A New Kind of Thanksgiving

Last weekend, my husband, a dear friend and myself went to my cousin’s farm to pick out a steer to fill our freezer. No worries, Dear Vegan & Vegetarian friends—I won’t go into greater detail than this. To be honest, I’m not even sure that I actually saw the bovine that my husband and friend picked; I was too busy trying to make friends with my cousin’s horse and German Shepherds!

So, yes, I was distracted by the dogs beside me as well as a treasured memory of a fellow elementary/middle/high school student’s German Shepherds. We rode the same school bus home, and when she was dropped off at the end of her driveway, two, rather large German Shepherds would weave through the evergreens in her front yard—just to reach her, their girl. It’s quite possible that I’ve shared this memory in a previous blog post, but my favorite recollection of these canines comes from a wintery afternoon, in which their dark coats were illuminated by falling snowflakes.

Such beauty.

Such devotion.

Such a blessing to observe.

My cousin’s shepherds aren’t nearly as big as the dogs occupying my memories, but they each had a doggie grin and a wagging tail. I asked my cousin where he had gotten his dogs from. The answer? From individuals that couldn’t care for them any longer. Although they hadn’t come from shelters, they were rescues—like our Berkley!

Berkley, as I write this entry, is lying at my feet. Luna is nearby as well. Thanksgiving, for our pups, wasn’t this placid. It was, shall I say, ‘competitive’?

Before we left my cousin’s farm, he gave us four cow bones. We, in turn, gave both Luna and Berkley a bone that day. My husband and I set aside the two remaining bones for a special occasion. Thanksgiving Day seemed like the perfect, special occasion.

Before I reveal how this treat was received, I should perhaps inform you that Berkley LOVED the first bone that he was given. In fact, he was quite protective of it, even burying it outside when he had had enough of it!

I don’t support digging holes in the backyard, but it was the cutest thing watching Berkley stash his beloved bone in the hole underneath the grill and covering it up with loose soil. When he was finished his ‘dirty’ work, Berkley’s black-and-white marbled paws were covered with a patina of cocoa-colored soil.

On Thanksgiving Day, however, the pup’s roles changed. Luna became the guardian of the bones, retrieving Berkley’s buried bone and bringing it inside. She went straight to the kennel with it, dropping the dirt-covered bone with a loud bang (most likely to announce her find). Berkley was a bit shocked by this, but recovered quickly when we removed the ‘special-occasion” bones from the freezer.

His brown eyes glowed, his white-tipped tail wagged. Berkley was so enamored with his new bone that he didn’t even walk his daddy to the back gate (an everyday ritual that both dogs keep whenever their father goes to work). Alas! His new bone needed to be gnawed on and watched.

Luna, content with her “found” bone, scurried out of the kennel and underneath the stairs to chew on it. We placed a fresh bone at the opening of her hidey-hole, so she wouldn’t feel left out. Gotta keep it fair!

Luna and the ‘found’, dirt-covered bone….

Unfortunately, Dear Readers, Berkley lowered his guard later in the afternoon.

While I separated pumpkin seeds from stringy, pumpkin innards in the kitchen, Berkley lost his bone underneath the recliner. Luna, still hiding under the stairs, was working on the old bone, but growled at Berkley whenever he came too close to her new one. It was this—her growl, that drew me into the living room. Berkley was circling the recliner, head down, dark eyes worried.

I wasn’t sure, at first, what he wanted. Luna is usually the one that loses toys and treats underneath the recliner (and she does it on purpose, too, as a game). It didn’t make sense to me that Berkley would have stuffed his bone under the chair, but the sad look on his face prompted me to lean the recliner forward anyways.

Unaccustomed to moving furniture, Berkley hesitated to retrieve his bone. Luna, a cunning and quick coonhound mix, swooped in and stole it.

I should preface this next part by saying that I love my girl, but goodness she’s talented at taunting her brother! Not only did she steal his new bone, when the pair went outside, she brought it out with her. It seemed to disappear….

Then, the next time that they ventured outdoors, Luna carried another bone out with her. This one seemed to disappear as well….

There was only one bone left in the house and our shrewd girl spirited it off to her hidey-hole.

This—observing our pups with their ‘special-occasion’ bones—was my Thanksgiving.

It was certainly not the holiday I was used to! I was physically alone—no family, no friends (thanks COVID restrictions), but I was so busy roasting pumpkin seeds and trying to establish puppy peace, that I didn’t have a chance to feel lonely.

Text messages from friends, and a phone call from my mother-in-law, kept me smiling.

Plus, whenever my heart started to yearn for company, I called my mom. At least four times! I kept her as busy as Luna was keeping me (mother like daughter?). In any case, the ability to pick up the phone and talk to my mom, was a blessing.

The dogs, despite their lack of sharing, were a blessing.

Alderaan, purring loudly beside me while I studied Norwegian, was a blessing, too.

So, yes, I was physically without my family and my husband on Thanksgiving Day, but I wasn’t really alone. Love and gratitude are everywhere—we simply have to keep an open heart and mind, and they become easier to recognize.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here, today. I hope you had a wonderful holiday filled with laughter and love! Sending prayers and light your way.

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Prose Photos

Dear Readers,

So much has happened over the past two weeks! Most of it has been downright beautiful, deserving to be photographed, but alas, this writer did not stop to snap any shots. This blog entry, then, will be an exercise in both imagination and prose. Think of it as a pictureless scrapbook.

Can you, Dear Readers, ‘see’ what I saw?

Hidden Treasure

“Come and see what we found!” My husband’s voice was full of excitement.

He had spent the morning in the garage with his best friend, organizing the first floor. Similar to most garages, ours was cluttered with tools, garden supplies and other items that simply don’t belong in the house.

Although a small space—so small, in fact, that only a compact car can fit in it—our garage holds secrets.

