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

 

 

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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

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

Puzzle

Right before I opened my eyes this morning, I thought I saw the gray outline of a jigsaw puzzle.

Was I dreaming? Yes.

Was this ten-second snapshot of a dream significant? Most definitely.

I have been interested in the meaning of dreams since I was in Middle School. Naturally, I had to Google search this one, too. I didn’t dig too deeply—because it was 5am and also my scheduled writing time—and as any writer will tell you, you must fiercely protect your writing time.

For writers, while internet searches can be a tremendous resource, they also have the potential to evolve into enormous distractions. Keeping an eye on the clock, I skimmed just enough sites to learn that dream interpretation for this baby was not going to be quick.

I also learned that, for my brain health, I should probably be assembling jigsaw puzzles on a regular basis.

puzzle
Above: A dear friend, and fellow Jane Austen fan, gifted me the above jigsaw puzzle when I relapsed in 2017. Isn’t it beautiful?

I enjoy building jigsaw puzzles. The first time that I had cancer, I assembled puzzles quite frequently. I stopped when Wallace the Wonderful decided that he, too, needed to spend time with the puzzles. At night, my writing partner would prowl out to the kitchen. He’d leap unto the table where the puzzle was, and dash the partially built puzzle apart. As I believe most cat owners know, once a feline destroys a puzzle, and pieces go missing, it’s hopeless. You’re never going to find that missing piece (unless you move domiciles, in which case, it’s underneath your couch with at least a dozen hair ties).

Writing the above, I realize that I am a living, breathing puzzle. Some of my pieces have been chewed on. Some have completely disappeared.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though! Incomplete puzzles can be fixed. I don’t recommend this if you’re a perfectionist, but one way to solve the problem is to take a thin piece of cardboard (flattened cereal boxes work well), slide it underneath the puzzle, and trace the shape of the missing piece. Once that’s completed, and if you’re feeling especially brave, you can draw what was on that piece. You can color it in—with paint or colored pencils. You can make it whole again.

Which, incidentally, is precisely what I’m trying to do—be whole again. To heal.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your continued well-wishes and encouragement. Your prayers, love, and light give me hope. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love,

Laura

 

Creativity: Kind of Like a Scavenger Hunt

I am a morning person.

I wake up between 4am and 5am. I go downstairs, fix a cup of coffee (two tablespoons of Ovaltine, please) and start writing fiction. I’m usually fairly content if left to shape my own world out of words—but, these past few mornings, I have felt a bit uninspired.

The problem? I’ve been sitting alone with my own anxious thoughts for far too long. Worry drains creativity. Fortunately, I stumbled upon a solution Saturday night while watching the first few episodes of Season Two of “Anne with an ‘E’”.

If you haven’t heard of this series, I highly recommend it. “Anne with an ‘E’” is a heart-warming, Canadian television show currently on Netflix. It’s based on L.M. Montgomery’s novel, Anne of Green Gables. As a child, L.M. Montgomery was one of my favorite authors. Montgomery’s protagonist, Anne, is an orphan with a rich imagination. Anne finds stories in everything she looks at and wherever she goes.

Anne’s personality and incredible knack for discovering inspiration has prodded me to open my eyes a little wider. There is creativity out there. I just have to open my heart to it, and never stop asking questions.

For instance, I took this photo with my phone:

morning fog

What are we looking at here? In our everyday lives, it is just a sunrise in early July, around 5am. Fog is blanketing the field across the road. It crawls slowly toward our house. Is the fog hiding something? What causes such weather? Does fog symbolize anything? Creepy, right? Or, is it just fog?

This, I think, is how you spin a new short-story.

I’ve never really believed in personal writing muses. The closest I have ever gotten to one was with Wallace the Wonderful. He thoroughly enjoyed harassing me when I was typing. He liked chewing the corners of my research books and lying on my print-outs. He’s been gone since February, but I still miss him every day.

Wallace guarding weather witch

We have a gallery of sorts, hanging on the wall, across from the kitchen table (where I write). It consists of portraits of friends and family—and, of course, there’s a photograph of Wallace. It reminds me that he’s never too far away.

For now, Luna, our puppy, is too high-energy to be a writing companion (plus she’s too big now to curl up on my lap). She prefers activity, like learning how to swim:

luna swimming

Someday, when she’s older and calmer—maybe, then, she’ll doze off at my feet while I type out tales. I’ll be able to pet her copper-colored ears when I’m searching for a word. I’ll whisper the options to Luna and if I’m really lucky, she’ll snore when I say one of the words. You guessed it: I won’t use that word.

Snore translation: That word is too boring, Human Mommy. Find something better.

Although I am not quite awake when dusk falls, there are details about that particular time of day that sparks my creativity. I think I can see pieces of flash fiction when studying the solar, hanging mobile on our back porch. The stars and the angels move slowly, serenely, when stirred by the breeze; otherwise, they are still, soaking up the last of the sun’s rays.

solar mobile

It’s truly the little things—the minute details—that build a strong piece of writing and fuel a writer’s creativity. I have L.M. Montgomery and “Anne with an ‘E’” to thank for reminding me of that.

And, thank you, too, Dear Readers! Your prayers and words of encouragement give me the strength to persist, to heal, to pursue my dreams. Your love and light continue to nourish my soul. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love,

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

 

A Study

First, Dear Readers, thank you for your prayers, love, and light while I was in Boston.

view of Fenway

The check-up portion of my visit went fairly well, although I did learn that I may have to remain immunosuppressed (without a functioning immune system) for longer than the average bone marrow transplant recipient. Why? I’ve had Graft vs. Host Disease (GVHD) so many times that it might have to be considered a “chronic” disease instead of just an acute condition.

Currently, the GVHD that I have is managed with my anti-rejection drug, which essentially suppresses my immune system. I have also been on a steroid for a fair bit of time. Long-term steroid use, unfortunately, can lead to other health issues, such as bone density loss and for some individuals, muscle wasting. Due to these negative side-effects, in “chronic” cases of GVHD, the patient often participates in a clinical trial or study. I don’t know yet if I have “chronic” GVHD—but if I do, and if it is offered, I will consider participating in a study.

Studies can be frightening (no one wants to feel like a guinea pig in a science lab), but studies can also save lives—or, at the very least, improve the quality of life—mine and maybe someone else’s, too.

There was good news at this latest appointment, too! My liver enzymes were normal again! I also started my vaccinations. I know it sounds strange, but I was elated to finally receive my Tetanus shot. The timing was perfect; a day or two later, I sliced my thumb open on a can.

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Secondly, I wanted to thank you for your patience while I was away from my blog. I realize that this post, too, is short. My legs (not exactly sure why) have been causing me a great deal of pain. I feel as though physical pain drains creativity.

Healing, as we all know, takes time.

Once again, Dear Readers, thank you for all of your kind support. Please continue to send prayers, love, and light. I need them. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love,

Laura

Thanksgiving in June

Thank you, Dear Readers, for reaching out to me with a wonderful list of book titles, podcasts, YouTube suggestions, movie recommendations, and songs. You truly lifted my spirits! Although I can’t say that I feel 100% recharged, I do feel as though I am free to find beauty in the world around me again.

I mean, come on, look at these irises! They were a complete surprise to me. I had no idea that they were even growing around our front porch until Luna led me to them.

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I still do not have an immune system, so gardening is not an option for me. BUT I can enjoy observing what’s already growing here (I can also dead-head—while wearing gloves—which may be an experience that finds its way into a fiction project).

Speaking of fiction, I have been writing and submitting again. My novel, Greenwood (once known as Weather Witch), is now in the capable hands of Entangled Publishing. Hopefully, this time, it will exceed expectations, be on par with the trends of the literary market and find its way into a shareable format.

It would be a dream come true to see it published.

If that doesn’t happen, it’ll go back to hiding in my desk drawer…or excerpts will find their way to this blog. I always meant for Of Pieridae & Perras to include my fiction. Maybe it’s time to start sharing it….

Thank you, again, for sending me so much positivity. I am so grateful for each and every one of you. Your support has given me—and continues to give me—strength. Please continue to send light and love.

 

With Love,

Laura