It’s Staying Up Until Epiphany!

christmas tree aglow 2.0

Dear Readers,

Where did Christmas 2019 go? One minute we were decorating our tree (with our signature blend of home-made ornaments and Star Wars collectibles), and the next moment we were carrying discarded wrapping paper and boxes out to the recycling bin.

SW and homemade

I was so excited for Christmas, and it certainly lived up to my expectations. My big present from the hubby this year was a new washing machine. I know, that may not sound overly exciting to some people, but I was thrilled to be given a machine that wasn’t going to constantly screech errors at me!

Christmas for me, and many others, though, isn’t solely about the gifts.

It’s about family—sitting at my parents’ dining room table—as my father said “Grace” over the delicious meal that my mother had prepared.

It’s about attending Christmas Eve service—listening to the readings, singing along to both new and old Christmas hymns, while the candles in the sanctuary flicker, painting the walls gold and making the windows gleam.

Christmas is about embracing church family and thanking God that, yes, I can hug these wonderful, inspiring people again! I couldn’t do that a year ago. I definitely couldn’t do it two years ago when my immune system was infantile.

Yet, here I am, with only a few days left of 2019, and I’m grateful to still be here.

There was never a guarantee that I would survive Cancer #1 or Cancer #2. Neither of those experiences were easy—this last one took a lot out of me. I’m still recovering. In fact, it’ll probably take all of 2020 to feel halfway human.

According to my oncologist, the most common complaint among allogenic transplant recipients is fatigue. It’s not the kind of fatigue that you can sleep off. Neither caffeine nor sugar will help. You simply have to endure this fatigue; sometimes miserably, and sometimes proactively with appropriate amounts of physical and mental activity.

With all of that said, I am sure that you, Dear Readers, have an inkling as to what my goals for 2020 will be.

Before I was diagnosed with Relapsed Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in 2017, I maintained a daily, rigorous yoga practice. It was borderline Power Yoga.

yoga on the deck

As the tumor in my lumbar spine grew, I eventually lost all of the strength and flexibility that I had gained through yoga.

I’ve been taking baby-steps toward my former level of athleticism—utilizing chair yoga, restorative yoga and trauma yoga. I will continue doing these forms of yoga until I am ready for Power Yoga. By June, I intend to be doing The Wheel again!

Wally and Wheel

Also, in 2020, I will keep my mind busy with a self-created reading list (comprised mostly of books that I already own but haven’t had a chance to actually read). I’ll continue learning new languages via Duo Lingo. Currently, I’m studying Norwegian. Jeg elsker det (I love it)! Additionally, I will retrain my sometimes chemo-foggy brain through dusting off my GRE practice book and revisiting vocabulary, analogy and complex mathematical lessons. Each lesson is similar to a puzzle piece—revealing parts of the old me that existed pre-cancer.

Finally, I intend to keep the Christmas spirit alive throughout the new year. The first step in this multi-faceted plan, is to leave our Christmas decorations (except, maybe, for the tree, which is already losing a superfluous number of needles) up until Epiphany. According to the Christian calendar, Epiphany is traditionally celebrated on January 6th and marks the moment when the Wisemen (aka Magi) find Jesus.

wisemen

I mean, come on! It’s only December 30th! The Wisemen haven’t even made it to Bethlehem yet! The Christmas lights will glow in this house until that manger is discovered!

Of course, keeping the Christmas spirit alive involves a lot more than leaving decorations up. It requires us to practice kindness, generosity and gratitude on a daily basis. It might also take the form of small, but thoughtful, acts of friendship, such as writing letters and sending them off via snail mail. For me, part of it will consist of visiting cafes with friends—all to drink a cup of coffee and to talk awhile.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. Thank you for your prayers, love and light. I do hope that 2020 is kind to each of you!

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

Dear Santa – Our Star Wars Stockings are Up…

SW Stockings

I’m so excited about this Christmas season! I hope you are feeling the magic of the holidays, too, Dear Readers.

Our decorations are dispersed throughout the house, so that nearly every room has something “merry and bright” in it. I enjoy decorating—even if it accentuates the fact that our house is quite dusty. I guess that happens when you have three fur-babies running around….

The babes and I are easily infatuated by Christmas lights and cute, corny Christmas movies.

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Oh! And Christmas carols! Berkley, is by far, the most appreciative of my singing. He’ll stop what he’s doing, and look up at me like this:

love at Christmas time

This year, Christmas is extra special, as my husband and I will be going to Christmas Eve service with my parents and my brother. There is nothing quite as beautiful as singing “Silent Night”, while the entire congregation holds flickering candles.

I have missed Advent, again—which means I have missed poignant readings from the Bible, inspiring sermons, and some of my favorite seasonal songs such as, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. I have, however, been reading the Gospel of Luke each morning. I started this practice on December 1st.

There are 24 chapters in Luke and, as you know, Christmas Eve is the 24th day of December. I can’t take credit for this idea; a Facebook friend shared it. I loved the idea so much, that I knew that I had to do it! It’s been a great reminder of what—exactly—we’re celebrating each Christmas.

cross & manger

Reading through Luke, day by day, reminds me of  Jars of Clay’s Christmas song, “Bethlehem Town”. At one point, the song says, “and did the stars shine much brighter that night, you gave birth to the death that would bring us to life”. It’s such a thought-provoking and powerful statement. We need to remember—always—that although Christmas arrives and passes quickly, the gift that we were given in Jesus, so long ago, is always available. Every moment, of every single day.

To that end, I do hope that each of you are enjoying the holiday season. Be wary of the rush. Try to stay grounded in the moment. Spend time with friends and family. Laugh. Frost some cookies. Watch “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and sing “Frosty the Snowman” at the top of your lungs! Enjoy this season while it’s here.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. Thank you for all of your prayers, love and light. You have carried me through so much! You are, Dear Readers, a gift to me.

Merry Christmas!

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Greetings & Gratitude

Dear Readers,

I am writing this post on the very last day of November! How did we get here? I feel as though I might have whiplash from how fast this month has flown by. The past thirty days have been a blur—save for the beautiful moments that I was blessed with experiencing.

We spent Thanksgiving with my husband’s family. It was a relaxed (and may I say tasty?) holiday. It was raining when we arrived on Wednesday the 27th and the wind picked up at night. The wind was so harsh, in fact, that it reminded me of the ocean’s waves scouring the shoreline.

Luna and Berkley came with us. We discovered that Berkley is really great with kids—even allowing our youngest niece to lay her head on him for a prolonged length of time. The pair cuddled happily on the couch while Luna appropriated her grandmother’s recliner:

Thanksgiving Luna

Of course, all of this did not go unnoticed by their magnificent uncle, Sherlock:

Sherlock

Sherlock is a large, gorgeous boy, and he keeps an eye on everything—especially his canine relatives.

In addition to the great company and delicious food on Thanksgiving Day, I was introduced to “Diamond Dotz”. I’ve been searching for a relaxing, creative outlet—and, thanks to my mother-in-law, I now have one!

diamond art

“Diamond Dotz” is similar to paint-by-number crafts, but instead of paint, the artist uses tiny dots included in a kit. The dots stick to an adhesive fabric design with the use of specialized tools and wax. The craft requires patience and forethought, but the results are stunning!

I also enjoyed coloring with our youngest niece. I’ve never colored with gel pens before, but I think we both enjoyed creating bright (and glittery) art. Later in the afternoon, I played UNO (for the first time…I think it was the first time anyways) with that same niece and her brother. Let me tell you, they were stiff competition!

Finally, what is Thanksgiving without a football game? As Buffalo Bills fans, this year’s game was rather uplifting. It’s nice to see the underdog take home a win.

If this month—or, more accurately, the moments I remember of it—has taught me anything, it’s to live fully in the present moment. Cherish the time spent with the people you love. For instance, earlier in November, I had an opportunity to visit my mom at a craft sale where she was selling her beautiful, deco-mesh wreaths. Our time together means so much to me.

Cherishing every moment, to me, also means capturing quiet, but dazzling scenes like this one:

 

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Remember these experiences—as well as the look on your feline’s face as you write a blog entry—instead of cuddling with him.

Aldie on desk

Once again, Dear Readers, thank you for your presence here today. Thank you for all of the prayers, love and light that you send my way. It leaves me speechless. I hope that you each experience many wonderful moments as the holiday season enfolds!

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

A Nudge from Nissa

nissa-via-facebook

Well, Dear Readers, as you can clearly see, this post is a little bit behind schedule. It certainly wasn’t intended to be—I even had something written and ready to post by last Wednesday—but as the holiday arrived with all its glorious busyness, laughter, and AMAZING food, the post I had waiting in the wings no longer seemed to “fit” what I was thinking and feeling.

So, just what am I currently thinking and feeling?

Gratitude.

Gratitude for my family—both the family I was born into and the family I have gained through my significant other.

Gratitude for the man that so clearly loves Wallace the Wonderful and I.

And, ultimately, I am grateful for the opportunity to still be here—alive—to experience the magic of this Christmas.

This holiday season, although characterized by a whirlwind of activity, has also been abundant in hugs and kind words. It has shone as brightly as outdoor lights in the early darkness of December evenings. It has consisted of bad days and good ones, evenings of tears and evenings in which Hope has sat beside me on the couch and whispered of all the wonderful possibilities 2017 might hold. Yet, like my various cancerversaries, it has also been a season in which I am more aware of the passage of time and the mutability of our very mortal lives. There’s a vein of sadness flowing underneath the carols and the ribbons—a sense that things will never quite be the same, that happiness could, and will, slip away.

It was with this in mind—that I could be experiencing something as transient as it was beautiful—that I watched the sky behind Boldt Castle lighten this past Monday morning. There was something serene in the shifting colors, something of the ethereal in the way that the sun’s first rays illuminated the horizon’s edges. I wanted to capture this moment before I forgot it, or worse—never had the chance to experience it again—and reached for my phone. My fingers tapped out my password, the screen automatically opening to Facebook and a face I had not seen since February 2015.

I froze.

Before Wallace the Wonderful was born, before I was a cancer survivor—there was Nissa. I think we all have at least one dog in our lives that takes a bite out of our hearts when they go. Nissa was such a dog. She was a sweet soul with beautiful brown eyes and ears that folded over. She loved to run, belly to the ground, in wide circles. Nissa appreciated snow, too, and would bound through it with all the playfulness of a much younger dog (she was at least two when we adopted her).

For twelve years Nissa slept on the foot of my bed—and would pee on it whenever she was angry at me—until her hips would no longer allow her to jump up. She tolerated Wallace when he came along, giving me doleful looks when the cat would sprawl out on her doggie bed in the living room. She was patient and she was generous, never loving me any less when the chemotherapy took my hair or made me repugnant-smelling to the cats.

Sometimes, I felt that Nissa viewed me as a puppy in need of gentle, toothy reminders; she would take my hand in her mouth and guide me wherever she wanted me to go.

And she still guides me—in the most surprising of ways.

Meeting Nissa’s gaze via Facebook this past Monday, I knew I had a choice. I could view her picture as an unhappy reminder of all that I had lost and yet another example of how fleeting the beautiful things in our lives are, or, I could embrace it as a sign, a message, that yes, life changes. We lose dogs, we lose people, we lose bits of ourselves. Does it hurt? Most definitely. Does healing require time and patience? Certainly. But the love—the love they had for us and the love we had for them—is never truly out of reach.

I didn’t take a picture of Boldt Castle that morning. Beautiful moments like that—similar to the love of those we have lost—don’t always need to be captured by a camera. Sometimes, those moments just need to be felt.

Repeat After Me: Joy, Peace, Love, Hope

heart-ornament-2015

It’s Sunday evening and the hours are slowly slipping away. The apartment is quiet, calm, and Wallace the Wonderful is sleeping on the far end of the couch. It should be the perfect time to write, but my eyes keep wandering from my laptop’s screen to our miniature Christmas tree. There’s something mesmerizing about the way the lights weave through the branches, illuminating the treasured ornaments hanging there. From where I am sitting, I can see the angel that my grandmother made for me the Christmas of 1994. Darth Vader is on her left, wielding a red light saber. A glass snowflake—a light directly behind it—glows emerald.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve found myself studying our tree, retelling myself the stories behind each ornament. I am amused—and a little proud—that our 2-foot tree, high on a shelf, is so beautiful, so plump with love. Tonight, though, my tree-gazing is a little different. Tonight, I am searching for the words joy, peace, love and hope among our little tree’s boughs.

The search began, in earnest, this past Friday night. I was driving home, enjoying the outdoor Christmas lights along my route, and thinking about the scene that I had just left. I had gone to the VFW to watch my brother and his bandmates perform. Although I was busy snapping pictures of their band, Midnight Moonshine, I wasn’t so oblivious to my surroundings that I didn’t notice an elderly gentleman dancing.

“He’s 92,” an informant told me, “and he does this every week. He will dance here and then when this VFW closes, he’ll dance at the next one.”

Looking at the gentleman in question, there could be no mistaking what the smile on his face meant. He glowed with joy—joy for life, joy for dancing, joy for the present moment.

It seemed like a fitting emotion to have this time of year and it was this thought—that joy somehow “fit” this season—that I began to wonder about other words that might “fit”. My commute home, in fact, became a hunt for them.

While driving by a house with blue icicle lights, the word “peace” came to mind. I thought about how, earlier in the week, Wallace the Wonderful and I had fallen asleep on the couch listening to acoustic carols as the star atop our Christmas tree slowly and serenely shifted colors.

I thought of the word “love” while at an intersection, less than a block away from home, waiting for the light to turn green. Love surprises me on random mornings with a smile and a home-made breakfast fit for royalty. It is a word that I feel in my mother’s embrace and hear in my father’s jokes. Love tastes like hot cocoa, a spoonful of fluff melting atop the liquid and infusing the entire cup with its sweetness.

And, as I finally stepped into the light and warmth of our apartment, I felt the word “hope”. It was residing in the Christmas card on the table—our first card as a couple—and it greeted me with exuberant wishes for a happy and healthy season and year ahead.

Joy. Peace. Love. Hope.

We see these words so frequently this time of year—on accent pillows and wrapping paper, wall art and billboards—that they lose all meaning. The words become part of the backdrop, unobserved and unfelt, until a 92 year-old veteran, tearing up the dance floor, reminds you to start looking for them again.