04 May 2017

Ashley runs for CHOP.

I feel like it's finally time to share my story if for no other reason so that I can look back in time, years from now, and remember how one decision tumbled into a series of decisions that changed my life for the better.

It was 2008. I was stuck in rut. I hated getting out of bed in the morning (I still hate getting out of bed, so I suppose that part hasn't really changed). I dreaded going to work. I lost ambition to learn. Now don't get me wrong, I LOVED the people I worked with and for. They were the number one reason I remained in the field of accounting for three years. Three years doesn't seem like a long time, but when you take into consideration the fact that I was 25 with one hell of a successful career already under my belt, three years quickly feels like a lifetime. A lifetime (un?)fortunately that I desperately needed to escape from. The money was fantastic and it would only have gotten better had I remained a CPA. That's actually the number one thing that people are always curious about - don't you miss the money, though?! Yes and no. Yes, it was nice to be able to pay my bills, save money, and be able to shop and vacation as I pleased. But it obviously wasn't enough to buy more of my time. And, so, I resigned. Not when the timing was right. Not when I had saved up enough money to afford to quit. Not when I had a new job lined up. I did it when I knew deep down in the core of my being that I simply could not be a happy person when I felt so incredibly stuck. I packed my bags, moved home from California and started the job hunt in the nonprofit business. It was 2008 and the US was amidst a terrible recession. I was either over qualified for the jobs I was applying for - baffling employers with my experience or simply didn't have the right experience. With the help of my cousin, Andrea, I secured a job at the hospital my brother, sister, cousins and I spent hundreds of hours volunteering at during high school. I became a volunteer coordinator making just over a third of the salary I was making as a CPA. I was living pay check to pay check, but I felt like I was finally making a difference with my work. I had the most phenomenal manager (hey, Pam!) and secretary (hello, Gerda!). The dream team (coined by Pam) managed over a thousand volunteers from ninth graders to ninety year olds. These selfless, charitable, compassionate individuals came in week after week, year after year, giving their time and energy to the patients, families and employees of the former University Medical Center of Princeton. They came from all walks of life, all carrying the same mission: to give back. I LOVED them SO much. One of my favorite responsibilities, which might I add, was very near and dear to my heart was mentoring the hundreds of high schoolers who volunteered, especially the ones who volunteered within our office to help make our program a success. I finally didn't dread going to work. However, I knew that my time was limited there. As much as I loved the people I was surrounded by, I needed to push myself further. I needed to find out what else the world had to offer and what else I had to offer to the world. And so I did some very introspective soul searching. I pored through job search engines, closely examining job responsibilities and background experiences for careers that I could envision myself in. I asked SO many people about their jobs, trying to find what it was that I wanted to do, what I was meant to do. I entertained the idea of nursing, going so far as to attending an orientation for second degree nursing students at a college in Philadelphia. I came home without the sense of clarity I was so desperately seeking. I went back to the drawing board, considered taking my GRES to go back to school for I don't even know what. During this time, I began volunteering along side Child Life Specialists at The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children's Hospital. I had previously volunteered with the Make-A-Wish Foundation when I lived in California and knew that children had a special place in my heart. I've always loved working with kids, dating back to when I was in middle school and volunteered in my former first grade teacher's class after I got out of school. There's something so remarkable about seeing life through the eyes of a child and never fully understanding their uncanny ability to evoke so many emotions from others. With this, pediatric nursing took a front spot in my list of possible career choices. But I had to be sure. So I continued to search my soul, making sure that this is what I wanted to do. After spending so much time, energy and money on my first degree (something I don't and will never regret), I needed to believe that going back to school made sense. I talked to so many nurses where I worked, I talked to my family members and friends. I was met with a lot of resistance. Nurses don't make that much money. Nurses eat their young. Nurses don't earn the respect they deserve. You don't love science, how will you ever become a nurse? You're afraid of blood. You're too sensitive. You may love kids, but would you ever be able to place a child in a body bag? And then I faced resistance fabricated by my own mind. I'm too old, people are telling me I can't do it, it will be too expensive to go back to school. But slowly, I started to tune out that resistance and dialed into the force that was building within me telling me that I could do this; I could go back to school, I could, in fact, become a nurse. I met with one of my greatest mentors at work, Reverend White, who told me that time will always go on and that age should never be a factor in doing what I want to do. I may be 30 by the time I secure my first nursing job, but I could also be 30 and still be searching for that so-called "dream career." Either way, I'd be 30 one day, a nurse or not. I listened to one of my beloved volunteers, Vagdevi, who told me to not worry about what other people think (ironically, very profound advice from a 16 year old at the time). I knew that my family would support me no matter what (I also know that I am beyond blessed to have had that sense of emotional security).

The day I decided was, I suppose, in a sense life changing. I had just worked my first Clif Bar event in New York with several nurses and NP students from Columbia University who all worked for Clif Bar on a part-time basis (a huge thank you to Jess who connected me with Clif Bar in the first place!). I did the same thing that I had been doing for the past two years - perform the Spanish Inquisition and absorb everything my tiny brain could handle from these nurses (especially Jen and Paige). The spark that had been slowly forming in my brain turned into a effervescent flame. Something snapped. A realization was made. I remember telling my parents that I was going to do it. I was going back to school to become a nurse.

Now, I just needed a plan. I had the why, but I needed the how, what, when, where. And, in typical Courtney fashion, I needed these answers ASAP. The next day I hopped online and saw that Rutgers University would soon be accepting applications for their accelerated nursing degree program starting the following spring. That was 9 months away. Seeing as how my degree in accounting didn't exactly lend itself to a degree in nursing in terms of prerequisites, I needed to fine tune my game plan and do so quickly. The fall semester at community colleges had already begun. There was no way I was going to complete Anatomy and Physiology I and II before the program at Rutgers began (a program that I had not even applied to yet, nevermind been accepted to!). I searched the internet - surely there must be an Anatomy and Physiology I course that had not yet started. I am a self-proclaimed master of finding anything and everything online, and sure enough, I discovered a virtual A&P I class at Bucks County Community College starting in a few weeks (oh how I love you, modern technology! well sometimes!). I was in luck. Who cares that I had to APPLY to the college and BEG the professor to allow me to join the already over maximum capacity class. I had previously taken a nutrition course the prior summer at my local community college on a whim, as it was something I was interested in, but I still had five prerequisites to complete before the program that I hadn't yet applied to started. I met with my best friend's mom, Mrs. Jones, at Mercer County Community College to build my schedule for the spring semester. I made the bittersweet arrangements with my job to resign. I fine tuned and perfected my one and only nursing school application, applied for a student loan - my savings from EY long since gone after working in non-profit, and hoped for the best. I endured the agony that was organic chemistry. I became lab partners with a girl named Catherine, who was just as clueless as me in biology, but helped me get through the course. I hoped and prayed for my acceptance letter to Rutgers with as much fervor I had for my acceptance letter to Hogwart's (still waiting on that one).

I had an incredibly well thought out Plan A, but I had no Plan B. I realized at the time, and even now in hindsight, how incredibly silly that was, but I had practiced the secret with every ounce of my being. The Secret finally materialized with my acceptance to the accelerated second degree nursing program at Rutgers University. During the 15 months I was a nursing student, I crammed my brain with SO MUCH INFORMATION I thought my head was going to BURST. Starbucks became my rent free home away from home with my nursing school friends. We felt like we were medical students. I had a flashcard for EVERY SINGLE THING that was taught to us. We took SO many tests. It was actually really quite unreal.

I graduated nursing school with a huge sense of accomplishment and excitement for what came next (oh, and my biff, Brittany!). The next chapter for me was perhaps one of the more challenging chapters of my life. While I immediately took my NCLEX exam to become a registered nurse, I did place the job search on the back burner. My sister and I were taking care of two of the most adorable little girls, Paige and Avery, who absolutely stole our hearts. Their story is one for another day, down the road, when it is ready to be told. At the time, these girls depended so much on my sister and I (and, when I look back, I realize that my heart depended on them, too). They were EVERYTHING to me, so I simply could not - would not - leave them to find a job right away. Not that the job market was exceptional, but they were my number one priority. In time though my job search began. I networked. My resume was sent all over. I knew I was at a disadvantage. I was a second degree nursing student. I was also looking for a very specific job. I was not interested in adult nursing (I have so much respect for the nurses who take care of adult and geriatric patients, as it's something I could not do). I wanted to work in pediatrics, but not just anywhere. I wanted to work at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. My heart was so deeply connected to CHOP, so much so that in the back of my mind, just as I knew that Rutgers was where I wanted to obtain my degree, CHOP was where I wanted to work once I earned that degree. My late cousin, Brent, received treatment at CHOP for his Crohn's disease; Avery also received (and still does) treatment at CHOP for her Crohn's disease and my wonderful friend Karen's daughter, Julie, has spent so many months over the past few years as an inpatient at CHOP for her AHC. You can see how much CHOP means to me and the people who were and are very near and dear to my heart.

Fast forward to present day. I have been a nurse in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit since November 2014. That's two and a half years of lessons learned, hardship, and tears. But also two and a half years of smiles shared with co-workers who have become close friends, family members and patients. But most importantly, it's two and a half years of memories.

I remember the very first intubated patient I took care of. I remember the night I admitted a patient who had a gunshot to the head. I remember the patient who we escalated respiratory support for, from nasal cannula to CPAP to BiPAP to intubation in a matter of hours. I remember the patient who received a liver transplant at a few months old. I remember the patients who died because they didn't get a liver transplant in time. I remember the countless oncology patients I took care of - the ones who made it and the ones who didn't. I remember taking care of the helpless children whose parents were never around and embracing those parents who never left the bedside. I remember the children who defeated inconceivable odds.

I don't remember every face. It's nearly impossible to, or us nurses wouldn't be able to do what we do. But, I do remember some. The ones who snuck into my heart and will forever remain a part of me, of who I am, and what I do.

Don't get me wrong, I don't always think I have a dream job. It's a tough, tiring, demanding job. I used to think accounting was tough. And it was. I worked LONG hours, sometimes just me, myself, and I in front of a computer or bent over spreadsheets with a red pencil. I do not like to compare jobs in the sense that one job is harder than the next. I think both of the careers I've had at the ripe old age of almost 32 (!!!) are equally tough. They're complex and challenging, but in different ways. It doesn't make one better than the other, it just means that one is better FOR me.

Are all of the things that everyone said to me back when I was merely entertaining the idea of nursing true? Yes, absolutely. Some nurses do indeed eat their young. I was not protected from that experience, but refusing to let that jade me, I sought out the dozens upon dozens of nurses who brought my spirits up and taught me how to be a good nurse. Do nurses get paid enough? My bank account doesn't seem to think so. Am I in quite a bit of student loan debt? You betcha!

I am now just getting to the point where I am not completely ridden with anxiety about going in for a 12 hour shift. For two years, my stomach would swirl with anxiety before each shift. EVERYONE goes through this, but when you're the one going through it, it's such an overwhelming feeling. How do you possibly go into work not knowing what kind of patient you are going to have, not knowing how sick s/he is going to be, who your co-workers are (which is often the key to a good shift), what the parents and families of the patient will be like? You do it because you love it. You may not always like it, but there is ALWAYS something that happens at least once a shift that reminds you that you do indeed love your job.

So why am I really sharing all of this now?

Perhaps its because my days at CHOP as a full-time nurse are now numbered. Brendan has received orders to be an instructor pilot at a Navy base in Florida (yay for the sun!!!) and so in just a few short weeks we will be relocating. Fortunately, I am able to stay on in the PICU as a flex nurse for the unforeseeable future. We all know that I cannot possibly go more than a month without seeing my family (ahem, Connor and Audrey), so I'll be working here and there, which I'm incredibly excited about (and thankful for!). Military life is complicated and unpredictable, so it's reassuring to be able to continue my career at CHOP. But, with so many changes happening in my life (a move, a wedding, a new house, a new job), I think my heart needed to share the path that I took to arrive where I am today. How exactly did a CPA become a PICU Nurse. If for no other reason than for nostalgia's sake.

There's also one more thing.

