Keep Going

We’ve been on a road of neurons and the connections their axons make. A road filled with the cranial nerves, stroke consequences, brain tumors, and psychiatric disorders.

Everything brain.

A rhythmic pulse of a beating heart.

A rise and fall of expanding lungs.

Tears of joy, ecstasy, sorrow.

A decision to choose. To say yes or no.

These are all things brain. The axons are highways and side roads that traverse through our bodies. They cross in predictable places and they carry predictable information. They are critically important, yet fragile all the same. Learning the mystery of the brain has been both rich and exhausting, and if you’ll have me, then I’d like to tell you a story.

It starts with a man and is a story of resilience in the face of hopelessness.

Resilience is the ability to spring back, to adapt to change, to grow out of the dust of defeat and to keep going when everything else around you is yelling for you to get down. 


This man came to us as part of our psychiatry course. This is how it works:

  • The school puts out a call for volunteers to be interviewed by students.
  • A volunteer shows up on the prescribed day and enters a room full of 8 medical students and two facilitators, 1 psychiatrist, and 1 psychologist.
  • The volunteer is asked questions about their experiences with Depression, Anxiety, Psychosis, Autism Spectrum Disorder, PTSD, Substance Use to name a few examples.
  • After the volunteer leaves, we discuss their stories as a group with our facilitators.

This man, he entered the room, carrying a cup of coffee and wearing a hat with the words “Resist”. His wide eyes sagged like he hadn’t been sleeping well and he told us a story of assault, depression, and anxiety. This story had twists and turns, frustrations and sorrow. He told us that he attempted suicide, twice. Sleeping two hours a night gave him the dark circles under his eyes and panic grabs hold when he thinks about what his life will be like when his loved ones are gone.

As I listened to him share his story I felt sadness and despair. I thought to myself that this man knows what it’s like to be pushed down and told not to get back up.

When I asked him, “What motivates you to choose to continue living?”, he said my family, my grandchildren. He said, today my depression doesn’t feel that bad. Today is not as dark as yesterday. This man picks himself up and he chooses to brush the dirt out of his scrapes to try again. As I was reflecting on his story and our interview with him I thought to myself, if he can keep going then so should I.

Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to be given the opportunity to be in medical school. Lately, when I feel defeated and beaten down by the number of things there are to learn and the amount of time I have to learn them, I try to remind myself of all the people that are anxiously waiting to hear about an interview. I try to remind myself of the privilege that I am given because, one day, I am going to be a doctor. In moments of doubt and uncertainty, I try to remind myself if he can keep going then so should I.

So, we build resilience. Every time we fall, stand up, rub the dirt out of our scrapes and try again.

“The phoenix must burn to emerge” – Janet Fitch

A Story

Once a month, at the Swallow Hill Music Hall in Denver there is a gathering of people. To listen to strangers share their fears, accomplishments, comedy, sadness, and adventure. It’s beautiful to watch someone walk up on stage, brave enough to speak out loud some of the most vulnerable details of their lives. This is the Moth story slam.

10 stories. Five minutes. Three judging teams. One slide whistle. One winner and a theme.

I’ve been to the Moth a few times now and listened to people share narratives about love, dirt, collaboration, and control. You never know where the evening will end up. You might find yourself in a backyard while a man gains the trust of a wild dog, or with a couple as they race down a mountain trail while lightning strikes all around them. Each one unique and captivating.

In Bob Goff’s latest book, Everybody Always, he talks about the power of extravagant love and excessive grace. It makes me a little sad because when I look around, I see that we have too little of this. We have too little compassion and empathy for one another.

It’s all about ourselves; how can we be better, how can we make more money, how can we climb the ladder a little higher. We are so tired from the constant focus on self-improvement that somehow we don’t even have enough grace for ourselves.

In medical school, we talk a lot about becoming compassionate and empathic doctors. We have communications sessions where we “practice” talking to patients. These are supposed to help us refine our language to include open-ended questions, to demonstrate empathy, and to learn to listen to the patient’s concerns, think of how all their symptoms come together and know what comes next. I struggle with this a little bit because we can practice saying the words, “that must have been difficult for you” instead of “I’m sorry”, but as much as we practice, it won’t help us be authentic when we find ourselves in a patient room. In order to do that, we need to pull from within our own experiences of hardship or loss, celebration or joy.

This is where our stories come in, as they shape our identities and our actions. They allow us to relate to one another, to stretch our minds to consider another person’s point of view, and to be true to our hearts when we speak.

There’s something so powerful in the words “Me Too”. They say I hear you, I see you, and I know you. In “Me Too” there is an overflow of extravagant love and an abundance of grace, but we can’t get there is we don’t know our own stories first.

Welcome to Phase 2

Last Monday morning, Carley drove up to my house and handed me a pink T-shirt. The back read, “Camp CU SOM” and featured an image of a fire amongst the trees. We were headed for Estes Park, Colorado where we would help welcome 184 new students to the first phase of their medical education.

Contrast orientation from this year to last year and you get a different impression. Nervous, anxious, doubting and self-conscious are all words that you could use to describe me 365 days ago. This year, I was excited, relaxed and carefree. It was refreshing to catch up with classmates after 9 weeks, knowing that we had made it this far; we are MS2’s [medical student, year 2].

As time passes and we reach these arbitrary milestones, it’s comforting to know that we’ve successfully made it over some of the hurdles. I’m not saying that we’ve done it all cleanly. There have been a few times when I’ve crashed hard into the ground, stood up and brushed it off. There will be a few scars by the time medical school is over. Maybe a few extra lines in the furrow of my brow from the late nights in the library and early mornings in lecture, but you know,  we made it past anatomy.

At orientation, I looked around at all of the new faces, knowing that people were nervous, anxious, doubting and self-conscious. I felt for them, but I also felt relieved that I wasn’t in their shoes anymore.

Today, on my first day of the second year, I spilled coffee on myself in the car. Then I walked into the full lecture hall and was immediately overwhelmed by all of the people. I felt alone and short of breath. What happened to the confidence from only one week ago?

Today, on my first day of the second year, I spilled coffee on myself not once, but three times. Is that a sign for the year to come?

Phase 2 is a doozy of a year. We start off with the Nervous System, before moving on to Digestive, Endocrine, Metabolism. Finishing with Life Cycle, Infectious Disease and a 7-week dedicated study period.

This morning I was humbly reminded of the hurdles still out there on the course. Turns out, being a year further in medical school doesn’t mean I’m any less nervous, anxious, or self-conscious.


I’ve decided to write myself a mantra to meditate on this year. A simple reminder of where I have come from and where I want to be in 9 months.

This year will be marked by fearlessness and perseverance. This year will continue to be about showing up and leaning into the challenge of being present. This year we will dare to dream a little bigger and set our sights a little higher.

I challenge you to take a look at your life – Where have you been? Where are you going? Who will you be in 9 months?

Hello, London

I’ve always wanted to travel somewhere by myself. It would be a grand adventure!

So, during the spring I would dream in between practice question sets and had google flights on speed dial – or actually automatic alerts. Flights to Paris, London, Barcelona, I was tracking them all. It didn’t really matter where I went, the only requirement was that it was a place I had never been before.

Ultimately, I found an affordable plane ticket to London.

– confirm payment –

I had a vacation to look forward to.

Naturally, my solo travel would start with an empty row of seats on the trans-Atlantic flight.

To be completely honest, I romanticized the whole thing, from start to finish. I dreamed a vacation in my mind that was straight out of the movies. Sort of like Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love where she goes to Italy, India, and Bali to find herself. She learns Italian and eats pizza with her new-found friends. I thought I would meet people in my hostel, or at the park, or while visiting the museum. Yet, I found myself being seated at the one person table in the corner of a restaurant, a look of pity on the waiters face.

I didn’t come here for your pity, sir.

So, I woke up each morning and armed myself with my book, the map, and my water bottle and would head out for the day. Going to the places I had only seen from the computer screen. I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum (twice), the British Museum, Hyde Park, St. James Park, Regents Park, Oxford University, Westminster Abbey, the Shakespeare Globe, Notting Hill, East London, Buckingham Palace. I ate fish and chips in a pub, I ate Thai food in a pub, I drank a very large glass of wine in a pub.

I wouldn’t change anything about my time in London because I learned a valuable thing in that big city. I think it’s something I’ve known all along because if I look back on old blog posts and journal entries, the thing I keep coming back to is the relationships I have with the people who wind up in my life.

It made me sad to think that I would return to the United States and there would be no one to remember the trip with me.

Somehow there’s still grace and beauty in this. Maybe the next time I am lucky enough to travel to London, I’ll tell a story, over the high tea that I never tried, about the time that I stood in the yard during a Shakespeare play, or rode on the upper deck of the iconic red London bus, or sat in a rented lawn chair to read my book on a Sunday afternoon.

I didn’t come here for your pity, sir. But go ahead, pour that glass of wine.


After some lengthy deliberation, I decided this wasn’t going to be a travel blog.

A play-by-play of my trip to London.

I think travel blogs are fantastic ways to share tips and tricks for navigating new cities (I’ve used plenty of them myself), but I think I have more to offer than the research that I did before jumping the ocean.

However, I did think it would be helpful to share some of the things I really enjoyed about my time in London… in case there is someone out there that’s looking for a tasty latte, free bus tour, or restaurant with a rooftop pickle statue.

Stay: 

Astor Hostels – I booked through Hostelworld, their Hyde Park location is large and in an excellent location.

Eat: 

EggBreak – I recommend the Levantine Eggs and Matcha Latte.

Farm Girl – If you love avocado toast then this is the place for you.

Churchill Arms – Iconic pub paired with “the best” Thai food in England.

Piculpeper – For rooftop pickle statues.

Do:

Victoria and Albert Museum – Created to celebrate beautiful industrial design.

The British Museum – Read: The Rosetta Stone is here.

Go see as many Royal Parks as possible – Regents Park is my favorite.

Try out this free London bus tour – Buy yourself an oyster card and hop on and off.

St. Pauls Cathedral – Expensive, but well worth it

Get tickets to see something at the Globe

Sleep Under the Stars

At least once in your life.

A few weeks ago I was up in Winter Park and we decided it would be the perfect weekend to hang up the hammock. With the gentle sway I fell asleep between the trees and under the stars.

There is a short list of places that I have felt vulnerable, but also at peace. There’s something about opening yourself up to the things that scare you, but will leave you wanting more.

As I’m typing this I’m sitting in the airport. Not that abnormal, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to fly places because there are a lot of people in the world who only dream of this.

I’m going to London. By myself.

I’m scared, excited and desperately trying to soak everything in. I’ve wanted to solo travel for the longest time, but I’ve always been too chicken. This summer the chance presented itself and I jumped. Or, cautiously dipped my toe in the water and then jumped.

I feel vulnerable. I feel at peace. See you when I get back.

Bellingham, WA

The breeze coming off the bay was cool, especially in the shade. The tall trees shielding the bright sun from my pale skin. It had been hot and dry in Denver leading up to this trip, with the temperatures approaching 100 every day; wildfires raging in southern Colorado, national forests closed to humans.

It was a bad winter. It’s going to be a bad summer.

But, our Leah was graduating from college and so the Huey’s [Wirths, Petersen’s, Gordon’s and Kallin’s] trekked to the Pacific-Northwest. Apparently, if you live in Bellingham, Washington you become a “Bellinghamster”. Like if you live in Colorado long enough you become a “Coloradan”. I laughed so hard that tears rolled down my cheeks and my stomach burned when Leah told me that’s what they call themselves. Yet, the name couldn’t be more perfect for the small town, tucked into north-western Washington, two hours north of Seattle and one hour south of Canada. The bay to the west with the Pacific Ocean just a bit further, the North Cascades to the east.

Bellingham is beautiful.


I’ve been to visit Leah at school once before. A few years ago, when she was still living in the dorms, Anna and I took a sister trip out to see her. We flew to Seattle and rode the Amtrak up the coast, stayed in a hotel and walked everywhere with Leah. She carefully showed us her new school, where she was taking classes and studying, introduced us to her friends and brought us down to the boardwalk.

A long weekend full of exploring.

I missed my flight back to Denver. I thought I booked my ticket for Monday, but to my dismay at 5 am I learned my plane had left 24 hours earlier.

It was okay. There’s always a plan B. We rolled with the punches.


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This time we chased the sunset from Denver to Seattle, spent too short of time catching up with good friends in Seattle and drove up to Bellingham. This time I watched fields and hills flying by the window of the car.

On Friday, Leah presented her Honors Thesis. The research she’s been a part of for the last few years – building a product that would help people that need large quantities of blood transfusions not have to depend on donors for a supply. Some smart stuff going on in that girl’s head.

Next, we grabbed lunch at Aslan Brewing (YUM – I highly recommend the Hawaiian Pork Tacos) and headed to the house we were staying in at Lake Whatcom for naps. The front deck had these glass banisters so you could sit and watch the deer coming through the yard for a snack and feel the breeze blow across the lake. Peace and rest came over me for the first time in the last few months, as I sat and simply listened to the wind rustle the leaves on the trees and reveling in the beauty.

Graduation and a Thai dinner were in store for us on Saturday, and kayaking [we rented from here — Community Boating Center] in the Bellingham Bay and a salmon dinner was on the menu for Sunday. It was good eatin’ this weekend.

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At times, things seemed a little crazy. I guess it sort of comes with the territory when you bring together 11 adults. Some things didn’t always go as planned, and if there wasn’t already a plan B, we quickly came up with one. That’s called, “thinking on your feet”.

It wasn’t a perfect trip, because everything went flawlessly, it was a perfect trip because of the people who joined in. There was grace in the ways we handled each other’s imperfections and beauty in the way we celebrated.

One of the first lines of Bob Goff’s new book, Everybody, Always says, “It’s given me a lot of comfort knowing that we’re all rough drafts of the people we’re still becoming”. Maybe instead of a red pen of judgment, we should read through our friends’ rough drafts with a softer color like purple, or aqua – grace and truth.

The gentle breeze in Bellingham reminded me of this practice of patience.

A Week in the Life

The last few months have been BUSY, but we just finished up and I am officially a second-year medical student! I’ve recently had several people ask me what it’s like in med school – how do we spend our time and whatnot.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to imagine [remember] what life was like before school started. I know I had most weekends off, that even though I worked a lot, I still had time for writing and reading and cooking meals for myself. I know that these last few months, I studied most weekends, had no time for writing, struggled to finish one book and I hardly ever cooked for myself. When we started our block on the heart, lungs, and kidneys I got into a rhythm. I set the speed to high and settled into cruise control.

To give some perspective on what medical school is like I decided to keep track of everything I did for the last three weeks of class. Are you ready for it?

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One week – Purple is lecture, green is clinic time, blue is problem-based learning, pink is my personal calendar

My day usually starts with my alarm going off at 5:30 am, but I have a healthy relationship with the snooze button so I don’t typically get out of bed until closer to 6:15-6:30. I am a huge fan of slow mornings and my favorite ones are when I have time to make scrambled eggs with coffee.

I’m a lecture go-er and that runs from 8-noon, [Monday-Friday]. We have 10-minute breaks between lectures and often we use this time to grab a cup of coffee, go for a walk, or stand in the sunshine right outside the auditorium door. Not everyone in my class attends and as one of our professors calls it, these students are part of “Panopto Nation”. There’s nothing wrong with choosing to watch the lecture online, people are still engaging with and learning the material, it’s just a different way of approaching school.

Some days we have small groups instead of lecture. These are required sessions that we get questions and clinical cases for beforehand. The expectation is that we read through and come prepared for class. It’s more of a hands-on method that allows you an opportunity to see and struggle with the material in a clinical scenario.

Once a week, I go see my preceptor. She is a family medicine doc and she graciously teaches me the skills I’ll need to succeed as a real doctor. We are learning to interview, to perform a physical exam, to presenting, documenting and come up with an assessment and plan. While I’m there I usually go into the room first and talk with the patient. Then I present my findings to my preceptor and we go back into the room together. It’s awkward, I often feel unqualified and I definitely don’t know the answers. But, I’m learning and as the year has progressed it feels more natural for me to be asking the questions. I even knew some answers one day as we conveniently learned about acute mountain sickness a few hours earlier!

A bulk of the rest of my “free” time is spent studying – reading for lecture, flipping through flashcards, answering practice questions, making graphs, tables and drawing pictures in an effort to understand and learn the human body and diseases that we experience. *Spoiler alert – there’s A LOT*

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The “pretty page” for congenital heart disorders. I definitely am NOT an artist, but drawing helps give a visual of complex topics and ideas

However, I also try to find time for other things that make me happy like –

  • Exercise: I go to my Crossfit gym and I recently trained for a half-marathon so I was attempting to run several days a week.
  • Friends and Family: The good news is that I study with friends and then I usually eat dinner with my family. The friends that don’t live in Denver I talk on the phone with or we use this app called Marco Polo. You can record and send videos and the person can play them back whenever they want and as many times as they want. It has certainly made long-distance friendships easier!
  • Fun: In this particular week, we hopped on our bikes on Sunday and rode to some new Denver breweries, I went to a birthday party, met some friends at a restaurant and toured my sister’s new home.

My day typically ends around 10:30-11 PM and I’m out before I get finished with one page in my book.


Med school is a strange combination of exhaustion and fun. Our limits are tested, but I don’t even presume to imagine that it won’t be more challenging [and time-consuming] when we get to residency. It’s possible to do things outside of school, but I’ve definitely had to make some tough choices. For instance, when I had an exam coming up that I wasn’t prepared for and I ended up canceling on skiing to study.

Finding the harmony between when to say “yes”, and when to say “no” is never easy, but it’s a battle worth fighting in order to preserve the bits of yourself that aren’t a doctor or student.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Home to dust, cacti, and rocks. Capitol Reef National Park is a little know plot of land stuck between Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Canyonlands National Park. Southern Utah is filled with a collection of canyons and desert and starry night skies. This was our destination as we hit I-70 early one Saturday morning to kick-start our #springbreak2018.

The plan was to car-camp the first night, followed by two nights out on the Lower Muley Twist Canyon. After checking in at the Visitors Center to register and get a permit for backpacking we decided to change our plans. [You need a permit to backpack at Capitol Reef, but they are free and as far as I could tell, there’s no limit on the number of permits that they give out]. The ranger told us that Capitol Reef was at 25% of their normal rainfall for the year. In a place that’s already strapped for water, this means there is even less to go around. She shared with us that Lower Muley Twist had no water – aka probably a bad idea to go there, unless you want to carry three days worth of water! That sounds heavy. The ranger did have reports that the Halls Creek Narrows trail had water, so it was there we set our sights on.

That first night we camped at a small, limited resource campground – Cedar Mesa – where our friends were able to find us after dark. We woke up the next morning, split up our food among packs and drove to the trailhead. The first part of the hike brought us down from the rim of the canyon to the wash at the bottom. From there, the hike twists and turns as it followed the dry river bed. It was so very sandy! Try carrying a pack with your next two days’ supplies along the beach. Despite the extra challenge, it sure was beautiful. That first day, we broke for lunch at this red rock and then kept trekking down the trail until we got to the mouth of the Halls Creek Narrows where the first drinkable water appeared.

With the sun rising on the canyon walls overhead, we cooked up some oatmeal and selected what would come with us on our day hike through the narrows section. The day before we ran into another person who told us that he encountered some deeper water that he had to wade through. So, we left our campsite preparing to get a little wet. Shortly after entering the narrows we ran into another person who said he found water that we all the way up to his neck! This was a very tall man. You bet we were a little nervous because we didn’t know who to believe about how deep the water would actually get, but we pressed on anyway.

In the narrows, the canyon walls loom directly overhead. They make you feel small, your problems insignificant. The quiet echo as your voice bounces off the smooth rock and the trickle of water at your feet. These are the sounds of the narrows.

I’m not sure where one of our travelers found water up to his neck because we never waded past our hips.

The last night of the trip, we camped out beside the dried wash. Stars overhead and sand underneath.

A break from school, a break from the real world, an escape into nature.

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Perspective//

In a brief moment above the water, I thought I would take a breath of air before plunging back under.

We started back at school on January 2nd. Winter break was the most relaxing, yet busy, two weeks. I managed to go yo-yo skiing, backcountry skiing, watch an absurd amount of the Crown and get everyone to do my bidding for a few days as I recovered from wisdom teeth surgery.

Since January 2nd, I’ve had two exams. I have two more exams next week.

It’s zero-to-100.

I signed up for this. Some days, I see pictures of my friend backpacking through Southeast Asia and I think to myself, “What am I doing????” But then I slap myself around because I’m walking through my dream right now. It’s easy to let the hours sitting in the lecture hall get to you as you’re trying to comprehend the endless waves of material crashing on your head.

Last semester we got our preceptors – doctors working in our community who have offered to take us under their wings and help form us, mentor us, lead us in this profession. My doc lets me go into the rooms before her. I’m practicing the basics, like taking vitals (blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate) and talking to patients. Then, I go and present to her what I’ve learned. There’s the handoff, the H&P, the oral presentation, a SOAP note.

Last week, I saw a patient and the next day there was a reference to her disorder in my lecture notes. Last semester, I learned about some diseases I never thought I would see. I thought it would be a disease unicorn, something that only existed in the textbooks or would show up on Step [I guess even a unicorn is less real than that, but you get the idea]. Then I stepped into a patient’s room and what do you think they were living with every day? These moments bring the lecture hall into perspective.

Two years ago, I started this blog. To bring perspective. Since then I hiked under a shower of ice, bought a crock pot, traveled to Minneapolis, Thailand, Utah, and San Diego to name a few. We explored what it meant to love people with everything we have, reminded ourselves that comparison is a thief, and adjusted to life as a medical student.

That’s a lot of perspective.

I don’t have all of the answers, but I’m still gonna go searching for some truth in this world. For some beauty and some grace. Thank you for reading along.

 

I’ve Lost My Wisdom

 

Hey, I know it’s been a while. These last two months have been humbling and exhausting and I haven’t had much energy to write. During this first semester of medical school, I’ve learned the entire human body, a multitude of rare genetic disorders and the molecular basis of disease. It was a little bit like a workout that you look at and don’t think will be that bad. Yet, after slugging your way through the workout you are left gasping for air, wondering how you were tricked. I made it through anatomy and slugged my way through molecules to medicine then found myself reaching for the surface.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well in school. I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed in general. I identify as a 3 on the Enneagram personality tests, “The Achiever”. I’ve always been this person, striving for success and the acceptance of others. Thriving on straight A’s and comments like “good job”. This semester challenged me in ways that I didn’t expect.

Even this blog. I feel a certain amount of pressure to make it a success. Will people read it? Will the grammar be correct? Is this a good picture to share? I haven’t posted in a while, I really should write something. I don’t have anything interesting to share.

I’m constantly reminding myself of the reasons for starting a Glimpse of Grace. To find value and beauty and grace in our everyday lives. To share my life and the lessons I’m learning with those that choose to listen. Yet, somehow, the perfectionist in me wants this page to be perfect. Honestly, that is just plain exhausting and I’m sorry, but it won’t ever be flawless.

Looking through my photos I realize that there have been many things worth sharing. Here are just a few of the things I’ve done that I neglected to think were meaningful —-

  • I realized a dream and got a fiddle leaf fig [I haven’t killed it yet either]

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  • I visited my dear friends in Atlanta for a wedding. Every day I wish I could transport them to Denver.
  • I tried out new coffee shops and study spots. My favorites include – Union Station, The Stanley Marketplace, Steep, and the 3rd-floor study room at the library.
  • We went to a story slam and heard people share their personal stories about “control”.
  • I celebrated Friendsgiving and Thanksgiving with some of my favorite people in some of my favorite places.
  •  We helped serve a meal at the Denver Rescue Mission.

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  • We got dressed up and spent the evening at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. We didn’t take any pictures once we got there, so it must have been fun.
  • Yesterday, I got my wisdom teeth removed. I don’t remember anything, from the moment when they placed the IV to when I woke up with gauze filling my mouth, fighting my heavy eyelids. We drove home in the snow and I laid on the couch, changing ice packs, taking pain medication and watching The Crown.

Here’s hoping I haven’t lost all of my wisdom, just the teeth. Here’s to getting back up again when life tries to knock you down. Here’s to celebrating and embracing our imperfections. I’m gonna go make some Christmas cookies now.

Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals.