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

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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

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

 

Happy Birthday, Luna!

Luna birthday card

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

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

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

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

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

I needed a copper-colored puppy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She has a big, beautiful heart.

Luna by the back door

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

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

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

On the Ice

icicle 01.25

Both of our sidewalks—and our driveway—are currently miniature ice rinks.

They’re slick, slippery, and challenging to walk on. I’ve nearly wiped out on four separate occasions. Due to this, I’ve decided to be a bit more cautious and use a ski pole to help me get to where I need to go. It’s slow-going, but to quote a popular adage, “it’s better to be safe, then sorry”.

I imagine, that those of you who live near us, are experiencing similar conditions.

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When I look outside at this ice—especially the large patch next to the garage door—it summons memories of winters past.

ice next to garage
Underneath that dusting of snow, is ice

There were several winters in which my father made a shallow ice rink in the side-yard. My brother and I were still in grade school at the time—and huge fans of “The Mighty Ducks”.

The goal—the reason for creating an ice rink—was to teach us how to skate.

Our parents bought us hockey skates, because they have better ankle support. They were black with white laces. The blades glimmered, new. Our father used to play hockey in high school, and later, in a men’s league, so we’d don his old helmets. He’d skate with us, keeping an eye on us as we pushed chairs across the ice.

little icicle

I will admit to not being good at it. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that I can’t skate.

Why? How could such a thing happen when I had the best skating coach that a little girl could possibly ask for?

I was afraid of falling. Because of this fear, my body would tense up, rigid. I seem to recall that my knees should have been slightly bent, a bit relaxed, even. I couldn’t do that. Relaxing, to me, meant giving up control.

Control is believed to be power; but, it’s a complete myth. We’re never 100% in control of our lives. Sure, we can have a direct impact on how our lives unfold via the choices we make (to pursue an education, to apply for a particular job, to eat healthy foods and exercise). We can control what lens we use to view the world. Viewing the world through a positive lens can make life feel and look better; conversely, viewing it through a negative lens, can make it quite awful.

I, obviously, didn’t know any of this when I was a little girl on that ice rink. I remained tense, hoping to keep every ounce of control that I thought I had. There are consequences for not relaxing. In the adult world, it’s called, “burn-out”. As a little girl in skates, it was a missed opportunity.

Learning how to relax—giving my mind and my body a break from stress—is now at the top of my priority list. It encourages healing (which I have plenty to still do). I don’t need to control everything about my life; “burn-out” and “missed opportunities” are too steep a price to pay. As another adage reminds me, it’s important to, “stop and smell the roses”. Relax, slow down enough to notice the little things in life—which, more often than not, are the most beautiful things.

more icicles

Will I ever wear a pair of skates again? I don’t know. Maybe. We’ll see.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for the prayers, light, and love that you send my way. This past week was full of appointments—and your good wishes carried me through. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

The Eve of 2019

moon

When I was younger, I imagined that “New Year’s Eve” consisted of bright lights and glittery decorations.

It also included getting dolled up:

Luna in her Christmas collar 1.0
Luna, wearing her red, Christmas collar.

And, of course, you have to make resolutions.

To make resolutions or not? That is the question I’m considering on this last day of 2018.

Are there aspects of my life that I would like to improve upon? Absolutely! Becoming 100% healthy would be wonderful. Building enough leg strength to walk in high heels once again would also be great.

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These goals, however, are easily influenced by outside forces beyond my control. One virus, one bacterial infection, could very easily sabotage my plans to become healthy. One ankle sprain could further weaken my already unstable ankles.

While I can still pursue these goals, they can’t be my only resolutions. The margin for failure is too high. I, for one, become exceedingly melancholy when I can’t fulfill my resolutions. To be successful, I need more than just a statement of “I’m going to do this” or “I’m going to make this happen”.

I need a statement, and then, a plan.

For example, I would like to read more. If this resolution is to be successful, there must be benchmarks. There must be preparation.

Step 1 – Select thin books from my personal collection (this step is based on the premise that shorter books can be read faster. The premise is only true if the books are well-written and focus on an interesting topic).

Step 2 – Aim to read a certain number of books each month (I would start with one—just to avoid failure).

Step 3 – Record progress in a journal or agenda (Accountability is, unfortunately, a necessary evil).

While reading more would be phenomenal exercise for my chemo-scarred brain—and I will give this goal a try—I have larger objectives to pursue. I’m going back to school!

I will be enrolling in two, online courses offered by the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (also known as BOCES). These two courses will form the foundation of my next goal: obtaining a certification in Medical Coding through the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC). It appears (knocking very loudly on wood) that I am going to live. And, if I live long enough, I’d like to be able to retire.

This new pursuit doesn’t mean that I will be walking away from writing.

Writing is how I decompress, and process my own feelings. I will continue to post on this blog and to work on pieces of fiction.

So, after writing all of this…I guess I do have resolutions for the coming year!

lift off
2019 – moving up, and forward, with the Princess and R2D2 in a hot air balloon. Because, why not? 

Thank you, Dear Readers, for sticking with me throughout 2018. Your light, love, and prayers have made an incredible, and positive, impact on my health and my life. I am wishing each of you a wonderful and healthy New Year. Here’s to a fresh start in 2019!

 

With Gratitude and Love,

Laura

 

 

To “Be Still”

Last week I wrote about promises, including a promise that I made to Alderaan to play laser pointer with him every morning. As I stated previously, this promise is also a promise to me—to slow down and cherish the little moments of this life.

One reader (thank you, Victoria!) reminded me that God also calls us to, “be still”. This sounded familiar to me…but not familiar enough that I could recite the book of the Bible that it’s located in, the chapter number and/or the verse number. Curious, I asked her to point me in the right direction.

The Biblical passage that she had in mind was, Psalm 46:10.

In the New International Version of the Holy Bible, Psalm 46:10 reads as thus:

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth.”

As someone with multiple anxiety disorders, being still is not my forte. I am a restless person with perfectionist tendencies. It’s not a fun mix. Even when I am over-tired, I will force myself to check the next thing off of my “to-do” list (i.e. wash the dishes, fold the laundry).

This weekend, though, I had some help with the call to “Be Still”. My left ankle and foot were mysteriously swollen. In an effort to reverse that trend, I had to sit down with my foot elevated. It was torture! I had too much to do! Christmas is coming—I have ornaments to make (guess my family knows what they’re all getting now!). Lounging on the couch, with a bag of frozen peppers on my foot, had not been a part of my plan.

I started rehashing all of the plans that I had had. That’s when I began to wonder: does “be still” apply only to physical activity? Or does it include our thought processes as well?

My mind is never still, never quiet. I am always worrying about something. Always plotting the next chapter. Maybe slowing my body down isn’t enough…maybe learning how to silence all of the worries and the negative thoughts that clutter my mind is just as important.

At first, this next bit is probably going to seem like a tangent. Bear with me, please.

In 2008, P!NK released an album entitled, Funhouse. Included in that album was a song, “Ave Mary-A”, which also alludes to the idea of being still. Now, because I am a worrier, I will repeat the usual statement regarding sharing music: I do not own these lyrics nor do I have any rights to them.

BUT they are so important!

An excerpt from P!nk’s song is as follows:

Help me to let go

Of the chaos around me

The devil that hounds me

I need you to tell me

Child be still.

From the moment that I first heard this song, I knew that it was powerful. It quickly became one of my favorite P!nk songs. It remains so to this day.

I listened to “Ave Mary-A”, on repeat, this past weekend as the snow fell. Be still. Peaceful.

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Thank you, Dear Readers, for your continued prayers, love, and light. If my ankle and foot are still swollen after this entry is posted, I will have to contact my transplant team in Boston. They will be sending me for an ultrasound (at a local facility, thank goodness!) to rule out the possibility of a blood clot. Please send good thoughts. They are appreciated!

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

I Promise to Play Laser Pointer

The wind was fierce—and cold—the morning that I wrote this blog post. It shook the wind chimes hanging on the front porch; their melody not the slow and calming tune that I had grown accustomed to. Instead, it was rushed.

Still beautiful, but rushed.

In many ways, I have lived my life this way—rushed, and rushing myself. Alderaan is helping me to break this habit.

My fiancé and I didn’t have Alderaan (Aldie) for a great length of time before I relapsed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. I knew that cancer treatment would impair my immune system, so I sent both of our cats to my parents’ house where they would be cared for (and downright spoiled). We’ve been separated from Alderaan for so long that it’s almost as though we are welcoming a new cat into our lives.

For instance, who knew that he would turn out to be an actor? He rolls—yes, rolls—down the stairs, just to antagonize Luna (the puppy). Trust me, this is an act. He may have short, little legs, but he’s perfectly capable of walking down the stairs. I’ve seen him do it at least a dozen times.

Aldie behind the curtain
Behind the curtain, preparing for the next act.

Another revelation: Aldie is an early bird. He wants to be fed breakfast, promptly, at 5:30am. Then, once his stomach settles, he wants someone to play laser pointer with him. I’m usually quite busy in the morning—especially on mornings that I have appointments to prepare for—but there’s this quiet voice that tells me to slow down, to cherish time spent with Aldie. For this one moment, the most important thing in my life, is watching Alderaan chase a red dot across the floor.

Aldie spare bedroom
Another act: pretending to sleep

It’s not going to be this way forever, so I have decided to enjoy the little moments whenever I can.

My fiancé and I recently attended a memorial service, “Celebrating the Life of Douglas R. Skopp, Ph.D.”. We both deeply respected (and continue to respect) Dr. Skopp. We miss him. There were a variety of speakers at the service: Dr. Skopp’s colleagues, members of the community, former students. Some of the words that were used to describe Dr. Skopp were:

Valiant.

Noble.

Compassionate.

Extraordinary.

Some of the speakers expressed the desire to have just one more cup of coffee, or one more dinner with him—and, it hit me then, that my fiancé and I were quite fortunate to have had that very opportunity in September of 2017.

Right before my bone marrow transplant, we had had the privilege of having dinner with Dr. Skopp and his wife, Evelyne. It was a wonderful, inspirational evening—and exactly what I needed before shipping off to Boston for the transplant.

Dr. Skopp had been a mentor and a source of light for me since the first time I had had cancer in 2010. He mentioned me in the “Afterword and Acknowledgements” of his novel, Shadows Walking. To paraphrase, he felt that I was teaching others how to appreciate every day.

He was wrong about that; he was the one that taught me how precious every moment was. I was young and I was angry the first time I had cancer; his positive outlook turned my negative one around on countless occasions. He gave me hope. He encouraged me to keep focusing on healing, to keep learning, to keep living. I wish I had had the foresight to say ‘thank you’ before it was too late.

Perhaps the most significant moment at the memorial, for me, was when one of the speakers relayed some of the advice that Dr. Skopp had once given to him. It was, as follows:

“The most important promises to keep, are the ones [that] you make to yourself”.

This advice has stayed with me, every day, since the memorial. I ask myself, what promises have I made to me? Have I made any of them a priority?

The answer came to me with the click and the tap of a keyboard; continuing to write and, one day, publish some of my fiction—these are promises I have made to myself. The service rekindled my commitment to these promises.

Another important promise: to play laser pointer. Although it primarily benefits Alderaan, promising to play laser pointer is also a promise to me. It’s a promise to slow down, live this life, and love its little moments.

As always, Dear Readers, thank you for your prayers, your love, and your light. It has carried me through so much this past year. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Silver-Linings, Silver Ears

Aldie on the mantle

I really do try to see the positive in situations…but, I’m human…and, sometimes, I need a little help to see what’s right in front of me.

For instance, this past Wednesday, I was at my parents’ house (where the majority of my belongings still are). There was a pedestal mirror atop my long-neglected bureau.

In the house I share with my fiancé, the only mirrors that we have are in the bathroom. So, if someone is in the bathroom, you’re out of luck. You can try catching your reflection in the television screen, but best wishes to you. Brushing your hair into place isn’t going to happen until the bathroom is vacated.

You learn to live with minor inconveniences such as this.

Seeing my old pedestal mirror, though, I decided to take it home with me. I’d put it in our bedroom or my office—someplace where I could try to tame my wild curls whenever the bathroom was otherwise occupied. I began dusting it. As I did so, however, the mirror snapped off of the pedestal. It landed on the cement floor and cracked like a hard-boiled egg.

“Great,” I thought, recalling the superstition that breaking a mirror comes with a sentence of 7 years of bad luck.

As a life-long pessimist, I instantly started reciting all of the major and minor health problems that, due to my medical history, I could probably develop in the next 7 years. It was a depressing and anxiety-filled list. Seeking some solace, I told my fiancé about the mirror. His response was perfect:

“I guess that means you’ll be alive for the next seven years,” he said. “You have to find the silver-lining in these things.”

I had to think about what he had said for a minute or two, before the meaning of it sunk in. You do have to be alive to have bad luck—or any luck at all, really.

“I want more than 7 years,” I countered.

“Of course,” he replied, “I want you to have more than that, too.”

Point of Clarification: no doctor has told me that I have an expiration date, coming due in seven years. This is just our morbid sense of humor and how we decided to interpret a broken mirror and the superstition of 7 years of bad luck. Now, I know a broken mirror can’t guarantee health or life, but I’m going to pretend that it can. That kind of assurance, even if only a work of the imagination, is truly a silver-lining.

While searching for silver-linings, I have also rediscovered a pair of lovable, silver ears.

silver ears

During my last check-up in Boston, I asked if our cat could live with us again. I was afraid to ask since my immune system hasn’t finished developing yet. The answer, though, was, ‘yes’!

After a year of being cared for by my parents (thank you, Mom & Dad!), and losing his big brother Wallace, Alderaan (Aldie) has finally moved in with us. My brother delivered him to our front door on Wednesday night. He set Aldie in his new litter box while I prepped his dinner.

The next day, October 11th, Alderaan had his fourth birthday. He celebrated with a long nap underneath our bed. He’s a small guy, weighing in at only 11.5-pounds. Aldie is special, though. I believe he knew I had cancer long before any of my doctors even considered it a possibility.

Why do I think this? Before I was diagnosed with relapsed Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, if I was sleeping on my stomach, the little guy would curl up on my back—in the exact spot that my tumor would later be found. He was a heating pad, trying to ease the pain radiating from my lumbar spine.

Alderaan took care of me this past Thursday night, too. When I was too restless to sleep, thrashing around and trapped in some dream, our little feline decided to settle down on my feet. Aldie, although quite small, has the power to turn into a cinder block. He somehow becomes incredibly heavy. Utilizing this hidden superpower, he prevented me from continuing to move. I still couldn’t sleep, but it’s the thought that counts.

I can’t even begin to describe how wonderful it is to have my silver ears back.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for continuing to send prayers, love, and light my way. It means the world to me.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Oh, How the Seasons Do Change

October has arrived.

I do enjoy Autumn—picking apples and buying freshly made cider donuts from local orchards. There’s nothing quite as wonderful as a mug full of hot apple cider steeped with Mulling Spices. The Fall foliage, too, is breathtaking. I hope, as one reader (thank you bloomlover!) suggested, to take a ride through the Adirondacks, bring my camera with me, and try to capture some of that beauty.

When I was a child, my family would travel to Covey Hill in Quebec, Canada to pick apples. The orchard there seemed enormous! Year after year, it was busy with smiling, laughing families and couples. I remember bringing home more apples than we could eat before they spoiled—which meant Mom would bake pies and apple crisp just to use them up. The house would smell absolutely delicious.

Also delicious, was all of the Halloween candy we would score while trick-o-treating. Perhaps the most magical memory I have of Halloween involves my mom, one of my aunts, my brother, and two of my cousins. I was still in Elementary School at the time and I can’t remember what my costume was; my brother might have been batman. As we were going door-to-door asking for candy, we came across several black kittens. They were prowling the sidewalk in front of a little house.

I remember wanting one of those kittens more than another candy bar or lollipop. Of course, I didn’t get one. I couldn’t just scoop one up into my pumpkin candy bucket…but, just to be clear, it would have fit.

Someday, I’ll have a black cat. I think I’ll name him Simon.

As the weather grows colder, and the days shorter, it is important to remember those people, places, things that warm your heart. The very word “warmth” conjures memories of my parents’ wood stove. Nearly every Sunday afternoon, my mother would cook a pork roast in the crock-pot. Its savory scent would permeate the entire house. I think of curling up on a comfortable chair, wrapped in a blanket, and reading a new book.

This year, I’ll be doing that in front of our natural gas fireplace. I’ll probably have to share the recliner with Luna (which is not as easy as it used to be since she’s now 6-months old and pushing 45 pounds). She’s grown up so fast!

Hanging from the fireplace’s mantle, though, is something else that warms my heart—a wreath that my mother made for me.

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I adore the scarecrow in the center of the wreath. The little guy brings a smile to my face.

I hope, Dear Readers, that you, too, are finding things to smile about as the seasons change. Take a moment to marvel at the beauty and the magic that still inhabit this world. Enjoy it. Store it up like squirrels and chipmunks hide acorns and pilfered bird food.

There’s a Boston appointment waiting for me this week. It includes 7 vaccinations (all inactive viruses, I believe). Please continue to send prayers, love and light. They are so very appreciated.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura