Sometimes, I Dream in French

Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Textbook and poems

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

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

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

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

 

With Love and Gratitude,

Laura

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Nineteen Months Post-Transplant

morning fog

The field across the road is covered by mist. It’s the kind of blanket that envelopes the earth so completely, that you can’t see the grass. You can’t see if the neighborhood cats, Sneaky Pete and Tux, are on the prowl. You can’t see if the Wild Turkey Gang has returned (they’re probably distantly related to Boston’s Brookline Turkey Gang) .

The mist hides things—creating a blank canvass, not at all unlike the (almost) blank page that I’m currently looking at. I’m at a stand-still, questioning what I should fill this page with….

Maybe, since I requested prayers, I should tell you how my appointment in Boston went?

It went great!

The white blood cell line that I was worried about, was still elevated. I suspected that it would be. This particular cell line, known as your Eosinophils, usually indicate allergies when elevated in a normal person. In a transplant recipient, it can indicate the presence of Graft Versus Host Disease (GVHD).

I have allergies. I’m allergic to Alderaan (our cat) and I’m allergic to Spring.

However, because I was inexplicably losing weight, there was a possibility that I had GVHD in my GI tract. The only way to confirm this was with an Upper GI Scope—which, I obviously didn’t want.

So, what did I do? I ate ice cream before bed nearly every night.

I put some pounds back on. I’m still not at my fighting weight, but according to my lead transplant doctor, “You look great for being 19 months old”.

My reward for the difficult job of wiping out whole pints of cookie dough ice cream? A decrease in my anti-rejection medication! AND I get to discontinue my prescription Daily-Vite tab (Hello, gummy vitamins. I’ve missed you). I’m also no longer taking Folic Acid (which, ironically, had the highest co-pay). The amount of Magnesium-Oxide that I have to take has been reduced from 400mg three times a day, to once a day.

This is beautiful, wonderful, progress!

Did eating ice cream on a daily basis really instigate these positive changes? No. I believe it was all of the prayers, light and love that you, Dear Readers, surrounded me with. Your presence has had a positive impact on my life—on every life that you come in contact with. Please remember how powerful you truly are.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

This is Peace. This is Panic. This Might be Primaveral.

As you know, Dear Readers, my life has been a whirlwind of diagnoses, followed by medical procedures. I’m not particularly skilled at either resting or relaxation—but I can recognize them when I see them:

peace

This picture was taken last week. I was sitting on the love-seat, editing my latest manuscript. When I looked up from the text, both of the fur-babies were sleeping. Alderaan was on the mantle, and Luna was in her favorite spot, the recliner. The fire flickered quietly on the hearth. I took a picture, to capture the moment. This, I knew, was peace. Rest. Healing.

I am so grateful for these little moments.

And, yet, while writing these words, and studying that picture, I had a panic attack. There were no warning signs; I simply, and suddenly, had difficulty breathing. I felt like my heart was wedged between my clavicle and my first rib. I’ve had panic attacks in the past, but it’s been awhile; this one caught me by surprise. For a minute I thought, like most people do, that I was having a heart attack.

The panic attack eventually passed, and with it, the chest pain. I was exhausted afterwards, and left wondering what had triggered it. My brain, although tired, conjured Alanis Morissette’s song, “Ironic”. Because, yes, it was ironic to have a panic attack while thinking and writing about peace.

I couldn’t find a satisfactory answer as to what triggered the attack. Normally, I would sift through my anxious thoughts to find the source. Identifying our fears and confronting them are, in my experience, one of the only ways to beat them. Sometimes, though, that’s contraindicated—especially when rest is required. As the adage goes, “Let sleeping dogs lie”.

If the temperature is mild, Luna likes to take brief naps in the green lawn chair on our back porch. When she’s not resting, she’s using the chair to survey her territory. I realized, recently, that she might also be observing primaveral changes. There are some signs of an early spring: the angle of the sun and the moon have changed, and, now, it is not only the blue jays’ squawk greeting the sunrise. There’s another bird, hiding in the cedar hedge. Its song is more melodic, it speaks of warmer temperatures and flowers poking through the frozen earth.

It’s early yet (and it is snowing this morning), but spring is not far away.

