The View from the Mantel

sighting

As you know, Dear Readers, our fur family has grown. Everyone in the house is excited about Berkley’s arrival—everyone, that is, except for Alderaan. He has some reservations about this new “brother”.

Alderaan was in the middle of a cat-nap when Berkley moved in. He was slow to wake up, and when he did, it took him a couple of hours to realize that there were two canines in his house. When he did make this discovery, this was the look that we all received:

observation 2.1
Not sure if this look is of utter despair or scorn.

Berkley, as described in his online bio, is afraid of cats. That fear extends even to Alderaan—who is petite, weighing in at about 11-lbs. Berkley doesn’t bark or growl at Aldie, but neither does he get closer than a yard to him.

If, for instance, Berkley is standing on the back porch waiting to come inside, and he catches a glimpse of Alderaan through the sliding, glass door, his desire to come indoors dissipates. He won’t budge. There is nothing that can entice him to come inside—not treats, not even the promise of receiving all of the tummy rubs in the world.

the view

What Berkley doesn’t know, though, is that Alderaan has no desire to fraternize with a dog. He’s lived with Luna for over a year; he’s grown weary of being sniffed. He’d much rather sit on the mantel, where no doggo can reach him.

Prior to Berkley’s arrival, Alderaan would cuddle with me at night. Even though I’d wake up congested and itchy (cat allergy), it was completely worth it. Alderaan would sleep on my stomach, or my legs—which helped me stay put (despite the fact that PTSD wanted me to move).

Berkley tries to help me with my PTSD, too. After waking up gasping one night, Berkley licked my cheek as if trying to calm me.

So, what can I do about my two boys? They both want to cuddle. They both help me—but it seems as though they don’t want to share the same air.

Berkley has been oscillating between Team Mommy and Team Daddy (because, yes, it is a competition). On the days that he’s a mama’s boy, he’ll race upstairs as soon as I change into my pajamas. Berkley is faster than I am; if he reaches the bedroom before I do, he steals my pillows. Once he’s sleeping on those pillows, it’s over. He’s like a rock and can’t be persuaded to move.

stealing pillows

A couple of nights ago, when Seth was working overnight and Berkley had stolen my pillows, I slept on my husband’s side of the bed. I was almost asleep when a little, gray face popped up beside mine. Alderaan had his hind legs on the floor and was stretching upwards, no doubt trying to surmise what the new dog was doing.

Berkley was asleep.

I encouraged Aldie to come up, but he wouldn’t. While whispering to Alderaan, Berkley awoke. He looked at me, at Alderaan, and then he ran out of the room. He came back twice, and ran away twice. After observing this, Aldie had had enough of the drama. He left the room, too.

As a double-agent, Berkley has taken to wandering at night—especially if Daddy is home. Alderaan does not trust that the dog’s absence is permanent and will not come into the bedroom (unless he wants to hide under the bed and/or demand an early breakfast).

Alderaan is still my writing companion, though, and whenever I am at the kitchen table tapping away on my keyboard, he jumps up into my lap. In fact, he watched me write this blog entry. He was purring…so I think he approves of it.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. It truly lights up my world. Please continue sending prayers, love and light.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

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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

Synchronicity

clock 2.0
Many thanks to my brother for taking this picture; I only have digital clocks in my house.

I constantly see memes that refer to patience and time. I am guilty of sharing those memes rather frequently. And, while I do believe that, “things happen for a reason”, that adage has never felt as real to me as it did this past Wednesday.

We had to travel to Boston for another transplant check-up. My check-ups usually consist of two parts: lab work and seeing a member of my transplant team.

Occasionally, there are additional tests or specialists to see. This was one of those times. In between bloodwork and seeing my transplant doctor, I needed to do a Pulmonary Function Test (PFT). Was I worried about my lungs? No. Was anyone worried about my lungs? No. I can breathe; the test was simply part of the after-transplant care plan, to see if chemotherapy and/or radiation had done any damage to my lungs.

Those of you who are friends with my fiancé on Facebook know that this trip to Boston was rather speedy. There was, of course, traffic as we drove into the city, but it didn’t come to a standstill. Unusual? Definitely. We just kept moving along, driving smoothly into Boston.

We were an hour early.

Another abnormality—the lab called me back to draw my blood almost immediately. This NEVER happens. Phlebotomy is usually 20-minutes behind schedule every time we go to Boston—this day, though, there was no wait. The nurse quickly and expertly accessed my power port, drew 14 vials of blood, and sent me off to my PFT.

The synchronicity—the perfect timing of the commute and the lab work, meant that I was an hour early for my PFT. I had barely sat down in the waiting room when I was called back to begin the test. The specialist conducting the test was kind, but also quite focused on time. In retrospect, that focus makes sense; PFT tests examine your breathing—how long you can exhale, how long you can hold your breath. At least that’s what I remember…my Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was triggered shortly after we began the test.

For those of you that don’t know, the first time that I had cancer in 2010, I developed an infection that shut down my kidneys and liver. I woke up on a ventilator in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Eight whole years later, I still cannot be told to focus on my breathing without mentally going back to that ICU hospital bed. The medical apparatus used in the PFT exam is quite different from a ventilator—but it doesn’t matter. It was medical equipment, in my mouth, and it involved breathing.

I lost it.

If it hadn’t been for the respiratory specialist’s kindness, or her accent, I would have quit.

Her accent? Yes, her accent and her use of a particular word brought me back—first to a happy memory, and then to the present moment.

The word she used, translated into English, roughly means, “this and/or that”. In some ways, it’s the equivalent of the English, “well then”. I can’t tell you the word because I have no idea how to spell it, but I first heard it from a professor who guided me through a college internship in Canada. The professor was a light whenever homesickness tried to set in. She was from the Czech Republic and would use the word quite frequently.

Hearing that word again, in a vulnerable moment, freed me from the ICU room in my mind. Ironically, the word helped me to breathe.

When I finished the PFT, the specialist—who was from Russia—gave me a hug. I apologized for my break-down. She shook her head at me. “You’ve been through a lot. You can cry whenever you need to; cry wherever you need to.”

My lungs, Dear Readers, work. Apparently, my ears do, too, because I was able to pick out a word that I haven’t heard for nearly a decade. This, my friends, is synchronicity—when events align as if a divine plan is unfolding. 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.”

If we hadn’t arrived in Boston early, if the lab had been running behind schedule like it usually does, would I have had that particular respiratory therapist for the PFT? Probably not. It might sound crazy, but I think I was meant to meet her—because someone upstairs knew I was going to need that accent, and that word, to pull me out of a PTSD episode and guide me through the remainder of the respiratory test.

Please continue to send prayers, light and love—they’re working. My transplant doctor estimates that I’ll be on immunosuppressants for another three to six months. In that time, my team will slowly, and carefully, be tapering me off of these medications as well as all of the accompanying medications (anti-viral medications, antibiotics). The timing of it all may not be what I would have liked, but there is a pattern. There is, clearly, a plan.

 

With Love,

Laura

Free Write

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

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

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

I recently heard Autumn’s first cricket chirp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

apple crisp recipe

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

I smelled bitter, dark-roasted coffee.

morning coffee

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

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

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

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

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

 

With Gratitude,

Laura

Words of Comfort, of Healing

 

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

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

I didn’t have an answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alderaan July 2018

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

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

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

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

pink wildflowers

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

With Love,

Laura

 

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.