A New Kind of Thanksgiving

Last weekend, my husband, a dear friend and myself went to my cousin’s farm to pick out a steer to fill our freezer. No worries, Dear Vegan & Vegetarian friends—I won’t go into greater detail than this. To be honest, I’m not even sure that I actually saw the bovine that my husband and friend picked; I was too busy trying to make friends with my cousin’s horse and German Shepherds!

So, yes, I was distracted by the dogs beside me as well as a treasured memory of a fellow elementary/middle/high school student’s German Shepherds. We rode the same school bus home, and when she was dropped off at the end of her driveway, two, rather large German Shepherds would weave through the evergreens in her front yard—just to reach her, their girl. It’s quite possible that I’ve shared this memory in a previous blog post, but my favorite recollection of these canines comes from a wintery afternoon, in which their dark coats were illuminated by falling snowflakes.

Such beauty.

Such devotion.

Such a blessing to observe.

My cousin’s shepherds aren’t nearly as big as the dogs occupying my memories, but they each had a doggie grin and a wagging tail. I asked my cousin where he had gotten his dogs from. The answer? From individuals that couldn’t care for them any longer. Although they hadn’t come from shelters, they were rescues—like our Berkley!

Berkley, as I write this entry, is lying at my feet. Luna is nearby as well. Thanksgiving, for our pups, wasn’t this placid. It was, shall I say, ‘competitive’?

Before we left my cousin’s farm, he gave us four cow bones. We, in turn, gave both Luna and Berkley a bone that day. My husband and I set aside the two remaining bones for a special occasion. Thanksgiving Day seemed like the perfect, special occasion.

Before I reveal how this treat was received, I should perhaps inform you that Berkley LOVED the first bone that he was given. In fact, he was quite protective of it, even burying it outside when he had had enough of it!

I don’t support digging holes in the backyard, but it was the cutest thing watching Berkley stash his beloved bone in the hole underneath the grill and covering it up with loose soil. When he was finished his ‘dirty’ work, Berkley’s black-and-white marbled paws were covered with a patina of cocoa-colored soil.

On Thanksgiving Day, however, the pup’s roles changed. Luna became the guardian of the bones, retrieving Berkley’s buried bone and bringing it inside. She went straight to the kennel with it, dropping the dirt-covered bone with a loud bang (most likely to announce her find). Berkley was a bit shocked by this, but recovered quickly when we removed the ‘special-occasion” bones from the freezer.

His brown eyes glowed, his white-tipped tail wagged. Berkley was so enamored with his new bone that he didn’t even walk his daddy to the back gate (an everyday ritual that both dogs keep whenever their father goes to work). Alas! His new bone needed to be gnawed on and watched.

Luna, content with her “found” bone, scurried out of the kennel and underneath the stairs to chew on it. We placed a fresh bone at the opening of her hidey-hole, so she wouldn’t feel left out. Gotta keep it fair!

Luna and the ‘found’, dirt-covered bone….

Unfortunately, Dear Readers, Berkley lowered his guard later in the afternoon.

While I separated pumpkin seeds from stringy, pumpkin innards in the kitchen, Berkley lost his bone underneath the recliner. Luna, still hiding under the stairs, was working on the old bone, but growled at Berkley whenever he came too close to her new one. It was this—her growl, that drew me into the living room. Berkley was circling the recliner, head down, dark eyes worried.

I wasn’t sure, at first, what he wanted. Luna is usually the one that loses toys and treats underneath the recliner (and she does it on purpose, too, as a game). It didn’t make sense to me that Berkley would have stuffed his bone under the chair, but the sad look on his face prompted me to lean the recliner forward anyways.

Unaccustomed to moving furniture, Berkley hesitated to retrieve his bone. Luna, a cunning and quick coonhound mix, swooped in and stole it.

I should preface this next part by saying that I love my girl, but goodness she’s talented at taunting her brother! Not only did she steal his new bone, when the pair went outside, she brought it out with her. It seemed to disappear….

Then, the next time that they ventured outdoors, Luna carried another bone out with her. This one seemed to disappear as well….

There was only one bone left in the house and our shrewd girl spirited it off to her hidey-hole.

This—observing our pups with their ‘special-occasion’ bones—was my Thanksgiving.

It was certainly not the holiday I was used to! I was physically alone—no family, no friends (thanks COVID restrictions), but I was so busy roasting pumpkin seeds and trying to establish puppy peace, that I didn’t have a chance to feel lonely.

Text messages from friends, and a phone call from my mother-in-law, kept me smiling.

Plus, whenever my heart started to yearn for company, I called my mom. At least four times! I kept her as busy as Luna was keeping me (mother like daughter?). In any case, the ability to pick up the phone and talk to my mom, was a blessing.

The dogs, despite their lack of sharing, were a blessing.

Alderaan, purring loudly beside me while I studied Norwegian, was a blessing, too.

So, yes, I was physically without my family and my husband on Thanksgiving Day, but I wasn’t really alone. Love and gratitude are everywhere—we simply have to keep an open heart and mind, and they become easier to recognize.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here, today. I hope you had a wonderful holiday filled with laughter and love! Sending prayers and light your way.

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

The Light

The sunrise this morning was breathtaking—and divided between the front yard and the backyard, as the weather so often is. The sky glowed Jack-o-lantern orange in the back, where Luna and Berkley play. Across the road, over the frosty field that Sneaky the cat used to haunt, it was a gentle rose.

The garage’s skylight sparkled, silver.

I can’t say, with any certainty, that winter weather is on its way. Just last week, we hit 68 degrees Fahrenheit! The week before, many local schools had morning delays.

This is life, I guess. Unpredictable. Uncontrollable. And absolutely beautiful.

A dear friend, for Christmas 2019, gifted us a coffee table calendar. Each day features the picture of a dog and an inspirational quote. Sometimes, the dogs aren’t exactly “pretty” and the quotes aren’t exactly “thought-provoking”. However, I have found joy in seeing what each new day will bring. The picture of a poodle? A pug? A retriever? Will the quote be by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow? Helen Keller? Ralph Waldo Emerson?

Each day has been a surprise, and, yes, as a hoarder, I have held onto the pages that have resonated with me!

Recently, a chocolate lab with its bubble-gum-pink tongue sticking out, shared the page with this timely quote by Anatole France:

The truth is that life is delicious, horrible, charming, frightful, sweet, bitter, and that is everything.

It really is “everything”. Life is a coin with two sides. As we so often hear, we don’t know love until we’ve been heartbroken. We don’t know what happiness is, until we’ve been brought low.

So many of us feel low right now.

I am delighted by the solutions that the people around me have concocted.

Melancholy? Bring on the magic of Christmas!

Need some light? String up those holiday strands, across the front porch and roofline (we never took ours down; let’s hope they still work)!

Need something corny and sweet? Try a Christmas-themed movie.

I was recently introduced to a Netflix original series entitled, Dash and Lily. I’m only one episode in, but I can’t wait to watch #2! Thus far, the series has been surprisingly cerebral and yet soaked in city lights and holiday traditions.

Caroling? It’s got that—and it’s got me singing Christmas hymns and carols whenever I wash the dishes (which seems to be a never-ending task). BTW – anyone know all the words to “Frosty the Snowman”? I’ve somehow forgotten them….

Is it just me, or does this snowman look a little worried?

AND—this might be the best part of Dash and Lily for me—much of it seems to revolve around a bookstore! There’s simply no way that I, a book worm, can walk away from a rom-com set among bookshelves.

*dreamy sigh*

It seems, in our COVID-infected world, that heralding Christmas cheer, light and generosity into our daily lives may be a salve for the sadness. A tincture for the terrible fear. A compress for the confusion.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. I can’t express how much you mean to me. Light up your world—with white lights, multi-color lights, blinking lights (if you must). Sing carols and children’s songs while scrubbing the silverware. Relax with a holiday film or show. It’s not rushing the season; it’s self-care.

With So Much Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Bjørnen

October has arrived and, with it, morning skies that are as inky and dark as the contents of a broken pen. My raised garden bed is almost entirely devoid of the color green; save for the kale that is somehow making a comeback?

There are other garden chores to attend to. This past week I transplanted my single lavender shoot. Locating a spot in the yard that offered both full sun and well-aerated soil was not an easy task. Additionally, I dug up my Gladiolus callianthus bulbs. They’re currently drying in the garage, before I pack them away for the winter.

Away.

Away like the geese migrating overhead through gray, cloudy skies.

Away like Riley, our foster dog, returning to his rightful owner.

As revealed in a previous entry (Please see, “Fare-Thee-Well”, posted 9/7/2020), I was not 100% on board with the idea of fostering a dog. Taking care of three dogs, at once, sounded impossible.

Little did I know, I would fall head-over-heels for this foster dog.

He became part of our family.

All of our fur babies came with names. Their names “fit” just fine, but, as a writer, I needed to insert some creativity into the situation. Thus, they now each have middle names.

Alderaan Birkir (an Icelandic schnaps that I ‘discovered’ while conducting research for a piece of fiction).

Luna Petunia (because it sort of rhymes?).

Berkley Fergus (I’m not responsible for this one, but he is most definitely a ‘Fergus’).

Middle names are especially important in our bed-time ritual in which I say to each fur-baby, “Goodnight, [insert fur-baby’s name]. I love you. Have sweet puppy dreams tonight.” Or, in Alderaan’s case, “Goodnight, Alderaan Birkir. I love you. Have sweet feline dreams”. I cannot take credit for this ritual; the idea for this bed-time practice came from a Facebook post shared, a few years ago, by The Joshua Fund Dog Rescue.

Similar to how we thrive when we feel loved, our fur-babies need to be reminded of how important they are, too. We may not speak the same language, but I believe that kind words and a warm tone convey the message.

When Riley moved in, I continued our bed-time practice, but I didn’t like leaving him out. He deserved to have sweet puppy dreams, too!

The goodnight formula, though, required a middle name. Did Riley have one? I had no idea…and I didn’t ask…but he needed one…so I gave him one.

Turns out, I needed help selecting one. During a wonderful FaceTime chat with a dear friend, I sought assistance with the quest for the ‘perfect’ middle name. My friend asked me if I had learned any names while studying Norwegian. I had…but none of them seemed to fit.

Riley Marius.

Riley Jens.

Riley Einar.

Nope. Nope. And nope. None of them were good enough my foster dog.

Still, as an aficionado of Norwegian, I kept searching. Had any other names appeared during my language lessons on DuoLingo? No, but I decided to give him this one: Bjørnen. In Norwegian, Bjørnen means “the bear”. If Riley is a bear, he’s a teddy bear! His presence has been such a comfort—helping me through the loss of my grandfather.

At ten years old, Riley is a gentleman. He seems to know exactly when I need a hug; he’ll walk over to me, tail wagging and mouth open in a canine grin, and wait for me to bend down and wrap my arms around his shoulders.

Tail wagging & canine grin

He is almost always my security blanket at night (except for evenings wherein he falls asleep in his own bed).

An active senior, Riley is quite playful:

He’s the shadow at my side whenever I walk down the cement path in our backyard.

I have always wanted a dog that walked beside me, without a leash. When I was a kid, I imagined that that dog would be a German Shephard. Riley isn’t a Shephard, nor is he my dog, and it will hurt to give him back to his true owner. Yet, it’s where he belongs, and I know he has a loving and safe home there.

To paraphrase what another dear friend said about this reality: he will be taking a piece of your heart when he leaves.

It’s true. I will miss my Bjørnen.

I refuse, however, to let tears dilute the beauty of the incredible month that I have experienced with Riley. I will treasure everything that he has taught me/reminded me of: patience, kindness, caring, love…and self-care—especially regarding sleep!

I am grateful for this dog…which is why I tell him, when Luna and Berkley aren’t listening, that he has been a blessing to me.

Riley’s presence, and his imminent absence, is, to me, the embodiment of Beth and Matt Redman’s praise song, “Blessed Be Your Name”:

God you give and take away

Oh, you give and take away

[But] My heart will choose to say

Lord, blessed be Your name…

I, of course, do not have any rights to these lyrics. I can and will say, however, that this is one of the most powerful worship songs that I have ever had the opportunity to hear, sing, and apply to my own life. The upbeat melody is encouraging and invigorating.

