The Next Chapter

English Roseum in Bloom

I promised, Dear Readers, that I would share a longer, and happier, post this week.

As many of you already know, my fiancé and I were married on Sunday, June 9th, 2019 at Ausable Brewing Company (we were the first couple to get married at the brewery). My fiancé and I had been engaged for 2.5 years—and we had wanted to get married sooner—but, you know, cancer. And, transplant. And, timing.

Then, while on the road to an appointment in Boston, we started talking, once again, about getting married. We brainstormed venues, photographers, and ways to work around my unpredictable immune system. The conversation was an exciting rush, volleying ideas back and forth. There was this moment, when we both knew, that getting married was finally possible.

Our mothers helped make this dream come true. My mother and my Maid of Honor helped me pick out my wedding dress—which my mom paid for. She helped me get dressed, pinning my flower crown and veil to my hair. My mother-in-law purchased the perfect card box for our wedding and helped decorate the brewery’s pavilion the morning of the ceremony.

We wanted a small wedding for several reasons—one of which was my immune system. My immune system is almost 21-months old now, but I am not completely vaccinated. It was a risk to have a wedding. Every hug, every handshake, although offered in friendship, could result in illness.

I was, as I am sure you can imagine, nervous about mingling with our guests. True, the gathering consisted of immediate family and close friends that would never endanger me, but I felt nauseous anyways. I kept having this recurring fear of contracting the chicken pox (because, yes, I’m not vaccinated against that yet).

My feelings of anxiety settled a bit, when Pachelbel’s Cannon in D Major started to play. I watched my lovely Maid of Honor and the Best Man weave their way through the brewery’s pavilion, joining our guests behind an old barn. I was up next. My father led me down that same path, kissing my check when we reached our Officiant, Steph.

One look at my fiancé, and happiness bubbled up inside of me. The fear dissipated and the next thing I knew, I was doing what every new bride does: I was following the directions of our wonderful photographer, Julie (owner of JMRowe Photography). Below is a small sample of her amazing work:

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My husband and I danced to Ruelle’s “I Get to Love You”, for our first dance. These pictures were captured by either our friend, Jamie, or our sister, Kate (not sure who took which picture – but am so thankful that they were shared!).

After dancing, I welcomed as many of our guests as I could. I gave hugs, shook hands. I was taken aback by all of the compliments that I received. Gorgeous. Beautiful. Stunning. Were they truly talking about me? I rarely feel beautiful…or comfortable in my own skin. Treatment has left me with so many scars, both visible and invisible. How could I be ‘stunning’?

Our wedding was nontraditional. As such, we hadn’t planned on doing any of the traditional dances (i.e. father-daughter, mother-son). It was a happy surprise, then, to have a dance with my dad.  My brother, in charge of the music, played “I Loved Her First” by Heartland. I should preface this by saying that I have always been a Daddy’s girl. I nearly started ugly-crying halfway through the song. I had put this loving, kind man through so much—almost dying on him at least twice—and, yet, there we were. I was alive—and so, so grateful to have the opportunity to dance with my dad.

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Photo courtesy of my long-time friend, Kristy.

“You’ll always be my pumpkin,” he said when the dance ended.

Our wedding was not only the beginning of our marriage; it was also an enormous leap toward normalcy, toward healing.

The next day, while lying in the MRI machine, I began to review everything that had happened at our wedding. I had been so joyful. I had felt so loved, so blessed. Tears of gratitude began to slide down my cheeks.

I have waited a long time to be happy, to feel okay about myself, to feel hopeful. No more waiting, Dear Readers. Life is too short. As my oncologist told me after my scans, “we did a lot of terrible things to you. Now it’s time to put Laura back together again”.

Let the real work begin.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here, for your patience, and for your prayers. You have been a well-spring of support. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

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Paper Poppies

Well, Dear Readers, it appears that I’m finally going to post an entry about a holiday on the actual holiday. This is rare. Maybe even ground-breaking (for my blog).

I have, over the years, found that most blog posts originate from questions. Today’s first question is a rather common one: what is the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day?

Veterans Day – a day to remember those men and women who have served in the armed services. We, in the U.S.A., observe Veterans Day on November 11th.

Memorial Day – a day to remember all those who have died in battle, while serving in the armed services.

I spent some time reading up on Memorial Day—mostly because it triggered pleasant memories from my childhood. Every Memorial Day weekend, while at church, an elderly couple (whom I was quite fond of) would distribute red, paper poppies to everyone in the congregation. We were supposed to wear these poppies, in remembrance of the fallen.

paper poppy 1.2

My next question (which I consulted the interwebs about) was: how do we honor our war-dead?

According to my findings, we can raise the American Flag (some sources say to raise it only to half-mast).

One source suggested attending a parade—preferably one in which current military personnel are involved.

My internet research also directed me to a poem written by John McCrae, a Canadian soldier and surgeon. Written in the early 1900’s, McCrae’s poem is entitled, In Flanders Fields. I’m not sure why I wasn’t introduced to this poem earlier in life…but I do recommend it. It is beautiful, heartbreaking, and so powerful that it is deafening. It is life and death. Loss and victory. It is, essentially, why Memorial Day exists.

I don’t have paper poppies to wear today.

I might not need them, though, as the research I did for this post has been both a lesson and a reminder that will stay with me. We can’t forget our fallen heroes. We can’t let this day pass without thinking about them and their sacrifices.

They deserve to be remembered.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Sometimes, I Dream in French

Moon

In my waking life, I am not fluent in any language other than English.

I studied Spanish throughout Middle School and High School. Occasionally, a Spanish word will come to my mind. For instance, during one of my follow-up appointments in Boston, my fiancé and I had dinner at a quiet restaurant. It was so quiet, in fact, that we could hear the conversation unfolding two tables away from us.

Seated at this particular table, were two men discussing culture shock—and how, even though they had grown up in the U.S.—traveling abroad, for an extended period of time, made their home country feel foreign to them. At one point in their conversation, one of the men said that he had never learned the Spanish word for “you’re welcome”.

Somehow, despite the dust of decades and chemo-fog, a light turned on in my brain. De nada. De nada is how you say “you’re welcome” in Spanish.

Lesson here, Dear Readers: be careful what you talk about when in the presence of a writer.

These “light-bulb” moments also occur with French (which I studied in college for a short time). For instance, there have been many days this spring in which I have lamented the loss of my umbrella. There are times, though, that I don’t use/think the word ‘umbrella’; I think, mon parapluie.

Textbook and poems

When Luna refuses to listen to me, I can sometimes capture her attention by speaking in French: Allons mon petit chien! Does she know that this short sentence means, “let’s go my little dog”? No. Absolutely not. Luna’s not bilingual. She does, however, notice the change in my speech, and this prompts her to focus on me, for approximately one second. Luna is sixty-one pounds of stubborn independence, so I count that one second as a victory.

Alderaan, our cat, might understand French. I often tell him: Je t’aime mon petit chat. This phrase is usually greeted with a purr and a head bump.  Realistically, his reaction might not demonstrate an understanding of the language. Maybe it’s simpler than that. Maybe it’s just the fact that declarations of love have a particular tone.

I think, Dear Readers, that by using these short phrases on a daily basis, it sets my brain up for dreaming in French. I think that while I’m sleeping, my mind is trying to dig up the words that I wanted to find—and use—during the day. Although, only ever half-understood and half-remembered, my French dreams are usually my best dreams.

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Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. Please continue to send prayers, love and light. I have made leaps and bounds these past few months, but I still have a long way to go before I am back to “normal”. Whatever “normal” is….

 

With Love and Gratitude,

Laura

Easter Wishes

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These wishes for a “Happy Easter” are either a day late (if one celebrates Easter Sunday) or right on time for those that celebrate Easter Monday.

Either way, Dear Readers, I hope you were/are able to celebrate Easter in the way that best suits you—whether that was attending an early morning church service and singing hymns (i.e. “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”), or hiding plastic Easter eggs in your backyard for your kids to find. Maybe you and your family celebrate with a delicious Easter dinner.

Or, maybe, the holiday is a time of reflection—to note all of the little ways in which spring has influenced our surroundings—and to ponder renewal, regrowth, resurrection. Maybe it’s finding the first daffodil or crocus brave enough to push through the earth. Maybe it’s sitting on your porch, eating jelly beans, and listening to birdsong.

bunny on the sidewalk

Whatever you chose to do, I hope it filled your heart with joy and excitement for spring. I hope it motivated you to be a good steward today, Earth Day. I hope that that happiness stays with you throughout the week.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here. Please keep the prayers, love and light coming. I am having my port surgically removed this coming week. Please pray that the procedure goes smoothly, that I heal quickly, and that I don’t remember any of it!

 

Love & Gratitude,

Laura

What Cup are You Drinking From?

We all have our own eccentricities. We have habits that we can’t remember when, or why, they started. In fact, our quirks may be so embedded in our day-to-day lives that we can’t even recognize them anymore.

