The Neighborhood

LH
Above: One of the houses comprising a Living History Open Air Museum in Canada’s Eastern Townships (the name has been lost in the chemo fog).

The neighbors, across the road, are selling their house. I don’t know their names. I’m not sure I could even recognize them if we were in the same grocery store aisle. Regardless, I’m going to miss them.

I’m going to miss the sound of a snow plow being attached to a pick-up truck early in the morning (that was my signal that there was actually snow on the ground!).

They were/are quiet, busy living their own lives. Last summer, they had their roof replaced and the effect was beautiful. Worn, darkened shingles were ripped off, and coffee-colored ones were installed. The change brightened the house’s appearance.

To be honest, I have no idea why I’m writing about this. And, still, I feel as though I must. Could it simply be an unconscious need to express gratitude? Having lived in various apartments, surrounded by loud neighbors, I am truly grateful for these quiet ones.

I wonder, sometimes, what kind of neighbor am I?

I try to be social. If I’m outside, wearing my glasses, and recognize a car going by as belonging to one of our neighbors, I will wave to them. The neighbors to our left have a magnificent outdoor patio (it’s surrounded by lush greenery and colorful flowers). Someday, I’ll drum up the courage to ask them for gardening advice.

Fort Ti
Above: A view of the King’s Garden at Fort Ticonderoga.

I did meet one neighbor, this past winter, when I hand-delivered her mail to her. An envelope, addressed to her, had been erroneously placed in our mailbox. Although it seems like such a small thing, it was terrifying to deliver a piece of mail. My immune system was still infantile! What if the person that opened the door was ill? What if this neighbor wasn’t friendly? I can’t remember her name—but I knew, immediately, that all of my worries had been a waste of precious time and energy. My neighbor was a fellow yogi! Her clothes indicated this. She also had a glow that I associate with serenity.

It’s difficult to make friends as an adult. Not because we don’t want to, but because as we age, we put walls up. We stop taking risks, stop reaching out. It’s a habit that I intend to change.

LH Church
Above: The Church at the Living History Open Air Museum.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. You are my “online neighborhood”. You bring me so much joy and courage. Please continue to send prayers, light, and love. There’s a dental appointment this week…and, well, chemotherapy and radiation do horrible things to your teeth. Also, the overhead light tends to trigger my PTSD. The good news in all of this? Once my teeth have been examined, and fixed, I should (knocking on wood rather loudly) be able to maintain a healthy mouth. Our teeth affect our overall health more than we sometimes realize. Ultimately, this appointment is just another small step toward living a healthy life.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

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Gone Adventuring

Castle gardens

My husband and I spent the Fourth of July in the Thousand Islands—which are as beautiful as they are fabled to be. We spent the actual holiday on the St. Lawrence river, on a friend’s boat. We witnessed Boldt Castle’s fireworks from the water.

fireworks BC

On July 5th—after having brunch with a beloved friend and his significant other (both of whom I had not seen in ten years!)—my husband I played tourist. We took a one-hour boat tour of the St. Lawrence; our tour guide directing our attention to various multi-million-dollar homes built along the river. Our tour guide, with rather bad jokes, recited historical facts and the names of the present-day property owners. The boat deposited us on Heart Island, where we walked through the stunning Boldt Castle.

Boldt Castle

Instead of describing our trip in great detail, Dear Readers, I have decided to share some of the lessons that I learned during our adventure:

  1. If you’re not 100% certain of what someone’s name is, combine their name with a similar-sounding one (i.e. Laura-Lauren). As a new friend informed me, “even if I’m wrong, I’m still right”.
  2. When you least expect it, someone who knows your story and has been waiting to talk to you about their own, might appear. Listen to these people. Learn what they’re trying to teach you. Honor their story the best that you can.
  3. I’ve never noticed this before, but after the brilliance of the fireworks dissipate, the sky wears dark smudges. Both the vibrant colors, and the smudges, tell significant stories. It might even be the same story, from different perspectives.
  4. It’s okay to leave the camera and/or cellphone at home. Being in the moment, actually living it, might just be more important than digitally capturing it. And, if it turns out that you need a picture for a blog post, just steal one of your husband’s.
  5. Bad jokes, like our tour guide’s jokes, are often the best jokes.
  6. Enjoy the white lights and birch branches decorating the restaurant you visit for dinner. Appreciate these little, artistic touches.
  7. And, sometimes, when a literary agent gives you a “no” on your latest fiction manuscript, view it as a new traffic pattern—directing you to where you are needed the most—instead of as a defeat.

This coming week, Dear Readers, is a busy one—including a trip to Boston. I am hoping that my transplant doctors will remove more medications from my list. Please continue to send prayers, light, and love. They do have a positive impact.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Not Humpty Dumpty

LP Iris and maple

A couple of weeks ago, I told you about my oncology follow-up appointment. It was at this visit that my oncologist said, “We did terrible things to you, and now it’s time to put Laura back together again.”. This declaration still resonates with me, still gives me hope that I can live a healthy, fulfilling, well-rounded life. It makes me believe that all of my broken pieces can be reassembled.

I equated myself to Humpty Dumpty in that blog post…and I shouldn’t have. Nursery Rhymes, Fairy Tales, they all have a melancholy, darker (usually forgotten) side to them.

According to Project Gutenberg (which shares literature that is out of copyright and now considered public domain!), the nursery rhyme featuring Humpty Dumpty goes something like this:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

All the King’s horses

And all the King’s men

Cannot put Humpty together again.

The rhyme appears exactly as it did in childhood. The real surprise is that the rhyme is attached to a story, and appears at the end of that narrative.

In L. Frank Baum’s rendition of Mother Goose in Prose (illustrated by Maxfield Parrish), Humpty Dumpty is one of the twelve eggs laid by the cunning, Speckled Hen. To summarize/paraphrase, Mama Hen leaves the nest to grab a bite to eat, and, during her absence, her wily eggs begin to kick each other for more room. Humpty is, by far, the largest egg in the nest and he’s balancing on the edge of it. Thus, when his siblings start misbehaving, he’s pushed completely out of the nest. Fortunately, for Humpty, there’s a haystack below the nest.  He rolls down it, settling on the barn floor (in one-piece).

Humpty, on the barn floor, can see the world beyond the barn’s doors. It’s beautiful!

English Roseum New Growth

He wants to see it, so he saunters (my word, not Baum’s) across the barn floor. He meets another egg—from the Black Bantam’s nest—and they set off to explore the world together. Eventually, they arrive at a large, stone wall. They can’t climb the wall, but they find a hole to squeeze through.

garden door

On the other side of the wall, is the King’s castle, lush gardens, and a pond. The eggs want to visit the birds swimming in the pond, but they cross the road at an inopportune time. As they start walking across the road, the King and his men come riding through. Humpty is able to avoid injury, but his friend is slower, and is crushed by a horse. He sits by the roadside, mourning her death.

The princess finds Humpty and gives him a tour of the gardens and the majestic palace.

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When her father and his men return home, the princess takes Humpty to the top of the gates to watch the entourage’s arrival. Humpty, sitting in a groove in the stone wall, forgets where he is, leans forward to see more, and plummets to his death.

pink flowers

Back in the palace, the King is surrounded by his men—many of whom want to ask for the princess’s hand in marriage. The King senses that he’ll make enemies if he chooses a suitor, so he declares that the princess will only marry the man that can stump him with a riddle. Every man fails—except for the last one. The princess, when no one is paying attention, gives this young man the riddle of Humpty Dumpty. The king cannot guess who or what Humpty was, and so the princess and the young man are married. It’s a happy marriage, as the pair are already in love.

Baun’s tale concludes, “And thus did Humpty Dumpty, even in death, repay the kindness of the fair girl who had shown him such sights as an egg seldom sees.”.

pink flowers 1.0

So, Dear Readers, comparing myself to Humpty Dumpty, was a wildly, inaccurate analogy.

First, I am not a runaway egg.

Second, I did not fall off of a wall.

Third, I do not need all of the King’s horses and men to put me back together again.

I need God. Doctors. Counselors. My husband and our fur babies. Family. Friends. Healing is multifaceted, because we are complex creatures. Sure, you can extricate the cancer and stitch up the wounds—but it won’t heal the spiritual being, the emotional being.

And, that, restoring one’s soul and self-worth, might just be the hardest part of recovery.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. Please continue to send prayers, light and love. I am on the upswing—which is a relief—but there is still work to be finished and goals to be accomplished. Yes, it is a new chapter, but, as any reader or writer can tell you, every chapter has its own charms, problems, and plot twists. I’m hoping for only good things.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

The Next Chapter

English Roseum in Bloom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KL received_481882679215704
Photo courtesy of my long-time friend, Kristy.

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

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

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

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

Let the real work begin.

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

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

I Tried to Warn You….

flowering tree

In a previous entry, I wrote that you must be careful when in the presence of a writer. Be careful with your word choice. Be careful about how you behave. Basically, Dear Readers, if you do anything intriguing and/or deviant, and a writer witnesses it, they will immortalize it in a short story, poem, novel, or blog post. It’s just how the literary world works.

Last week, I went to an ice cream stand. While waiting for my order, I couldn’t help but overhear a group of men discussing the weather.

“We complain when it’s below zero,” one man stated, “and we complain when it’s in the 90’s.”

Why does this matter? Because, when writing, this is how settings are constructed. A generic line like this could be used in a variety of ways and in multiple genres. Best of all, it’s credible—because it was actually said. Sure, it needs some spice to make it “pop” off of the page. Giving the man a name is a good place to start. Describing how he conveyed this sentiment would also be helpful (i.e. was this statement presented matter-of-factly? Was his voice monotone? Did his hands move when he was talking?).

One of my college English professors once instructed us that, “writers are thieves”. I agree with this credo whole-heartedly. As students, we were encouraged to people-watch. Observation, learning how others utilize body language and facial expressions during interactions, is how a writer constructs believable characters. It’s a source of inspiration.

What are some of the best places to people-watch? Anywhere. Everywhere.

Pay attention to accents and colloquial terms. Take note of unique fashion-choices (i.e. an ensemble of leopard-print pajama pants, feathered slippers, and a leather jacket).

Remember, though, that there’s more to the world than human behavior. If you’re world-building, consider the environment in which your characters live. What season is it? What grows there?

wild strawberry

Are there any animals roaming around?

turkey and song bird

Yes, Dear Readers, I am writing about writing. What you’re not taught in college, though, is that you need one of these:

writing companion

A patient writing companion is a must. Isn’t he handsome?

If you’re not a writer, I imagine that you may have found this post quite dull. Or, maybe it’ll be the spark that rekindles a long-forgotten dream to write. Either way, I do appreciate your presence here. Please continue to send prayers, love and light. I am scheduled to have some MRIs next week. I need these scans to show that there hasn’t been any change.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

Sometimes, I Dream in French

Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Textbook and poems

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

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

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

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

 

With Love and Gratitude,

Laura

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

 

Easter Wishes

bunny on the sidewalk 2.0

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

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

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

bunny on the sidewalk

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

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

 

Love & Gratitude,

Laura

What Cup are You Drinking From?

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

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

LLLmug

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

morning coffee

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

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

htp mug 2.0

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

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

potter mug

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

unicorn mug

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

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

love you mug

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

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

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

 

Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Happy Birthday, Luna!

Luna birthday card

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

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

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

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

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

I needed a copper-colored puppy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She has a big, beautiful heart.

Luna by the back door

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

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

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura