A Belated Valentine’s Day Post

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

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

valentine's bouquet 1.0

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

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

 

I’m not looking for somebody

With some super human gifts

Some superhero

Some fairy-tale bliss

Just something I can turn to

 Somebody I can kiss

I want something just like this.

 

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

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

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

Love is complicated.

valentine's bouquet

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

Love is patient, love is kind.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

valentine's bouquet 2.1

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

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

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

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

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The Eve of 2019

moon

When I was younger, I imagined that “New Year’s Eve” consisted of bright lights and glittery decorations.

It also included getting dolled up:

Luna in her Christmas collar 1.0
Luna, wearing her red, Christmas collar.

And, of course, you have to make resolutions.

To make resolutions or not? That is the question I’m considering on this last day of 2018.

Are there aspects of my life that I would like to improve upon? Absolutely! Becoming 100% healthy would be wonderful. Building enough leg strength to walk in high heels once again would also be great.

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These goals, however, are easily influenced by outside forces beyond my control. One virus, one bacterial infection, could very easily sabotage my plans to become healthy. One ankle sprain could further weaken my already unstable ankles.

While I can still pursue these goals, they can’t be my only resolutions. The margin for failure is too high. I, for one, become exceedingly melancholy when I can’t fulfill my resolutions. To be successful, I need more than just a statement of “I’m going to do this” or “I’m going to make this happen”.

I need a statement, and then, a plan.

For example, I would like to read more. If this resolution is to be successful, there must be benchmarks. There must be preparation.

Step 1 – Select thin books from my personal collection (this step is based on the premise that shorter books can be read faster. The premise is only true if the books are well-written and focus on an interesting topic).

Step 2 – Aim to read a certain number of books each month (I would start with one—just to avoid failure).

Step 3 – Record progress in a journal or agenda (Accountability is, unfortunately, a necessary evil).

While reading more would be phenomenal exercise for my chemo-scarred brain—and I will give this goal a try—I have larger objectives to pursue. I’m going back to school!

I will be enrolling in two, online courses offered by the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (also known as BOCES). These two courses will form the foundation of my next goal: obtaining a certification in Medical Coding through the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC). It appears (knocking very loudly on wood) that I am going to live. And, if I live long enough, I’d like to be able to retire.

This new pursuit doesn’t mean that I will be walking away from writing.

Writing is how I decompress, and process my own feelings. I will continue to post on this blog and to work on pieces of fiction.

So, after writing all of this…I guess I do have resolutions for the coming year!

lift off
2019 – moving up, and forward, with the Princess and R2D2 in a hot air balloon. Because, why not? 

Thank you, Dear Readers, for sticking with me throughout 2018. Your light, love, and prayers have made an incredible, and positive, impact on my health and my life. I am wishing each of you a wonderful and healthy New Year. Here’s to a fresh start in 2019!

 

With Gratitude and Love,

Laura

 

 

Merry Christmas Eve!

 

outdoor wreath

I am going to keep this entry short, as Christmas Eve day is often busy with cooking, cleaning, packing, and/or wrapping the last of the presents. Amid all of the items on your “to-do” list, please remember to breathe.

Remember to stop and listen to your favorite Christmas song.

Maybe keep the Christmas tree lights on for a bit longer, and really see them. Note the colors, the way the ornaments reflect the light. Try to remember the story behind each ornament. Soak it all in.

glass angel

I know I will, with a giant cup of coffee in my hand.

Merry Christmas to all of you! I am wishing that each and every one of you has a wonderful holiday.

indoor wreath

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

 

 

(Non-alcoholic) Shots of Holiday Cheer

This post is intended for everyone—and anyone—struggling to get through the month of December. That includes me. Yes, I received excellent news at my last transplant check-up in Boston, but life consists of more than just doctor appointments. I, too, need to be reminded of the beauty and the love inherent in this season.

We’ll start with an undecorated Christmas tree:

There’s something about these images that remind me of an Elementary School Christmas Concert that I attended. I had older cousins performing in this particular concert. One of them was in the grade level that performed, “O Tannenbaum”.  I look at our tree, and I can’t help but sing the English version of that song.

As previously reported, our tree is a Fraser Fir and is approximately ten-feet tall. How do you decorate such a beast? First, I personally recommend obtaining a tall fiancé. Next, you will need to find a ladder. Put the two together, and you have someone that can hang ornaments on the higher branches.

seth decorating

Placing the tree-topper (which, in our case, is a white star) where it belongs, is a piece of cake for tall people on ladders.

a star a star

If you are shorter, like me, you get to decorate as high up as you can reach. Working as thus, you’ll eventually meet in the middle and voila! You’ll have a decorated Christmas tree for your fur babies to enjoy from a (safe) distance.

