Prose Photos

Dear Readers,

So much has happened over the past two weeks! Most of it has been downright beautiful, deserving to be photographed, but alas, this writer did not stop to snap any shots. This blog entry, then, will be an exercise in both imagination and prose. Think of it as a pictureless scrapbook.

Can you, Dear Readers, ‘see’ what I saw?

Hidden Treasure

“Come and see what we found!” My husband’s voice was full of excitement.

He had spent the morning in the garage with his best friend, organizing the first floor. Similar to most garages, ours was cluttered with tools, garden supplies and other items that simply don’t belong in the house.

Although a small space—so small, in fact, that only a compact car can fit in it—our garage holds secrets.

We inherited a woodstove, brown with rust, as well as a hip-high, once white, farmhouse-style cabinet. It’s black, wrought iron hinges and handles whisper of another life—a life spent in a warm kitchen where such charming hardware can be cared for and admired. If it weren’t for the drawers of curled, yellow newspaper and an overabundance of “chocolate sprinkles”, I would gladly rehabilitate the cabinet and give it the home it deserves. But…you know… “chocolate sprinkles”.

Crawlspaces underneath stairs tend to be spooky with cobwebs and dust motes—and ours had all of these things—but it also harbored another woodstove!

Hidden behind a metal cabinet, my husband and his friend uncovered a replica Jotul 118 woodstove.

It was love at first sight (for me, anyways).

The replica, albeit quite rusty, features a wrought iron tableau on both of its longer sides. This tableau, in carefully crafted images, is essentially my cultural heritage. There are two lumberjacks wielding a double-handled saw. Their horse waits nearby as they undergo the slow work of felling a pine tree. A small log cabin, bordered by a deciduous tree, seems to be a fox’s intended destination. Behind the lumberjacks stands a grand moose and his family. My heart, like the birds in the wrought-iron tableau, soared with appreciation for this artwork, for this glimpse into the past. My past.

I am, after all, the woodcutter’s daughter.  

The White Mountains are Ablaze

Wednesday of last week included a trip to Boston for another transplant follow-up. I drove the first leg of the journey, through Vermont and New Hampshire, with my brother riding shotgun. He did the ‘city’ driving (thank goodness!). We listened to comedy sketches, belly-laughing, until we caught sight of the White Mountains.

New Hampshire’s peaks were ablaze with scarlet, orange and gold! Set against a nearly cloudless azure-colored sky, the Autumn foliage was utterly breathtaking.

Breathe in the spectacular change of seasons, welcome the harvest and its fruits.

My harvest? After years of doing everything I have been told to do by my physicians, I am now on a “we’ll see you in a year” schedule with Boston. It’s a bittersweet victory. I’ve come to respect and love my transplant doctors, depending on them to keep me safe and healthy. It’s like graduating from high school or college—you’ve been waiting and working for this accomplishment—and, when it arrives, you’re not quite sure how to feel.

You’re going to miss the way things were. Even though traveling four-and-a-half hours there and back is tedious, those rides were often filled with singing and important conversations (like when and where to get married). Still, the excellent blood counts and the taste of freedom, is thrilling. It’s the end of a chapter, closing with a late-night ferry ride on glasslike waters and silver stars illuminating the nearly impenetrable darkness of the sky.

Rainy Days

My windshield, in need of a thorough scrub, was speckled with water droplets. Despite the heated seats and my fleece-lined stockings, I was freezing…and, stuck in the school’s parking lot. I had just finished interviewing at a local school district and was blocked in, actually, by a gathering of buttercup-yellow school buses (‘cheese boxes’, as an older cousin called them, when we were growing up).

While I waited for the buses’ departure, I spied a pair of deer across the road. They were grazing underneath an apple tree, undisturbed by their proximity to a house or to the line of buses. Maybe it was my dirty windshield, but the deer seemed framed by a thin mist, much like using a vignette in Adobe Light Room (the program I use when editing pictures).

Enchanting.

Mesmerizing.

Serene.

These were the words that filled my mind.

Frosty (And, Not the Snowman)

The sun rose slowly yesterday morning, as it does these days, revealing not a green lawn but a silver-white one. The garage roof looked as though it had an inch of snow on it! Fallen leaves glittered in the first true rays of sunshine. Luna and Berkley’s breath, visible as wispy clouds, filled the silence. Even the newly arrived winter birds were still.

This—this heavy frost—was and is a promise of the winter to come.

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” – Albert Einstein.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for taking this adventure with me. I hope you could “see” New Hampshire’s colorful mountains and our frosty lawn. Sending prayers, love and light your way.

With 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

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:

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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!

A Daily Dose of Joy

violet

Joy.