What was I given? A senior dog to love and care for—something, Dear Readers, that 2010 me, after my first cancer experience, apparently had on her bucket list:

#17. Adopt Old Dogs.

Interesting how that item manifested, right?

There can be no doubt that I will miss my Bjørnen. It is, nevertheless, my hope that Luna and Berkley will assume some of his characteristics as they age.

May they be happy.

May they be healthy.

May they, at age 10, still drag around toys to play “fetch” and “tug of war” with.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. I hope you have the opportunity to experience the love of a senior dog and how comforting s/he can be. Sending prayers, love and light your way.

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Update: Riley and his fur-ever family were reunited yesterday, Monday October 5th, 2020. He was so happy to see them! His wagging tail and canine grin made me smile. It was a heart-warming sight. I am so grateful to have had Riley Bjørnen in my life.

Resources for the Curious:

To learn more about The Joshua Fund Dog Rescue, please visit: https://www.joshuafundrescue.org/

For more information pertaining to the song “Blessed Be Your Name” and its creators, Beth and Matt Redman, please visit: https://mattredman.com/

Re-Birthday

This entry did not come easily, Dear Readers.

I thought—because today, September 21st, 2020, is the third anniversary of my bone marrow transplant—that I could simply write something quick about survivorship and gratitude.

Turns out, I was wrong.

In general, I utilize avoidance to cope with my medical history. I tune it out. Shove it down deep within where I can’t see it, can’t feel it, until days like today draw it up out of the water, chain link by chain link. My medical history is an anchor, holding me in place, preventing forward motion, stunting my growth.

It’s also quite possible that this coping mechanism is the reason why I resented the term “re-birthday” when I first read it. Until recently, I referred to the anniversary of my transplant as my “birthday”. I had heard other recipients in my area use the expression, but, then, after joining a national bone marrow transplant group on Facebook, I realized that the term most often used was, “re-birthday”.

My dislike for the term was so intense, in fact, that it prodded me to do some digging, some self-reflection regarding my own survivorship—things I don’t do often because of the trauma they could unearth. Still, I needed to know why I was having such a reaction. Why couldn’t I swap ‘birthday’ with ‘re-birthday’? What, honestly, was the big deal?

Finally, after days of self-investigation, I realized that I had a problem with ‘re-birthday’ because it requires the acknowledgement of a ‘re-birth’.

Re-birth.

The image that comes to my mind when I hear that word is that of a golden phoenix. Not the character from X-Men or even Dumbledore’s pet phoenix in the Harry Potter series. A phoenix, as I have always understood the myth, is a bird-like creature that rises from its own ashes.

It has to die to be reborn.

On September 21st, 2017, Laura Perras died.

Her faulty immune system—and her blood—was replaced. Gone forever. What she had been, simply disappeared.

It was in this moment, when my donor’s graft took hold that I should have risen from the ashes. I should have found a way to live, daily, with positivity and gratitude. I should have had the courage to build a new, fulfilling life.

Instead, Dear Readers, I cowered.

I cowered to the immensity of it all—to the pain of transplant, to the long-term side-effects that continually pop up, to the fear of being something other than complacent.

As one of my former therapists once said to me, ‘you can’t be the only one struggling to come back’.

It feels that way, though—lonely—when I’m online and I see fellow transplant recipients at their re-birthday parties. They’re all smiles. Laughing. Seemingly happy.

In writing this entry, Dear Readers, I have been forced to confront some of my demons—the fears, the feelings, the pain that I’m really good at ignoring. The result? I don’t want to live like this anymore.

I’m tired of worrying. I’m tired of being tired. I’m tired of shrinking away from what I could be.

In my quest for truth, for the definition of ‘rebirth’ even, I visited Thesaurus.com (https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/rebirth). There, I found more than synonyms; I found a roadmap to my own overdue rebirth.

Comeback – For me, this word conjures scenes from the movie, The Mighty Ducks, wherein Gordon Bombay (an attorney sentenced to do community service as a result of a DWI) rediscovers his love for hockey, for the ice, through teaching a group of kids how to play the sport.

Comeback. Come back home…to yourself.

Recovery – Upon hearing this word, I can’t help but envision the cover of a workbook that I was given during cancer experience #1. Carrots. Greens. You know, a rainbow of foods on your plate. Proper nutrition, while a significant component of healing, is not the only aspect that needs to be addressed. Mental Health. Physical Health. Emotional Health. Rest. Self-care. It is these last two building blocks that I seem to trip over on a regular basis. As such, that’s where my focus needs to be. 

Rehabilitation – There are so many kinds of rehabilitation therapies! Occupational therapy, when I was in it, was a gift. I am forever grateful for the therapist that worked with me. She restored some of my confidence. Even though my brain had been to Hell and back, she showed me that not only could I learn new information, I could retain and apply it, too.

Physical therapy, well, I’m still working on this one. I can say, though, that I am loving my new rehabilitation plan—a personal, modified yoga practice! I’m stretching and balancing in ways that the tumor of 2017 stole from me. Every session is one step closer to feeling comfortable in my body, to feeling at home, to trusting it.

Then, there’s wildlife rehabilitation. You may question, what in the world are you talking about, Laura? I ask you, Dear Readers, to imagine a phoenix with a wounded wing. The joy of flight, of sailing across the sky, has been taken from her. She must patiently wait for her wing to heal before she can regain her joie de vivre.

I am not a phoenix; yet, in my own waiting, I have lost sight of the sky. There are so many days wherein joy itself seems like a distant memory, a distant goal. Thus, when I recognize it in the photographs of fellow transplant recipients celebrating their re-birthdays, it’s foreign to me. I grow jealous. This, then, is a challenge to rise up to. I will find joy, I will feel it every day, and I will share it.

Revival – As I have shared in previous blog entries, I am undergoing a spiritual revival. I have been reading the Word of God and praying on a daily basis. Revival, though, is prompting me to go deeper. I need to connect with a faith community. To volunteer. To spend more time doing what I’ve been called to do—write Christian fiction.

