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

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

Summer Snapshots

Johnny in August

Luna and Berkley are snoring—a comforting melody for this writer. Why? Because I’m not sure how this entry is going to work out. There have been so many moments this summer that have been absolute treasures…but to share them all in one blog post…is going to require faith, patience, and self-compassion. Writing THIS will be a challenge.

Fasten your seat-belts. This might get bumpy.

It’s probably best to start indoors—in the office, actually, where Alderaan spends the afternoons sleeping in my desk chair. There’s a towel covering that seat now; he has sharp claws capable of puncturing faux-leather and he sheds like it’s going out of style. Despite the punctures and the hair, this little guy holds my heart in his paw.

Earlier in the season, he went to the veterinarian’s office for an annual check-up and his distemper shot. I had suspected that Aldie might be experiencing dental issues. He was leaving pieces of hard food, outside of his dish. They were half-chewed, half-moons. As my writing companion, he had no problem weaving around my laptop, but he did so with atrocious-smelling breath (no offense buddy).

My suspicions were confirmed after his check-up, when the vet said that Alderaan was in great health, except for having “severe” dental decay. As someone that had to have a dental evaluation prior to bone marrow transplant (because bad teeth can be a gateway for infection), I knew that I had to schedule this procedure for my beloved Aldie.

The result? He’s a kitten again!

He’s been playing with his toys, dragging them around. Alderaan has been more vocal—especially when he thinks dinner should be served. He is a gray streak racing alongside the second floor’s banisters.

He even raised a paw at Luna when she got in his face one morning (something he has never done before).

Although he has transformed into a spitfire, Alderaan still makes time for his more sedentary, favorite activities, like sitting in the kitchen window while I wash the dishes.

Alds at Attention
He spotted something interesting….

Luna and Berkley, too, are experiencing a renaissance of sorts.

Perhaps their new-found energy has its roots in their puppy play dates with Finnegan (read “Berkley Turns Three”, dated 7/27/2020, to meet our friend, Finnegan), but this 2 and 3-year-old are experiencing the zoomies again! Every night, around 5pm, they start racing around the house, playing rough and showing off their rather impressive canine teeth.

Berkley in August
The zoomies are exhausting!

It’s all fun and games to them; to me, witnessing this vivacity is inspiring, and hopeful—maybe, someday, I’ll get some of my pre-transplant energy back?

I find inspiration in other places as well—specifically the great outdoors.

Prior to this year’s garden, I had the thumb of impending plant death. It has been both a surprise and a gift to actually grow vegetables and flowers!

As a child, I picked flowers. As an adult, I like to take pictures of them. I hope I never set this joy aside.

The Outdoor Art Club also gives me joy. Earlier in August, we visited St. Patrick’s Oratory and Mother Cabrini’s Shrine in Peru, NY.

oratory & shrine

I got lost on the way there, of course, but getting lost is half the adventure!

The oratory’s grounds were verdant—offering everything from fruit trees to yes, more flowers:

It wasn’t just the flowers that caught my attention. There was a walking trail through the woods, encouraging contemplation via a variety of spiritual icons:

The shrine, open to the outdoor air, was the perfect blend of nature and sanctuary.

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To the left of Mother Cabrini’s shrine was a small, well-maintained field with the stations of the cross.

To the right of Mother Cabrini’s shrine, and sprawling behind the oratory, was a cemetery. Little known fact (or maybe it’s known) about me, is that I LOVE cemeteries. Funerary art is fascinating! The gravity and sanctity of a cemetery plot reminds me of just how fleeting life is and how very important it is to love and to live while we’re here.

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Love, it seems, is the key to everything. How we act. How we speak. How we spend our time. Alderaan wasn’t in the kitchen window when I observed a robin feeding a youngster. I thought this scene was a bit odd, since this ‘youngster’ had functional wings, two legs and a beak that could clearly open. Its feathers were still marked with white spots, though, and this—this vulnerability reminded me of a passage I recently read in Deuteronomy 32:10-11.

In a desert land he found him,

in a barren and howling waste.

He shielded him and cared for him;

he guarded him as the apple of his eye,

like an eagle that stirs up its nest

and hovers over its young,

that spreads its wings to catch them

And carries them aloft.

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

This is God’s great love…and, yet, I can see it reflected in that mother robin’s dark eyes, too.

 

The summer seems to be passing us by. Crickets are chirping all day and all night now. There are red leaves on the lawn and in the little trees surrounding our porch.

first red leaf

There is a sadness in this. I try to remind myself that, as the garden starts to wilt, “everything has its season”. This is natural. This is life.

I deadhead my flowers, now, and tuck them away in the office to air-dry.

future flowers

Later, when September arrives, I will savor a mug of hot apple cider and plan next summer’s garden.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. I hope the transition of seasons gives you time to reflect, smile with joy, and build future plans. 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)!

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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:

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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 Breath of Fresh Air

view at Lake Alice

On Sunday, June 21st, I finally went on an adventure. I’ve been itching to travel, to see and experience new things. As a member of the Outdoor Art Club, I had the opportunity to do precisely that. I journeyed to Lake Alice in Chazy, NY…and only got a little lost on the way home.

This brief trip was, for me, a breath of fresh air.

What does that oh-so-common idiom mean? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “a breath of fresh air signifies someone or something that is new and different and makes everything seem more exciting”.

Sure, I go outside everyday—to water my gardens, to put the pups out, and to try to snap pictures of the bunnies (because I love them). Lake Alice, however, was a whole other level of being “outside”. A level that I had somehow forgotten….

View at Lake Alice 1.1

As the woodcutter’s daughter, I grew up in different woodlots. Summers were often spent exploring these places. My brother and I would stay away from wherever our father was felling trees, but there was plenty to see and do elsewhere. We brought nets to catch frogs and tadpoles on those lots that had ponds. We found wild turkey feathers. The world around us was cast in an emerald, verdant light. One such woodlot also served as a place for the farmer’s cows to graze. There was something almost magical about a red and white heifer appearing between the trees.

Fast forward to Sunday, June 21st—and a bit of that “magic” resurfaced.

It was so refreshing to be somewhere outside of my normal surroundings. To be somewhere with old trees! And beloved wildflowers!

Favorites

And, plants that I haven’t seen up-close in years!

Even though I could not capture any photographs of dragonflies, Lake Alice brought me so much joy. My heart was full with sunshine and birdsong. Other sights—of young families fishing—had a comforting feel to them (it was Father’s Day, after all, and I had just given my dad a self-made card depicting one of our fishing adventures). I was also inspired by a fellow club member. She sat, legs stretched out, on one of Lake Alice’s wooden bridges. I don’t know what she was sketching, but I have a feeling that the finished product was fantastic.

This is a generalization, of course, but many artists and writers seem to be solitary creatures. Socialization is important for inspiring new ideas and/or enlisting a second set of eyes when editing, but we usually work alone. It wasn’t surprising then, to find artists scattered throughout Lake Alice’s well-maintained grounds.

Perhaps one of the best parts of the day—masks weren’t required.

No masks!

It echoes my transplant doctors’ blessing to stop wearing them and to breath freely once again in public. Now, that is a “breath of fresh air”! Thank God for spacious settings!

Home, too, has surprises all of its own; you simply need to practice patience, and look carefully.

Can you, Dear Readers, spot the bunny in these pictures?

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I wasn’t going to share these photos—mostly because they’re not exactly high caliber—but, then, I thought it might be kind of fun to play the rabbit version of, “Where’s Waldo”? Let me know if you can spot her in every pic!

A little easier to spot, are the brilliant-colored flowers on our property. As a wildflower enthusiast, I was thrilled to find these gems:

Although not wild, discovering the offspring of past Johnny Jump-ups around the front porch, always makes me smile.

Our home’s previous owners planted this beauty:

Mystery Shrub

I will admit that patience is not my forte. The irises and day lilies that have grown on our property the last two springs/summers have been slow to appear this year. I was disheartened by this. It was a high-point, then, to make this discovery last week:

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. I hope, in the coming days, that you find wonder, inspiration and fresh air. Sending prayers, love and light your way!

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

Resources for the curious:

 

A Celebration of Love, Learning and Life

pink roses and lilies 1.0

Fear, unfortunately, seems to be the most prevalent emotion these days. It’s contagious—even more so than COVID-19 (it’s precursor). It has poisoned so many of us and, as a result, it can be especially difficult to find reasons to celebrate, to be joyful, to be grateful.

The month of June, however, has given me multiple reasons to laugh, smile, and be appreciative of this life.

My husband and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary!

It’s a bit shocking that a whole year has passed since we said, “I do”. I’m not really certain where the time went….

Another significant milestone—one of my god-daughters turned seven! Thanks to social media and her creative parents, we were able to celebrate her special day despite social distancing restrictions. Again…I don’t know where the time went…. I feel like she was an infant just yesterday!

If there is a lesson in this, it’s that every, single moment is both fleeting and precious.

I have discovered yet another enriching way to spend my time. As many of you know, I love to learn. In addition to studying Norwegian via Duolingo (side-note: I just learned how to say “ain’t”. It made me laugh), I finally became a student member of the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC)! I am currently enrolled in Anatomy and Physiology. I have two months to complete this online course…and, then, it’s on to CPC training…and, eventually, certification. So much to do, but so much to look forward to!

As of late, another source of joy for me has been all of the babies in our yard.

We have at least three babies in this nest:

baby birds

At the time that this photograph was taken, the babies only had the suggestion of feathers and blended in well with the construction materials that their parents chose to build their nest with. Camouflage didn’t exist, however, when they were hungry. They’d stick their tiny necks out, beaks open, waiting for mommy and/or daddy to feed them.

Today, the three babies are fluffy-looking and approximately the size of their parents!

My absolute favorite baby, though, is Baby Bunny. How can you not fall instantly in love with her?

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Baby Bunny resides in the Pool Hole and enjoys hurdling over discarded pool noodles. She’s clearly a natural gymnast.

Although I have never had a rabbit for a pet, I have loved bunnies my entire life. When I was a child, my father built me a playhouse in our backyard. It had a shingled roof and flower boxes under the front windows. The porch became home to a kit of wild bunnies. We could watch their antics from the back door, not at all unlike today, at my house, where I can watch Teen Bunny’s bold moves.

Teen Bunny has no fear of the fenced-in backyard—or of Luna and Berkley who are frequently in it.

Partners

Luna (she’s the spotter) will bay when she spots Teen Bunny.

Luna in June

Berkley, a known bunny-grabber, will begin the chase.

Snuggly Berkley
Even Bunny-grabbers need to nap sometimes…. And isn’t he just adorable curled up in the blankets?

Teen Bunny’s only escape is to dive under the gate. Unfortunately, Teen Bunny doesn’t seem to learn from his close encounters with Berkley’s teeth. He will repeat this daredevilry multiple times a day.

teen bunny
Teen Bunny in the driveway…most likely contemplating his next high-stakes feat.

Indoors, I have my amazing Alderaan to be grateful for:

Alds and sunshine
I wish he’d let us brush him…imagine how dapper he’d be if he was properly groomed….

Another simple joy that I am so very appreciate of is the wildflowers in our yard. This one runs deep, too. Just ask my mom or dad—I have loved flowers since I was a tot. In fact, I was so in love with them that NO ONE was allowed to mow the lawn until I had combed through every square inch of it in order to pick the flowers.

This love for wildflowers, admittedly, does make mowing our yard difficult. I feel bad when I butcher red clover; I have purposely avoided mowing over the wild violets.

violet 1.2

The wildflowers framing the Pool Hole, however, are quite safe. There’s no way to physically (and safely) bring the mower to their location. There is, however, enough room to walk among them. I was able to take this picture while doing so:

stars and bells 1.1

A quiet moment among these flowers, gave me so much peace. So much awe for God’s creation. So much gratitude for the five senses.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. I hope that you, too, find ways to leave fear behind and embrace joy and gratitude. Celebrate life—the big things and the little—whenever you can. Sending prayers, love and light to you!

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

**It should be noted that, although I love the baby birds and bunnies a great deal, they truly tested my cardiac health this past weekend. My adrenaline levels peaked as a baby robin (from a couple nests down) decided to hang out on the back porch. Considering that the back porch is how Luna and Berkley go outside, this was the absolute, worst place to linger. Meanwhile, Baby Bunny decided to take a stroll down the back sidewalk. What was she thinking? Despite all of this unruliness, I’m still so very appreciative to have them in my life.