Of all people, my sister, my best friend, my I don't know how I am going to not live a mile away from you anymore partner in crime took it upon herself to create a group for the 2017 Daisy Days 31 Days 4 Chop Challenge. I say "of all people," not because my sister isn't athletic or charitable or inspiring. She was, in fact, a celebrated athlete in high school, excelling in all sports, most notably softball and field hockey. She was definitely the athlete of the family. However, my sister, was never a long distance runner. *I* am the runner in the family. *I* was the one who got into running about ten years ago. *I* was the one who begged my sister to join me and run 5ks, relays, and half marathons. And then I moved to Philly and my lungs decided they preferred the country air of Hopewell rather than the pollution and smoke of the city. Even my inhaler didn't appreciate the change in scenery, at least not enough to help me run more than a couple miles. So, for the past two years, running has become more of a struggle than a source of renewed energy. But, slowly, my body has adjusted and I am advancing back in time to my old self who enjoyed running. More importantly, though, my sister has learned to embrace running. Yup, Ashley, the I hate running crusader, is outrunning me and killing it. She works out before a long day of teaching. She runs on her lunch break. She runs after school. To put it mildly, I'm jealous. She literally made 2017 her year to own her fitness and her progress is awe-inspiring. I've always felt like she's been the prettier, blonder, taller, more fit sister (and I'm not ashamed to admit that), but I always took pride in the fact that I could outrun her (sisters will be sisters, I suppose!). Just last month my sister asked me to run her first official 5k with her. I was blown away. All jealousy I had went out the window (okay, so maybe not all of it) and was replaced with inspiration and respect. My sister was working SO hard to find balance and I realized that by replacing my jealousy of her with pride for her gave me more motivation and inspiration to find balance within myself (thank you to Brendan for shedding light on this fact).

A few nights ago, Ashley texted me and my mom and asked if we wanted to join her on her #31days4chop journey. She was so excited to include me and my mom, who has also been KILLING IT when it comes to taking ownership of finding balance in her life (read: super proud daughter right here). My mom and I both agreed to it, thereby creating a group Ashley entitled "The Three Best Friends." Over the course of the next month, we will hold ourselves and each other accountable as we raise money while we run/walk/hike a total of 193 miles (31 for my mom, 62 for me, 100 for Ashley). Since you can donate to a specific area of the hospital, I obviously decided that we would raise money for the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at CHOP. A unit that has given me SO much over the past two and a half years, it's only right to GIVE BACK.

Ladies and gentlemen, that's my story. For now, at least. It's also only May 5th, which means there is STILL TIME for you to sign up, join our team, create a team, or donate to support the PICU at CHOP. A place that will FOREVER hold a place in my heart.

Please visit https://chop.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=43083 for my fundraising page or for more information on how to become involved!!!

23 April 2017

For Molly.

It was a bright and sunny autumn day in Philadelphia. I remember that clearly for some reason. I woke up to a text from my sister asking if I wanted to adopt a dog with her. Ummm what?? We already had a pup, an adorable and SUPER smart shitzu named Mindy. I texted her back and reminded her that we technically still lived at home and had roommates (read: our parents) who may not want a second a dog. Ashley quickly texted me back and said that roommate #1 (read: my dad) was already almost on board...we would just need to work on roommate #2 (read: my mom); not that my mom was opposed to having another dog, I just don't think the thought ever crossed our minds. Where was this coming from anyways, I wondered...

...It turns out that my sister and my dad were at a car show with our beloved Mindy. The car show was sponsored by the Bucks County SPCA so there were volunteers out and about raising awareness for animal adoption. You can guess what happened next...

That same afternoon my sister texted me I found myself meeting her at the SPCA in Lahaska, PA to "visit" the rescue animals on site. A little visit couldn't hurt, right? Ha! I think we all knew right then and there that my visit meant a guaranteed adoption. And it just so happened that while all of the pups were precious, there was one who stood out to us. Her name was Ginger and she was a long, lanky shitzu mix with reddish brown fur. She had big eyes complemented by the most gorgeous, long eyelashes. Her tail was pure fluff. She was obviously going to be the newest addition to the Wilson household.

It turns out that it was easy to convince my mom that we needed another dog. Mindy was getting older and she needed company. It was as simple as that. So a few days later I was signing the paperwork for Ginger and a few days after that my dad and Ashley brought Ginger home to meet my mom and Mindy. Ginger was tentative at first. Being a rescue pup from a puppy mill, she had never played with a toy. She had never been on a walk. She had never cuddled up with a human. She had lived her life in a cage and didn't know about the outside world. The world where man's best friend is a pup. Fortunately, Mindy acclimated to having a buddy around pretty quickly and Ginger never once tried to take over as the alpha pup. My parents, Ashley, and I were smitten with her. By the end of our first week with Ginger, we learned a few things. First things first, even though Ginger had red fur, her name just didn't seem quite right. We tried a few different names, but it wasn't until I was flipping through a Harry Potter book for inspiration that we came upon Molly (cue Molly Weasley). We also learned that Molly had a heart condition, and since we didn't know her exact age (the vet's best guess was seven), we really didn't know her prognosis. That was almost eight years ago.

In the eight years we had Molly, she never once let us down. Molly was there for Mindy in her final year, keeping her company until Mindy was ready to go to puppy heaven. After Mindy passed away, Molly would quietly search the house for her first friend, completely aware that Mindy was gone forever. A few months later, after mourning the loss of Mindy, the search for a friend for Molly began. After filling out the world's LONGEST application, we successfully adopted a pure bred shitzu puppy from a small dog rescue operation. Mia was skittish, submissive, and afraid of EVERYTHING. Everything except for Molly. Her and Molly bonded instantly. They were a match made in heaven. I really think it's rare for two rescue pups to become the best of friends, but that's exactly what Mia and Molly became. Molly and Mia would snuggle up together, eat together, beg for treats together and go out together. Unfortunately, at first Mia didn't know how to play with toys or go for walks either. In time though, Mia became playful and sassy, whereas Molly remained docile and good natured. This is not to say that Molly didn't have a bold personality. She was lovable, sweet and downright hilarious. She also had the patience of a saint. Mia would pretend fight with her and Molly would simply let it be. When Paige and Avery came to visit, and later, Connor and Audrey, Molly would be apprehensive, but she would never snap or lose her cool. It took Molly quite some time to learn to snuggle and cuddle with humans. She would often overheat when sitting on the couch, so she would start panting and pretend she was trying out for the Olympic diving team and dive off the couch aimlessly. She took to doing this on the stairs, as well, so it didn't take long before we took away her stair privileges. Before Molly was rescued by the SPCA, her owners at the puppy mill removed her voicebox, which is quite possibly the most pathetic and cruel action you can take against an animal. This did not stop Molly from barking, however. Poor little Molly Moo kept right on barking when she pleased, only instead of sounding like a dog, she sounded like a duck. Seriously. When Molly barked, she quacked. And even though we hated the puppy mill for doing this to her, it just made us love her all the more.

Even though Molly never learned to play fetch and never accepted the leash as a method of transportation, Molly was the best pup she could be. She loved unconditionally and grew to adore snuggling with humans. Although Ashley and I moved out of my parent's house a few years ago, we still visited Molly and Mia all the time...I think my parents always thought I was missing them when I really needed to get my puppy fix in ;). Snuggling up with Molly after a hard day at work or when I need a fill-in snuggle buddy for all the times Brendan is overseas is most often what my heart needs most. Unfortunately, over the past few months, Molly's heart condition grew worse and old age really began to have an impact on Molly. But she never once complained. She continued to be the saint of a pup she always was. Being a stubborn pup we knew that Molly was never going to willfully give up. She'd rather stay in pain than leave us...at least that's what I firmly believe.

And so together as a family, my parents, Ashley and I decided today was the day that Molly should join Mindy in heaven. After hugs and kisses from my mom and sister, she died peacefully in my arms with my Dad by my side. We buried her next to Mindy, while Mia looked on, undoubtedly knowing that her best friend would be looking down on her from heaven.

Rest in peace, Moo. We love you SO very much.

The Last Battle

If it should be that I grow frail and weak
And pain should keep me from my sleep,
Then will you do what must be done,
For this — the last battle — can't be won.
You will be sad I understand,
But don't let grief then stay your hand,
For on this day, more than the rest,
Your love and friendship must stand the test.

We have had so many happy years,
You wouldn't want me to suffer so.
When the time comes, please, let me go.
Take me to where to my needs they'll tend,
Only, stay with me till the end
And hold me firm and speak to me
Until my eyes no longer see.

I know in time you will agree
It is a kindness you do to me.
Although my tail its last has waved,
From pain and suffering I have been saved.
Don't grieve that it must be you
Who has to decide this thing to do;
We've been so close — we two — these years,
Don't let your heart hold any tears.

— Unknown

06 August 2014

Running for Julie.

Meet Julianna. 

On October 19, 2009, Julianna, a healthy and beautiful baby girl was introduced to the world. By eight weeks, Julie was diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). At six months, she was diagnosed with vesicoureteral reflux (VUR), characterized by a retrograde flow of urine from the bladder into the kidney, causing multiple urinary tract infections. The chronic UTIs Julie was experiencing led to a condition known as hydronephrosis, or inflammation of the kidneys. Simultaneous to these diagnoses, Julie was also experiencing chronic ear infections, which ultimately led to ear tube surgery at fourteen months. Before her second birthday, Julie began to experience seizures, which resulted in several hospitalizations. During these hospitalizations, Julie underwent rounds of diagnostic testing, including MRIs of her brain, endoscopies and colonoscopies. She was diagnosed with epilepsy, however, Julie's parents and medical team knew that there was a much more complicated disorder that remained undiagnosed. Shortly after her second birthday, Julie began using a nasogastric tube for feeding purposes. At two and a half, Julie was hospitalized again for more diagnostic testing, including a lumbar puncture to evaluate her cerebral spinal fluid and an electronencephalogram (EEG) to record her brain activity and monitor epileptic activity. It was at this time that Julie was also diagnosed with high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). One month after this diagnosis, Julie had a gastrostomy tube (G-tube) surgically placed and a muscle and skin biopsy performed.

I drafted the above "case study" for a pharmacotherapeutic analysis two years ago during my first semester of nursing school. When I submitted my case analysis there were still many unanswered questions about Julie's case. What else was causing these issues, why were there so many complications, why Julie, etc. etc. etc. Fast forward two years later after hundreds of seizures, hospitalizations, bouts of paralysis, further complications, diagnostic tests, consultations with dozens upon dozens of specialists, and Julie is finally closer to an answer. Three months ago Julie was diagnosed with Alternating Hemiplegia of Childhood (AHC), an incredibly rare and painful neurological disorder. Although doctors suspect Julie has an additional diagnosis, being diagnosed with AHC is paramount for Julie and her family. After being plagued with uncertainty for over four years, Julie and her family are finally able to embark on a new path. A path that will undoubtedly impact their lives forever, providing them with answers, information, and most of all, the support they need and deserve.

All smiles. 

I would imagine that after reading this, you may be wondering why I am sharing such a seemingly heartbreaking story, especially after taking almost (gulp) two years off from writing? Julie's story is not an appeal to pity. My words are not articulated to evoke a reflection of your own blessings or good fortune. I am writing to share the very intimate details of one child's life and the unparalleled hope and positive energy surrounding her. I am writing to celebrate and applaud the awe-inspiring strength and courage that transcends from my dear friend Karen and her husband to their sweet daughter, Julie. I want you, my dear reader, to know that underneath the very real confines of AHC, there is a resilient four year old child who fights every single day for her health. Her independence. Her life.

Could Julie be any more adorable?

Julie and her Therapy Dog, Jack.

Julie, Sleeping Beauty and Addey (Julie's awesome older sister!).

If a four year old child is capable of handling a fight of this magnitude, then surely I am capable of joining the fight. I want to raise awareness for the one in one million children diagnosed with this disorder. I want to raise awareness for the parents of undiagnosed children so that their journey may be less complicated than Julie's was. I want to raise awareness for more research to be done so that the hope for a cure for AHC can actually be realized one day. And so I will run for Julie. On September 21st, I will be running my second half marathon in Philadelphia for Miss Julianna.

When I decided to dedicate this run to Julie, I reached out to Karen (Julie's mom) who connected me with Jeff, the founder of Cure AHC and father of Matthew, who also has AHC, in a matter of minutes. Ah, the wonders of social media! Through the amazing collaboration of Karen and Jeff, I am now able to raise money for the nonprofit organization, Cure AHC (http://cureahc.org/). By running for Julie, I am not only hoping to raise money for the very organization that has steadfastly stood by Julie and her family, but also to raise your own awareness of the debilitating disorder that will continue to impact Julie throughout her life.

As I run for Julie, I also want to share the stories of Julie's journey that serve as a reminder of how celebrated life should be. For within the sadness, despair and angst of Julie's story, there are glimmers of hope, rays of inspiration and bursts of positivity that shed so much light on the beauty of humanity and life as we know it.

Me and Jules. 

And, finally, on a much lighter note, if anyone remembers the calamity that was my first half marathon (I've finally been convinced to share said calamity in my next post), you can surely (hopefully?) appreciate the stories that will most likely (obviously) come with the adventures of my second half marathon.

I invite you to explore AHC by liking/following Cure AHC on Facebook. I also invite you to my personal fundraising page. Please know that no donation is too small.

Thank you, thank you, thank you from the innermost depths of my heart.

20 March 2014

My Love Affair #tbt

A #tbt post from when I was a guest blogger on The Grateful Life...

A special and incredibly grateful thank you to Tricia for providing me with the opportunity to write for The Grateful Life. Many times the inspiration for my own site, www.unwoven.blogpsot.com, comes from here...

I shovel yet another handful of kettle corn into my mouth. My tastebuds delighting when each oh so delectable crystal of sugar dissolves on my tongue revealing a tantalizingly familiar hint of seasalt that keeps me going back for more. I realize that it won’t be long before my teeth start to resent me for the kernels that are guaranteed to get lodged in between almost every tooth. And my body will surely have words with me for blatantly ignoring the suggested serving size and instead opting to enjoy the entire - gulp - seven serving bag. But for now, I will sit here and and savor each sweet and salty bite, hoping that it really isn’t true that once you hit thirty your body changes and you just can’t eat like you used to. Because let’s face it, that means I only have two years and one month to eat like a champ. But that, dear friends of Tricia, is a story for another day.

My tongue mulls over a kernel, while my nose takes in the faint scent of the calming lavender essence evaporating from the candle neighboring my laptop. My ears listen to the wooden candle wick that crackles over the music quietly streaming through my iPhone. From the corner of my eyes I can see the iridescent flame softly dance against the silver votive. And in front me, the bright screen on my laptop stares back at me, expectantly, each key of my worn, but well loved computer anticipating the gentle strum of my tired fingers. Keys that are blind to the inner workings of my complicated mind. The vast white canvas that is my very blank, very untitled google document, unaware of the words that are about to be carefully, selectively ingrained into its pixels. But, perhaps most ironic of all, is how my very own mind is completely unaware of what will soon be tumbling out of it, through my fingertips, appearing on my screen for all of the grateful lifers to absorb.

There are many times when I turn to my computer to empty my mind, feed my soul, nurture my heart, but there are just as many times when I turn to my computer for the sheer fact that I am lucky enough to write, without purpose, without cause, without reason. Tonight is one of those times. Tonight, I will sit back and enjoy the ride that my hands are about to take me on. I do hope you enjoy. 

The thermometer in the car read a balmy, beatiful 68 degrees. Actually, it really only read 68, but my five senses naturally registered balmy and beautiful. Obviously, my left hand immediately gravitated toward the power switch for the front windows. No part of my being could be tempted to press the snowflake button on the control panel that would pump out man made air conditioning. Not when I could drive with the windows down and feel the warm breeze caress my skin and whip the springy strands of my pony tail back and forth. I was running a bit late, in very tried and true typical Courtney fashion, so I could have - should have - taken the maintstream highway that is 101. But knowing my cousin would be beyond understanding of my belatedness, I took the more panoramic route of 280. The slightly lesser frequented highway that I always favored when travelling to and fro my favorite cities. 

Within minutes I was driving past what I once upon a time coined the “palm tree community” upon my first sighting a few years back. Envision dozens upon dozens of sky high, picturesque palm trees literally soaring above quintessential terracotta roofed houses and, ladies and gentlemen, you have my version of paradise. The canopy of emerald fronds that extend off of the champagne skyscrapers allow for the perfect amount of space for the sun to glisten through and reflect off of the poppy hued earthenware of some of my absolute favorite abodes. I let my mind drift into the infinite abyss of my surroundings and head north. Rather than being thrown into the hustle and bustle the paralleling highway would take me through, I drive full speed ahead into a gallery that seems to exist at that moment in time for my pure enjoyment. There are no distractions of urbanization, only shallow valleys nestled between vast rolling hills. The pastures are still boasting their lush green colors before the summer drought sets in and slowly transforms the fields to shades of pistachio and then a season long complexion of ecru. But even when this happens, I know I won’t mind, for the rustic colors provides a sense of nostalgia that inherently bring me back in time. In a few more miles, I drive past the massive landmark Stanford radio telescope off in the distance and I am brought back to the day I ran the ever so popular dish route favored by Stanford students and visitors to the Bay area alike. I see the strapping cows lazily dotting the landscape, and remember their sinewy muscles taking me by surprise as I once ran among them.

I breathe in deeply and am reminded that I was lucky enough to call this geographical simplicity my backyard only a few short years ago. I know that in a matter of miles I will come across the the most outlandish architectural home of route 280. Unofficially known as the “Flinstone House,” I took it upon myself to change its name to the “Dr. Seuss house” when I would point it out to guests. An eyesore to its neighboring residents, I find myself looking forward to driving past the whimsical, brightly painted orange house that looks like it was transplanted straight out of the Lorax. Its quirkiness is a not so subtle reminder to not take life so seriously all the time. 

It’s only been forty minutes, but the warmth radiating from my forearm tells me that I have been kissed by the long, graceful rays of the warm, California sun and I know it will only be a matter of miles before the fog of the San Francisco Bay will cast down upon me. Aside from the astounding beauty offered by route 280, the looming fog is the one constancy I can always count on as I make my way toward the city. Although it temporarily conceals the stunning azure backdrop of the sky, its vast encapsulation transcends serenity to its visitors. When I emerge on the other side of the thick, cool fog, the serpentine reservoir that snakes its way through the valley on my left is as scintillating as ever in the renewed sunshine. I feel myself smiling, knowing that the familiarity of this drive will never get old. 

I watch the thermometer drop a few degrees and know that any second the infamous “South San Francisco: The Industrial City” sign that is tattooed into the hillside by large concrete letters will appear. My eyes are hungry for what awaits me. Miles upon miles of pastel colored houses erase any familiarity of the vernacular I am used to back home. For some, the dense population is overwhelming, but for me it is quite the opposite. Layers upon layers of homes decorate the hillsides with their unique features and I am simply humbled to have the opportunity to drive through such adornment. 

By this time, the landline that my iPhone has become, has died and I am left to my own knowledge of the city to arrive at my final destination. So, of course, I get lost. But any negative connotations that typically accompany “getting lost” are uninvited and stay at bay. For being lost in San Francisco is akin to being set free. I know that I am severely overdue for my arrival at Tricia’s, but there is no hesitation in my mind that she will not only understand, but would have encouraged my exploration of her - and my - favorite city. And so, rather than sweat with trepidation, I embrace the exploration that awaits. And explore I do. I find myself freely rolling up and down the massive hills that are unique to the city, admiring the masterpiece that is the architecture of San Francisco. Not one for fully being able to appreciate all forms of art, I know that this city truly is a one of a kind gallery that can cause anyone to step back and say...Wow. The victorian rowhouses, with their pointed rooftops and exquisite woodwork take me back in time, the narrow breezeways between buildings and sporadic, but astounding courtyards and parterre’s of Twin Peaks fill my lungs with a deep breath of fresh air. Over and over again.

The sun is starting to surrender to the enticing evening fog and I ask for directions. A few genuine smiles are exchanged and I am on the final leg of my journey. Before I know it I am driving in time with the antiquated cable cars and MUNI until I am surrounded by the hip twenty and thirtysomething population of the Marina district of San Francisco. I park my car along a familiar road only a few blocks away from the bay and peer up at the magnificent bay windows that frame each of the houses in this aspiring neighborhood. As I walk to my cousin’s most adorable apartment, my eyes and ears continue to absorb my surroundings, taking note of the carved fretwork; steep, winding staircases; and palms that may not be native to the city, but complement it quite nicely.

Within minutes I am embracing my dear, sweet cousin Tricia, who I prefer to call my friend, as our friendship is something we have chosen, and I know that my love affair with California never quite ended. For the journey that I took several years ago into the vast unknown of California was merely just the beginning. And the drive I make from the heart of one valley to the heart of one city is a simple, but beautiful reminder of this. 

With Gratitude from a Jersey born girl,


29 August 2013

Humbled by love.

I practiced the bridesmaid speech I drafted for my dear best friend's wedding one time and one time only. And I use the word practice very loosely, as it was 4 in the morning, and my tired eyes were in no condition to do anything beyond skimming. I should also point out that I absolutely detest practicing before I do any form of public speaking, professionally or personally. I'll stand up in front of a hundred people and talk my little head off before I willingly stand up in front of an empty room to practice. Although, while we're on the subject, I could easily talk to a wall if presented with the occasion, and probably enjoy it (read: cheaply entertained). But that's different. Talking to a wall is totally different than practicing to a wall. 

As I skimmed over my words, I actually wondered if I would cry when it came time to share my speech with Saadia and Mohsin. Now, mind you, hindsight is 20/20, and I could have won millions had I placed a bet that I would cry. It's what I do. As much as I fight it, I'm a natural born cry baby. And in my 29th year of life, I've fully accepted and embrace what I refer to as my beautiful ability to express my emotions in the form of an essential natural element (read: I've accepted the fact that water will flow out of my eyeballs at anything provoking any type of emotion without a moment's notice). The more I fight it, the more I cry. Le sigh. However, in my delusional state of mind at 4 in the morning, I practically laughed at myself when I pondered if I was going to cry, even going as far as rolling my eyes in typical Courtney fashion. Of course I wasn't going to cry. What was there to cry about?


Back to that hindsight. After introducing myself to Saadia and Mohsin's family and friends, I dove straight into my speech. I should have worn my swimmies. Within thirty seconds, the tears were streaming down my face so quickly that I was at risk of drowning right there in the middle of the ballroom if I didn't pause and resurface for a breath of air. Insert super quick pep talk that went down like this: Get your shit together Courtney! You have 180 people staring at you, already wondering who in God's name is this white chick rocking a sari and now you're blubbering away. This isn't a funeral for the love of God, this is the happiest day of your best friend's life! Fortunately, this enthusiastic self talk scared the hell out of my tears and they temporarily subsided. For the rest of my speech, I was able to keep most of the tears at bay, with only one or two escaping the thick mascara adorning my eyelashes. 

So, why, my dear reader (readers?) am I sharing this moment with you? My answer is simple. I want to look back in ten, twenty, thirty years and remember the way I felt during the five minutes I stood in front of my absolutely stunning best friend and her equally gorgeous husband (side note: they will make the most beautiful babies ever known to mankind to the point that it's really not fair...I'm serious), with tears running down my face. I want to remember the gratitude I felt for being part of a wedding so humble, so true, so perfect. I want to remember looking into the eyes of two souls becoming one and praying that one day I will find a love as deep, as rich, as genuine as theirs. 

And, so, without further ado, I'd like to share with you what I shared with Saadia and Mohsin on their Wedding Day...

It was quickly approaching the early hours of dawn, and I was still staring at an untitled document on my Macbook, the cursor impatiently blinking at me, completely underwhelmed by my lack of words. I had been sitting there for hours, praying to the powers that be that I draft a speech that captures the very essence of my relationship with my beautiful best friend, Saadia, who I met 8 years ago, almost to the day. I had pondered what to write for days, ever since Saadia said, "you know, Court, I want you to speak at my wedding," to which my immediate response was a giddy "Oh my gosh, really?!" while secretly thinking, "Oh my gosh, I had no idea there were speeches at Pakistani weddings!" And yet another obvious lesson learned in our multicultural friendship. 

Eight years ago when I walked up the two flights of stairs to our Townhouse on TCNJ's campus, I never would have thought that I'd be standing here today, taking part in one of the most important days in Saadia's life.  Saadia and I were randomly assigned to the same townhouse, when I was a senior at TCNJ and she a junior. It was practically impossible to not become friends with Saadia, even if one of our initial interactions was when she chided me for waxing my eyebrows (clearly my white girl ways were simply not cutting it) and insisted that I try out threading (I'm sorry...what??). Mind you, it took my anxious mind almost an entire year before I let her place her hands within a ten inch radius of my upper eyelids. And, to this day, as Saadia can certainly attest, everytime I lay down to have my eyebrows threaded, I not only break out into a cold sweat, I turn into a bossypant wearing demanding diva that only Saadia would have the heart to deal with. But, alas, enough about my eyebrows.

Fast forward 8 years later, and a quote from one of our favorite books comes to mind...“a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.”

As I stand up here today, my heart is overflowing with love and gratitude for the person I truly believe is my soulmate in this crazy, but beautiful world we live in. Over the past 8 years, Saadia has become so much more than a best friend to me. Her presence is akin to the very relationship I share with my own sister, which has solidified my belief that everything happens for a reason. You see, I believe that Saadia and I were placed in each others lives not by chance, but by the grace of God, so that we can learn from each other, laugh and cry with each other, share our innermost secrets and deepest thoughts, even the unspoken ones, lean on each other during times of hardship and sadness, and grow together. Saadia has been there for me in my darkest hours, lifting my spirit up, and reminding me that everything will be okay. With Saadia, almost more than anyone else, I can fully be myself, which means she gets the best...and...worst of me, both of which she fully accepts with open arms. 

Saadia’s family has also welcomed me into their home with open arms, to the point where I feel like maybe I have a little bit of Pakistani running through my own blood. I mean, my Punjabi vocabulary grows by the day. I know that dudh is milk, ande is eggs, doi is a large wooden spoon of Ami’s that I covet, and aja can make Ambreen come to me. Need I go on?

Saadia, just as our friendship was meant to be, I fully believe that your marriage to Mohsin is meant to be. Love and cherish your husband with your entire being, with the knowledge that your relationship will be more beautiful than you could ever imagine.  Open your heart to Mohsin the way you have opened your heart to me. Live in the moment with each other. Uplift, support and encourage Mohsin the way you have done for me on so many occasions. Be humble. Be gracious. Be honest. Be you. 

Mohsin, I will have you know that I am very possessive of my friendship with Saadia. Two nights ago before my last sleepover with Saadia, my own mother warned my sister to not impede on our time together, stating that “Courtney will want to spend time with just Saadia before her big day, so make sure you don't hang out with them for too long.” But, from this day forward, I am willing to share my dear friend with you, under one condition. Love Saadia with your entire heart.  Even on the worst of the worst days, know that there is no one else in the entire world you’d rather have by your side. Trust me. And when you get in that first argument with each other, know that Saadia is humble, but stubborn and however stubborn you may be, know that it is no match for her, but more importantly, no argument is worth sacrificing one second of the love you two will grow to have. Trust me on this one, as well. 

Saadia and Mohsin, may you remember today as the first day of the rest of your life together as one. Never stop seeking joy within each other and the love you two will share. Be patient, be forgiving, be compassionate. Have faith in each other, in love, and in life. Let your passion and love for each other light up the lives of your family, friends, and loved ones. I promise that the life you two will discover together will exceed all of your expectations. 

16 April 2013

thoughts on a plane.

It is with very sleepy fingers, no, scratch that, very sleepy everything, that I write tonight. I'm currently 38,000 feet in the air somewhere across the great divide of the east and west coasts with the hopes of sleep somewhere in the near future. I find myself mindlessly twirling my hair, hair that desperately needs a good shampoo after spending the early hours of today in the pediatric emergency department followed by a day of intense traveling - three trains and two planes. Not that I should be complaining, after all I am en route to my second favorite domestic destination (first obviously being hawaii). It's a nice change of pace being up here, completely unconnected from society, if only for a few hours. Yet I find myself being frustrated…with myself…for I have the perfect opportunity to throw myself at my keyboard and write freely, but I'm having such a difficult time. I haven't written in what feels like months, well, actually, it has been months, but I can't stay focused for more than a second, which makes me wonder what the heck is actually going on inside my itty bitty brain. For starters, I feel like I'm being watched. Actually, that statement sounds a bit presumptuous, if not completely paranoid. It's just that I'm trying to get my zen on (something I've been actively working on!) and I can't help but feel like the darling passenger next to me is eyeballing my screen, which makes a usually unaffected me very self-conscious (Is she enjoying my rambling or is she wondering who this crazy girl is or is she now self-conscious as I just called her out?). Of course, I'm now only flattering myself thinking that she has any interest in my meager writing. I'm simply saying that if my fellow american airlines companion was punching away at her computer as I am currently doing, my interest may be piqued and I may or may not sneak a glance or two in the utmost subtle of manners. Which, knowing me, wouldn't be subtle at all. I'm also supremely distracted by the mini cadbury eggs that are practically begging me to eat them. I literally write a sentence, glance down at my overflowing purse, its contents toppling over, think about whether I should indulge, decide that indulging is a must, pluck a chocolate out of the makeshift easter basket my awesome mom packed for me (complete with fake orange easter basket grass), and practically swallow it whole as if I've been chocolate deprived my entire existence. This sequence will naturally repeat itself over and over again until the eggs are gone or my tummy hates me. Actually, who am I kidding, my tummy will definitely be hurting in two sentences time, but my indulging shall continue. Clearly my tummy thinks in the now, unlike my brain. Speaking of the now, the flight attendant is literally an inch from me getting ready to serve up a delish cocktail to 9E that I wouldn't mind indulging in myself if it weren't for its New York City pricetag. Two seats over in 9F I spy my new friend hating his life as he watches his CPA Exam Review brought to you by the one and only Becker (Actually, we're not friends, but in my mind our two minute connection over the dreaded CPA exam instantly made us best friends for life. I also really don't know if he's hating his life, but I would imagine he'd rather be doing anything else besides studying). But, alas, back to my own personal woes of my worrisome mind and why I can't write. This frustration is such an absurdity to me, as I've always relished in the simple joy of losing myself to my computer. It's not as though I have nothing to write about, I think perhaps I have *too* much to write about and simply don't know where to begin. Which is silly, as I am only writing for me (and, now, of course, the passenger next to me…maybe?), so who really cares where I start, what I leave out, what I choose to include. I find myself thinking back to the only time I've ever been self-conscious of my so-called "blogging." I briefly dated a guy last spring who "wrote" professionally. I use that term loosely, as he was more of a social media "writer," who seemed to skip right over the word "humble" in the dictionary and actually made me feel silly about my writing. Feeling this way was, of course, my own fault as my mom raised me to be a much stronger woman than to succumb to the weakness of worrying what others think of me. But, for whatever reason, I fell prey to his pompous regard toward my "hobby" of writing - the equivalent of child's play, which ironically is supremely imaginative and creative - and put my writing aside. Of course it didn't help that I had just began my nursing program at Rutgers, found..and lost..love in someone else (he's an entirely separate post), and cultivated a brand new life for myself. To say the least, I've been exceptionally busy, perhaps the busiest I've ever been, so I've let writing fall to the wayside. I find this to be bittersweet; bitter as there's so much about the past year I want to share with my future self and be able to remember not simply through memories which fade in time, but through my own words and reflections; and sweet because perhaps this is a reminder that my writing is my own passion for me to turn to whenever my little heart desires. Because, truth be told, my mind never stops writing…whether it makes it to big screen of my MacBook Pro really doesn't matter..when the time is right, I will write…

...Something to think about, I suppose...

22 November 2012

A lifetime of gratitude.

When I was younger (read: 18 or 19...which is totes a far way off from my wise, ripe ole age of 28), I'd make a list of things I was grateful for and post it up on my AIM Away Message every Thanksgiving...these were the days before the iPhone, Facebook, Twitter, and the like...you know, when AIM was cool.  My list would start off pretty generically...I'm super grateful for my family. An obvious statement. I'd then list out a few of my closest friends. My MKA sisters. And rather than digging beneath the surface, I would move on to the more materialistic items I was just oh so grateful for...things like my down comforter (because we all know that I love my sleep, so naturally my bed needs to be akin to paradise), my straightener (because how else would I tame my unruly wavy locks), pumpkin pie (because obvi that's not only a turkey day staple, but basically a slice of heaven in my mouth)....the list went on. and on.

Now, don't get me wrong...Am I still grateful for my hair straightener on the days (which may be few and far between) when I actually want to pull myself together? Obviously. And will I still be uber grateful for the 6 pumpkin pies my mom makes every year without fail? Do I even need to answer that?

But, what am I really, truly, from the bottom of my toes to the innermost core of my heart grateful for? So.freaking.much.more.

Since only God knows if I still have access to AOL instant messenger, I thought it'd be most appropriate for me to write my annual "I'm thankful for..." list in a place that has captured some of my deepest thoughts, stories, worries, and memories over the past couple years.

Exactly one year ago, my cousin passed away at the entirely too young age of 27. I saw him less than a week before his untimely death...and then again one last time the morning of his passing. Unfortunately, we never had a final conversation. I was able to give him a tearful kiss goodbye and asked him to send my love to our grandparents in heaven. But there were no words to be returned to me. I think his heart and soul were already with my grandparents during my final goodbye. Fortunately, many of his loved ones, including my parents, were able to talk to him before he was taken away. While I have no idea what most of those conversations entailed, I do know what he told my parents and I will never forget my mom sitting my sister and I down as she replayed parts of their conversation. With my parents sitting by his bedside, he asked them to send his love onto us. He stressed how important it is to know that everything happens for a reason. And above all else, family and love come first. It is for this understated, simple message that I am thankful for. 

It is this message that I remember when life gets tough. When not everything is black and white and I ask God why? I remember this message when I'm having a bad day - the kind where you think the whole world is turning against you and you have the worst luck ever. Those words give me hope, inspiration, and comfort. But I don't just remember this during the off times. I remember this when life seems absolutely, so amazingly perfect. It is this message that reminds me to be thankful for those times too. It is so easy to take happiness for granted, but when we take a step back to express our gratitude for those times, it makes the tough times...a little less...tough. 

So as I sit here and reflect on the past year and all that has changed in my life in such a short time, I realize all that I am grateful for...not just for today...but for yesterday and for tomorrow. 

So on this Thanksgiving Day, before I head to my hometown to celebrate a day of gratitude with my family, I'd like to share my annual "I am grateful for list." 

My girlfriends. Without you, I quite honestly don't know how or if I'd be able to navigate through this thing called life. You are the very reasons why I have expanded my definition of family. Ashley, the sheer fact that I can ring the doorbell to your house and you can embrace me in my tearful moments means more than you could ever know. Saadia, Being able to fall asleep next to my best friend knowing that I am loved and will always have someone to listen to me...over and over..and over again is something I will never take for granted. Tram, Christine, Tricia, and Jess, knowing that we can go weeks without talking and still pick up where we last ended is quite simply the best. Natalie, who else can I facetime at 6:45 in the morning and ask to call me back in fifteen minutes to make sure I get out of bed and start my day?! Kate and Emily, I don't know anyone else who would put up with me as a roommate. Mtk, I wouldn't want to crash a vacation with anyone else but you. My nursing school friends, my luna girls, and all of my girlfriends, whether you are in my life for a short period, or here to stay, I am thankful for you.

My sister. We fight...a lot. And I can only guess that we always will. But no one makes me laugh the way you do. I am so grateful for you and Bryan and your absolutely over the top, 100% hands down out of control, completely inappropriate shenanigans. You two remind me to not take life too seriously and I thank you for that. 

Connor. Oh Con Con. If you only knew how much you have changed my life...I am literally tripping on gratitude for you. I secretly thank your mommy and daddy for bringing you not only into this world, but into my family, on the regular. 

To those who have shown me what it means to find strength from within...and when that's not possible to know that it's okay to lean onto others. My little Avery and your family. My cousin and her family on this first Thanksgiving without her brother. To my patients at the children's hospital, your resilience and unabashed personas are beyond refreshing. 

Karen and Julie and the rest of the Shuberts. I am so beyond grateful to be surrounded by people like you. I can only hope that I follow in your footsteps. Your strength is unparalleled, as is my admiration for Julie's journey at such a young age. 

To the two homeless men who *just* knocked on my door asking for money. I'm naive and vulnerable to those who ask for help. But the sheer fact that you offered to work for money by raking my yard is something I am grateful for. While some may scoff at this or scold me, I appreciate your humbling words.

My parents. Your support during yet another life change of mine over the past year is undeniably unwavering. I simply could not be more grateful.

...and on that note, for my pseudo father, Andrew. My gratitude for your guidance can never be fully expressed.

To all of the kind people in this world who volunteer their own time for whatever cause is worthy to them. Living in a world where people give back is the only kind of world I want to live in....for this I am thankful. 

For the friends who have entered my life this past year...you know who you are. I don't know what the future has in store for me or for you, but I am thankful for your presence in my life this year. And for all my friends who have been with me through thick and thin. I love you.  

I am grateful for the experiences that have defined this past year...Watching my first C-section delivery and being able to bring a newborn to his parents could not have been more of a sign that I am in the right profession. The words of gratitude expressed to me by these new parents warm my heart to this day....Knowing that I have a physical therapist who is helping me to run again after years of misuse and overuse brings a smile to my face. So thank you, skinny chicken legs for putting up with me and my refusal to quit. Who knew that you could teach me the value of patience. And thank you to my chiropractor for instilling more wisdom within me than you'll ever know.

I am also thankful for being able to spend this past summer with a truly amazing person who will always have a piece of my heart. You have taught me so much about love. 

And, of course, I am thankful that on even the toughest of days, I can go home to little Molly and Mia and they will be waiting to greet me with a million kisses. 

And finally...thank you to little ole' me. I appreciate the patience I have learned to have with myself and my ability to let go, let love and light in, and most importantly, be kind to myself. 

...To my loved ones in heaven, Brent, Grandmom, Pop, Pop Pop, Mindy Lou and everyone else...Happy Thanksgiving from here on earth :)