One of my quirks (which I am aware of only because it involves conscious decision-making) is to pick my coffee cup each morning, not by how much coffee it will hold, but by what it says. For instance, I pick this coffee cup when I need to feel stability, positive energy, and/or need to smile.

LLLmug

“Live. Laugh. Love.” It’s the recipe for happiness. And, who doesn’t want to have a happy day?

morning coffee

You may remember this coffee mug from a previous post. Yes, I drink from this cup when I’m writing—and particularly when characters have some bad karma coming their way. I invest a lot of time and energy into crafting my fictional characters; it hurts to injure and/or kill them. Sometimes, though, the plot requires suffering. As a writer, I do what I have to do.

Similar to some of my characters, and the unfortunate events that befall them, I, too, need healing. It is at this moment, that I reach for this handmade coffee cup:

htp mug 2.0

Made by Healing Touch Pottery, the stone embedded in this cup’s handle is believed to encourage healing. My body, mind, and soul need a lot of that.

And, let’s not forget the mugs that make me giggle:

potter mug

As some of you know, I became a Harry Potter fan later than the rest of my cohort. I was in my late twenties when I finally sat down to read the second book of the series. From there, I couldn’t stop reading. For a time, I read non-stop, until there was nothing left to read. Fortunately, it’s a series that is easy to revisit.

unicorn mug

You may not know this about me, but I have very little confidence. My self-esteem has flat-lined over the past few years. I don’t feel strong or brave, so, having a coffee mug that tells me, “I’m Fucking Magical”, gives me a much-needed boost. It makes me believe that I might accomplish good—or maybe even great things—during my day. It buoys my spirits, energizes me, and makes me feel special.

Of course, there are some mornings, wherein I just need love:

love you mug

This mug helps me on the mornings when I feel as though my tank is empty, as though there’s nothing left of me to give or share. I take a sip of coffee from this cup, and, somehow, I feel loved and capable of sharing love with others.

I believe, Dear Readers, that love—to be cared for deeply by someone or something (i.e. a pet)—is as essential as food and water. So, too, is being kind and caring toward others.

As always, thank you so much for your prayers, love, and light. You have carried me through so much and I am so, so grateful for your presence here.

 

Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Feathers and Flocks

Some of you may remember my posts in the spring/summer of 2018, regarding the Robin that would sit on our windowsill, looking in on us.

robin

I’m not certain if it was this Robin—or another Robin—that nested in our porch rafters, but the family has returned:

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I see them, almost daily, in our backyard. They haven’t reclaimed their nest yet, but I think that will come with time. After all, as the English proverb says, “Birds of a feather flock together”.

Although there is some question as to whether or not the European Starlings ever left for the winter months, they, too, are often in the backyard now. Starlings are a bit like shape-shifters, donning white spots in the winter, and jet-colored feathers in the summer. I do hope, though, that they don’t decide to nest in our chimney again; they’re truly a noisy bunch.

starlings_

We’ve also had surprise visitors, including several Mourning Doves. They are beautiful, graceful birds. I admire their song—even if it is sorrowful, even if it’s a tune that sounds like a question, “who, who, who”.

Finally, we have spotted a pair of Cardinals in the trees. They’re bright, cheerful. I understand that many people believe that Cardinals are sent by deceased loved ones as messengers. There’s something comforting about that belief. I’m not sure who’s sending these messengers to us, or why they are, but I think the message must be, “I love you”.

I learned, while preparing this post, that birds are extremely difficult to photograph! If you have any photography advice regarding birds, please feel free to share it in the comment section.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for continuing to encourage my writing habit. Please continue to send prayers, light and love. I’m still tapering my anti-rejection medication…and I can’t even begin to describe how happy I will be when I am finally taken off of it!

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

Happy Birthday, Luna!

Luna birthday card

I will be honest; I didn’t want a puppy.

I wanted an older dog. I wanted an old soul that was house-trained, had good manners, and was slow-moving. Why? Because, in April of 2018, I was still slow-moving. The tumor in my spine (although radiated into oblivion) and the drop foot that I had developed while in the hospital, had left me unsteady on my feet. I couldn’t imagine taking an energetic pup for a walk.

In this, though, I firmly believe: we’re not always given what we think we want. We’re given what we need.

As is written in the Holy Bible: New International Version, in the book of Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

So, no, a puppy was not part of my plan. She was part of a bigger plan.

I needed a copper-colored puppy.

I needed someone to walk on a regular basis. I needed someone to challenge my pace. I needed a baby to feed and cuddle. I needed Luna.

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Was it all cuddles and neat obedience tricks? Absolutely not. She tested my patience like no one ever has. She chewed up countless shirts and yoga pants (while I was wearing them). She destroyed all of her plush toys—even the ones that claimed to be “indestructible”.

Despite these growing pains, she has become a reliable and comforting presence.

She’s my little guardian—letting me know when there’s a stranger in the yard (i.e. UPS) or strange creatures (i.e. wild turkeys)

She’s my therapy when I’m anxious. One touch of her super-soft fur, and the world feels right again.

She’s my Netflix binge-buddy—curling up beside me on the couch, watching superheroes save the world, documentaries on Vikings, or whatever else I might happen to be obsessed with.

I cannot believe how much—and how fast—she has grown up! Born as a member of a “surprise liter”, on an April 1st that was both Easter and April Fool’s Day, she is truly special. I often wonder, “where has my baby girl gone”? She’s still here, just taller and weighing in at 55-60 pounds. Her bark has changed, too. It’s louder, it’s part howl, and it frightens wild turkeys away.

She has a big, beautiful heart.

Luna by the back door

Happy 1st Birthday, Luna! Daddy and I love you to the moon and back.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your continued prayers, love and light. Your encouragement sustains me.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

A Belated Valentine’s Day Post

I probably should have written about Valentine’s Day as last week’s post…but, the idea didn’t visit me in time. So, here we are now, post-Valentine’s Day, and I would like to write about love.

Love is a subject that I think nearly every artist attempts to define and/or explore through their medium of choice. We paint our interpretations of it. We sing about it. We write about it.

valentine's bouquet 1.0

As children, romantic love is often presented in fairy-tale terms. You know—prince in shining armor, princess trapped in a tower, sort of thing. This particular image of romantic love is repeated in storybooks, TV shows, movies. Why is this important? Because we subconsciously carry this image into adulthood.

I am reminded of this whenever I hear Coldplay and The Chainsmokers’ song, “Something Just Like This”. Please note that I do not own any rights to the following lyrics:

 

I’m not looking for somebody

With some super human gifts

Some superhero

Some fairy-tale bliss

Just something I can turn to

 Somebody I can kiss

I want something just like this.

 

This song, easily found on YouTube, captures so much of how I feel about the subject of love, and how I think it should look. It helps that the song itself has a great beat and the vocals are smooth. It’s incredible.

Even if you haven’t heard this song before, you might be familiar with the adage, “You must love yourself, before you can love someone else”. This adage has always bothered me. I believe that it is absolutely, 100% possible to love someone else, even if you don’t love yourself. As someone that struggles with accepting herself, I had no problem falling in love with a tall, hard-working, ginger.

I think that this adage needs some modification. Perhaps it should be, “You must love yourself, before you can believe that someone else truly loves you.” Whenever I hear someone say, “I love you”, it catches me off-guard. I am not referring solely to romantic love. If a good friend or a relative says those three little words, my mind instantly fills with questions: How can you love me? I’m not perfect. Why would you love me? What can I possibly offer you?

Love is complicated.

valentine's bouquet

Admitting that the emotion is not an easy one to have, or to express, brings me to the ever-popular Biblical verse, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. As it reads in the New International Version of the Holy Bible:

Love is patient, love is kind.

It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,

it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

 

It’s beautiful, right? That’s probably why I have heard it recited at nearly every wedding ceremony that I’ve attended. When you look closer, though, it’s a tall order—a challenge. Kindness is most likely the easiest part of it; but patience? You know how I feel about that word. “Not easily angered”? Oh, boy, I need to work on that one, too. When I was younger, my father would tease me, calling me, “the little rooster”. I do have a temper, Dear Readers, I’m just skilled at hiding it.

valentine's bouquet 2.1

What I appreciate most about 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, is the last verse: “It [love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Yes, THAT is love. It’s not meant to be one day of the year. Love shouldn’t wax and wane like the moon; if it’s real, it should be ever-present. It should be durable; weathering life’s storms with hope. It should, and can, persevere.

Love is rescheduling an appointment in Boston because there’s foul weather along the usual route. Love is knowing that risking a car accident is simply not worth it. Don’t worry; I’m feeling well (knock loudly on wood, please) and will see my transplant team in March. During the time between today and that new appointment, I will continue tapering my anti-rejection medication. I’ll be 18-months old in March, which means I’ll be receiving six vaccines. Yeah, I know, ouch.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your continued prayers, love and light. You have made this journey possible.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Snow Stories

dried flowers in snow

Well, Dear Readers, I am feeling the need to do another free-write. Will any of the following make sense? I don’t know. I guess we’ll find out, together, at the end of this post.

There is a colony of rabbits (also known as, “The Colony” & “The Colonists”) that live in the cedar hedge surrounding our house. Some of The Colonists may also have a den underneath our porch. Everyday, when I go outside to retrieve the mail, I see their paw-prints in the snow. I see Mega-bunny’s tracks, and the junior-bunnies’ tracks. Their paw-prints weave between naked shrubs, and then disappear into the gaps in the porch’s lattice work.

And, then, I see cat tracks.

There are two neighborhood cats that occasionally visit us. I have decided to call them Sneaky Pete (he prowls the field across the road) and Tux (because he is a big, handsome, tuxedo-colored cat).

The paw-prints in the snow seem to indicate that they’ve both come calling recently.

Sneaky Pete’s paw-prints are much smaller than Tux’s, and he doesn’t seem to linger. He approaches the porch, turns around, and then follows the length of the driveway. He must cross the road there, to return home to his field and to the farmhouse beside it.

cat pawprints

Tux’s prints, however, seem to document a calculated stride. He’s hunting, which disappoints me, because I have a soft spot for The Colony.

Tux

The rabbits and the cats aren’t the only creatures telling stories in the snow. The squirrel—the crazy one that prefers to climb the garage’s façade sideways—left tracks along the roof. They melted away when the sun emerged.

Luna leaves paw-prints as well. Her tracks document joyful leaps into snow banks:

snow diving

Her hound nose also leads her to the porch’s lattice work and to the edge of the cedars.

I haven’t spotted any tracks or abandoned feathers, but the cedars are alive with the plaintive cries of blue jays. I have observed one, scarlet-feathered cardinal. A murder of crows sometimes flies overhead. Sporadically, a flock of mourning doves visit.

A spectator to all of these stories, is a cold, but wondrous, winter moon:

moon1.31

Well, what do you think? Do all of these little tales add up to something larger? Is winter a hunter, like Tux? Or, is it serene, like the moon? Can it be both?

As always, thank you, Dear Readers, for your on-going prayers, light and love. Your encouragement keeps me going. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

On the Ice

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Both of our sidewalks—and our driveway—are currently miniature ice rinks.

They’re slick, slippery, and challenging to walk on. I’ve nearly wiped out on four separate occasions. Due to this, I’ve decided to be a bit more cautious and use a ski pole to help me get to where I need to go. It’s slow-going, but to quote a popular adage, “it’s better to be safe, then sorry”.

I imagine, that those of you who live near us, are experiencing similar conditions.

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When I look outside at this ice—especially the large patch next to the garage door—it summons memories of winters past.

ice next to garage
Underneath that dusting of snow, is ice

There were several winters in which my father made a shallow ice rink in the side-yard. My brother and I were still in grade school at the time—and huge fans of “The Mighty Ducks”.

The goal—the reason for creating an ice rink—was to teach us how to skate.

Our parents bought us hockey skates, because they have better ankle support. They were black with white laces. The blades glimmered, new. Our father used to play hockey in high school, and later, in a men’s league, so we’d don his old helmets. He’d skate with us, keeping an eye on us as we pushed chairs across the ice.

little icicle

I will admit to not being good at it. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that I can’t skate.

Why? How could such a thing happen when I had the best skating coach that a little girl could possibly ask for?

I was afraid of falling. Because of this fear, my body would tense up, rigid. I seem to recall that my knees should have been slightly bent, a bit relaxed, even. I couldn’t do that. Relaxing, to me, meant giving up control.

Control is believed to be power; but, it’s a complete myth. We’re never 100% in control of our lives. Sure, we can have a direct impact on how our lives unfold via the choices we make (to pursue an education, to apply for a particular job, to eat healthy foods and exercise). We can control what lens we use to view the world. Viewing the world through a positive lens can make life feel and look better; conversely, viewing it through a negative lens, can make it quite awful.

I, obviously, didn’t know any of this when I was a little girl on that ice rink. I remained tense, hoping to keep every ounce of control that I thought I had. There are consequences for not relaxing. In the adult world, it’s called, “burn-out”. As a little girl in skates, it was a missed opportunity.

Learning how to relax—giving my mind and my body a break from stress—is now at the top of my priority list. It encourages healing (which I have plenty to still do). I don’t need to control everything about my life; “burn-out” and “missed opportunities” are too steep a price to pay. As another adage reminds me, it’s important to, “stop and smell the roses”. Relax, slow down enough to notice the little things in life—which, more often than not, are the most beautiful things.

more icicles

Will I ever wear a pair of skates again? I don’t know. Maybe. We’ll see.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for the prayers, light, and love that you send my way. This past week was full of appointments—and your good wishes carried me through. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura