictures. Mackenzie, Talee, and I loved petting their soft fur and laughed trying to hold the wiggly ones. The babies seemed tired, maybe from the warm sun and all the attention. Talee held one of them, while Mackenzie and I stroked it’s sweet head. He (or she) fell asleep in Talee’s arms.

So peaceful, happy, and relaxed. Both the goats and me.

Goat sleeping

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Middle School Heroes

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(Trigger warning: this post discusses suicide. If you need help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800)273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line in the U.S. at 741741)

I can’t get something out of my mind. Yesterday I was watching TODAY, and a story immediately caught my attention.

A group of middle grade students helped save a woman who was attempting suicide.

I couldn’t wait to hear how they helped. As a mental health advocate, I’m passionate about spreading awareness, especially to adolescents. I’m a speaker for NAMI’s in-school program, Ending the Silence. I want kids to know there is no shame in struggling with mental health issues and there is help available. If the younger generation is aware of mental illness and talks about it more, the stigma will lessen.

Back to the middle school students… This past Saturday, the boy’s volleyball team at Kepler Neighborhood School in Fresno, CA, met for practice. Their coach had them go for a warm-up run, to a place they’ve never run before — a nearby bridge.

That’s where it happened.

A 47-year-old woman was dangling more than 100 feet in the air by her arms.

The boys said it took a moment for them to realize what was happening. They ran to tell their coach, Murray Elliott. He called 911. He told the boys to go back and tell her that her life matters.

Elliott said that for ten minutes, the boys did not stop yelling and screaming, telling her that her life matters.

The woman eventually pulled herself back up onto the bridge, where she was met by police.

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The boys are being called “true heroes.” Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said it perfectly:

“Their words of encouragement caused this woman to realize her life had value. Thank God they were in the right place at the right time.”

Because of their quick action, that woman did not lose her life.

This story is a reminder of why I speak to high school students about mental illness. During the presentation, I tell the teens that if they notice signs of suicide in themselves or a friend, don’t wait. Take immediate action:

  • Tell a trusted adult.
  • Don’t leave the person alone.
  • Ask the question. Ask if he or she is thinking of suicide.
  • Call 911 or go to an emergency room.
  • Call the National Suicide Lifeline at (800)273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
  • Don’t keep warning signs a secret.

When the middle school volleyball team went out for their run that Saturday, those boys had no idea how they were about to impact someone’s life.

Even though I don’t know them, I’m so proud of them.

A true inspiration.

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From Devastation to New Life

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My husband and I love to go on hikes, and we’re fortunate there are tons of beautiful trails near our home. Last week we ventured to a new spot we’ve been wanting to try.

I’d totally forgotten about something — this was one of the areas ravaged by wildfires last fall.

Seeing the charred trees and blackened earth brought back painful memories.

On November 8, 2018, my husband and I woke to the horrific news that there had been a mass shooting at a popular country bar in our hometown of Thousand Oaks, CA. Twelve people were murdered.

We were devastated and in disbelief that such a tragedy could happen in our beautiful, safe, tight-knit community.

Merely hours after hearing about the shooting, a wildfire started near our home. We saw a huge plume of smoke from our backyard, but honestly thought we’d be fine. Half an hour later, we were placed under a mandatory evacuation, with the threat of “imminent danger.”

We couldn’t begin to process the mass murder in our city, let alone have to fill our car with precious belongings and flee as quickly as possible.

It was terrifying and surreal.

Thankfully, our home and neighborhood didn’t burn. Hundreds of others lost everything.

So as my husband and I started out on the trail last week, gravel crunching underneath our feet and bright blue skies overhead, I couldn’t stop the sad memories from flashing through my mind.

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But then I noticed something. Fresh green growth sprouted from the soot-covered dirt. And wildflowers. And babbling brooks, from the recent rains.

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New life. Hope.

It made me think about how people go through disasters and hard times, unsure they’ll ever get through them. Filled with loneliness and total despair.

But time goes by, and things get better. Maybe just a tiny bit at first, but it’s a start. Slowly there are signs of healing.

Happiness begins to bloom again. I guess spring is a great reminder of that.

There is always hope.

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Fourth image courtesy of here

Persistence Pays

what you focus on grows

Several weeks ago, I read something on a blog that has stuck with me. I think of it every single day. It’s these five simple words:

What you focus on grows.

And the blogger? The beautiful Miriam, of Out an’ About. She’s so lovely! I connected with her soon after I started my blog. Miriam lives in Australia and is an inspirational travel writer and photographer. Every time I read one of her posts, I’m filled with positivity and motivation. (She has no idea I’m writing this!)

Anyway, those words — what you focus on grows — are appropriate in my life right now.

Lately, I feel like I’m being pulled in different directions — a major renovation project for our business, various deadlines including taxes, etc.  All of which are urgent matters and must take precedence over “fun/personal/do-what-I-want-to-do-things.”

I’ve had to switch my priorities. But I know it’s temporary. Like they say, “This too shall pass.”

Soon I’ll be able to move on and do what I love (blog and write, read for pleasure, take extra-long walks, work on my self-care routine, etc.)

I’ve realized that no matter what task I’m faced with — whether I’m excited about it or not — when I focus on it, it grows. In return, I’m filled with a sense of accomplishment and pride in a job well done.

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Goals and dreams don’t magically happen. It takes hard work and discipline. We must put effort and energy into what we want in this world.

It pays to be persistent.

This isn’t merely about checking items off the to-do list. It’s also choosing how to live our lives. Miriam says it beautifully:

“We can choose to focus on what is good in our world or we can hold on to worries so tightly that they consume us. Let them go and things tend to unfold naturally. Focus on the positives and life will be better.”

It felt great to sit at my computer and write a blog post again, it’s been a while. But now I need to switch gears and focus on making dinner for my husband.

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It Isn’t Easy to Be Vulnerable

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I can’t get something out of my mind and I want to share it here with you.

I often write about my experiences as a speaker for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)’s in-school mental health awareness campaign, Ending the Silence. I visit high schools and talk to students about the signs of mental illness and what to do if they notice those symptoms in themselves or a friend.

Two weeks ago, my co-presenter and I went to a local school and presented four Ending the Silence programs to 140 freshmen.

The kids always leave an impact on us, but this time it was especially insightful.

A little background… following the presentation, we have a question and answer session. Some classes are really quiet and it’s hard to get the teens to participate. I totally get it. Anxiety, depression, bipolar, OCD, PTSD, eating disorders, and suicide are not easy topics to open up about. Especially in front of peers.

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But that day, we had questions like these:

What do you do if you think an adult you know has a mental illness, but they refuse to listen to you, as you’re just a kid? How do you make them to go to the doctor for help?

How did you try to kill yourself? (directed to my co-presenter, who speaks very openly about her depression, OCD, PTSD, and suicide attempt)

How do you know if you really have depression? Because all teenagers are anxious or depressed. Aren’t they?

I often wonder if the kids ask questions from personal experience or if they’re simply curious. I never know what impact our words have on them. I never know who we’re going to reach.

When the presentation is over, a few students usually stay to talk with my co-presenter and me. I know it’s hard for them to do that. Some don’t want their friends to see that they’re going up to talk to us. Some are too embarrassed. It takes courage to talk about problems — especially mental health issues.

It’s scary to be vulnerable.

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I’ll never forget the three who opened up to us that day two weeks ago.

There was a girl I noticed when I was in front of the class speaking. I can’t pinpoint why, but maybe because she looked like she was paying careful attention to what we said. She asked several questions during the Q&A, mostly about how to handle an adult with a mental illness. She walked up to my co-presenter and burst into tears. I didn’t hear what she said. I found out later that the girl’s dad has a mental illness and is abusing her.

At the same time my co-presenter was helping her, another girl came up to me. Her hands shook and tears streamed down her face, as she told me about her family situation. She said she has anxiety and panic attacks, and had a panic attack while I was speaking. She wanted to leave, but didn’t because she thought it’d be rude. I assured her it wouldn’t have been, and I completely understand. (I’m recovered from panic disorder and agoraphobia). We discussed how to talk about her problem with her mom, so she can get medical help. She gave me a big hug before she left.

Another girl came up to us, visibly shaking as she told us about her severe anxiety and panic attacks. She paced and it was hard for her to look us in the eye. She said her mom has anxiety too. They both haven’t seen a doctor because her mom says they don’t have enough money. We came up with some ways for her to bring up a conversation about mental health with her mom, and try to find a way to get help.

I never would’ve guessed that those teens are going through such serious, challenging times. It doesn’t show on their faces, on the surface.

That’s why I give the students this gentle reminder: Be kind. You never know what someone else is going through. Be there for each other.

It’s okay not to be okay.

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Just a Thought…

Amen to that! No matter what the day holds for me, it’s a blessing. Some days are more productive than others, some are just plain better than others. But no matter what, there’s good in every single day — even if I have to look a little harder for it.

My husband and I have had colds and the flu for most of this month. He came down with it New Year’s Eve, and I got sick mid January. Despite antibiotics, lots of sleep, and lots of liquids, it’s been tough to get rid of. We’ve been saying to each other, “I’m so tired of being tired.” And “I’m so sick of feeling sick.”

But through it all, we’ve tried to be positive and focus on the small improvements. Thankfully, we’re both doing much better.

It feels so good to feel good!

Make today amazing!!

Jenny

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First image courtesy of Victory Today

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Spreading Mental Health Awareness: One Teen at a Time

some things take time

I wish I would’ve known about mental health conditions when I was a teenager. If I had, I may have told someone about my frightening and strange panic attack symptoms. I could’ve received medical help much earlier than I did.

But I was embarrassed and didn’t want to be different. To me, it wasn’t an option to tell anyone. I dealt with it in silence for 20 years.

That’s the main reason I’m so passionate about speaking to youth about mental health. I want them to know that it’s okay not to be okay. Mental illness doesn’t mean you’re weak. You shouldn’t feel ashamed. It isn’t anyone’s fault. There is help available. You are not alone.

I volunteer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) as a speaker for “Ending the Silence,” an in-school mental health awareness program. Yesterday I presented to about 70 high school seniors.

During the presentations, my co-presenter and I explain the warning signs of mental illness and what to do if they notice those symptoms in themselves or a friend. We talk openly about anxiety, depression, PTSD, OCD, bipolar, eating disorders, and suicide.

Yesterday I told the teens that when my doctor first diagnosed me with panic disorder and agoraphobia, I was actually happy. Not happy that I had it, but relieved that I finally knew what it was.

There’s an actual name for my terrifying symptoms!? Other people feel like this? (Yes, millions!) And there’s treatment for me? (YES!!)

It felt like I was validated. Those awful panic sensations I’d hidden for so long were REAL. I had a disorder in the brain and needed treatment. It wasn’t possible for me to “get over it” or “just calm down,”  phrases I often reprimanded myself with.

That was the first step in my recovery.

Have patience with yourself. No one is perfect!

When I present “Ending the Silence,” I keep in mind that I never know who I’m going to reach. But there are kids who need to be hearing what I have to say.

Yesterday after the presentation, several teens came up to my co-presenter and me. One student said her younger brother attempted suicide last year and she’s having a hard time with it. Another girl said her boyfriend gets panic attacks and she wants to know how to help him. She said his family doesn’t want to admit he has a mental health condition. The teens thanked us for listening and giving our input. Even though they still didn’t have a clear-cut path to fix their problems, they said it felt good to let it out and talk to someone who understands.

Which brings me back to the point… you never know what people are going through.

When I speak to the students and look out into the sea of faces, I often wonder what they’re thinking. And who I’m reaching that day. I’ll never really know.

But all I can do is keep trying.

End the Silence.

The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers - Buddha Doodles

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