Merry Christmas Eve!

 

outdoor wreath

I am going to keep this entry short, as Christmas Eve day is often busy with cooking, cleaning, packing, and/or wrapping the last of the presents. Amid all of the items on your “to-do” list, please remember to breathe.

Remember to stop and listen to your favorite Christmas song.

Maybe keep the Christmas tree lights on for a bit longer, and really see them. Note the colors, the way the ornaments reflect the light. Try to remember the story behind each ornament. Soak it all in.

glass angel

I know I will, with a giant cup of coffee in my hand.

Merry Christmas to all of you! I am wishing that each and every one of you has a wonderful holiday.

indoor wreath

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

 

 

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(Non-alcoholic) Shots of Holiday Cheer

This post is intended for everyone—and anyone—struggling to get through the month of December. That includes me. Yes, I received excellent news at my last transplant check-up in Boston, but life consists of more than just doctor appointments. I, too, need to be reminded of the beauty and the love inherent in this season.

We’ll start with an undecorated Christmas tree:

There’s something about these images that remind me of an Elementary School Christmas Concert that I attended. I had older cousins performing in this particular concert. One of them was in the grade level that performed, “O Tannenbaum”.  I look at our tree, and I can’t help but sing the English version of that song.

As previously reported, our tree is a Fraser Fir and is approximately ten-feet tall. How do you decorate such a beast? First, I personally recommend obtaining a tall fiancé. Next, you will need to find a ladder. Put the two together, and you have someone that can hang ornaments on the higher branches.

seth decorating

Placing the tree-topper (which, in our case, is a white star) where it belongs, is a piece of cake for tall people on ladders.

a star a star

If you are shorter, like me, you get to decorate as high up as you can reach. Working as thus, you’ll eventually meet in the middle and voila! You’ll have a decorated Christmas tree for your fur babies to enjoy from a (safe) distance.

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The tree isn’t the only decoration capable of inspiring holiday cheer. We adorned the fireplace mantel with a faux Amaryllis. It burns a happy shade of scarlet.

faux red flowers

We strung lights along our stair hand-rail:

Our house has a second floor, framed in with a wooden banister. In some ways, resembles a balcony, overlooking the first floor. We spruced the banister up with a garland, bows, and ornaments.

deck the halls

In fact, we randomly hung ornaments all around the house (this one is in the kitchen):

ornament 2018

The second floor is also where we set up a special, hand-made nativity set. Every time I walk by the crèche and the figurines, I hum either, “Away in a Manger” or “O Little Town of Bethlehem”.

away in a manger

It’s important to remember, though, that the season isn’t just about bright lights, glittery ornaments and greenery. It’s also about love:

blue jays

It may be difficult to see, but there are two birds in this picture. They are not turtle doves – just common blue jays – but they’re weathering the cold, winter temperatures together. Isn’t that what love is about? Supporting and encouraging each other – even on the coldest and darkest of days?

The season is also about hope for the future:

pine cone

This little guy fell off of our tree. It’s just a cone for now, but one day, maybe, it’ll be a 10-foot Fraser fir.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your continued encouragement, light, and love. I am wishing each of you a happy and healthy holiday season.

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Joyful

snowflake

Dear Readers,

I apologize for the delay in posting this entry. This past week was insanely busy! I’m sure you’ve felt it, too; how time seems to speed up the closer we get to Christmas. Amid the feeling of being rushed, though, is the potential to create beautiful and joyful memories.

For instance, last Friday, my fiancé and I went to the ICU Christmas party. The party was biker-themed. I wore a mask (because it was a bit crowded and I still need to protect myself from germs). I didn’t want to feel like a patient amid doctors and nurses, so I decorated the mask, biker-style:

biker mask

The mask came off briefly for pictures with my person, though:

christmas party
(I stole this photo from my fiancé)

Somehow, the next day, we were able to squeeze in some holiday decorating. Our tree is a Fraser Fir, it’s approximately ten-feet tall, and it smells spectacular! When I look at this tree all aglow, I reflect on holidays past and am excited for the Christmases to come. I don’t often feel joy, but when I see the star on the top of this tree, it takes me back to childhood, when Christmas was pure magic.

decorating the tree
(I stole this photo from my fiancé, too)

Decorating was cut short by a follow-up transplant appointment in Boston. The appointment was scheduled for 9:30am on Monday, and, since the trip usually requires 4.5 hours of driving one-way, we decided to book a hotel for Sunday night. I drove the first leg of the journey:

driving to Boston
(Again, I stole this photo from my fiancé)

I think I have always admired Boston. I wanted to go to grad school there, but plans change, and that’s okay. The city was incredibly beautiful Sunday night, as we walked to a restaurant for dinner.

trees of boston
(He did an excellent job with this one…so you know what I had to do) 

It was quiet enough in the restaurant, that I didn’t have to wear a mask. My only real worry was having hat hair (and my fiancé taking a picture of it):

dinner

It’s a welcome change to worry about trivial things, like messed-up hair.

My appointment went extremely well. I am now officially OFF of Prednisone! My lead doctor decided to give my body a chance to adjust to being without steroids before we begin tapering any other medications. Other notable changes include:

  • I will begin tapering my anti-rejection drug on January 1st, 2019. I will admit to being afraid of this step—afraid that I’ll develop Graft vs. Host Disease without the anti-rejection meds and/or the steroids—but it’s a step that needs to be taken.
  • It’s a little thing—but I can add honey to my tea again!
  • Masks are now only required in crowded, public spaces or in doctors’ offices. Quiet restaurants during off hours? No mask. Quiet movie theaters? No mask. Of course, this taste of freedom comes with responsibility—frequent hand-washing and the use of hand-sanitizer are both still required. I must also avoid individuals that are coughing, sneezing or are ill in any way. I also cannot be around individuals have spent time with family, friends, or co-workers that have been ill or recently vaccinated (my fledgling immune system still can’t handle the live viruses used in most vaccines).

It’s a lot to process, but these are enormous strides toward being “normal” again. I don’t expect 2019 to be an easy year, but I do believe it can be a wonderful one.

homeward
(This photo is all me – as are the photos of the snowflake ornament and mask)

Thank you, Dear Readers, for taking this journey with me. Your prayers, kind thoughts, and light have carried me through so much. You are appreciated!

 

With Love & Gratitude:

Laura

Lights & Love

 

angel all aglow

Nearly every December, when my brother and I were young, our parents would take us for a drive around our small town. The point of this little trip was to see all of the Christmas lights: multi-colored trees and shrubbery twinkling on front lawns; white reindeer forming a line in front of Santa’s sleigh; battery-operated candles glowing in otherwise dark windows.

I’m not sure what was more exiting to us—staying up late, or seeing all of the beautiful and creative light displays.

cardboard star

I hadn’t thought about this tradition for years, until last Friday, when my father was driving me home from an appointment in Burlington. It had been a long day of sitting in various waiting rooms (and, in my case, lying in the MRI machine for over 2 hours). By the time we reached the outskirts of the city, it was dark out.

The darkness didn’t matter, though—so many houses were aglow with Christmas decorations! The day’s frustration seemed to melt away as we caught sight of a tree wrapped in gold-colored lights. There were icicle lights, too, dripping from porch eaves. The ferry was also lit up; multi-colored bulbs sparkling in the upper deck windows.

“Do you remember riding around, looking at all the lights, when you guys were just kids?” My dad asked.

“Yeah, I do.”

What I didn’t say is that I miss it. I miss going for those rides and seeing the neighborhood all aglow. The lights were brilliant, and to a child, they were magical. To an adult, they represent hope.

Hope that I will emerge, stronger, from the darkness of a difficult, two years.

Hope for a brighter and healthier future.

Hope that I can bring back those traditions that inspired joy.

pine

Thank you, Dear readers, for continuing to pray for me and for encouraging me through this time of recovery. Your light and love truly make a difference. The imaging from last week’s MRIs came back clear. My head and my lumbar spine are currently cancer and infection-free. More good news: upon obtaining Boston’s approval, we’re going to start spacing these tests out to every 6 months instead of every 3!

Miracles do happen…they just take time.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Focus on the Light

 

Aldie on mantle

Thanksgiving, as a day, has passed. We’ve fueled up with copious amounts of turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. We’ve visited with family and friends. We’ve laughed, we’ve been schooled in a game of chess (which is unprecedented and I still think you were cheating), and we’ve relaxed in the living room, while Bob Ross painted yet another masterpiece on the television.

The final countdown to December has begun—as has the real struggle to remain grateful.

December days seem shorter and they seem darker (because they are). You can’t change the facts, but you can change how you interact with them.

Luna napping in the sun

It’s dark? Turn a light on. Or, better yet, be a light.

I met a Light recently—just outside of Panera. I was wearing a surgical mask—as I must do in any busy, public space. I’ve grown accustomed to being gawked at, clearing crowded, grocery store aisles, and making children cry. I’m not going to lie; the worried stares and scowls do hurt my feelings. I feel shunned. Unwanted. Sometimes I dream of making, and wearing, a t-shirt that reads, “I’m not contagious, but you might be”.

What happened outside of Panera was, by far, the best reaction to the mask that I’ve ever experienced. As I was leaving the restaurant, a young man was about to enter. I don’t like touching doors, even with surgical-grade gloves on, but I held the door open for him anyways.

He gasped, “Oh, my God, are we in China?!”

My sources tell me that in several Asian countries, wearing a mask is the polite thing to do when you’re feeling under the weather. I can’t be certain if this young man thought that I was wearing a mask to be respectful of others’ health, but he started smiling. It was a kind, brilliant smile and was soon accompanied by good-natured laughter. It was infectious.

It was, honestly, a relief to laugh about the mask.

christmas lights

Although focusing on sources of light is a great way to survive the darker days of December, it’s not the only way. Can’t stand the silence of falling snow? Play some music and sing (loudly) along with it.

Need something light-hearted? Try watching a corny, holiday rom-com and giggle like a teenage girl (that’s my secret for evading both the blues and anxiety).

Of course, we shouldn’t stop counting our blessings just because Thanksgiving has come and gone. It’s not always easy to recognize the good in every day. There are days that I write absolutely nothing in my gratitude journal. The result? I get grumpy. I get stressed.

Those emotions do not promote healing. Or happiness.

I intend to finish 2018 happier and healthier than I started it. To accomplish this, I will be more diligent about writing in my gratitude journal. I’ll find the light, whenever possible, and I will be a mirror, reflecting it.

christmas lights 1.0

Please, Dear Readers, continue to send prayers, love, and light. This week is going to be insanely busy with medical appointments. It ends, on Friday, with MRIs of my head and lumbar spine. I’m not particularly worried about the results, but prayers do help me to face the machine. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Christmas Day

 

cuddling

Above: Wallace and Alderaan caught cuddling. 

 

Let me preface this by saying that I’m really not complaining; I love winter. I am currently wrapped up in two blankets—and contemplating dragging a third one onto my lap. Or, I might just warm up with a cup of hot cocoa (topped off with whipped cream, because, why not?).

It amazes me how quickly Christmas seemed to arrive and, then, pass by. I can’t help but wonder what happened to the beginning of December. Where did it go? What was I doing? I expect this week to be just as hectic as last week was. And, that’s why, Dear Readers, I am going to leave sticky notes around the apartment to remind myself to:

breathe;

smile;

laugh;

and hold happy memories close.

Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, I hope you are able to enjoy the rest of December. I hope you’re able to frolic in the snow. I hope you’re able to stay warm.

We’re back in Boston late this week for another check-up. Please, Dear Readers, continue to send light and love. Your kind thoughts and prayers make a difference.

 

With Love,

Laura

A Nudge from Nissa

nissa-via-facebook

Well, Dear Readers, as you can clearly see, this post is a little bit behind schedule. It certainly wasn’t intended to be—I even had something written and ready to post by last Wednesday—but as the holiday arrived with all its glorious busyness, laughter, and AMAZING food, the post I had waiting in the wings no longer seemed to “fit” what I was thinking and feeling.

So, just what am I currently thinking and feeling?

Gratitude.

Gratitude for my family—both the family I was born into and the family I have gained through my significant other.

Gratitude for the man that so clearly loves Wallace the Wonderful and I.

And, ultimately, I am grateful for the opportunity to still be here—alive—to experience the magic of this Christmas.

This holiday season, although characterized by a whirlwind of activity, has also been abundant in hugs and kind words. It has shone as brightly as outdoor lights in the early darkness of December evenings. It has consisted of bad days and good ones, evenings of tears and evenings in which Hope has sat beside me on the couch and whispered of all the wonderful possibilities 2017 might hold. Yet, like my various cancerversaries, it has also been a season in which I am more aware of the passage of time and the mutability of our very mortal lives. There’s a vein of sadness flowing underneath the carols and the ribbons—a sense that things will never quite be the same, that happiness could, and will, slip away.

It was with this in mind—that I could be experiencing something as transient as it was beautiful—that I watched the sky behind Boldt Castle lighten this past Monday morning. There was something serene in the shifting colors, something of the ethereal in the way that the sun’s first rays illuminated the horizon’s edges. I wanted to capture this moment before I forgot it, or worse—never had the chance to experience it again—and reached for my phone. My fingers tapped out my password, the screen automatically opening to Facebook and a face I had not seen since February 2015.