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The tree isn’t the only decoration capable of inspiring holiday cheer. We adorned the fireplace mantel with a faux Amaryllis. It burns a happy shade of scarlet.

faux red flowers

We strung lights along our stair hand-rail:

Our house has a second floor, framed in with a wooden banister. In some ways, resembles a balcony, overlooking the first floor. We spruced the banister up with a garland, bows, and ornaments.

deck the halls

In fact, we randomly hung ornaments all around the house (this one is in the kitchen):

ornament 2018

The second floor is also where we set up a special, hand-made nativity set. Every time I walk by the crèche and the figurines, I hum either, “Away in a Manger” or “O Little Town of Bethlehem”.

away in a manger

It’s important to remember, though, that the season isn’t just about bright lights, glittery ornaments and greenery. It’s also about love:

blue jays

It may be difficult to see, but there are two birds in this picture. They are not turtle doves – just common blue jays – but they’re weathering the cold, winter temperatures together. Isn’t that what love is about? Supporting and encouraging each other – even on the coldest and darkest of days?

The season is also about hope for the future:

pine cone

This little guy fell off of our tree. It’s just a cone for now, but one day, maybe, it’ll be a 10-foot Fraser fir.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your continued encouragement, light, and love. I am wishing each of you a happy and healthy holiday season.

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Lights & Love

 

angel all aglow

Nearly every December, when my brother and I were young, our parents would take us for a drive around our small town. The point of this little trip was to see all of the Christmas lights: multi-colored trees and shrubbery twinkling on front lawns; white reindeer forming a line in front of Santa’s sleigh; battery-operated candles glowing in otherwise dark windows.

I’m not sure what was more exiting to us—staying up late, or seeing all of the beautiful and creative light displays.

cardboard star

I hadn’t thought about this tradition for years, until last Friday, when my father was driving me home from an appointment in Burlington. It had been a long day of sitting in various waiting rooms (and, in my case, lying in the MRI machine for over 2 hours). By the time we reached the outskirts of the city, it was dark out.

The darkness didn’t matter, though—so many houses were aglow with Christmas decorations! The day’s frustration seemed to melt away as we caught sight of a tree wrapped in gold-colored lights. There were icicle lights, too, dripping from porch eaves. The ferry was also lit up; multi-colored bulbs sparkling in the upper deck windows.

“Do you remember riding around, looking at all the lights, when you guys were just kids?” My dad asked.

“Yeah, I do.”

What I didn’t say is that I miss it. I miss going for those rides and seeing the neighborhood all aglow. The lights were brilliant, and to a child, they were magical. To an adult, they represent hope.

Hope that I will emerge, stronger, from the darkness of a difficult, two years.

Hope for a brighter and healthier future.

Hope that I can bring back those traditions that inspired joy.

pine

Thank you, Dear readers, for continuing to pray for me and for encouraging me through this time of recovery. Your light and love truly make a difference. The imaging from last week’s MRIs came back clear. My head and my lumbar spine are currently cancer and infection-free. More good news: upon obtaining Boston’s approval, we’re going to start spacing these tests out to every 6 months instead of every 3!

Miracles do happen…they just take time.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Today, I am Grateful for…

banner

In my previous entry, I wrote about how I was determined to spend November counting my many blessings. It has taken me years to understand that blessings are not always big changes or events (although sometimes they are). The little things matter, too. In an attempt to demonstrate this, I thought I would share some excerpts from my own gratitude journal with you.

November 8th, 2018

Today, I am grateful for:

  1. Progress in physical therapy
  2. Finding old pictures (even though they made me tear up)
  3. Glimpsing a flock of white birds flying across the dark-gray sky. The neighbor’s maple tree turning a brilliant shade of canary yellow.

Please note, that some of the entries in my gratitude journal are images from the day. Listed images are usually quite beautiful—something that I simply want to remember or use in a subsequent piece of writing. The birds and the sky, for instance, created a stunning contrast. It took my breath away.

Although it didn’t make the day’s gratitude list (which was an oversight on my part), check out our solar mobile. It stopped working mid-summer, but now it is illuminating the back porch once again:

mobile at night

I thought it would be educational (for me) to compare 2017 to 2018…so I leafed through my gratitude journal to find the closest date, which happened to be November 6th, 2017. On that day, I was grateful for:

  1. Seth (my fiancé)
  2. Good food
  3. Walks

What did my fiancé do on that day? I have no clue, but considering that #2 reads, “good food”, I would wager that he cooked something tasty for me to eat. He is a man of many talents and, fortunately for me, cooking is one of them.

Why did “walks” make the list? Going for a walk may seem like such an ordinary activity—but for someone that had had a tumor in her lumbar spine—going for a walk, around the block, with a cane, was quite an accomplishment.

I have been in physical therapy since April 2018 and I am now at the point (see gratitude list for 11-8-2018) wherein my physical therapist is helping me put the “finishing touches” on my gait and my balance. Stairs beware! I’m coming for you!

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your continued prayers, words of encouragement, and light. Please feel free to share your own blessings in the comments or by private message. I would love to read about them!

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

I Promise to Play Laser Pointer

The wind was fierce—and cold—the morning that I wrote this blog post. It shook the wind chimes hanging on the front porch; their melody not the slow and calming tune that I had grown accustomed to. Instead, it was rushed.

Still beautiful, but rushed.

In many ways, I have lived my life this way—rushed, and rushing myself. Alderaan is helping me to break this habit.

My fiancé and I didn’t have Alderaan (Aldie) for a great length of time before I relapsed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. I knew that cancer treatment would impair my immune system, so I sent both of our cats to my parents’ house where they would be cared for (and downright spoiled). We’ve been separated from Alderaan for so long that it’s almost as though we are welcoming a new cat into our lives.

For instance, who knew that he would turn out to be an actor? He rolls—yes, rolls—down the stairs, just to antagonize Luna (the puppy). Trust me, this is an act. He may have short, little legs, but he’s perfectly capable of walking down the stairs. I’ve seen him do it at least a dozen times.

Aldie behind the curtain
Behind the curtain, preparing for the next act.

Another revelation: Aldie is an early bird. He wants to be fed breakfast, promptly, at 5:30am. Then, once his stomach settles, he wants someone to play laser pointer with him. I’m usually quite busy in the morning—especially on mornings that I have appointments to prepare for—but there’s this quiet voice that tells me to slow down, to cherish time spent with Aldie. For this one moment, the most important thing in my life, is watching Alderaan chase a red dot across the floor.

Aldie spare bedroom
Another act: pretending to sleep

It’s not going to be this way forever, so I have decided to enjoy the little moments whenever I can.

My fiancé and I recently attended a memorial service, “Celebrating the Life of Douglas R. Skopp, Ph.D.”. We both deeply respected (and continue to respect) Dr. Skopp. We miss him. There were a variety of speakers at the service: Dr. Skopp’s colleagues, members of the community, former students. Some of the words that were used to describe Dr. Skopp were:

Valiant.

Noble.

Compassionate.

Extraordinary.

Some of the speakers expressed the desire to have just one more cup of coffee, or one more dinner with him—and, it hit me then, that my fiancé and I were quite fortunate to have had that very opportunity in September of 2017.

Right before my bone marrow transplant, we had had the privilege of having dinner with Dr. Skopp and his wife, Evelyne. It was a wonderful, inspirational evening—and exactly what I needed before shipping off to Boston for the transplant.

Dr. Skopp had been a mentor and a source of light for me since the first time I had had cancer in 2010. He mentioned me in the “Afterword and Acknowledgements” of his novel, Shadows Walking. To paraphrase, he felt that I was teaching others how to appreciate every day.

He was wrong about that; he was the one that taught me how precious every moment was. I was young and I was angry the first time I had cancer; his positive outlook turned my negative one around on countless occasions. He gave me hope. He encouraged me to keep focusing on healing, to keep learning, to keep living. I wish I had had the foresight to say ‘thank you’ before it was too late.

Perhaps the most significant moment at the memorial, for me, was when one of the speakers relayed some of the advice that Dr. Skopp had once given to him. It was, as follows:

“The most important promises to keep, are the ones [that] you make to yourself”.

This advice has stayed with me, every day, since the memorial. I ask myself, what promises have I made to me? Have I made any of them a priority?

The answer came to me with the click and the tap of a keyboard; continuing to write and, one day, publish some of my fiction—these are promises I have made to myself. The service rekindled my commitment to these promises.

Another important promise: to play laser pointer. Although it primarily benefits Alderaan, promising to play laser pointer is also a promise to me. It’s a promise to slow down, live this life, and love its little moments.

As always, Dear Readers, thank you for your prayers, your love, and your light. It has carried me through so much this past year. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

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

This is What They Call a Birthday

first birthday cake

In the world of Bone Marrow Transplants, the anniversary of your transplant is considered to be your “New Birthday”. I just turned “One”.

I think I’m supposed to feel elated.

Or proud.

The truth is, all I feel and see are confused flashes of that hospital room.

I can’t remember much of my time as an inpatient. Preparation for a transplant is both physically and mentally demanding. The chemotherapy that I was given in Boston—just days before the actual transplant—was harsher than all of the chemotherapy that I received during cancer treatment. The Total Body Irradiation completely drained me.

I was also higher than a kite on pain meds, dreaming about being trapped in a basement…and something about cave trolls. What I do seem to remember are the challenging moments. My mind has a penchant for that. Don’t ask me to remember happy milestones or joy. I’m not wired to recall pleasant memories, although I wish that I was.

Breathing would be a lot easier if I could focus on positive details such as the pigeon that sat, every day, on my windowsill—as if it were watching over me. Was it an angel? Or just another city bird? I remember naming it, “Bird Butt”, because it always had its tail feathers pressed against my window. I couldn’t take a decent picture of it with my cellphone…so…if it was an angel, I can’t imagine that it was too impressed by me or my “creative” naming abilities.

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So much has happened in the year between naming “Bird Butt” and the present day.

The field I admire—the one across the road—has been turned into square bales. I watched a farmer mow the field and bail it. I began to appreciate him as much as I did the field. He walked with a cane and, yet, somehow was able to climb up and down from the tractor’s seat. As someone that once relied on a cane to walk, I know that this was no easy task. This man was determined. A hard-worker. Someone to respect, to emulate.

Do I miss my former view? Yes.

The field, though, has not stopped giving me beautiful moments to ponder. Do I love what it has given me now, even more? The answer: a resounding yes!

Whenever the shadows are long, there is a rather large cat that prowls across the field. It has probably been doing this for longer than we’ve lived here—the tall grass kept it hidden from sight. Now, however, the feline is visible. I can’t tell if s/he wears dark stripes like my Wallace did, or if its coat is entirely sable in color. Either way, its presence gives me joy. Hope. Dare I say, happiness?

cat in the field 2.0

So, yes, I ate cake on my “First Birthday”. My fiancé bought it for me and it was rather tasty. There weren’t any candles to blow out, but I made a few wishes anyways.

I wished to become a positive-thinker (I would like to believe that I’ve made some progress in that department).

I wished to help others whenever possible.

And, finally, I wished to stockpile pleasant memories—and actually remember them.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for all of your prayers, kind words, and love over this past year. Please continue to send light. The recovery process has only just begun. I have three to six more months on steroids and my anti-rejection medication. They’re both immunosuppressants, so I will still have to be cautious about what I expose myself to.

The bright side? I’m “One” now…my legs are wobbly…but I’m starting to take my first steps toward health.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

New Lenses, Old Frames

old frames

This past Friday I had my annual eye exam. I know—it’s hardly world-changing. And, yet, wearing the correct prescription lenses can have a transformative power. Being able to see distances, clearly, is a blessing…one I didn’t always appreciate when I was younger.

I started wearing glasses my freshman year of high school. And, because of vanity, I often refused to wear them. I would walk around without them, only half-seeing. When I did wear my glasses, I had to fight the urge to peer over or under the frames. It was a constant battle…but eventually the glasses won out.

My Achille’s heel? I liked being able to see clearly. And, obviously, I needed to wear them in order to drive safely. In college, I needed glasses in the larger lecture halls to read the white-boards and projector screens.

With my glasses on, there was no more squinting.

No more wondering, ‘hey, what’s that over there?’ or, ‘that person looks vaguely familiar. Who is that?’.

Glasses, as is their purpose, enhanced my vision—so I kept wearing them.

This most recent eye exam was a bit different. First, the eye doctor that examined me was quite thorough. She read through my medical file and took my history into consideration. I don’t remember the names of the ocular conditions that Leukemia and prolonged steroid use can cause, but she tested me for all of them. I am grateful to say that my eyes are healthy!

Surprisingly, my lens prescription didn’t change, but a new set was ordered anyways. September 2017 – September 2018 was a rough year; I picked up some scratches along the way.

Another change: normally, after an eye exam, I would have picked out a new frame. Why didn’t I this time?

Reason #1. How often are the displayed frames actually sanitized? I don’t mean to freak anyone out with my phobia of germs, but when your immune system is compromised, you think about these things.

Reason #2. I had an older frame just sitting at home—wrong prescription—but I still liked the frame. They were imbued with so many wonderful memories…it felt wrong to abandon them when they could be fitted with new lenses and put back into use.

These were the frames that I wore on my first date with the man that would become my fiancé.

They saw Montreal on our second anniversary, just weeks before I was diagnosed with relapsed Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.

 

Montreal

These frames saw better days, days with hope and a slight hint of youthful invincibility (very slight; I’ve never been that confident about the future).

I want and need some of that perspective back. Will old frames give me that? No, but they can serve as a daily reminder—a talisman of sorts—that it is possible to see and live in a happier, healthier world.

Please continue to send prayers, love and light, Dear Readers. It does help. If you need proof—a year ago today, I was in a Boston hospital bed being prepped for my bone marrow transplant. Today would have been a chemotherapy day (some of the toughest chemo of my life). Prayers and good wishes, thankfully, can change our circumstances. Love does heal.

As always, thank you for your ongoing encouragement.

 

With Gratitude,

Laura