Feathers and Flocks

Some of you may remember my posts in the spring/summer of 2018, regarding the Robin that would sit on our windowsill, looking in on us.

robin

I’m not certain if it was this Robin—or another Robin—that nested in our porch rafters, but the family has returned:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I see them, almost daily, in our backyard. They haven’t reclaimed their nest yet, but I think that will come with time. After all, as the English proverb says, “Birds of a feather flock together”.

Although there is some question as to whether or not the European Starlings ever left for the winter months, they, too, are often in the backyard now. Starlings are a bit like shape-shifters, donning white spots in the winter, and jet-colored feathers in the summer. I do hope, though, that they don’t decide to nest in our chimney again; they’re truly a noisy bunch.

starlings_

We’ve also had surprise visitors, including several Mourning Doves. They are beautiful, graceful birds. I admire their song—even if it is sorrowful, even if it’s a tune that sounds like a question, “who, who, who”.

Finally, we have spotted a pair of Cardinals in the trees. They’re bright, cheerful. I understand that many people believe that Cardinals are sent by deceased loved ones as messengers. There’s something comforting about that belief. I’m not sure who’s sending these messengers to us, or why they are, but I think the message must be, “I love you”.

I learned, while preparing this post, that birds are extremely difficult to photograph! If you have any photography advice regarding birds, please feel free to share it in the comment section.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for continuing to encourage my writing habit. Please continue to send prayers, light and love. I’m still tapering my anti-rejection medication…and I can’t even begin to describe how happy I will be when I am finally taken off of it!

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

Advertisements

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

Focus on the Light

 

Aldie on mantle

Thanksgiving, as a day, has passed. We’ve fueled up with copious amounts of turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. We’ve visited with family and friends. We’ve laughed, we’ve been schooled in a game of chess (which is unprecedented and I still think you were cheating), and we’ve relaxed in the living room, while Bob Ross painted yet another masterpiece on the television.

The final countdown to December has begun—as has the real struggle to remain grateful.

December days seem shorter and they seem darker (because they are). You can’t change the facts, but you can change how you interact with them.

Luna napping in the sun

It’s dark? Turn a light on. Or, better yet, be a light.

I met a Light recently—just outside of Panera. I was wearing a surgical mask—as I must do in any busy, public space. I’ve grown accustomed to being gawked at, clearing crowded, grocery store aisles, and making children cry. I’m not going to lie; the worried stares and scowls do hurt my feelings. I feel shunned. Unwanted. Sometimes I dream of making, and wearing, a t-shirt that reads, “I’m not contagious, but you might be”.

What happened outside of Panera was, by far, the best reaction to the mask that I’ve ever experienced. As I was leaving the restaurant, a young man was about to enter. I don’t like touching doors, even with surgical-grade gloves on, but I held the door open for him anyways.

He gasped, “Oh, my God, are we in China?!”

My sources tell me that in several Asian countries, wearing a mask is the polite thing to do when you’re feeling under the weather. I can’t be certain if this young man thought that I was wearing a mask to be respectful of others’ health, but he started smiling. It was a kind, brilliant smile and was soon accompanied by good-natured laughter. It was infectious.

It was, honestly, a relief to laugh about the mask.

christmas lights

Although focusing on sources of light is a great way to survive the darker days of December, it’s not the only way. Can’t stand the silence of falling snow? Play some music and sing (loudly) along with it.

Need something light-hearted? Try watching a corny, holiday rom-com and giggle like a teenage girl (that’s my secret for evading both the blues and anxiety).

Of course, we shouldn’t stop counting our blessings just because Thanksgiving has come and gone. It’s not always easy to recognize the good in every day. There are days that I write absolutely nothing in my gratitude journal. The result? I get grumpy. I get stressed.

Those emotions do not promote healing. Or happiness.

I intend to finish 2018 happier and healthier than I started it. To accomplish this, I will be more diligent about writing in my gratitude journal. I’ll find the light, whenever possible, and I will be a mirror, reflecting it.

christmas lights 1.0

Please, Dear Readers, continue to send prayers, love, and light. This week is going to be insanely busy with medical appointments. It ends, on Friday, with MRIs of my head and lumbar spine. I’m not particularly worried about the results, but prayers do help me to face the machine. 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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

Free Write

Most of the writing that I do these days is quite strict. Skraeling, my manuscript-in-progress, is now 70,497 words strong. The protagonist, Aurora, is the first anti-heroine that I have ever created. I love the story, the challenge that it poses, the research it has required—but I miss playing with words.

To regain that sense of play (and have some fun), I decided to use this week’s blog post as an opportunity to experiment, to record observations, to simply let the words take whatever shape they wanted to. For this week only, my traditional blog post has been replaced by what is essentially a free write.

Nearly every English course that I have ever taken has employed free writing for at least one class session. Why? One plausible reason is that free writing helps students get words on the page by eliminating worries about grammar, story structure, and spelling. In free writing, these conventions don’t matter—it’s the ideas that do. Typically, free writing is not edited (but the perfectionist in me happily broke that rule). So, here it is. This is where my mind wandered to:

I recently heard Autumn’s first cricket chirp.

It seems a bit soon for the insect to resume its song. Yet, there it was, chirping a melancholy tune. Too soon, too soon, I think. I need more time. I’m still on too many immunosuppressants. The anniversary of my bone marrow transplant is approaching; my immune system is supposed to be mature by that date. My bones, and my borrowed marrow, tell me that it won’t be.

not a cricket
Not a cricket, but I thought this little guy (or gal) makes a good substitute.

I saw the first, crimson leaf on an Euonymus alatus (commonly known as a Burning Bush) yesterday.

My memory—what remains of it—pulls me back to the tan-colored, bricked buildings of our college campus. I think I see you there, amid the parade of departing students, but what do I know? I, the Woodcutter’s daughter, had to research which tree the acorn belongs to. Worse still, I had somehow forgotten that the helicopter-like seeds, the ones that spin and twirl to the ground every Fall, belong to the maple. These facts were once in my blood. How could I have forgotten?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I have felt the comforting warmth of a favorite, over-sized sweater nearly every morning this past week.

The mornings, before the sun rises in earnest, are quite cool. I shrug into the sweater—the black and white one that my mother bought for me the first time that I had cancer—and I put the hood up. From my seat at the kitchen table, I can stare out the window. I can watch the sky as it begins to lighten, darkness melting away.

I tasted a tart apple and wanted to add cinnamon, sugar, butter, and oats.

apple crisp recipe

There’s more to the family recipe for apple crisp than all that, though. Once out of the oven, you will need vanilla ice cream to melt on top of it. Remember, innovation is acceptable, but only if it’s as sweet as a fine drizzle of caramel.

I smelled bitter, dark-roasted coffee.

morning coffee

Bitter is better at 4am in the morning. I don’t add sugar to my daily cup; God knows I have enough cavities. I only consume two cups—preferably using one of our giant mugs—and I’ll have to stop drinking after that because my heart will begin to race. My fingertips follow suit, flying over my laptop’s keyboard.

I am my own cricket, tapping out an oftentimes melancholy tune.

keyboard
Please excuse how dirty my keyboard is. The last time I tried to clean a keyboard, I accidentally fried the entire laptop. 

Thank you, Dear Readers, for allowing me to experience writing as a creative outlet once again. I apologize if this post makes very little sense, but please know that it was incredibly fun to write! I needed to do this. And, who knows? Maybe my next novel-length project will have its roots in this text.

As always, thank you for your prayers, love, and light.

 

With Gratitude,

Laura

Words of Comfort, of Healing

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In response to my last blog post, someone I consider to be a dear friend kindly asked:

“…What is your favorite thing for people to say in support? Are there certain statements that help noticeably more than others? If all we have are words to help you I’d like to use the words that mean the most to you.”

I didn’t have an answer.

As a writer, I always have words—or, rather, the arrangement of words—on my mind. For instance, I spent a great deal of time trying to describe the color of the Sternbergia lutea flower for my novel-length manuscript, Greenwood. More recently, I’ve been searching for the right words to describe a fictional Norwegian Forest cat named, Birkir. He has an important role in my current writing project, Skraeling.

Despite this constant meditation on words and how best to use them in fiction, I have rarely thought about what words would be most comforting to me in uncertain or frightening situations. I couldn’t answer my friend’s question until this past Thursday morning.

Many of you may remember the notice I posted regarding the week of June 25th. Namely, I wrote that there wouldn’t be a new blog post that week due to having so many doctors’ appointments in Boston. Among those appointments was a surgical procedure—meant to diagnose the potential presence of a secondary cancer. I’ll spare you (and me) the details of “what it might have been” and “what they did to me”. Instead, I’ll just say that I received an email on Thursday morning announcing that the procedure results were in. The email also listed the results…and I couldn’t decipher them.

I did what anyone with a difficult medical history would do—I panicked. I cried. Yes, I have been a patient, in various capacities, since I was 23 years old. Although my sojourn through cancer and transplant-land has been long, it does not mean that I can speak the language of the medical field. Overwhelmed, I kept scrolling through the procedure results, desperately trying to translate them.

Finally, I worked up the nerve to call the doctor’s office.

No one picked up. I had to leave a message.

Surprisingly, while all of this was unfolding, something wonderful happened. I realized that I did have an answer to my friend’s question. As found in the New International Version of the Holy Bible: “For he will command his angels concerning you…” Psalm 91:11a.

Alderaan July 2018

I was spiraling in a panic attack, but I kept repeating the verse over and over again. Soon, there was nothing else in my mind. The Bible verse was in my blood, in my lungs. It was the ocher buoy keeping me afloat in a sea of anxiety.

When I finally received a call back from the doctor’s office, I was collected enough to hear the words, “very good results”.

And, then, I started crying again—big, grateful tears.

Fortunately, I don’t have a secondary cancer. I will have to be monitored for any changes, of course, but in this present moment, I have time to rest and heal. I also now have words to comfort me when old fears rise.

pink wildflowers

Please continue to send prayers, light and love, Dear Readers. They are both needed and very much appreciated. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

With Love,

Laura