I froze.

Before Wallace the Wonderful was born, before I was a cancer survivor—there was Nissa. I think we all have at least one dog in our lives that takes a bite out of our hearts when they go. Nissa was such a dog. She was a sweet soul with beautiful brown eyes and ears that folded over. She loved to run, belly to the ground, in wide circles. Nissa appreciated snow, too, and would bound through it with all the playfulness of a much younger dog (she was at least two when we adopted her).

For twelve years Nissa slept on the foot of my bed—and would pee on it whenever she was angry at me—until her hips would no longer allow her to jump up. She tolerated Wallace when he came along, giving me doleful looks when the cat would sprawl out on her doggie bed in the living room. She was patient and she was generous, never loving me any less when the chemotherapy took my hair or made me repugnant-smelling to the cats.

Sometimes, I felt that Nissa viewed me as a puppy in need of gentle, toothy reminders; she would take my hand in her mouth and guide me wherever she wanted me to go.

And she still guides me—in the most surprising of ways.

Meeting Nissa’s gaze via Facebook this past Monday, I knew I had a choice. I could view her picture as an unhappy reminder of all that I had lost and yet another example of how fleeting the beautiful things in our lives are, or, I could embrace it as a sign, a message, that yes, life changes. We lose dogs, we lose people, we lose bits of ourselves. Does it hurt? Most definitely. Does healing require time and patience? Certainly. But the love—the love they had for us and the love we had for them—is never truly out of reach.

I didn’t take a picture of Boldt Castle that morning. Beautiful moments like that—similar to the love of those we have lost—don’t always need to be captured by a camera. Sometimes, those moments just need to be felt.

Repeat After Me: Joy, Peace, Love, Hope

heart-ornament-2015

It’s Sunday evening and the hours are slowly slipping away. The apartment is quiet, calm, and Wallace the Wonderful is sleeping on the far end of the couch. It should be the perfect time to write, but my eyes keep wandering from my laptop’s screen to our miniature Christmas tree. There’s something mesmerizing about the way the lights weave through the branches, illuminating the treasured ornaments hanging there. From where I am sitting, I can see the angel that my grandmother made for me the Christmas of 1994. Darth Vader is on her left, wielding a red light saber. A glass snowflake—a light directly behind it—glows emerald.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve found myself studying our tree, retelling myself the stories behind each ornament. I am amused—and a little proud—that our 2-foot tree, high on a shelf, is so beautiful, so plump with love. Tonight, though, my tree-gazing is a little different. Tonight, I am searching for the words joy, peace, love and hope among our little tree’s boughs.

The search began, in earnest, this past Friday night. I was driving home, enjoying the outdoor Christmas lights along my route, and thinking about the scene that I had just left. I had gone to the VFW to watch my brother and his bandmates perform. Although I was busy snapping pictures of their band, Midnight Moonshine, I wasn’t so oblivious to my surroundings that I didn’t notice an elderly gentleman dancing.

“He’s 92,” an informant told me, “and he does this every week. He will dance here and then when this VFW closes, he’ll dance at the next one.”

Looking at the gentleman in question, there could be no mistaking what the smile on his face meant. He glowed with joy—joy for life, joy for dancing, joy for the present moment.

It seemed like a fitting emotion to have this time of year and it was this thought—that joy somehow “fit” this season—that I began to wonder about other words that might “fit”. My commute home, in fact, became a hunt for them.

While driving by a house with blue icicle lights, the word “peace” came to mind. I thought about how, earlier in the week, Wallace the Wonderful and I had fallen asleep on the couch listening to acoustic carols as the star atop our Christmas tree slowly and serenely shifted colors.

I thought of the word “love” while at an intersection, less than a block away from home, waiting for the light to turn green. Love surprises me on random mornings with a smile and a home-made breakfast fit for royalty. It is a word that I feel in my mother’s embrace and hear in my father’s jokes. Love tastes like hot cocoa, a spoonful of fluff melting atop the liquid and infusing the entire cup with its sweetness.

And, as I finally stepped into the light and warmth of our apartment, I felt the word “hope”. It was residing in the Christmas card on the table—our first card as a couple—and it greeted me with exuberant wishes for a happy and healthy season and year ahead.

Joy. Peace. Love. Hope.

We see these words so frequently this time of year—on accent pillows and wrapping paper, wall art and billboards—that they lose all meaning. The words become part of the backdrop, unobserved and unfelt, until a 92 year-old veteran, tearing up the dance floor, reminds you to start looking for them again.