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These are obviously fake tulips—with price tags still on them—but I find the colors inspiring…so I thought I’d share them with you. I hope, if you need to smile, that they help.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your continued prayers, love and light. Your presence here, at Of Perras & Pieridae, keeps me going. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Snow Stories

dried flowers in snow

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

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

And, then, I see cat tracks.

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

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

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

cat pawprints

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

Tux

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

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

snow diving

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

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

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

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

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

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

November

turkeys

When I think about the month of November, two opposing images fill my mind.

For several minutes, I recall only gray skies, laden with thick clouds. They’re the kind of clouds that are only a degree or two away from sending snowflakes spiraling earthward. I see bare-armed trees, lawns blanketed with crimson, orange and yellow leaves. I can hear the call of the wild geese flying south.

The second image that comes to mind is my grandmother’s kitchen. She’d have cardboard cut-outs of cornucopias, turkeys, and pilgrims taped to her wooden cupboards. Fluorescent light reflected off of the orange counter-tops. It was warm. It was bright. It was nothing at all like the withered, wind-raked field across the road.

But that was decades ago.

The similarities between her kitchen and mine, are not lost on me. I have wooden cabinets. My counter-tops are not currently in vogue; they’re maroon-colored. I don’t have Thanksgiving-themed cut-outs to display, but the tile back-splash features several harvest-themed images. Or, rather, the fruits of the harvest.

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I strongly disliked these tiles when we first moved in. I wanted them removed, covered up, just gone. Obviously, none of those things happened…and I am glad that they didn’t. These images have grown on me. They’re bright, happy. They allude to hard work in the field and the orchard. They’re short recipes for delicious meals and wonderful memories.

And, just like my grandmother, I can see a field across the road. The field here, though, belongs to a cat that I have often spotted prowling across it. I have taken the liberty of naming this feline, “Sneaky Pete”.

cat in the field

The clocks have fallen behind, ushering in shorter, darker days. Instead of dreading these changes, I am determined to spend my November counting my many blessings. I’ll continue to record them in my gratitude journal. When I need light or warmth, I’ll sit by the fireplace. I’ll find joy in playing laser pointer with Alderaan. I’ll hug Luna when she gives me the opportunity to do so (she’s a Daddy’s girl).

I’ll celebrate when the sun breaks through the cloud cover, when the blue jays call from the cedar hedges, when I am able to spend otherwise gloomy mornings writing fiction.

As I wrote in my previous blog post, my left foot and ankle were mysteriously swollen last weekend. I am pleased to report that they are now deflated! They’re completely back to normal, and well-supported within a foot/leg brace that I need to—and will—wear more often. I have foolishly resisted wearing my braces at home; afraid that they’d be damaged somehow. It’s time, however, to put aside that fear and accept my braces for what they really are: blessings.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for all of the kind words, thoughts, and prayers that you have sent my way. You were heard and I am so grateful for your love and light.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

To “Be Still”

Last week I wrote about promises, including a promise that I made to Alderaan to play laser pointer with him every morning. As I stated previously, this promise is also a promise to me—to slow down and cherish the little moments of this life.

One reader (thank you, Victoria!) reminded me that God also calls us to, “be still”. This sounded familiar to me…but not familiar enough that I could recite the book of the Bible that it’s located in, the chapter number and/or the verse number. Curious, I asked her to point me in the right direction.

The Biblical passage that she had in mind was, Psalm 46:10.

In the New International Version of the Holy Bible, Psalm 46:10 reads as thus:

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth.”

As someone with multiple anxiety disorders, being still is not my forte. I am a restless person with perfectionist tendencies. It’s not a fun mix. Even when I am over-tired, I will force myself to check the next thing off of my “to-do” list (i.e. wash the dishes, fold the laundry).

This weekend, though, I had some help with the call to “Be Still”. My left ankle and foot were mysteriously swollen. In an effort to reverse that trend, I had to sit down with my foot elevated. It was torture! I had too much to do! Christmas is coming—I have ornaments to make (guess my family knows what they’re all getting now!). Lounging on the couch, with a bag of frozen peppers on my foot, had not been a part of my plan.

I started rehashing all of the plans that I had had. That’s when I began to wonder: does “be still” apply only to physical activity? Or does it include our thought processes as well?

My mind is never still, never quiet. I am always worrying about something. Always plotting the next chapter. Maybe slowing my body down isn’t enough…maybe learning how to silence all of the worries and the negative thoughts that clutter my mind is just as important.

At first, this next bit is probably going to seem like a tangent. Bear with me, please.

In 2008, P!NK released an album entitled, Funhouse. Included in that album was a song, “Ave Mary-A”, which also alludes to the idea of being still. Now, because I am a worrier, I will repeat the usual statement regarding sharing music: I do not own these lyrics nor do I have any rights to them.

BUT they are so important!

An excerpt from P!nk’s song is as follows:

Help me to let go

Of the chaos around me

The devil that hounds me

I need you to tell me

Child be still.

From the moment that I first heard this song, I knew that it was powerful. It quickly became one of my favorite P!nk songs. It remains so to this day.

I listened to “Ave Mary-A”, on repeat, this past weekend as the snow fell. Be still. Peaceful.

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Thank you, Dear Readers, for your continued prayers, love, and light. If my ankle and foot are still swollen after this entry is posted, I will have to contact my transplant team in Boston. They will be sending me for an ultrasound (at a local facility, thank goodness!) to rule out the possibility of a blood clot. Please send good thoughts. They are appreciated!

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

Oh, How the Seasons Do Change

October has arrived.

I do enjoy Autumn—picking apples and buying freshly made cider donuts from local orchards. There’s nothing quite as wonderful as a mug full of hot apple cider steeped with Mulling Spices. The Fall foliage, too, is breathtaking. I hope, as one reader (thank you bloomlover!) suggested, to take a ride through the Adirondacks, bring my camera with me, and try to capture some of that beauty.

When I was a child, my family would travel to Covey Hill in Quebec, Canada to pick apples. The orchard there seemed enormous! Year after year, it was busy with smiling, laughing families and couples. I remember bringing home more apples than we could eat before they spoiled—which meant Mom would bake pies and apple crisp just to use them up. The house would smell absolutely delicious.

Also delicious, was all of the Halloween candy we would score while trick-o-treating. Perhaps the most magical memory I have of Halloween involves my mom, one of my aunts, my brother, and two of my cousins. I was still in Elementary School at the time and I can’t remember what my costume was; my brother might have been batman. As we were going door-to-door asking for candy, we came across several black kittens. They were prowling the sidewalk in front of a little house.

I remember wanting one of those kittens more than another candy bar or lollipop. Of course, I didn’t get one. I couldn’t just scoop one up into my pumpkin candy bucket…but, just to be clear, it would have fit.

Someday, I’ll have a black cat. I think I’ll name him Simon.

As the weather grows colder, and the days shorter, it is important to remember those people, places, things that warm your heart. The very word “warmth” conjures memories of my parents’ wood stove. Nearly every Sunday afternoon, my mother would cook a pork roast in the crock-pot. Its savory scent would permeate the entire house. I think of curling up on a comfortable chair, wrapped in a blanket, and reading a new book.

This year, I’ll be doing that in front of our natural gas fireplace. I’ll probably have to share the recliner with Luna (which is not as easy as it used to be since she’s now 6-months old and pushing 45 pounds). She’s grown up so fast!

Hanging from the fireplace’s mantle, though, is something else that warms my heart—a wreath that my mother made for me.

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I adore the scarecrow in the center of the wreath. The little guy brings a smile to my face.

I hope, Dear Readers, that you, too, are finding things to smile about as the seasons change. Take a moment to marvel at the beauty and the magic that still inhabit this world. Enjoy it. Store it up like squirrels and chipmunks hide acorns and pilfered bird food.

There’s a Boston appointment waiting for me this week. It includes 7 vaccinations (all inactive viruses, I believe). Please continue to send prayers, love and light. They are so very appreciated.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

May Flowers

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As I write this, afternoon sunshine fills ours porch—and it warms my skin, the borrowed blood and platelets in my veins, my bones. The last few days, in fact, have brought an unexpected amount of sunshine and good news:

  1. My last IT chemotherapy infusion through my Ommaya Reservoir (unicorn horn) came back cancer-free—meaning I now only have to have one IT infusion per week for the remainder of Course II. We are now one step closer to Boston and one step closer to bone marrow transplant!
  2. I had my first ice cream of the summer and it was delicious.
  3. They weren’t impressed by us, but we were able to visit with Wallace the Wonderful and Alderaan this weekend.
  4. Seth and I are now engaged!!!!!!! For a variety of reasons, I was having a rough afternoon emotionally this past Friday. Sometimes the ugliness of this situation sneaks up on you, but it’s those moments—when things seem at their toughest—that the really good things happen. My (now) fiancé got down on one knee and proposed to me (with a ring that has apparently been hidden somewhere in this apartment for a while. Considering that I fold and put away the laundry, I know the ring wasn’t in his sock drawer).

All of these good things—combined with the warm sunshine—they are utterly overwhelming and wonderful. In many ways, I feel as though I have grown accustomed to hardships, to disappointment, and yet, in the course of a few days, my heart has swollen up with happiness again. April’s showers might just bring May flowers after all.

Seth and I ask, though, that you continue to keep us in your thoughts. While any step closer to Boston is a positive step, it is also tremendously terrifying. I discovered late this past week that upon my arrival in Boston, I will have to have a Hickman Catheter placed on the other side of my chest. It’s my understanding that the Hickman Catheter looks like a super-sized IV. It will have three nozzles hanging off of it; two of these nozzles will be in constant use (chemotherapy, the actual transplant, while the third will be used only if I have difficulty with nutritional in-take). My power port will also be accessed at all times. I hate the idea of having yet another device—especially an external one—but in this instance, I have no choice.

(I will have to, at some point, write about the hit your self-esteem takes during cancer treatment—just not today.)

We also ask that you send good vibes that a donor is found. Unfortunately, my brother was not a match for me, but we have been informed that there are multiple potential matches in the National Bone Marrow Registry. The search is on!

Please continue sending light and love. It is so, so appreciated.

With Love, Laura

Windows

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We’ve had our littlest fur baby, Alderaan, for almost three weeks now. He continues to be a love bug, crawling into my lap and head-butting my chin whenever he wants to cuddle. He enjoys playing with his big brother, Wallace the Wonderful, and he absolutely adores his human daddy. But I’ve noticed something interesting about this bundle of light gray fur: he stands his ground.

What do I mean by that? Well, Dear Readers, each morning as I drink my coffee and continue laboring away on the most recent rewrite of my novel, Alderaan will climb onto the back of the couch, set his front paws on the windowsill, and stare out at the street. I suppose there’s nothing peculiar about that—most cats window watch—but what caught my attention is how much my little love bug trembles whenever people or dogs pass by. His whole body will shake with fear, but unlike Wallace who will run for cover (Mommy isn’t judging you for that, Wallace!), Alderaan stays his ground. He will not budge. He will not break eye contact. Alderaan endures this discomfort until it passes, only relaxing when the perceived threat on the other side of the window vanishes from his field of view.

This little cat’s courage astonishes me and it has made me question, can I do the same? Do I have the wherewithal to stare down the parts of my life that are scary and/or uncomfortable? Do I tremble and endure? Or do I tremble and run?

By most accounts, I live a good life. I have a roof over my head, food in my belly, and most importantly, I am loved. But I struggle with anxiety. I struggle with the weight of my cancer experience. I continue to struggle—every day—with the task of rebuilding my life. Most days, if I am being honest, I take Wallace’s approach and run for cover.

Example? The past two months, I have been in an inordinate amount of pain. It started with isolated hip pain and has progressed to include both legs. I am stiff, loosing flexibility, and, the way I ache—it reminds me too much of my stint in ICU and the pain of relearning how to walk. I’ve been pretty good about ignoring that similarity. I am, in fact, quite gifted at pushing ugly feelings and emotions down. But last night it came rushing out of me. Last night, despite medication, despite aromatherapy—I woke up sobbing, shaking. I couldn’t control it. I couldn’t make it stop.

It was Alderaan that came to the rescue. There was a purr rumbling in his throat and a reminder: these memories surface for a reason. Emotions pushed down for too long will inevitably come roaring up out of us. And we have a choice; to see them for all that they are or to run from them.

I am choosing to see them.

I am choosing to see the similarities in the past and the present and to remind myself that “now” is not “then”. That the situation is different. That I am different.

I wanted 2017 to be a year of growth—of building resiliency, of strength—and the Universe, through this inexplicable leg pain and the memories it is triggering, has presented me with that opportunity. I may tremble at what I see, Dear Readers, but I will not avert my eyes until I can look at my past without fear, without judgement, without reliving it.

A little cat showed me how to do it.

 

Wallace the Wonderful Becomes a Big Brother

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As I write this, Wallace the Wonderful is sitting on the back of the couch, nose pressed to the window. The sun is slowly peaking up and over the rooflines along the street. A murder of crows, roosting somewhere nearby, are cawing up a storm. Wallace’s striped tail twitches; all of this is clearly of interest to him—but so isn’t the small feline sitting at the opposite end of the couch.

Yes, Dear Readers, you read that correctly.

We adopted another fur baby!!!!!

Eh-hem. Sorry. I got a little excited there. Back to the story.

For the last five months, my significant other and I had been discussing the possibility of adding to our fur family. Wallace seemed to be increasingly bored, which meant he was increasingly mischievous. I imagine his thought process looked a little like this:

“Hey, Mom, I see those papers. Are you working on something? Here, let me help with that. Those are some pretty fine bite marks, right? I feel like it really adds to the story.”

And,

“Hey, Dad, you disappeared into the kitchen and left your sandwich on the coffee table. Why are you leaving it? It must not taste good. Here, let me add some seasoning. Voilà, I give you floor sandwich. Do you like it?”

Although Wallace’s hijinks were amusing, we couldn’t help but feel that he was trying to tell us something—that maybe, just maybe, he might need someone to play with. And, so, the discussion began. Should we get a kitten? Should we adopt an older cat? The decision wasn’t an easy one and we became really good at making excuses to delay it. There were autumn weddings that required us to travel, and, while Wallace the Wonderful was more than happy to go to Grandma’s house, would such a move be too disruptive for a new fur baby? Then, of course, there were the holidays to consider. How would the new cat cope with a dinner party? Or interact with a miniature Christmas tree?

Despite all of the activity, and despite all of the indecisiveness on our part, we still found ourselves trolling Petfinder. We made the occasional inquiry; was this cat available? No. What about that one? Still no.

It was then—just when we had given up on the idea of adopting another fur baby—that one of the local shelters listed a rather promising kitten. She was cute. She was spunky. So, as not to waste a moment more, we climbed into the truck and drove to the shelter.

Sometimes, Dear Readers, the best of intentions do not come to fruition. Sometimes, the Universe has a surprise up its cosmic sleeve.

The kitten we were interested in? She wasn’t in the cat colony that afternoon. The little miss was in recovery (she’d just been spayed) and wasn’t seeing any visitors.

We were disappointed, but, at the shelter staff’s suggestion, we went into the cat colony anyways. There was another, slightly older feline that they thought we should meet—a cat named Alderaan.

When we walked into the cat colony that afternoon, Alderaan roused himself from a nap. He looked up at us with big, blue-green eyes, and, as soon as my partner touched him, the little guy began to purr.

We returned to the shelter the next day—when the kitten we had been interested in was set to appear in the colony—but it was Alderaan that stole our hearts. While speaking with the shelter staff about the kitten, Alderaan reached a paw out to my partner. He let it linger on his coat sleeve, as if saying, “Hey, I’m right here. It’s me. I’m your new fur baby.”

So we brought him home.

At three years old, Alderaan is small, weighing only 7 pounds compared to Wallace’s twenty. He wears a slightly bedraggled expression, but every ounce of him is pure love bug. He loves to cuddle. He loves to purr. He loves to sit in one of the living room windows, looking out at the world, while his big brother occupies the other.

And, how has Wallace the Wonderful adapted to the duties of big brotherhood?

Well, like any first child, he’s had some issues sharing his toys (but thoroughly enjoys playing with Alderaan’s toys). He’s hissed a bit. But, by Alderaan’s second morning with us, Wallace and his baby brother were playing together, racing through the kitchen, into the bathroom, and back again. We haven’t caught the pair snuggling just yet, but it’s only a matter of time.