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

 

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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

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

 

In Five Years….

If my fiancé is home, and awake, “The Office” is usually on. I’ve watched nearly every season of the television show with him. Occasionally, though, something strikes me as being new or important. Today, it was an episode in which the women of the office attended a meeting regarding gender in the workplace. Although the question was never actually asked (I re-watched the episode 3 times to be certain of this), the women started providing answers to the query, “where do you want to be in 5 years?”.

I’ve heard this question in the past—during job interviews and/or while preparing for job interviews. I’ve never considered applying it to my personal life. My knee-jerk response to the question was, “I want my novel published!” (I shouted that answer, in case you’re wondering.)

My fiancé smiled at this, but then suggested, “What about being alive?”

Although I am frequently haunted by my medical history, I have somehow taken my life—and the fact that I am still alive—for granted. I’m not certain how that happens. If I had to guess, I’d say that I get swept up by various anxieties, day-to-day chores…and forget that our next breath is not guaranteed.

But, yeah, still being alive in 5 years is a good (if not great) goal. Being alive and cancer-free is an even greater goal. Being alive, cancer-free and GVHD-free, is perhaps the greatest goal.

What will I do with this new-found health and appreciation? I’ll visit the ocean, walking out into the water until I am ankle deep in it. I will listen to the roar of the larger waves. I will watch the smaller waves lap the shoreline, forming lace-like patterns atop the sand.

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There’s healing to be found in nature.

I’d also like to wander through the halls of Boldt Castle in Alexandria Bay.

Boldt Castle

And, maybe, while I’m there, I’ll visit the ballroom and take a moment to  feel like a princess. I’d like to watch freighters navigate the St. Lawrence’s wide, wide waters. On the Fourth of July, I’ll like to admire the fireworks, lighting up both the night sky, and the river’s current with flashes of white, blue, and red.

So, Dear Readers, where would you like to be in 5 years?

Thank you, once again, for your prayers, love and light. Your kind words and thoughts have a positive impact. Please, don’t ever doubt that.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Randomness…Because I Ran Out of Ideas….

snow and mobile

I try to write my blog posts well in advance of Monday morning…but, sometimes, I don’t have any creative and/or meaningful subjects to write about. The product of such a dry spell is something like this post:

I’m writing this entry on the afternoon of Friday, February 8th, 2019. I usually don’t write this late in the day; in fact, it feels a bit strange to be doing so. I am at the kitchen table, in my usual spot, facing the window. It’s one of those rare winter days in which the sun is actually shining…but it’s also lightly snowing.

light snow
Yes, that is our Christmas tree.

 

Yes, small-talk about the weather. Feel free, Dear Readers, to send me ideas and/or requests.

Starting from where I left off yesterday, it’s now a brand-new morning—with no sign of snow. The sun has begun its ascent, and the dark sky is turning cotton-candy pink. There are already birds diving into the cedars. It was windy yesterday, but today the wind is fierce, cold. I imagine, as the house creaks in resistance, that this is the wolf of the fairy tales (see The Three Little Pigs). The windchimes, hanging on the front porch are singing. It’s not their usual melody; today’s song is unnerving in its pace.

Luna is at the point in her puppyhood wherein she doesn’t like the wind anymore. She’ll snore on the couch, the wind will blow, and she’ll get up to howl at the back door. These are the moments when her mother’s bloodline—coonhound—shows. I look at her, when she uses this grown-up voice, and I can’t help but wonder where our puppy went.

napping on the couch

I don’t know what Alderaan’s thoughts are regarding the wind. He divides his time between his bed and the mantle. When he stretches out atop the mantle, it is clear that he believes he’s the king of this house. I’m not going to tell him otherwise.

king aldie

But I will tell YOU this—

My fledgling immune system kicked viral %*&.

I bounced back from the viral cold faster than my fiancé did. Apparently, my new immune system is light-years ahead of my old one. In the past, prior to my bone marrow transplant, my fiancé would have a cold for two days; I would have the same cold for two weeks. Although I still have a few lingering symptoms, I am pleased with my immune system’s performance. It gives me hope; if Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia ever tries to develop again, my new immune system will certainly recognize it as a threat. It will destroy the malfunctioning cells, before they have a chance to become a problem.

With all of that said, my new immune system is still growing—I will be receiving additional pediatric vaccinations in the near future—but, already, it’s proving itself to be dependable, capable.

I’m certain that my transplant team will be happy to hear this.

I will be sharing this news with the team later this week. Please pray for safe travels and good news. Thank you, Dear Readers, for all of the prayers, love, and light that you regularly send my way. I am so, so grateful for each of 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

 

 

Snow Day

garage roof

As I write this, we are experiencing our first real snow storm in the house that we purchased in May. The natural gas fireplace is doing a lovely job of keeping us warm. The evergreen-scented candle in the kitchen is helping to usher in wintertime cheer.

We live on a well-traveled road, which, we both assumed would be one of the first roads plowed when it snowed. Turns out, that’s not what happens in this corner of the world.

This does, however, allow for observation (a writer’s favorite hobby; we have to get material somehow!). There appears to be two kinds of drivers traveling this morning: the fearless, who drive at break-neck speeds, and the responsible, who drive according to the road conditions.

It’s now 6:39am, and conditions have just improved—a snow plow has rumbled down the road.

shrub with red berries

Snow plows make my heart fill with excitement. I think it’s a lingering response from my childhood. Snow plows often meant school cancellations. I appreciated days off from school like every other child. As an elementary student, a snow day meant playing outside with my brother. As a middle school student, I’d use the time to write (yes, I was writing stories even back then). I would also draw my characters in my sketch book. It was a great tool for remembering what each character looked like.

Adults usually don’t have snow days, but I have decided to make today my own personal snow day. I won’t be building snowmen because a) we have a dog and I’m not interested in discovering any “treasure” that she may have left behind, and b) I can’t walk correctly in my snow boots.

paw prints_

It is the perfect day, however, for painting.

I’ve been chipping away at a Christmas-themed art project, but something has been missing. I played Christmas music while painting…and still the spirit wasn’t there. I think I needed the magic of the snow to inspire me.

I moved my artistic operation downstairs, to the kitchen table, where I could paint and watch the snow accumulating in our backyard. The snowflakes, as they fell, were mesmerizing. It was calming. Peaceful.

icicles

I still haven’t finished the art project…but maybe the goal of a snow day shouldn’t be, “let’s see how much we can get accomplished”. That was the motto I had in middle school and high school; I guess I’ve never been able to properly relax. Thankfully, this self-declared “snow day” proved that I can sit and admire the falling snow. It also proved that sitting down to catch my breath, is not the end of the world. In fact, it is a beginning—a lesson that this winter, even during lengthy winter storms, I can use my time to restore both my body and my soul.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your continued love, light and prayers. Your encouragement keeps me going. I am almost completely off of steroids! It may not seem like a big deal, but, for me, it’s a huge step in the right direction.

 

With Gratitude & Love,

Laura

November

turkeys

When I think about the month of November, two opposing images fill my mind.

For several minutes, I recall only gray skies, laden with thick clouds. They’re the kind of clouds that are only a degree or two away from sending snowflakes spiraling earthward. I see bare-armed trees, lawns blanketed with crimson, orange and yellow leaves. I can hear the call of the wild geese flying south.

The second image that comes to mind is my grandmother’s kitchen. She’d have cardboard cut-outs of cornucopias, turkeys, and pilgrims taped to her wooden cupboards. Fluorescent light reflected off of the orange counter-tops. It was warm. It was bright. It was nothing at all like the withered, wind-raked field across the road.

But that was decades ago.

The similarities between her kitchen and mine, are not lost on me. I have wooden cabinets. My counter-tops are not currently in vogue; they’re maroon-colored. I don’t have Thanksgiving-themed cut-outs to display, but the tile back-splash features several harvest-themed images. Or, rather, the fruits of the harvest.

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I strongly disliked these tiles when we first moved in. I wanted them removed, covered up, just gone. Obviously, none of those things happened…and I am glad that they didn’t. These images have grown on me. They’re bright, happy. They allude to hard work in the field and the orchard. They’re short recipes for delicious meals and wonderful memories.

And, just like my grandmother, I can see a field across the road. The field here, though, belongs to a cat that I have often spotted prowling across it. I have taken the liberty of naming this feline, “Sneaky Pete”.

cat in the field

The clocks have fallen behind, ushering in shorter, darker days. Instead of dreading these changes, I am determined to spend my November counting my many blessings. I’ll continue to record them in my gratitude journal. When I need light or warmth, I’ll sit by the fireplace. I’ll find joy in playing laser pointer with Alderaan. I’ll hug Luna when she gives me the opportunity to do so (she’s a Daddy’s girl).

I’ll celebrate when the sun breaks through the cloud cover, when the blue jays call from the cedar hedges, when I am able to spend otherwise gloomy mornings writing fiction.

As I wrote in my previous blog post, my left foot and ankle were mysteriously swollen last weekend. I am pleased to report that they are now deflated! They’re completely back to normal, and well-supported within a foot/leg brace that I need to—and will—wear more often. I have foolishly resisted wearing my braces at home; afraid that they’d be damaged somehow. It’s time, however, to put aside that fear and accept my braces for what they really are: blessings.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for all of the kind words, thoughts, and prayers that you have sent my way. You were heard and I am so grateful for your love and light.

 

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