Reawakening – Now, let’s say that our phoenix has put the work and time in. She’s gone through all of the rehabilitation programs that she possibly can. She’s rediscovered joy. She’s pursuing her life’s calling. What then? Does she unfold her wings, feeling the wind playfully ruffle her feathers? Does she take to the skies? What does she do with this newfound freedom?

This is a reawakening, after all.

Our phoenix remembers what it feels like to soar, to be independent, functional. As a healed and happy being, our phoenix decides to embrace the term, ‘re-birthday’. She decides to thank God for being alive, instead of falling into despair, whenever another long-term side-effect of cancer treatment and/or transplant surfaces. She reaches out to her donor, checking in to see how life is treating her. She uses the words, ‘I love you’ in nearly every encounter with friends and family. She recommits herself to the (temporarily abandoned) art of gratitude journaling.

Our phoenix chooses this new life.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. This truly was a difficult post to write…but, in the end, it has been enlightening. Choose self-care. Joy. Try to trust your wings. I am sending prayers, love and light your way.

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Berkley Turns Three!

B Happy

A mostly quiet love-bug (except for when there’s a bunny in the backyard or when his daddy comes home from work), Berkley turned three-years-old this past week! This handsome gentleman from Texas never ceases to amaze us; he is super-fast, happy, and loves to eat. We have been so blessed by Berkley’s presence and are eternally grateful that a dear friend saw his description online and shared it with us. In fact, Berkley’s Got-cha Day is today (July 27th)!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Berkley’s calm demeanor balances Luna’s high-energy and has even helped to dial it down by several degrees.

Golden girl

Thanks to Berk, she has also embraced couch cuddling—but only if it’s her idea. Luna is an independent thinker, a feline-like quality that she may have picked up from her big-little brother, Alderaan.

Smug_

As the cat of the house—and king of the upstairs—Alderaan had the choice as to whether or not he would participate in Berkley’s birthday celebrations. The celebration, in actuality, began a day early when Berkley and Luna’s new friend, Finnigan, came to visit.

Finnigan’s mom, an awesome nurse and friend, was helping strip the old shingles off of our roof and asked if I could watch her 5-month-old Labradoodle while she was up there. I said yes! I mean, who could say ‘no’ to this guy:

Finnigan in the kitchen

He’s so cute and soft! And, although he is as tall as Luna, he’s convinced that he’s a lap dog.

Selfie with Finn

Worried that Finn’s affinity for cuddling would interfere with my ability to complete my husband’s birthday presents (Hubby and Berk share the same birthday), I moved my operation to the kitchen, where I set up shop on top of the keezer. Finnigan happily joined me there, settling on my feet as extra motivation to keep painting.

Art Buddy

With Finn’s help, I finally finished these:

Completed Paw Prints

With the salt-dough paw prints and my husband’s birthday card completed, I was ready for the double birthday. I could go to sleep without a nagging voice telling me that I had more to do to make the next day a good day.

Yes, I was ready for the double birthday—Berkley, however, was not:

Birthday Boy Surprise

I think Berk’s reaction to being told that he was a year older, is one that we can all recognize/sympathize with. Although growing older is a privilege, how many of us actually do so with acceptance and grace? I know I haven’t.

Berkley’s shock wore off later in the afternoon when Finn’s mom brought over a delicious raspberry, buttercream-frosted cake. Neither of our pups sampled the cake, but they were excited by the smell of it.

July Birthday cake

Berkley spent the day receiving extra pets and hugs. For dinner, he was even given a larger spoonful of soft food atop his kibble! By the day’s end, he seemed content be a three-year-old.

B Content

Thank you, Dear Readers, for joining me here today. I hope you are finding reasons to celebrate (safely). If you have a pup or a cat of your own, give them some extra cuddles today. It’s beneficial for both of you. Sending prayers, love and light your way.

 

With Gratitude,

Laura

 

Resources for the Curious

We adopted Berkley from this wonderful organization: https://greatdivideanimalrescue.org/

Where Blessings Abound

On Tuesday (7/7/2020) of this past week, I posted this on Facebook:

On this day, ten years ago, I was told (for the first time) that I had cancer. Unlike my previous cancerversaries, this one has been exceptionally emotional. I feel as though I have been on a rollercoaster ride all day – I have felt gratitude for this life, for outliving my original expiration date, but also, a tremendous amount of grief, survivor’s guilt, and fear. There’s simply too much in my head and in my heart to describe here.

10 years.

So, I will quote Desiderata, as I do every July 7th:

“Be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe.

No less than the trees and the stars;

You have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you,

No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

Thank you, so much, for all of the prayers, love and light that you have given to me throughout this past decade. There are no words for just how much I appreciate all of you.

My head and my heart really were spinning. In the past, I had celebrated my cancerversaries with cake (preferably cakes with rainbow sprinkles on top of them). This one, I didn’t. I didn’t have the heart to celebrate…which I still can’t explain, even to myself.

Last Wednesday, July 8th, 2020, I was more at peace with it all. The rollercoaster ride had ended and I was settled. Grounded in the present moment. This, too, mirrored how I felt ten years ago; on 7/8/2010, I was at peace. Complete and utter peace with my diagnosis. I firmly believed that whatever happened to me, was God’s will. It was His plan.

I know now, that that’s called, “shock”.

Despite the description of how I felt as being, “shock”, I prefer to think of it as peace, as comfort, and as assurance of His presence. I’m going to be stubborn about this one; say “shock” and I’m going to say “serenity”.

My Facebook post was met with a tremendous wave of love and good wishes. It was humbling and comforting. I couldn’t ask for better family and friends. The support was exactly what I needed to recover from a day spent sobbing (on both sides of the shower curtain). I also received some lovely, invaluable advice—which I plan to utilize.

One Facebook friend described her coping mechanism as doing what she loves, as much as she can.

What do I love to do?

Write. Read. Spend time with these furry babies:

Spending time in the garden is another hobby that brings me joy.

It’s a miracle that most of everything is still alive (let’s not talk about the pepper plants that my dad gave me or the Bachelor Buttons that I tried to transplant). It has been a privilege to watch my pea plants flower and produce pods.

And, then, there’s this curiosity:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’ve never witnessed an onion going to seed before! There’s something beautiful about it.

Another element of life that I thoroughly enjoy is being artsy. My latest project involved capturing our fur babies’ paw prints in salt dough.

I’m not quite finished with this project; they need another coat of white paint and some detailing in either blue or black.

painting pawprints

It’s a small thing, but it is a keepsake that I am sure we will treasure for the rest of our lives.

Echoing the above sentiment, is the gift box that my mom gave me (along with the gift inside of it) for my most recent birthday. The top of the box reads, “Enjoy the little things…for one day you will look back and realize they were the big things”. I don’t know who to attribute this quote to, but I feel as though it is of the utmost importance to embrace.

This “little thing” was stretching up alongside the raised bed garden, probably sniffing at the lettuce, kale and carrots. She’s still too small to hop up into it (which, of course, is a good thing).

tiny

Although I suspect that Tiny (pictured above – can you see her white tail?) is the one responsible for the destruction of the Johnny Jumps, I can’t help but feel blessed every time I see her.

July Johnny TrioJuly Johnny

Perhaps celebration wasn’t something that I could do on July 7th, but today, I feel ready to count all of the remarkable blessings that I have been given.

En (one) – renewed faith

To (two) – my husband, our fur babies, as well as my family, both biological and married into

Tre (three) – the friends that I have made along the way

Fire (four) – the gift of continued learning (including Norwegian and the classes that I will be taking to become a professional medical coder)

Fem (five) – the gift of the five senses, so that I can see, hear, smell, taste, touch all of the God-given wonders of this life

Seks (six) – simply being alive!

Sju (seven) – my readers, who encourage me to keep writing, even when it’s difficult.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. You are a treasure to me. I am sending prayers, love and light your way.

 

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

 

Resources for the Curious

“Desiderata” is, in actuality, much longer than the segment that I shared on Facebook. It’s an inspiring poem by Max Ehrmann and is absolutely worth Googling!

Be Imaginative. Be Whimsical. Have Fun.

Hello again, Dear Readers!

In an effort to combat high anxiety levels and the general gravity of these days, I decided to write something a little different for this week’s blog post. I wanted to do something imaginative, whimsical, and fun.

Inspired by both the characters inhabiting our yard, as well as the words of this hymn:

All things bright and beautiful

All creatures great and small

All things wise and wonderful

The Lord God made them all.

– “All Things Bright and Beautiful”, by Cecil Frances and Martin Shaw as printed in The United Methodist Hymnal: Book of United Methodist Worship

I present to you the following short tales. It’s up to you, Dear Readers, to discern fact from fiction.

Freddy Finch’s Red Feathers

Freddy, although resembling the cedar hedges’ sparrows, is, in fact, not a sparrow. Sure, he wears a brown cap and coat—just like some of the sparrows do—but Freddy’s face and chest are a brilliant shade of red-orange.

The sparrows are acutely aware of these differences and sing unpleasant tunes both about and to Freddy. Some of these remarks are so hurtful, that Freddy’s face turns scarlet.

“Don’t listen to ‘em,” Freddy’s best friend, Henrietta, often tells him. “They’re sparrows. They’re a dime a dozen. You, Freddy, are unique.”

“I don’t want to be ‘unique’!” Freddy chirps, before flying away.

“Where are you going?!” Henrietta calls after him.

Freddy doesn’t answer.

He flies to the nearest telephone pole, clears his throat, and begins to sing. The tune is certainly a long one, but is full of loneliness.

“Hi, there.”

Freddy’s song ceases as he turns his attention to the newcomer. She is much larger than any bird that he has ever met, but also more beautiful. Her feathers are a mixture of taupe and creamy white. He counts the black spots on her wings.

“I’ve never heard a House Finch singing such a sad song,” she coos.

“I’m not a House Finch!” Freddy protests, “I’m a sparrow!”

The newcomer smiles. “Red-heads. They have such tempers!”

“Do not!”

The newcomer’s eyes darken with sadness. “Listen, my boy. We are each what we are. I am a mourning dove, which means my songs always sound as though my heart has been newly broken, as if I am calling out to some lost, loved one.”

Freddy sighed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that you were the one singing every dusk and dawn.”

The dove’s long tail feathers ruffled in the breeze. “Don’t be sorry. It’s okay. Although my song is sad, it serves a purpose. I am a reminder of this truth, ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted’.”

“Yeah,” Freddy murmured. “But…what can a House Finch do? What’s my purpose?”

“You have the ability to sing louder and longer songs than many other birds—longer, even, than a sparrow can.”

Freddy Finch

Freddy felt his beak opening in a smile. She was right! This mourning dove was right! He could sing—longer and louder than all of the sparrows that regularly dined at the Pool Hole!

“Thank you!” He gushed before breaking into a happier song.

A Bunny’s Thoughts

Having built her den beneath an outcropping of dirt and tall grass (not far from the Pool Hole), Mama Bunny is now only allotted short periods of time to eat. To shorten the length of these foraging expeditions, she runs. She is a blur of fawn-brown, racing around the perimeter of the dogs’ fence.

Sometimes, though, the hounds spot her. They think that it’s a game and begin to howl and growl. They chase after her, and Mama Bunny must run to the yard next door. It’s the nearest haven—and it’s green! So deliciously green!

Mama Bunny

“Did you see the beautiful seeds that Stephen brought to me this morning?” A sparrow, perched in the arms of a Norwegian maple asked.

Mama Bunny continued to nibble on tender clover, ignoring the nearby sparrows. Besides, the dogs were still barking and sniffing around the fence-line; she had other things to think about.  She would have to wait to return to the den.

“Yeah, well, last week Samuel brought me an oak bud. It was delightful!”

Mama Bunny’s ears twitched.

“How are your hatch-lings?” a third sparrow, new to the conversation, asked.

“Stephen–”

“Samuel–”

The two sparrows giggled before finishing each other’s sentence. “He’s keeping them warm!”

Mama Bunny stopped eating. What? She thought. Sparrow-men feed their mates and keep their hatch-lings warm?

The dogs had grown quiet.

Is it safe to travel? Mama Bunny mused. She sniffed; her ears twitched.

Finally! Mama Bunny cheered. They’ve gone inside!

Taking a few short hops away from the chatty sparrows, Mama Bunny paused to reflect upon the birds’ conversation. If all of that Sparrow-talk is true, she thought, Barry Bunny should be ashamed of himself! Food delivery? Shifts baby-sitting?

Mama Bunny felt her temperature rise. The last time she had been this angry, years ago now, there had been a fox sniffing around her den. Frightened for both herself and her kit, she did what her rabbit instincts told her to do—spare her babies from the teeth of a predator and kill them quickly herself.

Mama Bunny shuddered; it was an awful memory.

She took three, deep, calming breaths, running home as fast as she could.

The babes, apparently untroubled by the hounds’ baying, were sleeping peacefully. The rhythm of their calm breathing seeped into Mama Bunny’s veins.

Maybe I don’t have a helpful mate, she thought, and maybe I’m not proud of my past, but I do have these little loves.

Robin Curmudgeon

“I’m not afraid of Robin Curmudgeon!” Gavin the Grackle boasted. His feathers were glowing blue-green in the sunshine.

Georgia and Gracie, also grackles, looked at each other.

“I’m afraid of him,” Gracie confessed, “He’s always so fowl-tempered–”

“And fearless!” Georgia added.

“Oh, please,” Gavin mocked them, flapping his great, black wings. “So he looks exasperated all the time. Big deal.”

“It’s not just his facial expression,” the ladies said. “The Grapevine has it that those white feathers on his chest, are from grappling with King Greyson.”

Gavin screeched, indignant. “No one messes with King Greyson and lives to tell the tale! You’re making Curmudgeon sound like some sort of folk-hero. A legend. He’s just a tubby robin! I’d like to see him out-fly me.”

Georgia nudged Gracie with the tip of her wing, dark beak pointing across the Pool Hole.

“He’s here?!” Gracie clucked.

Georgia’s beak opened in a wide smile, “oh, Gavin. Would you like to test your wing-speed right now?”

“I don’t need to test it,” Gavin said, “I know that I’m the fastest bird in this yard.”

“Well, maybe you should ask Robin Curmudgeon about that.” Georgia suggested. “He’s right over there—perched on top of the patio pavers.”

“I’m not afraid of him,” Gavin said, before swooping down at the old robin.

The ladies watched as Gavin nearly collided with Curmudgeon. They held their breath, as Curmudgeon took flight.

“Help!” Gavin screeched. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

If Robin Curmudgeon heard Gavin’s apology, he ignored it. The robin mercilessly pursued the young grackle into the cedar hedge and beyond.

Robin Curmudgeon

“Whoa,” Gracie marveled. “That was intense.

“It’s like my Mama always said,” Georgia added, “‘When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.’”

“Where did she learn that?”

“From the Bible.”

“She could read?!” Gracie asked, her golden eyes growing wide.

“Gosh, no!” Georgia shrieked with laughter, “she liked to hang out at a church camp and listen to the services.”

“Oh.”

Sneaky Pete’s Twilight Trek

It doesn’t matter what day of the week it is.

He doesn’t care if it’s cloudy or cold.

Nor does it matter to Sneaky Pete if the traffic is loud and busy.

He has a twilight trek to take.

The trek starts near the old barn, skirts the edge of a garden and then meanders into a neglected field.

Sneaky Pete slinks through the tall grasses of the field, sure to be quiet in case a snack appears.

He pauses in the middle of the field, admiring the sunset on cloudless days. The sky shifts from robin’s egg blue, to lavender to magenta, to gray, and, then, finally to onyx. The shadows, moving as silently as he does, soon engulf him. His dark tiger stripes become one with the night.

Stars as small as pinpricks begin to shine.

Sneaky Pete

Thank you, Dear Readers, for allowing me to share these vignettes with you. I hope they encouraged you to smile, or, even better—to laugh. Sending good thoughts, prayers, light and love your way.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

Bible verse appearing in “Freddy Finch’s Red Feathers” was Matthew 5:4. Bible verse appearing in “Robin Curmudgeon” was Proverbs 11:2. Both were from the New International Version of the Holy Bible.

Bird’s Eye View (Or a Squirrel’s)

squirrel

I’m not going to write about COVID-19.

I know it’s not over.

I am aware that hiding from it is impossible. I am reminded of this every time that my husband returns home from his shift at the hospital. Despite the fact that he has changed and showered at work, I immediately sanitize everything that he touches. Because this is real…and terrifying.

I cried this morning.

Dear Readers, I need a break.

I need an opportunity to think, and write, about other subjects…so, here it is…eclectic moments from the past few weeks.

Gunpowder & Geese

It happened the last weekend in March.

I became a card-carrying member of a remote shooting range!

Do I like guns? I’m…well…still wary of them, even after my husband walked me through all of the safety precautions and procedures.

Am I a hunter? Absolutely not, and neither do I have any desire to become one.

gunpowder

Yet, in these “uncertain times”, with reports of shady characters lurking around residential areas, knowing how to handle a gun is probably not a bad skill to have.

I do hope, however, that it’s a skill that I will never have to use.

The day after we spent time at the shooting range, I could hear geese flying overhead. Flying North, flying home.

Healing & Hawks

Surprisingly, this time of forced “social distancing” and “isolation”, has gifted me with the time and the space to work on healing old wounds.

I am spending more and more time in the Bible and contemplating devotionals. I’ve been praying more. Singing more. I am in awe of this promise:

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

 – Isaiah 41:10, as written in the New International Version of the Holy Bible

I’ve even been taking the occasional nap—something that those who know me well, know that I never do! I’m trying to listen to my body more. Trying to give it the time and the rest that it needs when I’ve pushed myself too far and too hard.

It was after one of these naps that I looked outside, and saw these guys across the road:

hawks

At first glance, these two birds looked like plump, Bantam hens. But they’re not! If I hadn’t watched one of them circle before landing, I would have had no clue that they were hawks.

I said a quiet prayer of gratitude that Alderaan isn’t an outside cat. These two bruisers could easily carry my 11.5-pound boy away.

alds

Stories & Starlings

I stopped writing fiction nearly 8-months ago.

I was discouraged. Defeated. I had two unpublished novels just taking up space on various USB drives. I began to think that I wasn’t good enough, that my ideas were sub-par.

Then, I thought that maybe I was writing in the wrong genre…and began to research my options.

I needed a friendly nudge—permission, really—to write again.

That nudge came late last week when my Bone Marrow Donor and I were talking via a video call. Not only has this incredible woman given me a second chance at life, she’s given me the inspiration to start writing again.

This time, though, with all of the research that I’ve conducted, I will be taking the plunge into Christian Fiction. No, my chances of publication aren’t any better in the Christian market than they were in the Secular market. The Christian market has its own set of unique standards and criteria that will not be easy to meet.

Yet, I feel as though this is where I belong.

starlings

Perspective counts for so very much….

I audibly groaned when the starlings returned to our backyard in early March. I didn’t like them (not a Christian-like sentiment, right?). They’re mean birds, after all. And, their idea of singing is screeching! In some locales, starlings are considered to be an invasive species, as they reproduce in overwhelming numbers.

One day, I counted two-dozen starlings in the bare arms of our deciduous trees! Based solely on the cacophony echoing through our backyard, I’m fairly certain that there were quite a few more hiding out in the hedges.

Honestly, I didn’t like them.

There have been mornings in which I would have preferred a flock of Blue Jays’, and their piercing squawks, over the starlings’ shrill screams.

And, then, my perspective changed. I happened to see the starlings’ dark silhouettes against a twilight sky…and again against a cloudy sky…they were suddenly magical. Beautiful.

starlings 1.0

Well, Dear Readers, as you have witnessed, COVID-19 found multiple ways to sneak into this blog post. It’s okay, though. I feel better after writing all of this. I hope you feel better after reading it.

As always, thank you for your presence here. I am sending prayers, love and light YOUR way.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Kindness. Provision. Sharing. Love.

wall decor

Unlike my usual blog posts, this one wasn’t written at the kitchen table. This time, I wrote from the comfort of our couch. Berkley and Luna were sleeping beside me, their snores a symphony of sorts.

Alderaan was on the mantle; the expression on his face impossible to discern.

Alds fireplace

These moments—while the world grapples with the pandemic that is COVID-19—are the moments that are keeping me sane.

In the beginning, many of us thought and naively hoped, that the virus was a hoax. That it was something that couldn’t and wouldn’t reach us. Well…we were wrong, weren’t we?

Our world is rapidly evolving every minute, of every day. Our collective vocabulary now emphasizes words such as, “uncertainty”, “change” and “unpredictable”.

These words are the bane of anyone living with anxiety. Who are these people that are being affected by mere words?

Well, they’re people like me.

People that may or may not have lengthy, traumatic medical histories.

People that are—or, at one point were—immunocompromised.

People who have a chemical imbalance in their brains, and try every day to behave as if nothing is wrong—that they have their act together—because, you know, stigma.

I, and the countless people like me, are not crazy, but we, too, regardless of our risk factors, are terrified of the coronavirus.

Last week, several of my social media friends shared posts commenting on the selfish and greedy nature of humankind—people wiping out whole shelves of hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, and, yes, toilet paper.

There were other pleas, too, for help from young parents who had not been able to buy diapers, wipes and formula before the shopping craze took place.

Hoarding, hysteria—is this how it was during the Black Death (circa 1346-1353)? During the Spanish Influenza of 1918? This can’t be our true nature. It just can’t. We can do better.

We can be kind.

Kindness, I think, comes in many different shapes and sizes. Sometimes, it’s a small thing, like calling a friend to check in on them. I am fortunate to have such a friend—someone wonderful that called me—when I couldn’t describe how I was feeling about COVID-19. While talking to her, I felt as though a weight was taken off of my shoulders. As if the panic in my chest dissolved a little. I could breathe again.

Kindness toward self is also extremely important. I’m not good at self-care, rest and/or relaxation, therefore, I find it helpful to channel my anxious energy into art, writing and reading projects. Spending some time working on Diamond Dotz? You better believe it. Reading? Yes, Ma’am and Sir. Writing? Well, I’m writing this….

We can provide.

Numerous school districts are offering free food AND delivery to students while they are “sheltering in place”. These same schools have incredible teachers who are doing their best to provide their students with material for “distance learning”. I imagine that converting classroom material into digital lessons, is not an easy task. I am inspired by such dedication.

There are those, too, who are holding online prayer and worship services—providing us with encouragement through these gray days. They stand as a reminder that God is always present, that His love is always available.

I, personally, find a great deal of comfort in both prayer and mediating on Bible verses.

We can share.

I am relieved to say that, over the past few days, I have witnessed an increase in positive posts on social media. Posts in which neighbors are helping each other (while still practicing “social distancing”). There have been numerous offers to assist those in need. We are slowly learning to share our best with each other!

I’ve noticed an uptake in humor (laughter is potent medicine) as well.

I am also in awe of the flood of free virtual tours, classes and workshops! And, FREE small libraries popping up in communities! As a book worm, this trend makes me smile.

Parents posting their homeschooling endeavors have also inspired me to “home school” my own children. Sure, my kids have four legs and are furry, but there are lessons that we can review.

Since our backyard is fenced in, Luna and Berkley are rarely ever leashed. Mommy and/or Daddy simply open the back door, and away they go! I decided it was time to brush up on our walking-on-a-leash-skills.

The results? One of our pups walks beautifully while on a leash. The other…well…the other is quite independent and wants to be the leader. I’ll let you guess which pup is which.

We can love each other.

As written in Matthew 22:35-39 (The Holy Bible, New King James Version):

Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him and saying, ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus said to him, ‘You should love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second, is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

What does that look like?

Baking a loaf of pumpkin bread, and giving it to an elderly family member.

Sending an email or a text message to a friend.

Placing a telephone or online order with a small mom-and-pop shop.

In, our house, due to the coronavirus, love now looks vastly different from what it once did.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As many of us know, most patients testing positive for COVID-19 are ultimately cared for in hospitals’ Intensive Care Units (ICU).

My husband is an ICU nurse.

Due to the fact that I have a young, and relatively untested immune system, I had to consult with my transplant team in Boston regarding how to stay healthy/safe while living with an ICU nurse. The answer? My husband and I must now practice “social distancing”, even within our own home.

I’m not going to lie; it sucks. Right when we could both use a hug, the most we can do is wave to each other from across the room. However, this, too, is a form of love.

Love is protecting each other from this virus.

Love is spending time (separately for us) with our children.

Love is cultivating gratitude for the little things in our lives, while always, ALWAYS, looking for the light.

March mobile at night

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. May you stay safe. May you stay healthy. May you find a way to be happy—even in the midst of this tremendous change.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

If it Brings You Joy

tools of the trade
Looks like a mess, right? But, it’s not….

If you were a kid in the mid to late 1990’s, and you were lucky enough to be home from school on-time, you may have watched a cartoon entitled, “Gargoyles”. If you were anything like I was during my late-elementary school years, you would have fallen in love with this show!

I mean, what’s not to love? It was the perfect blend of science and sorcery. And, the characters! They were amazing and so memorable! I mean, come on, who wouldn’t want to be fierce like Demona, flying away with a haunting screech and glowing, scarlet eyes?

For those of you who were not 90’s kids, and missed out on this cartoon, gargoyles (according to the show) were an ancient race of mythical beings that had wings, talons, tails and immense strength. The clan that the cartoon features originated in medieval Scotland. There, the clan protected a human castle. Although ferocious and nearly invincible at night, the gargoyles turned to stone during the day—a change that left them vulnerable. This was more than just an inconvenience or a commercial break; being stone during the day, when humanity was wide awake, made the gargoyles easy targets. A sledge hammer, a catapult, a mace…any of these tools/weapons could shatter a gargoyle and end its life.

Defending and protecting the castle by night would make one think that the castle’s inhabitants would return the favor and guard the gargoyles by day. Sadly, the humans were no match for a Viking raiding party and the conniving plans of a traitor among their own ranks. After the destruction and loss that they endured during the Viking raid, the remaining six gargoyles were turned into stone for 1000 years by the Magus (read: court sorcerer).

The gargoyle’s tale doesn’t end there, though.

The gargoyles—and the castle’s ruins—were airlifted to New York City by a multi-millionaire, David Xanatos. Xanatos is intrigued by gargoyle lore, and the spell that could not be broken “until the castle rises above the clouds”. When the spell is broken, thanks to Xanatos’ efforts, the gargoyles must learn how to survive in a modern, and fast-paced city.

That’s a lot of backstory, right? In the writing biz, that’s called, “backstory/information dumping”, and you should NEVER, EVER do it. So why am I doing it now? Well, Dear Readers, you know me well enough to know that when I break writing rules, it’s to make a point.

Despite the constant danger/possibility that I wasn’t going to be home from school in time to watch “Gargoyles”, my infatuation with them continued to grow. In fact, between episodes, I started making my own gargoyles out of discarded cardboard.

unsuitable
Thick cardboard, while durable, was not easy to cut…and often destroyed the gargoyles I had drawn on it.

Some of these home-made gargoyles were modeled after the cartoon’s characters, but I didn’t stop creating them after I replicated Goliath, Hudson, Bronx, Broadway, Lexington and Brooklyn. Oh, no. I created my own gargoyles—over 100 of them. And, for every gargoyle that I made for myself, I’d make an identical one for my brother.

it will do
Although the above is not the ideal cardboard for gargoyle-creation, this type of cardboard would work in a pinch.

Turning cardboard into gargoyles was so much fun!

perfect cardboard
The best cardboard for crafting gargoyles was actually empty cereal boxes! 

It is in this hobby, I think, that my roots as a writer can be found. The creative process went well beyond drawing a gargoyle on cardboard, coloring and cutting it out—it also included naming and developing a unique backstory for every single one of them.
I am sad to say, that as it often goes with the pastimes of childhood, my cardboard gargoyles are no more….

Thanks to Disney+, though, I can re-watch “Gargoyles”!

In viewing these episodes again, I have learned a bit about my memory’s capabilities and its limitations. It surprises me, still, when I can randomly recall the next scene or the entrance of a new character. My opinion of the cartoon has not changed; I find it amusing and even educational. As a child, I was oblivious to these carefully constructed lessons, as an adult viewer, however, I’m in awe of them and how seamlessly they are incorporated.

As the cartoon series begins, the gargoyles decide that NYC is their new home. As such, they must “serve and protect” the city’s residents. It is, after all, the “gargoyle way”. This philosophy conjures visions of hard-working police officers, yet, it’s also something that we each aspire to in our own lives. To help family, friends, and the communities that we live in, isn’t that important?

Now, the gargoyle’s new community—a fictionalized version of the Big Apple—is riddled with violent business take-overs and high-tech weaponry. When not out on patrol, some clan members enjoy watching TV. Unfortunately, the clan soon finds itself in direct combat with the television personalities that they have come to adore.

As spoken by Hudson: “Maybe we shouldn’t believe everything that we see on the TV”.

In the beginning, neither Broadway nor Hudson can read. They don’t think they’re missing out on anything—they do have a television set, after all. After the kerfuffle with their favorite celebrities, and chance encounters with other humans that convey how precious the written word is, both Broadway and Hudson decide to take the plunge and learn how to read.

By the second season, a new theme emerges: cultural preservation. The importance of honoring one’s traditions and culture is highlighted in Goliath’s travels to Japan. There, our hero meets Japanese gargoyles who are trying to preserve their belief system, BUSHIDO, by teaching it to their own young as well as to the humans that they protect. This belief system values honor, fairness, and like Goliath’s clan, incorporates, “to serve and protect”. Not only is it a code for gargoyle warriors, it’s a dictum by which to live.

After writing all of this, and re-watching season one and two (thank goodness there’s a season three!), I would like to tell Little Laura to hang on to those cardboard gargoyles just a bit longer. There was such joy in creating and sharing them! Sure, our culture tells us that as we age, we out-grow our former hobbies and must abandon them.

But, maybe, that’s wrong….

Age shouldn’t stop us from pursuing what brings us joy, what inspires us to share. Although I will not be recycling empty cereal boxes by making another clan of cardboard gargoyles—I do believe that utilizing the same artistic skills that created those gargoyles in the first place, should have a place in my adult life.

If you find joy, try to keep it.

Try to share it.

Let the shape of it evolve as you do.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here. May you find child-like joy in something today!

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura