The Next Chapter

English Roseum in Bloom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the real work begin.

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

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

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I Tried to Warn You….

flowering tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wild strawberry

Are there any animals roaming around?

turkey and song bird

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

writing companion

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

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

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

Paper Poppies

Well, Dear Readers, it appears that I’m finally going to post an entry about a holiday on the actual holiday. This is rare. Maybe even ground-breaking (for my blog).

I have, over the years, found that most blog posts originate from questions. Today’s first question is a rather common one: what is the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day?

Veterans Day – a day to remember those men and women who have served in the armed services. We, in the U.S.A., observe Veterans Day on November 11th.

Memorial Day – a day to remember all those who have died in battle, while serving in the armed services.

I spent some time reading up on Memorial Day—mostly because it triggered pleasant memories from my childhood. Every Memorial Day weekend, while at church, an elderly couple (whom I was quite fond of) would distribute red, paper poppies to everyone in the congregation. We were supposed to wear these poppies, in remembrance of the fallen.

paper poppy 1.2

My next question (which I consulted the interwebs about) was: how do we honor our war-dead?

According to my findings, we can raise the American Flag (some sources say to raise it only to half-mast).

One source suggested attending a parade—preferably one in which current military personnel are involved.

My internet research also directed me to a poem written by John McCrae, a Canadian soldier and surgeon. Written in the early 1900’s, McCrae’s poem is entitled, In Flanders Fields. I’m not sure why I wasn’t introduced to this poem earlier in life…but I do recommend it. It is beautiful, heartbreaking, and so powerful that it is deafening. It is life and death. Loss and victory. It is, essentially, why Memorial Day exists.

I don’t have paper poppies to wear today.

I might not need them, though, as the research I did for this post has been both a lesson and a reminder that will stay with me. We can’t forget our fallen heroes. We can’t let this day pass without thinking about them and their sacrifices.

They deserve to be remembered.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Sometimes, I Dream in French

Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Textbook and poems

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

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

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

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

 

With Love and Gratitude,

Laura

Fierce

I didn’t realize that I was missing, absent, until last week.

It’s been two years since I put make-up on…and, when I did…the reflection I saw in the mirror was not the pale, tired, transplant recipient that I’ve been. Nor was she the fear-ridden cancer patient.

She was me.

Over the years, I have had various opinions regarding cosmetics. At times, I felt that they were toxic, illness-causing. I have felt that they were just another way in which women (and men) are forced to adhere to society’s unrealistic beauty standards.

I have also felt the exact opposite—that make-up can be used to accentuate features, to highlight natural beauty. I have also viewed make-up as an art form; a creative way of expressing one’s individuality.

For the past two years, I have been buried under doctors’ appointments, surgical procedures, fresh scars, and Steri-Strips. I’m still trying to crawl out from underneath that wreckage…and, somehow, sable eyeliner makes me feel fierce, capable.

gray t-shirt

With the right blend of eyeshadows, I can see flecks of green in my eyes. I see trees. Nature. Magic.

tank top

Applying make-up might not be a natural process, like metamorphosis, but it reminds me of the proverb: “Just when the caterpillar thought that the world was over, it became a butterfly”.

Metamorphosis takes time.

And, sometimes, it requires unexpected tools:

cosmetics

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here. Thank you for allowing me to share my feelings and thoughts. Please continue to send prayers, light, and love.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Nineteen Months Post-Transplant

morning fog

The field across the road is covered by mist. It’s the kind of blanket that envelopes the earth so completely, that you can’t see the grass. You can’t see if the neighborhood cats, Sneaky Pete and Tux, are on the prowl. You can’t see if the Wild Turkey Gang has returned (they’re probably distantly related to Boston’s Brookline Turkey Gang) .

The mist hides things—creating a blank canvass, not at all unlike the (almost) blank page that I’m currently looking at. I’m at a stand-still, questioning what I should fill this page with….

Maybe, since I requested prayers, I should tell you how my appointment in Boston went?

It went great!

The white blood cell line that I was worried about, was still elevated. I suspected that it would be. This particular cell line, known as your Eosinophils, usually indicate allergies when elevated in a normal person. In a transplant recipient, it can indicate the presence of Graft Versus Host Disease (GVHD).

I have allergies. I’m allergic to Alderaan (our cat) and I’m allergic to Spring.

However, because I was inexplicably losing weight, there was a possibility that I had GVHD in my GI tract. The only way to confirm this was with an Upper GI Scope—which, I obviously didn’t want.

So, what did I do? I ate ice cream before bed nearly every night.

I put some pounds back on. I’m still not at my fighting weight, but according to my lead transplant doctor, “You look great for being 19 months old”.

My reward for the difficult job of wiping out whole pints of cookie dough ice cream? A decrease in my anti-rejection medication! AND I get to discontinue my prescription Daily-Vite tab (Hello, gummy vitamins. I’ve missed you). I’m also no longer taking Folic Acid (which, ironically, had the highest co-pay). The amount of Magnesium-Oxide that I have to take has been reduced from 400mg three times a day, to once a day.

This is beautiful, wonderful, progress!

Did eating ice cream on a daily basis really instigate these positive changes? No. I believe it was all of the prayers, light and love that you, Dear Readers, surrounded me with. Your presence has had a positive impact on my life—on every life that you come in contact with. Please remember how powerful you truly are.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

Boots and Camera, Please

spring

As you know, Dear Readers, I had my power port removed last week.

I promised, on Facebook, to write a blog post about it. I wanted to use that post to encourage others to research Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Unfortunately, the more time I put into writing that entry, the more triggered I became.

For me, PTSD has its roots in medical trauma. So, even a “small procedure” such as a port removal, is a big deal. It summons nightmarish memories from both of my cancer experiences and my transplant. While writing about it, I realized that I was walking the fine line between Mental Health Advocacy and Desiderata’s poetic advice, “Be gentle with yourself”.

I chose Desiderata.

I needed a break from the anxiety of it all—some solace—so I put on my boots, grabbed my Nikon, and went outside in search of spring. It wasn’t difficult to find.

We only have a few deciduous trees in our backyard. Currently, they are all heavy with buds and the promise of green leaves.

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Our English Roseum (otherwise known as Rhododendron) is starting to wake up, too.

English Roseum

The shrubs, framing the front porch, are wearing the signs of new growth:

 

new growth

I am not sure if these are Day Lilies or Irises, but they’re certainly trying to reach for the sunlight.

iris or lily

And, then, of course, there are the birds:

robin in the horse shoe pit

Although this photograph—of a cardinal amid the tree buds—was pure luck, his presence was a comfort after such a long week.

cardinal amid the tree buds

Thank you, Dear Readers, for all of your prayers, light, and love. Please continue to send them; I have another follow-up appointment in Boston this week. It is imperative that my white blood cell lines are within normal limits this time.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Easter Wishes

bunny on the sidewalk 2.0

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

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

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

bunny on the sidewalk

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

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

 

Love & Gratitude,

Laura

What Cup are You Drinking From?

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

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

LLLmug

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

morning coffee

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

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

htp mug 2.0

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

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

potter mug

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

unicorn mug

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

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

love you mug

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

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

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

 

Love & Gratitude,

Laura

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:

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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