We inherited a woodstove, brown with rust, as well as a hip-high, once white, farmhouse-style cabinet. It’s black, wrought iron hinges and handles whisper of another life—a life spent in a warm kitchen where such charming hardware can be cared for and admired. If it weren’t for the drawers of curled, yellow newspaper and an overabundance of “chocolate sprinkles”, I would gladly rehabilitate the cabinet and give it the home it deserves. But…you know… “chocolate sprinkles”.

Crawlspaces underneath stairs tend to be spooky with cobwebs and dust motes—and ours had all of these things—but it also harbored another woodstove!

Hidden behind a metal cabinet, my husband and his friend uncovered a replica Jotul 118 woodstove.

It was love at first sight (for me, anyways).

The replica, albeit quite rusty, features a wrought iron tableau on both of its longer sides. This tableau, in carefully crafted images, is essentially my cultural heritage. There are two lumberjacks wielding a double-handled saw. Their horse waits nearby as they undergo the slow work of felling a pine tree. A small log cabin, bordered by a deciduous tree, seems to be a fox’s intended destination. Behind the lumberjacks stands a grand moose and his family. My heart, like the birds in the wrought-iron tableau, soared with appreciation for this artwork, for this glimpse into the past. My past.

I am, after all, the woodcutter’s daughter.  

The White Mountains are Ablaze

Wednesday of last week included a trip to Boston for another transplant follow-up. I drove the first leg of the journey, through Vermont and New Hampshire, with my brother riding shotgun. He did the ‘city’ driving (thank goodness!). We listened to comedy sketches, belly-laughing, until we caught sight of the White Mountains.

New Hampshire’s peaks were ablaze with scarlet, orange and gold! Set against a nearly cloudless azure-colored sky, the Autumn foliage was utterly breathtaking.

Breathe in the spectacular change of seasons, welcome the harvest and its fruits.

My harvest? After years of doing everything I have been told to do by my physicians, I am now on a “we’ll see you in a year” schedule with Boston. It’s a bittersweet victory. I’ve come to respect and love my transplant doctors, depending on them to keep me safe and healthy. It’s like graduating from high school or college—you’ve been waiting and working for this accomplishment—and, when it arrives, you’re not quite sure how to feel.

You’re going to miss the way things were. Even though traveling four-and-a-half hours there and back is tedious, those rides were often filled with singing and important conversations (like when and where to get married). Still, the excellent blood counts and the taste of freedom, is thrilling. It’s the end of a chapter, closing with a late-night ferry ride on glasslike waters and silver stars illuminating the nearly impenetrable darkness of the sky.

Rainy Days

My windshield, in need of a thorough scrub, was speckled with water droplets. Despite the heated seats and my fleece-lined stockings, I was freezing…and, stuck in the school’s parking lot. I had just finished interviewing at a local school district and was blocked in, actually, by a gathering of buttercup-yellow school buses (‘cheese boxes’, as an older cousin called them, when we were growing up).

While I waited for the buses’ departure, I spied a pair of deer across the road. They were grazing underneath an apple tree, undisturbed by their proximity to a house or to the line of buses. Maybe it was my dirty windshield, but the deer seemed framed by a thin mist, much like using a vignette in Adobe Light Room (the program I use when editing pictures).

Enchanting.

Mesmerizing.

Serene.

These were the words that filled my mind.

Frosty (And, Not the Snowman)

The sun rose slowly yesterday morning, as it does these days, revealing not a green lawn but a silver-white one. The garage roof looked as though it had an inch of snow on it! Fallen leaves glittered in the first true rays of sunshine. Luna and Berkley’s breath, visible as wispy clouds, filled the silence. Even the newly arrived winter birds were still.

This—this heavy frost—was and is a promise of the winter to come.

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” – Albert Einstein.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for taking this adventure with me. I hope you could “see” New Hampshire’s colorful mountains and our frosty lawn. Sending prayers, love and light your way.

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Bjørnen

October has arrived and, with it, morning skies that are as inky and dark as the contents of a broken pen. My raised garden bed is almost entirely devoid of the color green; save for the kale that is somehow making a comeback?

There are other garden chores to attend to. This past week I transplanted my single lavender shoot. Locating a spot in the yard that offered both full sun and well-aerated soil was not an easy task. Additionally, I dug up my Gladiolus callianthus bulbs. They’re currently drying in the garage, before I pack them away for the winter.

Away.

Away like the geese migrating overhead through gray, cloudy skies.

Away like Riley, our foster dog, returning to his rightful owner.

As revealed in a previous entry (Please see, “Fare-Thee-Well”, posted 9/7/2020), I was not 100% on board with the idea of fostering a dog. Taking care of three dogs, at once, sounded impossible.

Little did I know, I would fall head-over-heels for this foster dog.

He became part of our family.

All of our fur babies came with names. Their names “fit” just fine, but, as a writer, I needed to insert some creativity into the situation. Thus, they now each have middle names.

Alderaan Birkir (an Icelandic schnaps that I ‘discovered’ while conducting research for a piece of fiction).

Luna Petunia (because it sort of rhymes?).

Berkley Fergus (I’m not responsible for this one, but he is most definitely a ‘Fergus’).

Middle names are especially important in our bed-time ritual in which I say to each fur-baby, “Goodnight, [insert fur-baby’s name]. I love you. Have sweet puppy dreams tonight.” Or, in Alderaan’s case, “Goodnight, Alderaan Birkir. I love you. Have sweet feline dreams”. I cannot take credit for this ritual; the idea for this bed-time practice came from a Facebook post shared, a few years ago, by The Joshua Fund Dog Rescue.

Similar to how we thrive when we feel loved, our fur-babies need to be reminded of how important they are, too. We may not speak the same language, but I believe that kind words and a warm tone convey the message.

When Riley moved in, I continued our bed-time practice, but I didn’t like leaving him out. He deserved to have sweet puppy dreams, too!

The goodnight formula, though, required a middle name. Did Riley have one? I had no idea…and I didn’t ask…but he needed one…so I gave him one.

Turns out, I needed help selecting one. During a wonderful FaceTime chat with a dear friend, I sought assistance with the quest for the ‘perfect’ middle name. My friend asked me if I had learned any names while studying Norwegian. I had…but none of them seemed to fit.

Riley Marius.

Riley Jens.

Riley Einar.

Nope. Nope. And nope. None of them were good enough my foster dog.

Still, as an aficionado of Norwegian, I kept searching. Had any other names appeared during my language lessons on DuoLingo? No, but I decided to give him this one: Bjørnen. In Norwegian, Bjørnen means “the bear”. If Riley is a bear, he’s a teddy bear! His presence has been such a comfort—helping me through the loss of my grandfather.

At ten years old, Riley is a gentleman. He seems to know exactly when I need a hug; he’ll walk over to me, tail wagging and mouth open in a canine grin, and wait for me to bend down and wrap my arms around his shoulders.

Tail wagging & canine grin

He is almost always my security blanket at night (except for evenings wherein he falls asleep in his own bed).

An active senior, Riley is quite playful:

He’s the shadow at my side whenever I walk down the cement path in our backyard.

I have always wanted a dog that walked beside me, without a leash. When I was a kid, I imagined that that dog would be a German Shephard. Riley isn’t a Shephard, nor is he my dog, and it will hurt to give him back to his true owner. Yet, it’s where he belongs, and I know he has a loving and safe home there.

To paraphrase what another dear friend said about this reality: he will be taking a piece of your heart when he leaves.

It’s true. I will miss my Bjørnen.

I refuse, however, to let tears dilute the beauty of the incredible month that I have experienced with Riley. I will treasure everything that he has taught me/reminded me of: patience, kindness, caring, love…and self-care—especially regarding sleep!

I am grateful for this dog…which is why I tell him, when Luna and Berkley aren’t listening, that he has been a blessing to me.

Riley’s presence, and his imminent absence, is, to me, the embodiment of Beth and Matt Redman’s praise song, “Blessed Be Your Name”:

God you give and take away

Oh, you give and take away

[But] My heart will choose to say

Lord, blessed be Your name…

I, of course, do not have any rights to these lyrics. I can and will say, however, that this is one of the most powerful worship songs that I have ever had the opportunity to hear, sing, and apply to my own life. The upbeat melody is encouraging and invigorating.

What was I given? A senior dog to love and care for—something, Dear Readers, that 2010 me, after my first cancer experience, apparently had on her bucket list:

#17. Adopt Old Dogs.

Interesting how that item manifested, right?

There can be no doubt that I will miss my Bjørnen. It is, nevertheless, my hope that Luna and Berkley will assume some of his characteristics as they age.

May they be happy.

May they be healthy.

May they, at age 10, still drag around toys to play “fetch” and “tug of war” with.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. I hope you have the opportunity to experience the love of a senior dog and how comforting s/he can be. Sending prayers, love and light your way.

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Update: Riley and his fur-ever family were reunited yesterday, Monday October 5th, 2020. He was so happy to see them! His wagging tail and canine grin made me smile. It was a heart-warming sight. I am so grateful to have had Riley Bjørnen in my life.

Resources for the Curious:

To learn more about The Joshua Fund Dog Rescue, please visit: https://www.joshuafundrescue.org/

For more information pertaining to the song “Blessed Be Your Name” and its creators, Beth and Matt Redman, please visit: https://mattredman.com/

The Back Roads

The couple that rides together

We left home in the early afternoon, when the sun was high in the sky, and a touch too warm for a leather jacket and jeans. It was an adventure, though, and any degree of discomfort was worth enduring.

The motorcycle purred as we chose to take the back roads to Lake Placid instead of the usual route via the interstate.

The back roads—some damaged by winters’ frost heaves—were bumpy, curvy and framed by a beautiful array of wild flowers. Queen Anne’s Lace, Thistle and Black-eyed Susan’s were just a few of the fragrant blooms on display.

There were stands of elegant white birch, moss and ferns growing up alongside their trunks.

Passing through one sleepy hamlet, I noticed that many of the driveways had a chair positioned at the end of them. The chairs—an assortment of plastic, wooden, wicker—seemed to be in decent shape; no broken legs or frayed cushions. They clearly weren’t set by the roadside for garbage pickup and disposal. Neither did they serve a decorative purpose as none of them were festooned with containers of summer flowers.

It was a curious pattern…one that I still wonder about…and may or may not use in a piece of fiction someday!

In busier locales, the sidewalks teamed with young families and roaming teenagers. Swimmers and beach towels dotted winding river banks.

We came to an abrupt stop for two, white geese, waddling across the road.

As we drove deeper into the Adirondack Park, we were enveloped by the fresh scent of pine trees.

Arriving in Lake Placid, we parked in the lot directly across from our destination: Emma’s Lake Placed Creamery. The line of prospective patrons flowed out of the parlor’s door and out onto the sidewalk. Hungry and overheated, we decided to have a late lunch. We found the perfect place to eat—Generations Tap & Grill—a ‘hop-skip-and-a-jump’ away from the creamery.

Once seated on the restaurant’s spacious porch, we ordered the “Firetower”—a handmade Bavarian pretzel of epic proportions (accompanied by two dipping sauces) as well as a club sandwich that was so generous that we had to share it. Coupled with an IPA for the hubby and a cider for myself, our late lunch gave us all the sustenance that we needed to continue exploring the home of the 1980 Winter Olympics.

Our first stop was the Alpine Mall. I instantly fell in love with the shop, ‘Vision of Tibet’! Lured in by a rack of silk and cotton dresses, I soon found myself immersed in the beauty and rich culture of the Himalayas. There was jewelry and additional clothing items, but the items that spoke to us the most were the handcrafted singing bowls and the prayer flags strung from the boutique’s opposite walls and augmenting the ceiling. A tapestry, with an embroidered quote from the Dali Lama, caught our attention as well. It described the purpose of life—a good life—and it rang true.

Leaving the Alpine Mall, we took a sharp right and tacked ourselves onto the end of Emma’s line. Once again, the queue stretched from the creamery’s threshold to the sidewalk. The sun was shining brightly still, heating the cement underneath our feet, and making the promise of cold ice cream all the more irresistible.

Except, that, by the time we reached the door, the number of tasty (and creative options) were almost overwhelming! Hard ice cream, soft serve, milkshakes, Sundaes, Bubble tea, gelato, ice cream cake, edible cookie dough, cookie sandwiches, smoothies—and, then, the Crazy Shakes.

Knowing that it could be years before I made my way back to Lake Placid, I decided to take a leap of faith and let my sweet tooth make this difficult decision.

I chose the Cookies &Cream Crazy Shake—and it was crazy delicious!

Awe

The shake itself, an incredible blend of vanilla ice cream and Oreo cookies, would have been enough to fulfill my sugar cravings. But the shake’s creators hadn’t stopped there. Oh, no—not only were there actual cookie chunks in the shake—it was topped off with a tower of Oreo cookie sandwiches (with vanilla ice cream centers rolled in rainbow sprinkles!).

It was a work of art that elicited so many smiles:

All Smiles

Crossing the street, to the parking lot where the motorcycle was, we sat down beside the lot’s sign and began to feast on our own chilly treats.

“Where’d you get that?” A passerby asked me. “I think I need one.”

The Shake

I was amused by how one, sugary, flawlessly constructed shake could draw out such joy—not only my own, but that of all those who glimpsed it.

The drawback of this masterpiece? I’m a messy eater to begin with, and, in the afternoon heat, my shake melted too quickly. I had grabbed a handful of napkins while in the creamery, but I wasn’t prepared for this:

Shake Aftermath

I was so covered in cookie crumbs, that I needed help putting my mask back on—all so I could dive back into Emma’s for more napkins. Such a feat should have been complicated by the line of customers, but my cookie-covered hands seemed to grant me easy (and quick) passage.

To say I was ‘full’ after devouring the shake would be a lie. I was beyond full—full of ice cream, happiness, joy. Climbing back onto the motorcycle was no simple task in such a state, but a little girl, standing beside her father saying, “I want to watch the motorcycle”, somehow bolstered my resolve.

Girls can ride motorcycles, too.

We ended our trip at Donnelly’s Ice Cream in Saranac Lake. Donnelly’s is a well-known favorite for those of us who are native to the North Country. The little shop makes one flavor of ice cream a day. Once the stand sells out, that’s that. Shop closed. Fortunately, we made it before the ice cream was gone!

An arranged meeting, we joined a good friend in Donnelly’s parking lot. After we each enjoyed an extremely thick, creamy strawberry-vanilla twist, we took the back roads home.

Back roads 1.0
Photo taken by our friend, Gordon, on a back road in Onchiota, NY

Thank you, Dear Readers, once again for continuing this journey with me. I do hope, that the next time that you go adventuring, you choose to take the less known roads. Sending prayers, love and light your way.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

Resources for the Curious:

To learn more about Donnelly’s Ice Cream, visit them on Facebook.

Vision of Tibet can also be found on Facebook, specifically @LPVisionoftibet

If you find yourself in Lake Placid, NY and are hungry, treat yourself at Generations Tap & Grill, https://www.golden-arrow.com/the-resort/dining/

Finally, if your sweet tooth is begging for attention, visit Emma’s Lake Placid Creamery: https://emmaslakeplacidcreamery.com/ (also on Facebook)

 

Berkley Turns Three!

B Happy

A mostly quiet love-bug (except for when there’s a bunny in the backyard or when his daddy comes home from work), Berkley turned three-years-old this past week! This handsome gentleman from Texas never ceases to amaze us; he is super-fast, happy, and loves to eat. We have been so blessed by Berkley’s presence and are eternally grateful that a dear friend saw his description online and shared it with us. In fact, Berkley’s Got-cha Day is today (July 27th)!

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Berkley’s calm demeanor balances Luna’s high-energy and has even helped to dial it down by several degrees.

Golden girl

Thanks to Berk, she has also embraced couch cuddling—but only if it’s her idea. Luna is an independent thinker, a feline-like quality that she may have picked up from her big-little brother, Alderaan.

Smug_

As the cat of the house—and king of the upstairs—Alderaan had the choice as to whether or not he would participate in Berkley’s birthday celebrations. The celebration, in actuality, began a day early when Berkley and Luna’s new friend, Finnigan, came to visit.

Finnigan’s mom, an awesome nurse and friend, was helping strip the old shingles off of our roof and asked if I could watch her 5-month-old Labradoodle while she was up there. I said yes! I mean, who could say ‘no’ to this guy:

Finnigan in the kitchen

He’s so cute and soft! And, although he is as tall as Luna, he’s convinced that he’s a lap dog.

Selfie with Finn

Worried that Finn’s affinity for cuddling would interfere with my ability to complete my husband’s birthday presents (Hubby and Berk share the same birthday), I moved my operation to the kitchen, where I set up shop on top of the keezer. Finnigan happily joined me there, settling on my feet as extra motivation to keep painting.

Art Buddy

With Finn’s help, I finally finished these:

Completed Paw Prints

With the salt-dough paw prints and my husband’s birthday card completed, I was ready for the double birthday. I could go to sleep without a nagging voice telling me that I had more to do to make the next day a good day.

Yes, I was ready for the double birthday—Berkley, however, was not:

Birthday Boy Surprise

I think Berk’s reaction to being told that he was a year older, is one that we can all recognize/sympathize with. Although growing older is a privilege, how many of us actually do so with acceptance and grace? I know I haven’t.

Berkley’s shock wore off later in the afternoon when Finn’s mom brought over a delicious raspberry, buttercream-frosted cake. Neither of our pups sampled the cake, but they were excited by the smell of it.

July Birthday cake

Berkley spent the day receiving extra pets and hugs. For dinner, he was even given a larger spoonful of soft food atop his kibble! By the day’s end, he seemed content be a three-year-old.

B Content

Thank you, Dear Readers, for joining me here today. I hope you are finding reasons to celebrate (safely). If you have a pup or a cat of your own, give them some extra cuddles today. It’s beneficial for both of you. Sending prayers, love and light your way.

 

With Gratitude,

Laura

 

Resources for the Curious

We adopted Berkley from this wonderful organization: https://greatdivideanimalrescue.org/

Where Blessings Abound

On Tuesday (7/7/2020) of this past week, I posted this on Facebook:

On this day, ten years ago, I was told (for the first time) that I had cancer. Unlike my previous cancerversaries, this one has been exceptionally emotional. I feel as though I have been on a rollercoaster ride all day – I have felt gratitude for this life, for outliving my original expiration date, but also, a tremendous amount of grief, survivor’s guilt, and fear. There’s simply too much in my head and in my heart to describe here.

10 years.

So, I will quote Desiderata, as I do every July 7th:

“Be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe.

No less than the trees and the stars;

You have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you,

No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

Thank you, so much, for all of the prayers, love and light that you have given to me throughout this past decade. There are no words for just how much I appreciate all of you.

My head and my heart really were spinning. In the past, I had celebrated my cancerversaries with cake (preferably cakes with rainbow sprinkles on top of them). This one, I didn’t. I didn’t have the heart to celebrate…which I still can’t explain, even to myself.

Last Wednesday, July 8th, 2020, I was more at peace with it all. The rollercoaster ride had ended and I was settled. Grounded in the present moment. This, too, mirrored how I felt ten years ago; on 7/8/2010, I was at peace. Complete and utter peace with my diagnosis. I firmly believed that whatever happened to me, was God’s will. It was His plan.

I know now, that that’s called, “shock”.

Despite the description of how I felt as being, “shock”, I prefer to think of it as peace, as comfort, and as assurance of His presence. I’m going to be stubborn about this one; say “shock” and I’m going to say “serenity”.

My Facebook post was met with a tremendous wave of love and good wishes. It was humbling and comforting. I couldn’t ask for better family and friends. The support was exactly what I needed to recover from a day spent sobbing (on both sides of the shower curtain). I also received some lovely, invaluable advice—which I plan to utilize.

One Facebook friend described her coping mechanism as doing what she loves, as much as she can.

What do I love to do?

Write. Read. Spend time with these furry babies:

Spending time in the garden is another hobby that brings me joy.

It’s a miracle that most of everything is still alive (let’s not talk about the pepper plants that my dad gave me or the Bachelor Buttons that I tried to transplant). It has been a privilege to watch my pea plants flower and produce pods.

And, then, there’s this curiosity:

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I’ve never witnessed an onion going to seed before! There’s something beautiful about it.

Another element of life that I thoroughly enjoy is being artsy. My latest project involved capturing our fur babies’ paw prints in salt dough.

I’m not quite finished with this project; they need another coat of white paint and some detailing in either blue or black.

painting pawprints

It’s a small thing, but it is a keepsake that I am sure we will treasure for the rest of our lives.

Echoing the above sentiment, is the gift box that my mom gave me (along with the gift inside of it) for my most recent birthday. The top of the box reads, “Enjoy the little things…for one day you will look back and realize they were the big things”. I don’t know who to attribute this quote to, but I feel as though it is of the utmost importance to embrace.

This “little thing” was stretching up alongside the raised bed garden, probably sniffing at the lettuce, kale and carrots. She’s still too small to hop up into it (which, of course, is a good thing).

tiny

Although I suspect that Tiny (pictured above – can you see her white tail?) is the one responsible for the destruction of the Johnny Jumps, I can’t help but feel blessed every time I see her.

July Johnny TrioJuly Johnny

Perhaps celebration wasn’t something that I could do on July 7th, but today, I feel ready to count all of the remarkable blessings that I have been given.

En (one) – renewed faith

To (two) – my husband, our fur babies, as well as my family, both biological and married into

Tre (three) – the friends that I have made along the way

Fire (four) – the gift of continued learning (including Norwegian and the classes that I will be taking to become a professional medical coder)

Fem (five) – the gift of the five senses, so that I can see, hear, smell, taste, touch all of the God-given wonders of this life

Seks (six) – simply being alive!

Sju (seven) – my readers, who encourage me to keep writing, even when it’s difficult.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. You are a treasure to me. I am sending prayers, love and light your way.

 

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

 

Resources for the Curious

“Desiderata” is, in actuality, much longer than the segment that I shared on Facebook. It’s an inspiring poem by Max Ehrmann and is absolutely worth Googling!

A Breath of Fresh Air

view at Lake Alice

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

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

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

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

View at Lake Alice 1.1

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

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

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

Favorites

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

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

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

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

No masks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our home’s previous owners planted this beauty:

Mystery Shrub

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

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

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

Resources for the curious:

 

Fair Weather & Fun

fog and tractor
I am always enchanted by this view.

Earlier last week—before the heat wave—we had our windows on the first floor open, creating a cross breeze. Bird song filtered in through the screens. The wind chimes, on the front porch, played a whimsical tune.

It was inspiring.

Peaceful.

Restorative.

It was the kind of morning that lends itself to sitting on the back porch and listening to the world awaken. A red-winged black bird flew overhead, singing check, as is described by Cornell University’s TheCornellLab. A petite moth, wings whispering of pale blue, flitted by the back door.

It was from this vantage point that I noticed a couple of dandelions—gone to white, feathery seed—standing alongside the dark leaves of a Burberry bush.

Burberry Wishes

I found the contrast to be magical, and, of course, fodder for fiction.

And, then, there is the lonesome call of a rather leggy mourning dove, welcoming the twilight at the end of each day. Perhaps a youngster, he sits atop the garage’s chimney, cooing.

Not everything last week was calm. Fun, in this house, tends to get a little loud.

Inspired by David Portnoy, founder of Barstool Sports, my husband bought thirteen different frozen pizzas. Typically, Portnoy visits pizza parlors in whichever city he is in, sampling fresh pies. His slogan, “One bite, everybody knows the rules” is now a staple in our home. Due to COVID-19, Portnoy had to transition to tasting and scoring frozen pizzas.

A decent score on Barstool Sports’ scale (1-10, never whole/even numbers), can increase sales. Recognizing this, companies began to ship frozen pizzas (and other complimentary merchandise) to Portnoy to sample. The man is THAT influential. One good word, and he can make a small company flourish and websites crash (from his fans, who do not blush at his language, rushing to place online orders).

Back to our frozen pizza. Sampling several frozen pizzas was something that we could replicate for ourselves. Thus, the hubs purchased Celeste, Newman’s Own, Red Baron, PICS, Wild Mike’s, Stouffers, Tostitos, Elios, Digiorno (deep dish and rising crust) as well as a few others.

All thirteen pizzas were baked and sliced. A friend joined us for this pizza extravaganza. We sampled, “just one bite”, of each pizza. The conversation surrounding every bite was humorous.

“The sauce tastes like ketchup.”

“It’s stuck on the back of my teeth—like melted plastic.”

“The crust is too bready.”

We were so full by the end of the taste-test! The top scoring pizza was Red Baron (my husband’s favorite and, yes, the results were probably rigged) with a 6.5. My own favorite frozen pizza—goat cheese pizza—was not represented. It’s not the easiest pizza to find, nor do I know the name of the brand that produces it, but it is lovely!

Needless to say, our refrigerator was well-stocked, over-flowing, with pizza for DAYS.

My raised garden bed is full, too—with bright green seedlings!

There’s something breathtaking about watching green shoots poke their way through the earth, reaching for the sky, for the sun.

My lettuce and kale seedlings came up first, followed quickly by a perennial flower mix.

The carrots, poppies and zinnias are now represented in the raised bed as well.

carrots

It is at this point in sowing seeds, that I ran out of room.

What does one do with extra seed packets? Container garden!

There are various flower pots scattered around our lawn. Three of them were the containers that last summer’s Crimson Maple saplings came in. Now, they’re home to Serrano peppers (someday, maybe, they’ll sprout?), my gladiola bulbs and, finally, Shasta daisies.

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In late April we pulled two Burberry bushes from the front yard (using the Ram and a heavy-duty metal chain). Now, filling one of these vacancies are sunflower sprouts!

baby sunflowers

From muted-colored marbles to sprouted seeds, my peas are coming up:

peas
The peas are actually much bigger now; they really ‘popped up’ after the heat wave.

The beans have made their presence known, too:

beans
The beans grew exponentially, after the heat wave, as well.

And, while it might be awhile before my marigolds germinate, the petunias have popped through the soil of their hanging basket!

My rows of lavender, like the marigolds, will require some time to germinate. I am, however, still fascinated by their turquoise seeds.

I am in awe, too, of all of the wildflowers growing in our yard. The Pool Hole (not only the birds’ favorite dining spot) also harbors a flowering plant that I can’t identify. The flowers on this plant close during the day, forming bell-like shapes. At dusk, they open revealing white stars.

Their image is, in some ways, reminiscent of the poetic language of Song of Songs 2:11-13:

See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.

As written in the New International Version of the Holy Bible

The other wildflower that has me spellbound is bright yellow and resembles a buttercup. I believe, however, that because the stalk has so many leaves, it’s not my Great-grandmother’s favorite bloom.

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Although not a vine—nor wild—when the wind blows in a particular direction, it carries the intoxicating scent of the neighbors’ lilac bushes. Johnny Jump-Ups, undoubtedly descended from yesteryear’s hanging baskets, display vivid color in the odd nooks and crannies of our front lawn:

Johnny May 2020

Johnny is often accompanied by a shy, wild violet that is as profuse as it is elegant.

So much beauty, so much to learn from watching a seed transform into a plant, and so much pizza! Life is good, when we focus on the positive. And, I am so very thankful to still be here, to be able to soak up every moment and every bite of it.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for checking back in this week. I hope the days ahead bring you fair weather and fun. Plant something! Watch it grow! Eat a tremendous amount of pizza! I am sending prayers, love and light your way.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Be Imaginative. Be Whimsical. Have Fun.

Hello again, Dear Readers!

In an effort to combat high anxiety levels and the general gravity of these days, I decided to write something a little different for this week’s blog post. I wanted to do something imaginative, whimsical, and fun.

Inspired by both the characters inhabiting our yard, as well as the words of this hymn:

All things bright and beautiful

All creatures great and small

All things wise and wonderful

The Lord God made them all.

– “All Things Bright and Beautiful”, by Cecil Frances and Martin Shaw as printed in The United Methodist Hymnal: Book of United Methodist Worship

I present to you the following short tales. It’s up to you, Dear Readers, to discern fact from fiction.

Freddy Finch’s Red Feathers

Freddy, although resembling the cedar hedges’ sparrows, is, in fact, not a sparrow. Sure, he wears a brown cap and coat—just like some of the sparrows do—but Freddy’s face and chest are a brilliant shade of red-orange.

The sparrows are acutely aware of these differences and sing unpleasant tunes both about and to Freddy. Some of these remarks are so hurtful, that Freddy’s face turns scarlet.

“Don’t listen to ‘em,” Freddy’s best friend, Henrietta, often tells him. “They’re sparrows. They’re a dime a dozen. You, Freddy, are unique.”

“I don’t want to be ‘unique’!” Freddy chirps, before flying away.

“Where are you going?!” Henrietta calls after him.

Freddy doesn’t answer.

He flies to the nearest telephone pole, clears his throat, and begins to sing. The tune is certainly a long one, but is full of loneliness.

“Hi, there.”

Freddy’s song ceases as he turns his attention to the newcomer. She is much larger than any bird that he has ever met, but also more beautiful. Her feathers are a mixture of taupe and creamy white. He counts the black spots on her wings.

“I’ve never heard a House Finch singing such a sad song,” she coos.

“I’m not a House Finch!” Freddy protests, “I’m a sparrow!”

The newcomer smiles. “Red-heads. They have such tempers!”

“Do not!”

The newcomer’s eyes darken with sadness. “Listen, my boy. We are each what we are. I am a mourning dove, which means my songs always sound as though my heart has been newly broken, as if I am calling out to some lost, loved one.”

Freddy sighed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that you were the one singing every dusk and dawn.”

The dove’s long tail feathers ruffled in the breeze. “Don’t be sorry. It’s okay. Although my song is sad, it serves a purpose. I am a reminder of this truth, ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted’.”

“Yeah,” Freddy murmured. “But…what can a House Finch do? What’s my purpose?”

“You have the ability to sing louder and longer songs than many other birds—longer, even, than a sparrow can.”

Freddy Finch

Freddy felt his beak opening in a smile. She was right! This mourning dove was right! He could sing—longer and louder than all of the sparrows that regularly dined at the Pool Hole!

“Thank you!” He gushed before breaking into a happier song.

A Bunny’s Thoughts

Having built her den beneath an outcropping of dirt and tall grass (not far from the Pool Hole), Mama Bunny is now only allotted short periods of time to eat. To shorten the length of these foraging expeditions, she runs. She is a blur of fawn-brown, racing around the perimeter of the dogs’ fence.

Sometimes, though, the hounds spot her. They think that it’s a game and begin to howl and growl. They chase after her, and Mama Bunny must run to the yard next door. It’s the nearest haven—and it’s green! So deliciously green!

Mama Bunny

“Did you see the beautiful seeds that Stephen brought to me this morning?” A sparrow, perched in the arms of a Norwegian maple asked.

Mama Bunny continued to nibble on tender clover, ignoring the nearby sparrows. Besides, the dogs were still barking and sniffing around the fence-line; she had other things to think about.  She would have to wait to return to the den.

“Yeah, well, last week Samuel brought me an oak bud. It was delightful!”

Mama Bunny’s ears twitched.

“How are your hatch-lings?” a third sparrow, new to the conversation, asked.

“Stephen–”

“Samuel–”

The two sparrows giggled before finishing each other’s sentence. “He’s keeping them warm!”

Mama Bunny stopped eating. What? She thought. Sparrow-men feed their mates and keep their hatch-lings warm?

The dogs had grown quiet.

Is it safe to travel? Mama Bunny mused. She sniffed; her ears twitched.

Finally! Mama Bunny cheered. They’ve gone inside!

Taking a few short hops away from the chatty sparrows, Mama Bunny paused to reflect upon the birds’ conversation. If all of that Sparrow-talk is true, she thought, Barry Bunny should be ashamed of himself! Food delivery? Shifts baby-sitting?

Mama Bunny felt her temperature rise. The last time she had been this angry, years ago now, there had been a fox sniffing around her den. Frightened for both herself and her kit, she did what her rabbit instincts told her to do—spare her babies from the teeth of a predator and kill them quickly herself.

Mama Bunny shuddered; it was an awful memory.

She took three, deep, calming breaths, running home as fast as she could.

The babes, apparently untroubled by the hounds’ baying, were sleeping peacefully. The rhythm of their calm breathing seeped into Mama Bunny’s veins.

Maybe I don’t have a helpful mate, she thought, and maybe I’m not proud of my past, but I do have these little loves.

Robin Curmudgeon

“I’m not afraid of Robin Curmudgeon!” Gavin the Grackle boasted. His feathers were glowing blue-green in the sunshine.

Georgia and Gracie, also grackles, looked at each other.

“I’m afraid of him,” Gracie confessed, “He’s always so fowl-tempered–”

“And fearless!” Georgia added.

“Oh, please,” Gavin mocked them, flapping his great, black wings. “So he looks exasperated all the time. Big deal.”

“It’s not just his facial expression,” the ladies said. “The Grapevine has it that those white feathers on his chest, are from grappling with King Greyson.”

Gavin screeched, indignant. “No one messes with King Greyson and lives to tell the tale! You’re making Curmudgeon sound like some sort of folk-hero. A legend. He’s just a tubby robin! I’d like to see him out-fly me.”

Georgia nudged Gracie with the tip of her wing, dark beak pointing across the Pool Hole.

“He’s here?!” Gracie clucked.

Georgia’s beak opened in a wide smile, “oh, Gavin. Would you like to test your wing-speed right now?”

“I don’t need to test it,” Gavin said, “I know that I’m the fastest bird in this yard.”

“Well, maybe you should ask Robin Curmudgeon about that.” Georgia suggested. “He’s right over there—perched on top of the patio pavers.”

“I’m not afraid of him,” Gavin said, before swooping down at the old robin.

The ladies watched as Gavin nearly collided with Curmudgeon. They held their breath, as Curmudgeon took flight.

“Help!” Gavin screeched. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

If Robin Curmudgeon heard Gavin’s apology, he ignored it. The robin mercilessly pursued the young grackle into the cedar hedge and beyond.

Robin Curmudgeon

“Whoa,” Gracie marveled. “That was intense.

“It’s like my Mama always said,” Georgia added, “‘When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.’”

“Where did she learn that?”

“From the Bible.”

“She could read?!” Gracie asked, her golden eyes growing wide.

“Gosh, no!” Georgia shrieked with laughter, “she liked to hang out at a church camp and listen to the services.”

“Oh.”

Sneaky Pete’s Twilight Trek

It doesn’t matter what day of the week it is.

He doesn’t care if it’s cloudy or cold.

Nor does it matter to Sneaky Pete if the traffic is loud and busy.

He has a twilight trek to take.

The trek starts near the old barn, skirts the edge of a garden and then meanders into a neglected field.

Sneaky Pete slinks through the tall grasses of the field, sure to be quiet in case a snack appears.

He pauses in the middle of the field, admiring the sunset on cloudless days. The sky shifts from robin’s egg blue, to lavender to magenta, to gray, and, then, finally to onyx. The shadows, moving as silently as he does, soon engulf him. His dark tiger stripes become one with the night.

Stars as small as pinpricks begin to shine.

Sneaky Pete

Thank you, Dear Readers, for allowing me to share these vignettes with you. I hope they encouraged you to smile, or, even better—to laugh. Sending good thoughts, prayers, light and love your way.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

Bible verse appearing in “Freddy Finch’s Red Feathers” was Matthew 5:4. Bible verse appearing in “Robin Curmudgeon” was Proverbs 11:2. Both were from the New International Version of the Holy Bible.

Bird’s Eye View (Or a Squirrel’s)

squirrel

I’m not going to write about COVID-19.

I know it’s not over.

I am aware that hiding from it is impossible. I am reminded of this every time that my husband returns home from his shift at the hospital. Despite the fact that he has changed and showered at work, I immediately sanitize everything that he touches. Because this is real…and terrifying.

I cried this morning.

Dear Readers, I need a break.

I need an opportunity to think, and write, about other subjects…so, here it is…eclectic moments from the past few weeks.

Gunpowder & Geese

It happened the last weekend in March.

I became a card-carrying member of a remote shooting range!

Do I like guns? I’m…well…still wary of them, even after my husband walked me through all of the safety precautions and procedures.

Am I a hunter? Absolutely not, and neither do I have any desire to become one.

gunpowder

Yet, in these “uncertain times”, with reports of shady characters lurking around residential areas, knowing how to handle a gun is probably not a bad skill to have.

I do hope, however, that it’s a skill that I will never have to use.

The day after we spent time at the shooting range, I could hear geese flying overhead. Flying North, flying home.

Healing & Hawks

Surprisingly, this time of forced “social distancing” and “isolation”, has gifted me with the time and the space to work on healing old wounds.

I am spending more and more time in the Bible and contemplating devotionals. I’ve been praying more. Singing more. I am in awe of this promise:

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

 – Isaiah 41:10, as written in the New International Version of the Holy Bible

I’ve even been taking the occasional nap—something that those who know me well, know that I never do! I’m trying to listen to my body more. Trying to give it the time and the rest that it needs when I’ve pushed myself too far and too hard.

It was after one of these naps that I looked outside, and saw these guys across the road:

hawks

At first glance, these two birds looked like plump, Bantam hens. But they’re not! If I hadn’t watched one of them circle before landing, I would have had no clue that they were hawks.

I said a quiet prayer of gratitude that Alderaan isn’t an outside cat. These two bruisers could easily carry my 11.5-pound boy away.

alds

Stories & Starlings

I stopped writing fiction nearly 8-months ago.

I was discouraged. Defeated. I had two unpublished novels just taking up space on various USB drives. I began to think that I wasn’t good enough, that my ideas were sub-par.

Then, I thought that maybe I was writing in the wrong genre…and began to research my options.

I needed a friendly nudge—permission, really—to write again.

That nudge came late last week when my Bone Marrow Donor and I were talking via a video call. Not only has this incredible woman given me a second chance at life, she’s given me the inspiration to start writing again.

This time, though, with all of the research that I’ve conducted, I will be taking the plunge into Christian Fiction. No, my chances of publication aren’t any better in the Christian market than they were in the Secular market. The Christian market has its own set of unique standards and criteria that will not be easy to meet.

Yet, I feel as though this is where I belong.

starlings

Perspective counts for so very much….

I audibly groaned when the starlings returned to our backyard in early March. I didn’t like them (not a Christian-like sentiment, right?). They’re mean birds, after all. And, their idea of singing is screeching! In some locales, starlings are considered to be an invasive species, as they reproduce in overwhelming numbers.

One day, I counted two-dozen starlings in the bare arms of our deciduous trees! Based solely on the cacophony echoing through our backyard, I’m fairly certain that there were quite a few more hiding out in the hedges.

Honestly, I didn’t like them.

There have been mornings in which I would have preferred a flock of Blue Jays’, and their piercing squawks, over the starlings’ shrill screams.

And, then, my perspective changed. I happened to see the starlings’ dark silhouettes against a twilight sky…and again against a cloudy sky…they were suddenly magical. Beautiful.

starlings 1.0

Well, Dear Readers, as you have witnessed, COVID-19 found multiple ways to sneak into this blog post. It’s okay, though. I feel better after writing all of this. I hope you feel better after reading it.

As always, thank you for your presence here. I am sending prayers, love and light YOUR way.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura