when the sky falls

Jennifer was in her thirties and married to her best friend, Lance. They had picked the perfect place among the towering trees and stunning sunsets of Washington State in which to build a life and raise their two beautiful girls. That life was busy, the girls were growing fast, their little family was strong and they had big plans.

Jennifer would be headed back to school soon to finish her degree in communications. Lance had a good job with the state and could cover the loss of her salary. He’d take care of dinners for the girls, help out with laundry, and make sure Jennifer had plenty of time to study for exams. They’d keep the weekends free for family time. That was all part of the plan. A blood clot was not.

When the sky falls from above your head, you don’t see it coming. Jennifer’s sky came crashing down the day that blood clot took Lance away from his family.

Jennifer never imagined a life without Lance. She never planned to be widowed in her thirties with 9 and 3-year-old daughters. After all, she was only in her thirties. She didn’t see this coming. How could she have? None of us could. The sky doesn’t warn us before it falls.

Jennifer now found herself with no job, two children to support and a life to rebuild. The benefits Lance’s job had provided would be running out all too quickly. She knew that going without health coverage may be an option for her, it certainly was not for her children.

Growing up in a small Washington state logging town of fewer than 4,000 people, Jennifer had seen families in need. But they were always other families, not hers. Families that struggled to make ends meet needed public assistance like Medicaid. She’d had a good job. They’d had a plan. This wasn’t part of it… until it was.

“The rural town I grew up in was economically depressed. I knew families who needed things like Medicaid,” Jennifer shared, “I’d seen the need but it had never been my family before this happened.”  

When Lance’s benefits ran out, Medicaid stepped in to fill the gaps for the girls. Medicaid helps countless families, cutting across all social, educational, and economic divides. It was the safety net that this family needed.

So much of our energy as parents go into building a life, giving our families all we can. How often do we pause to truly plan for the day when the sky might fall? After all, it could happen to any of us.

“Don’t be too proud to think this could never happen to you. I hope it never does, but know that jumping through any hoop you need to for your children is something you may one day have to do.” ~ Jennifer

Jennifer’s girls were on Medicaid for around two years, just until she got her footing again. Slowly, bit-by-bit, the sky floated back into place. Jennifer now works in the healthcare industry, a career choice shaped in part by her Medicaid story.

Ali, Jennifer and Lance’s oldest daughter, is now in her twenties and planning her wedding. Sidney, who was only 3 at the time that Lance passed away, is a bright and vibrant teenager currently mulling over her college choices having earned acceptance to three of her top choices already.  

Medicaid isn’t something that any of us wants to have a need for. Personally, now knowing that it is there should the sky fall, gives me a small amount of peace as a parent.

This story was written as part of a paid partnership with Providence St. Joseph Health. I was honored to be able to share the honesty and humanity in Jennifer’s story. I encourage you to visit their website to learn more about the many faces and stories of those for whom
Medicaid has been a lifeline.

Coney Island Nostalgia

coney island Home to the first enclosed amusement park in America, the famed Nathan’s 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest,  and the site of countless American tales Coney Island, New York was once billed as “Heaven at the end of a subway ride.” After decades of neglect, this once vibrant seaside attraction has been given a major facelift, but has that caused it to lose its historical charm?

My first trip to Coney Island was almost two decades ago when my husband – a Brooklyn native who grew up blocks from the famous boardwalk— and I spent a quasi-honeymoon weekend eating Nathan’s, watching a guy hammer a nail into his nasal cavity and holding on for dear life in Deno’s Spook-A-Rama. For a kid from the California coast, this place was a dirty, gritty, run-down piece of nostalgia. You could almost see actual fleas in the Flea Market. It was every stereotype I’d imagined Brooklyn to be… and I loved it!

In the years since that first visit, many of the things that gave Coney Island its uniqueness have vanished. The Nickle Empire, a nickname it earned back in its heyday when visitors could enjoy a knish and rides for five-cents each, is quickly becoming a Jackson Hole. {try to get out of there without spending at least $20} Gone are the rickety stalls selling oddities and baubles, carnival games with chipped paint facades and character. In their place sparkle the glowing beacons of chain stores and restaurants.

Come to Coney Island, eat at Applebees?

My youngest daughter sitting in the same spot her dad loved growing up, but seeing a far different Coney Island
My youngest daughter sitting in the same spot her dad loved growing up, but seeing a far different Coney Island

As Goliath thrill rides designed by the same folks responsible for Six Flags crowd into the new Luna Park, I wonder how long the Cyclone has left {not that I’d actually ever get on the thing}. It’s not that the “new” Coney Island won’t be a wonderful place in its own right, but rather that with the gentrification of the area comes the end of an era.

Certainly, there must be enough chain restaurants to sustain the appetite of those who love an afternoon outing at Applebee’s, endless breadsticks and bottomless appetizers. As dubious as eating fresh oysters from a stand on the Brooklyn boardwalk may sound, I’d still rather give those a go when in Coney Island.

The thought of heading to Whalburgers for fries in the shadow of the Cyclone is simply bonkers. Then again most people in Brooklyn are Mets fans and might not have a problem with South Boston’s own serving them up meat on a bun. You Yankees fans should be ashamed.

It seems that progress is steaming along down Surf Avenue. Sigh

Coney Island Mermaid ParadeI suggest you go visit Coney Island now. Soon the only mermaids marching in the parade may be Disney princesses and not Drag Queens.

 

Loews Loves Pets (and it’s a mutual thing)

Do you travel with your fur family members? If you’ve undertaken the task of even looking into doing so, I’m sure you ran into the same issues we have; outrageous fees, no facilities  or simply no pet-friendly room at the inn. There is hope fellow pawrents. Loews Loves Pets… and it’s a mutual thing. 

Loews Loves PetsIn the fall of 2015 we lost a beloved family member. Don Sonny Corelone Di Paola ascended the rainbow bridge after nearly fifteen years of joining us at the table for meals, napping on baskets of freshly folded laundry and a life-long refusal to own the fact that he was born a feline rather than human or canine. This cat growled at the doorbell and insisted there be an extra chair at the table for him though he never ate morsel.   

As our hearts began to heal, we  found there was room behind the scar tissue. In the spring we welcomed Gordon von Ottawa du Barkhimedes (a eleven-week old French Bulldog) to our family. Gordy is our first dog as a family. 

Being cat pawrents really never put a kink in our travel style. Aside from the occasional jumping into an open suitcase and refusing to budge, they pretty much could care less if we were head out-of-town without them. I’ve my suspicions that there may have been some wild feline soirees going on in our absence.  

As newly minted puppy familiga it became rapidly clear that Gordo was going to have to earn his travel wings. We started him out with his first trip to NYC as soon as the vet cleared him to be social. The guy road tripped like a pro from day one. I think he may have learned bye-bye faster than sit!

Travel with DogsWe learned, “I’m sorry we don’t allow pets,” even faster. When we did find hotels that would welcome Gordon our bill would shoot up an average of $100. Ouch! Adding insult to financial injury, that green bought you exactly nada beyond allowing the dog in the building. Then we found Loews Hotels! 

As hotel chains go, Loews has long been one of our favorite. Why? Service. Loews takes attentiveness to the next level.

Staying at the Loews Regency New York a few years back I mentioned at check-in that my husband and I would be enjoying our first kid-free getaway in over two years. When we got back to our room after an afternoon in the park there was a bottle of wine and some sublime chocolates waiting alongside a note telling us to enjoy ourselves. When we stayed at Loews Grand Pacific – where I made it abundantly clear that I was the family Harry Potter nerd – the concierge spent a good twenty minutes giving me all the insider tips on navigating the nooks and crannies of Diagon and  Knockturn Alley.  Alohomora big time, fellow Potter heads! 

The most abundantly clear example of the unique, genuine and warm welcome at Loews (that seems to be a corporate philosophy)  came when we brought Gordon along to celebrate Lil Nugget Number 4’s big tenth birthday.  Let’s back things up just a bit…

Em is our youngest. She started planning her tenth birthday, along with her gallery opening and Oscar acceptance speech when she was about three years old. Where some girls her age love Barbie she loves her travel journal, glitter isn’t her thing but a good hotel bathrobe is (she has a collection.) It really wasn’t a huge surprise when in lieu of a birthday party she asked for a bubble bath, room service and taking Gordon to a hotel.  

The bummer of having a late-summer birthday is that travel isn’t quite as doable. The upside for us is that we’re surrounded by great staycation destinations like DC, Baltimore and Annapolis, Maryland. Another huge plus is that Annapolis is rated one of the most dog-friendly cities in the country.  The trifecta of birthday awesome for Em is that there is a Loews in Annapolis. Which brings us back to where I started telling you about what makes Loews hotels so unique for families that travel with fur family in tow.

Now back to where we were…

Checking in at Loews Annapolis is more like being welcomed home. Yes the floors are polished marble, walls are hung with nautical themed works of art and fragrant arrangements of flowers abound, but there is zero pretension. How can one be aloof when they melt at the sight of a puppy? That’s exactly what the front desk staff did when Gordo walked in the joint.

Loews Loves PetsThe blue carpet rolled out for both Em and her fury lil bro. She got birthday hi-fives, well-wishes and covert questioning about what her favorite treats are. He got a welcome goody bag packed with handmade treats, his own Loews water bowl, accident bags and even a sparkly bit of bling for his collar.

Yes, we were hosted guests of this particular Loews but this sort of welcome is the norm not the exception. When you pay to bring your four-legged family along Loews makes sure you get value beyond a room at the inn. 

That hospitality and attention to detail, in my experience, applies to all guests at every Loews. Every time we’ve been guests the staff has always asked if we were celebrating anything. If we were, they’d make sure to celebrate along with us by sending notes, treats or just remembering every time you passed by in the lobby.

Loews Loves PetsWhile chatting with the staff at Loews Annapolis I made mention that Em’s last birthday was New Orleans themed. Not sure why the kiddo is so enamored with The Crescent City (she’s never been) but she is. Her room is decorated with masks, fluer de lis and street signs from the French Quarter. He asked if we’d stayed at the Loews New Orleans. I didn’t even know there was one (travel blogger, fail.)

That night when she and her pup were snuggled up after an epic round of Monopoly, I booked her first trip to NOLA. Knowing there would be a Loews to welcome us, I couldn’t resist. We’ll be spending Thanksgiving in the Big Easy and bringing Gordon along!

Loews Loves Pets - Hotel room birthday sorieeWhen you find a place that feels like home, you know you need to be there. Thank you Loews for hosting this one stay, but even more for giving us more reasons to travel with the WHOLE family!

If you travel with fur family in tow, stay tuned for our article in the holiday issue of Skimbaco Lifestyle Magazine. We’ll be dishing on more tips for travel with pets including how essential oils can make it easier for everyone. Check out the autumn issue that’s live now. 

Loews Loves Pets 

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Depression: The More You Know

Back in November of last year, I wrote a post about depression and asked readers to participate in a short survey. You turned out by the thousands, helping raise awareness, dispel myths, and change perceptions. It turns out that when it comes to depression, the more you know the better.

In today’s follow-up, I’ll be sharing some of the results of that survey as well as additional resources both for my fellow veterans and civilians. Because I have the unique perspective of someone who served during a time of war, was a military spouse, and is now a Marine mom, Med-IQ* reached out to me for help in spreading the word about how to recognize the symptoms of depression – or major depressive disorder.

Let’s start with a snapshot of the people who completed the survey last year;

 87% of respondents were between the ages of 25 and 45

 71% reported having a bachelor’s degree or higher

Almost 67% completed the survey because they think they      might have depression

Knowing the symptoms of depression can go a long way towards prompting us to seek treatment. Some of the most common symptoms reported in the survey were:

Loss of energy and irritability, reported by over 80% of participants

Difficulty thinking or making decisions and feelings of hopelessness, reported by over 70% of participants

For me, the most telling and encouraging data point was that 98% agreed with the statement that depression is caused by a combination of factors including genetics and life circumstances. This points to a greater understanding of depression, in my book.

Depression is far more common than you may think. Depression affects about 1 in 15 adults each year, and 1 out of every 6 people experience depression at some point in their life. Knowing that you’re not alone is so important. On active duty,  we learn to rely on each other. Knowing that your six is covered can save your life. This holds just as true when it comes to depression.

Being honest and open with your doctor about your symptoms, your experiences, and family history is critical in determining the best treatment plan for you. Seeking care does not mean you are weak. If you had cancer, you wouldn’t just live with it, right? Depression and major depressive disorder are illnesses just like cancer.

If you took the first survey — thank you! I encourage you to also take the second survey as it is slightly different from the first one. For those of you who missed the first, please jump in now. It takes less than 10 minutes and is 100% confidential. They don’t even record your ISP address. Plus, you can choose to be entered into a drawing to win 1 of 10 $100 VISA gift cards. No personal information will be kept, sold, or stored from the completion of the survey.

click here to take the survey

Should you or someone you care about be experiencing symptoms of depression, here are some resources you can turn to.**

Depression and Trauma in Veterans  – click here

Depression and Bipolar Disorder Alliance – they feature a registry of support groups – click here 

Veterans Resources –  click here

 

* I was compensated by Med-IQ through a grant from Takeda Pharmaceuticals U.S.A., Inc. and Lundbeck to write about depression awareness. All my opinions are my own.

** These links are being provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only; they are not intended and should not be construed as legal or medical advice nor are they endorsements of any healthcare provider or practice. Med-IQ bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality, or content of the external site or for that of subsequent links. Contact the external site for answers to questions regarding its content.

Finding “Happy” with John Muir

“Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature’s darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature’s sources never fail.” ~ John Muir

It was in my late teens that I first found Muir’s book, “Our National Parks.” Admittedly it was a bit of a hard read. It was his passion for the power of natural beauty that stuck with me. Now in my forties, I find myself once again drawn back to Muir’s writings as I search for my own passion and strive to see (and appreciate) the beauty in every day.

The more I learn about Muir, the stronger my conviction that he was a kindred spirit, happily suffering from wanderlust. Imagine what passion it took to travel through Alaska, explore Australia, and visit South America, Africa, Europe, China, and Japan before lay-flat beds in business class!

Muir’s wisdom can be applied to so much more than a hike in the woods, or stopping to smell the flowers. If you take just a fragment of the quote above and apply it to your everyday life, how powerful could that be?

find your happiness in the beauty all around you

“Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom…”

Maybe it’s aging, or watching my kids strive for their happiness. Perhaps it’s simply a whisper from the universe reminding me that there is more, that I’m missing the point. Whatever the catalyst, I find myself taking small steps in each day to find that freedom and in it a bit of happiness to treasure.

What did you do today to find your happy?

Travel. Eat. Drink. Write. REPEAT