How would you define the word? When/how do you experience it? Do you find joy in your everyday life?

Joy is certainly part of the recipe for a happy, healthy life…and, yet, somehow…I’ve left it out.

Thankfully, while “attending” the virtual version of The Stowe Weekend of Hope (SWOH), I was reminded of just how important joy is. Usually held in beautiful Stowe, Vermont, SWOH went virtual this year due to the coronavirus. There were workshops via Facebook Live, YouTube, on specific websites and Zoom.

“Radical Remission” was one such workshop.

Led by Kristi Cromwell, the workshop explained the work of Dr. Kelly Turner—the researcher behind “Radical Remission”. As a certified Radical Remission instructor and coach, Kristi was able to share the 10 Healing Elements comprising “Radical Remission”. The element that resonated most with me, was Increasing Positive Emotions, specifically joy.

It triggered something within me—starting a short-lived existential crisis, even. Did I know what joy was? When was the last time that I had experienced it? I know I felt it at our wedding, but was joy part of my day-to-day?

Kristi challenged workshop participants to think about what would bring more joy to their lives. According to Cromwell, just 10-minutes of joy a day can make a difference in one’s health. She also suggested starting small and eventually building upwards in terms of time.

Starting small seemed like a wise idea to me…but what was I supposed to start with? What brought me joy?

The answer to this question came to me while participating in Happy Brain Life’s “10 Days of Calm and Creativity” program via Facebook. In this journaling program, Liz Wiegardt focused on assisting Heart Centered women. She shared ways to increase calm during these precarious times as well as express creativity. I loved every minute of it! Liz holds a Masters in Counseling Psychology as well as a Certificate in Applied Neuroscience and Brain Health. She is well-educated in these areas. And, and, she is a great public-speaker!

journal

It was one of Liz’s journal prompts that helped me find my “joy”. On Day 4 of the program, as a creativity prompt, she asked participants to “connect with music today…listen to your favorite song and dance!”.

Music? Dance? I had flashbacks of my teenage years.

Every morning, when I was getting ready for school, my CD player would be set to a ridiculously high volume. One of the bands that I played on repeat was a Christian rock band, Audio Adrenaline (audioa).

Somehow, as I grew older, I left the band behind. It wasn’t until earlier this year (pre-COVID), that I came across two of their albums at my parents’ house: Hit Parade and Worldwide. On a whim, I brought them home…and started listening again.

Audio_

While teenage Laura was addicted to drums and electric guitar riffs, adult Laura is in love with the lyrics. I spend more time in the Bible these days, and, as such, I can now identify the scripture that may or may not have influenced these songs.

The songs, altogether, mean more to me now.

They inspire faith.

And, on Day 4 of the “10 Days of Calm and Creativity”, they inspired JOY.

In response to Liz’s prompt, I listened and danced to audioa’s “Underdog”. THIS—dancing as poorly and awkwardly as I do—is my JOY.

It’s freeing and fun!

I am still finding joy in the fusion of music and dance. Currently, I am hooked on audioa’s song, “Big House”:

 

Come and go with me

To my Father’s house

Come and go with me

To my Father’s House

It’s a big, big house

With lots and lots of room

A big, big table

With lots and lots of food

A big, big yard

Where we can play football

A big, big house

It’s my Father’s House

– Audio Adrenaline, “Big House” from their 1993 album, Don’t Censor Me.

This song—which makes me smile—also encourages me to contemplate John 14:2-3, in which Jesus says:

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

            – As written in the the New International Version of the Holy Bible

How awesome are these verses?! An eternal home, prepared just for you and me.

Finding joy in music and in my poor dance skills, has helped me to identify it elsewhere.

I love writing. It is my creative project of choice. I’m approximately a quarter of the way through “converting” an old manuscript. And, yes, I do mean “converting” in the sense of changing the manuscript to Christian Fiction. Sure, it’s unpaid work. I believe, however, that writing is like planting a garden. You place the seeds in the soil, water and weed, and have faith that they will grow—that your efforts will yield a bountiful crop.

I hope, Dear Readers, that you, too, find some joy today and every day.

Thank you, once again, for your presence here. Of Pieridae and Perras would not be the same without you. I would not be where I am (alive) without you and your prayers. Stay safe! Stay healthy! I am sending light, love and prayers your way.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

Resources for the Curious:

For more information about SWOH, visit: https://www.stowehope.org/about-swoh.html.

To learn more about “Radical Remission”, watch Kristi’s workshop on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQnJzCPNQuw.

If interested, you can read about Liz Wiergardt and Happy Brain Life at: https://www.happybrainlife.com/about.

 

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

On Laughter

I’ve been writing my memoir.

Well, the first one. Having had cancer twice, albeit biologically the same cancer, this is a two-book project.

For this first book, I am using a journal from 2012. I will need other sources to cover 2010 – 2012. Good news is, younger me liked to journal and older me is a bit of a hoarder.

journal
See that gray fur? That’s Alderaan curled up in my lap. He’s becoming a great writing companion.

In 2012, I was in Course V of my treatment: Maintenance. Maintenance was the last and longest course. As I read through this journal, I am astonished by the range of emotions that I experienced. Anger. Depression. Extreme Anxiety. And, then, back again—in no particular order. These entries are not particularly flattering. I question the readability of this tome. It’s serious material, though…and I don’t plan on editing anything other than spelling, grammar and names.

That’s right. Everyone involved in cancer #1—that appears in that journal—is getting a brand-new name (with the exception of my parents and brother).

Why would I want to share the contents of my personal journal?

1 – I feel as though I am being called to do so. I really do think that this is part of God’s plan for me. I mean, I had those awful experiences for a reason, right?

2 – It’s Exposure Therapy. I carry these memories with me every single day and relive them, every night, when Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) comes to call. Exposure Therapy asks the patient to confront the triggering event in hopes of slowly desensitizing him/her to it. Will it work? I guess I’ll find out….

3 – My experience might actually help someone else, someone traveling this same road. The societal norm of “grinning and bearing” it, needs to be debunked. Honesty might help some other young adult survivor to feel more comfortable with their emotions. As a cancer survivor, are you allowed to feel anger, sadness, anxiety? Yes. Absolutely. You do, however, need to dig your way out of those emotions, eventually, for your own well-being.

This attempt to document my own journey through cancer experience #1, has invoked panic. I know it is all in the past. I know it can’t hurt me anymore. Yet, it still feels real,
“fresh”, to some extent.

While working on this project, the need for levity has become apparent to me. As the adage goes, “laughter is the best medicine”.

So where can we find levity? Everywhere!

The easiest place for me to find it is by simply watching the dogs. Luna and Berkley, whenever they are outside, enjoy roughhousing. In this picture, a whispered conference has just concluded and they’re clearly “up to no good”:

trouble

Indoors, it’s Luna’s flatulence that evokes laughter. She has no shame. She’s also not one of those dogs that turns around, surprised, that she has farted. She knows what she’s doing.

Farts, in general, are often a source of amusement in our house. Yeah, it’s not exactly polite behavior, but it happens. And, sometimes, the necessary reaction is to let the dogs outside and open a window (talking about you Berkley with your “silent but deadly” farts).

I’ve never caught Alderaan farting, but I have captured some sassy-pants attitude:

sassy
Just look at that tongue sticking out!

Less smelly sources of levity include parody. This “Life is Good” t-shirt always brings a smile to my face:

dog t-shirt

It’s funny, mostly because it’s true. It is impossible to open a jar of peanut butter in this house without acquiring an audience.

I am finding, too, that gratitude has a positive impact on me while I work on this project. For instance, every morning, as the sun rises, I cannot help but be thankful for another new day.

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Sometimes, it’s smaller things, like the daily calendar (featuring dogs and inspirational quotes) that a friend gave to us for Christmas. This quote, in particular, has made me reflect on life and how I live it:

“Mix a little foolishness with your serious plans.

It is lovely to be silly at the right moment.”

– Horace

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. Thank you for the prayers, light and love that you have given me over the years. I hope that each of you finds a reason to smile and laugh today.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

 

It’s Staying Up Until Epiphany!

christmas tree aglow 2.0

Dear Readers,

Where did Christmas 2019 go? One minute we were decorating our tree (with our signature blend of home-made ornaments and Star Wars collectibles), and the next moment we were carrying discarded wrapping paper and boxes out to the recycling bin.

SW and homemade

I was so excited for Christmas, and it certainly lived up to my expectations. My big present from the hubby this year was a new washing machine. I know, that may not sound overly exciting to some people, but I was thrilled to be given a machine that wasn’t going to constantly screech errors at me!

Christmas for me, and many others, though, isn’t solely about the gifts.

It’s about family—sitting at my parents’ dining room table—as my father said “Grace” over the delicious meal that my mother had prepared.

It’s about attending Christmas Eve service—listening to the readings, singing along to both new and old Christmas hymns, while the candles in the sanctuary flicker, painting the walls gold and making the windows gleam.

Christmas is about embracing church family and thanking God that, yes, I can hug these wonderful, inspiring people again! I couldn’t do that a year ago. I definitely couldn’t do it two years ago when my immune system was infantile.

Yet, here I am, with only a few days left of 2019, and I’m grateful to still be here.

There was never a guarantee that I would survive Cancer #1 or Cancer #2. Neither of those experiences were easy—this last one took a lot out of me. I’m still recovering. In fact, it’ll probably take all of 2020 to feel halfway human.

According to my oncologist, the most common complaint among allogenic transplant recipients is fatigue. It’s not the kind of fatigue that you can sleep off. Neither caffeine nor sugar will help. You simply have to endure this fatigue; sometimes miserably, and sometimes proactively with appropriate amounts of physical and mental activity.

With all of that said, I am sure that you, Dear Readers, have an inkling as to what my goals for 2020 will be.

Before I was diagnosed with Relapsed Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in 2017, I maintained a daily, rigorous yoga practice. It was borderline Power Yoga.

yoga on the deck

As the tumor in my lumbar spine grew, I eventually lost all of the strength and flexibility that I had gained through yoga.

I’ve been taking baby-steps toward my former level of athleticism—utilizing chair yoga, restorative yoga and trauma yoga. I will continue doing these forms of yoga until I am ready for Power Yoga. By June, I intend to be doing The Wheel again!

Wally and Wheel

Also, in 2020, I will keep my mind busy with a self-created reading list (comprised mostly of books that I already own but haven’t had a chance to actually read). I’ll continue learning new languages via Duo Lingo. Currently, I’m studying Norwegian. Jeg elsker det (I love it)! Additionally, I will retrain my sometimes chemo-foggy brain through dusting off my GRE practice book and revisiting vocabulary, analogy and complex mathematical lessons. Each lesson is similar to a puzzle piece—revealing parts of the old me that existed pre-cancer.

Finally, I intend to keep the Christmas spirit alive throughout the new year. The first step in this multi-faceted plan, is to leave our Christmas decorations (except, maybe, for the tree, which is already losing a superfluous number of needles) up until Epiphany. According to the Christian calendar, Epiphany is traditionally celebrated on January 6th and marks the moment when the Wisemen (aka Magi) find Jesus.

wisemen

I mean, come on! It’s only December 30th! The Wisemen haven’t even made it to Bethlehem yet! The Christmas lights will glow in this house until that manger is discovered!

Of course, keeping the Christmas spirit alive involves a lot more than leaving decorations up. It requires us to practice kindness, generosity and gratitude on a daily basis. It might also take the form of small, but thoughtful, acts of friendship, such as writing letters and sending them off via snail mail. For me, part of it will consist of visiting cafes with friends—all to drink a cup of coffee and to talk awhile.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. Thank you for your prayers, love and light. I do hope that 2020 is kind to each of you!

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

It Started With Wind

candy jar pumpkin

Currently, Dear Readers, the solar mobile that I love (and you’ve seen in multiple blog posts), is hanging from our mantle. We brought it inside, just before last Thursday’s fierce wind and rain. What a storm!

As the wind shook the cedars, I couldn’t help but think, “these are the winds of change”. The few deciduous trees that we have on our property are now bare-limbed. There are citrine-colored leaves blanketing the backyard.

What has changed?

A lot, actually.

First, on October 8th, I had an appointment in Burlington. This appointment focused primarily on the fact that I am post-menopausal.

Not pre-menopausal.

Not menopausal.

Post-menopausal.

There are, of course, consequences for being simultaneously my age and post-menopausal. The most significant is bone density loss. While hormone replacement therapy can help, I have to be an active participant in maintaining my bone health. Weight-bearing exercises are crucial to supporting our bones, and, as such, the specialist that I saw recommended that I try walking, running and/or dancing.

Well, walking is a bit impossible when you live on a busy road that doesn’t have sidewalks or much in the way of shoulders. Running? Ha! I haven’t been able to run since Cancer Number One in 2010. Dancing? Although I would love to return to the English Country Dancing club, I’m still quite wary of being so close to strangers. Germs, you know?

I’m not, however, interested in experiencing bone density loss—so I found a virtually free solution—I became a mall walker!

The mall unlocks its main entrances at approximately 6am. I remember, from my days as an assistant manager, seeing a steady stream of mall walkers pass by the store’s gated door in the mornings. I never thought that I would become one, but this past Friday, at about 7:50am, I did! I put my leg braces on and drove over to the mall. I walked its entire floor plan twice, varying my speed in order to challenge my cardiovascular system. I know two laps around the mall doesn’t sound like much—but everyone has to start somewhere.

leg braces

Now, for Boston. I’m fully vaccinated! It went something like this: 15 vials of blood drawn, a great appointment with a member of my transplant team, followed by my two-year old shots. These were live virus vaccines—the first that I had had post-transplant.

We returned home after 11pm. I took my hoodie off and discovered that my left arm was swollen. It was so swollen, in fact, that it looked like it belonged to someone else. I spent the next day nauseous and in pain. I would rate that nausea as being on par with nausea caused by chemotherapy.

It took three days for my arm to “deflate”.

When I recovered, I celebrated by decorating for Autumn/Halloween:

I’m not short, per se, but there are things that I can’t reach from the floor. This, Dear Readers, is the exact moment that having a tall husband comes in handy.

Halloween garland

The fur babies had varied reactions to the change in décor. Every once in a while, you can catch Luna looking up at this guy, confused:

hanging pumpkin

It happens to me, too. I’m not accustomed to seeing a “pop of color” in my kitchen. Nor am I accustomed to seeing these “just because” beauties:

Every time I see these flowers, it’s like discovering a new and wonderful surprise. It makes me smile, from ear-to-ear.

So, what do you do after “the winds of change” have stopped shaking the cedars? Do you rake up the fallen leaves? Mourn the trees’ bare limbs? Or, do you dig through the “junk” drawer for a new battery, put it in the mobile, and ask your tall husband to hang it back up on the porch—all so it can illuminate the night as it once did?

mobile at night

I think you know which option I have chosen.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. Thank you for your prayers, warm wishes, and light. I’m two-years-old and fully vaccinated now—and that wouldn’t have happened without your kindness, your positive energy, and all of the times that you bent God’s ear, talking about me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Mindful Moments

Dear Readers,

It’s been two weeks since I last posted. And, again, so much has happened, is happening, and will happen. It’s in these moments of change and chaos, that I try to practice mindfulness. Being present in the moment, however, requires a firm intention. Will-power. And, usually, some form of healthy distraction involving at least one of the five senses.

This, Dear Readers, is what I would like to share today: a series of mindful moments.

Sight

I’m writing this paragraph on Thursday, October 3rd. It’s barely after 6 p.m. and the sun has already slipped away. Shadows have claimed the lawn; they can’t, however, dim the golden glow of the fallen leaves decorating the driveway. The leaves are still bright—collecting streetlight, porch-light.

fallen leaves in drive

Sound

While making this observation, I’m listening to Jamie Dupuis play the harp guitar on YouTube. Dupuis takes classic rock songs—and other iconic tunes (i.e. Greensleeves, Canon in D)—and plays them on his harp guitar. It’s beautiful. Inspiring. Calming.

Touch

Berkley, a Mamma’s boy for the moment, is snuggled up next to me. His fur is coarse, wiry, and yet comforting. Luna is nearby, too—in the recliner, silky fur glowing copper in the lamplight.

cuddles with Berkley

Smell

Not everything enfolding in any given moment is pleasant. The gold leaves, the music, the dogs’ presence—these things help me to center, to find peace after a stressful day. As I am writing this, though, Luna jumps down from the recliner with a fart. Yes. A fart. To put it mildly, some smells are not soothing. It was funny, though…and laughter is an effective medicine.

Taste

This paragraph comes from the chilly (and rainy) morning of October 4th. This morning’s coffee was a dark roast—a bit bitter—but great for keeping the cold at bay. I can see, through the kitchen window, that the wind is stronger today than it was yesterday. It’s stripping leaves from the trees and ruffling more than just a few feathers:

the flock

If you’re wondering why I’m focusing on mindfulness, self-care and self-soothing, it’s because I have been experiencing an uptake in anxiety. I still haven’t found a happy balance between my home and my work life. I’m waiting for the sense of newness to dissipate and become routine…but that takes time…which is difficult for an impatient person to deal with. Also, my PTSD has been worse, as it always is, whenever a doctor appointment draws near.

Burlington.

Boston.

Two days in a row of being poked, prodded, and hoping for good results. Do I expect bad news from either of these visits? No.

Yet, for me, as a cancer survivor, there is always this sense that nothing is safe or permanent.

Please, Dear Readers, send prayers, light and good thoughts. In Boston, I will be receiving two, live virus, vaccines. These are the first live virus vaccinations I will have had post-transplant. All of the previous pediatric immunizations have been deactivated viruses (which, with the exception of Shingrix, my immune system has handled well). I’m anxious about my system’s reaction to live viruses…which is probably normal…but, still, exhausting.

So, what will I do, to calm down? I’ll be mindful. Pray. Listen to more harp guitar. Thank God for those moments when I am able to sit, and snuggle, with my fur babies.

aldie & berk

Sight. Sound. Touch. Smell. Taste. Living mindfully, moment by moment.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. It means the world to me.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura