Wednesday, December 31, 2008

We made it to Vermont for Christmas 2008 as we had a number of times over the years when Laura was with us. Reminders of Laura seem more keen during winter visits to Vermont.  This time I quietly reflected and looked back in my memories as we drove past places we once all stayed for ski trips (going back a number of years before cancer) like The Woods on the access road, past stores and ski shops where Laura was with us as we browsed, and right on by restaurants like the Baja Burrito where Laura was with us for a memorable meal after a day enjoyed outdoors.  

This photo of Suse and Tony in 2008 is taken not far from where Laura once slowed down to a snowplow to have her picture taken by the on slope photographer in 2004.

At the house, the 2nd bathroom renovation has just been completed. We marvel at the results.
The whole family, Laura included, picked out the tiles in 2004. All of us liked the pattern of sea creature fossils. (To see the pattern, click on one of the photos.)  Plans were made then and the tiles bought but all that came to a halt and was forgotten when Laura was diagnosed in May 2005.  In our world since Dec 2006 without Laura, nothing mattered anymore, but eventually in 2008, going ahead with the renovation and using those tiles that we already owned afforded a kind of project, something to occupy our time. 

For Christmas dinner, we put out Sleighride china just as we did nearly every Christmas of Laura's life. It was while shopping in 1995 accompanied by little baby Laura that I first saw and became entranced with this pattern which seemed to capture the beauty of the season and winter.  

After this year's initially good snow cover becoming greatly diminished by rain, we decided to head home.  But first a visit to the town transfer station (many small rural NE towns have no garbage pickup in my experience) an activity that starts out as a chore but proves to be interesting with seeing the many recycling options available (just some shown here.)

The drive from central Vermont is  a 250 mile trip  and just 15 miles from home, a sudden surprise -a flat tire.  Luckily we were right next to an exit ramp and could pull right off I-287 into the conveniently located Stop and Shop parking lot in Wanaque, New Jersey. I used to sometimes worry that a flat tire or a breakdown would happen when driving Laura during her illness on those 100 miles trips to Philly or back and forth to Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York but it never did.  But if it should ever happen to anyone, I hope it will go as well as this flat tire did.  The local towing contractor, Towing King of Bloomingdale, was driving past the supermarket when it received the call from AAA and pulled in immediately.  Here a photo of the scene:  the towman lowering the spare "donut" tire from under the back of the Venture minivan while Suse keeps Sam (in his crate) occupied with some kibble dole-outs.

Last night as we watched the 1951 Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol, I sadly reflected that it has been nine years now since my father died.  This movie was a favorite of my father's and growing up, we often watched this movie with him if we could. My father was an avid reader and his volumes of Dickens and other books found around the living room seemed almost like part of the furniture of my childhood to me. 
New Year's Eve today and our world here in Boonton Township is once again snow covered. 
Right: The ghost of Jacob Marley visits Scrooge (from Wikimedia images)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Laura, You've been gone two years today but you are always with us.

You are like my "silent companion" - in some way part of everything I do.  

Rest in peace, gentle Laura.

Photo above:  Candlelight Walk 2008 in memory of Laura (click once on photo for full screen view then turn off lights and view (use scroll bars to see all)  in dark room-you might find you feel like you were there with us!)
More photos of Candlelight Walk 2008 are linked in below as a slideshow. The walk was on a theme of A Charlie Brown Christmas and we sang O Christmas Tree and Hark the Herald Angels Sing at Laura's gravesite.  

For a slide show of the evening, please click here and then click on "slideshow."

Friday, December 19, 2008

Snow day!

We're having a snow day here today with four to eight inches projected.  Enjoy the snow day everyone!

Photo:  a lighted tree in our yard;  just as Laura might have once seen it, the bend in Pepperidge Road with light snow cover; Mrs. Hammell's field as viewed from the bend, sometimes a fox will be spotted in that field.  Click on any photo for large view-you will feel like you are right on Pepperidge Road!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Congratulations to Suse!

Congratulations to Suse!  She received the word today that she has been accepted early decision to Boston University, her first choice!  Laura must be smiling tonight and so proud of her big sister!

Photo:  Suse in her dorm room last summer while in a summer high school student program at BU.  

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Return to the two cities: New York and Philadelphia

Went to Philadelphia again this year for the Candlelight Vigil at CHOP as part of Worldwide Children's Memorial Day. 

Have been back to NYC in the past two years but hadn't been back to the midtown area of which there are keen memories of times there with Laura.  It was just two years ago that we had a wonderful evening with Laura going to the Christmas show at Radio City and there were other memories as well of seeing shows and going to Times Square to go to the Hello Kitty (actually Sanrio) store.  Suse and I went into NYC this past Friday to meet up with our friend Chris and see the Van Gogh exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). Looking out the window of the train on the way in brought back one memory after another, of Laura, and even of other events in life from long ago.  The train rushed past St. Hubert's in Madison where Kirby our corgi went through all her dog training classes with Laura watching proudly as Kirby reached her Canine Good Citizen award.  On we went past the  Short Hills pharmacy where I used to go to get Laura's cyclophosphamide 25 mg tablets (only place in area that had them.)  Into NYC and then onto the  uptown E train only to impulsively get off the subway one stop early. We walked upstairs to the street to find we were staring right at the Gershwin Theater, home of Wicked.  (There would be other reminders of Wicked like this neat taxi sign.)  
Joining Chris, we headed into the museum and into the Van Gogh exhibit, the Colors of the Night.  The displays of his letters and of some of the books he liked to read were nearly as fascinating as the well known paintings.  MOMA has a great online show Colors of the Night with audio in which you can see nearly everything you would see in person.  Through the process of seeing the exhibit I began to relax and warm up somewhat to the festive environment in that part of the city. We enjoyed walking around Rockefeller Center area and having a nice dinner at Cucina in the  GE building.
It's Sunday now and almost time to get ready to leave for my second city this weekend...

Photos:  Candlelighting ceremony at CHOP (one photo from 2008 and one from 2007);Laura and Suse in lobby of Radio City during the Christmas Show, December 2006; a scene from the 2006 Christmas show; a "wicked" green taxi in 2008 ;  we are outside the Van Gogh exhibit (no photos within); catalog of the exhibit; and in front of the tree.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Star-Ledger photos of Laura at RVS 11/30/2006

Photos by Bob Sciarrino of the Star-Ledger - one day in Laura's life, November 30, 2006, going to school and then to the Valerie Center for a transfusion. This was three weeks before Laura passed away from the neuroblastoma that had resisted all treatments.  Some photos you may remember from the Star-Ledger article that appeared on December 23, 2006; others have not been seen before.  More photos are in the slideshow-to view all these photos, click here and then click slideshow for best viewing. Thanks to Bob for providing these photos for posting here and thanks again to Bob and to Paula Saha, reporter and writer,  for telling Laura's story in the Dec. 23, 2006 article in the Star-Ledger-"Weaving a web of comfort when cancer strikes a child."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Charlie Brown Christmas and other thoughts

In a few days I should be ready to post some very special photos, some of them never shown before.  They are the pictures of Laura at RVS taken by Star-Ledger photographer Bob Sciarrino  at the end of November 2006.  I am very grateful to Bob for providing them to us to show here on the blog.  So I hope you will check back in a few days to see these photos which capture so much of Laura.

We had a rainy day Sunday with snow on the ground to start.  The red berries of the winterberry bushes on Old Denville Road looked very pretty as always.  I believe I used to point them out to Laura as we drove by.  

This time of year I usually pull out a favorite seasonal CD for listening to in the car.  Should I dare to listen to the Starbucks 1997 offering of the original soundtrack of A Charlie Brown Christmas, which Laura often asked for and so loved to listen to going back and forth to Sloan Kettering in late 2005? Tears most certainly guaranteed to spring especially if listened to while cruising along Interstate 80 just as we often did in 2005 on the many trips back and forth to NYC around that time.  Or should I play it safe and listen to George Winston's December as I have for many years going back before Laura and even Suse were born?  We'll see...and if they sound interesting, I recommend both highly!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Memories of the Christmas Parade

It's the Saturday after Thanksgiving and time for the annual Boonton Christmas Parade sponsored by the Fire Department.  Laura and Suse used to march those years they were girl scouts and so it holds special memories.  The parade route ended at Santaland and what a great scene it was with  the swarms of people, children and marchers getting refreshments, waiting to see Santa, mingling and talking, and walking around in every direction among the Santaland features.

Somehow this year I can't run the risk of even hearing the parade.  The sounds of drumming and music ride over the hills and can be heard at our house. I just don't want to go there where the parade music could take me.  The memories are mostly happy but somehow I have an instinct I'll feel better if don't hear it. I have something to do a few towns away at that time and that is for the best.

Happy memories:  Daisy Troop 655 marched as reindeer and Laura (in pink coat) was Rudolf in a Boonton Christmas Parade many years ago (2000?)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving 2008

Laura liked to pick out gourds and small pumpkins in the fall and for Thanksgiving.  She usually reminded me to get some Indian corn too for hanging on the door.  This is my Thanksgiving arrangement of gourds and corn and white turnips too, put together in her honor.  At her grave, the mums are dried and spent, as they could be expected to be this late in November and as such they will carry on their vigil at her grave through Thanksgiving.  The holiday's passage is noted there with a balloon and some gourds to be added for the day.  At the last visit, we had some loud company in the nearby sugar maple tree.  It was a Pileated Woodpecker hammering away in search of some dinner.
With the cold weather, there's a skim of ice on Griffiths Pond.  A Hooded Merganser had joined the Buffleheads there the other day but now none of them are in evidence.  But the weather is set to moderate and I expect to see them again.
Memories of Thanksgiving past:  Here is Little Laura with Grandma and Grandpa and, in the other photo, 9 year old Laura has some fun, popping up from a hiding place behind the table.
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone with special thoughts for those keenly feeling a recent loss, whether they are from our town, or from across the miles, and whether an old friend or new.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Laura's Pumpkin Pie

It was two years ago that Laura was still able to get to school part of the day and go a few places. She was walking around with neuroblastoma spread throughout her body, in most of her bones, in her bone marrow, and insidiously spreading in soft tissue and in her liver.  Thanks to Zometa, her bone pain was controlled.  She was walking around with platelets in the single digits.  She could not tolerate even oral chemo anymore. Here is Laura in late November of 2006 working on a project for school with her trusty friend, Pepper, alongside.  
It's time to get ready for Thanksgiving.  What would Laura have put in the shopping cart?  Besides ingredients for the pumpkin pie, Laura always reminded me to get some refrigerator crescent dinner rolls which she liked to make.  Since they were little, Laura and Suse always liked to have a Shirley Temple with a special dinner and as they became older, they made the Shirley Temples themselves,  very much enjoying the pretty and festive drink.  Our way of making it was just to mix some grenadine syrup into ginger ale until you got the pretty color. (P.S Commercial grenadine syrup is highly sweetened. A less sweet alternative might be to use pomegranate juice which is what grenadine syrup was originally made of.)
The rest of the dinner included for us such ordinary things as celery and olives, Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce, numerous vegetables including little white onions (just boiled or in some kind of white sauce) as well as all the traditional items.
Laura felt well enough that Thanksgiving of 2006 to stand up and help make a pumpkin pie.  This is the recipe we used from an ad in a magazine.  We made it last year and will make it again this year.  It's called Perfect Pumpkin Pie but it really now is "Laura's Pumpkin Pie."

Laura's Pumpkin Pie

1 ready made graham cracker pie crust
1 egg yolk slightly beaten
1 egg slightly beaten
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
1 can (14 0z.) sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ginger

Brush bottom and sides of crust with 1 egg yolk. Place on baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 5 minutes. Remove from oven
In large bowl whisk together 1 egg, pumpkin, sweetened condensed milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and ginger until combined.  Pour into crust.  Bake on baking sheet at 350 degrees F about 50 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool for 1 hour. Refrigerate at least 2 hours. Garnish as desired. Store in refrigerator.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Before we leave fall altogether (and after days of rain and wind, cold air is set to move in), one last look at the leaves under the Japanese Maple in our yard, the tree that afforded a friendly perch to take in the world and was a favorite of Laura's.

Have a couple of different sort of Laura projects in the early stage that have been keeping me busy.  Not sure yet how things will work out, so will describe at a later date!

This weekend has been centered around taking care of Suse as she recovers from having her four impacted wisdom teeth removed.   She has needed a lot of pain medicine and I don't think she is going to be ready to go back to school tomorrow.

It was two years ago that we made an overnight trip to Long Branch, NJ so that Laura could enjoy looking out at the ocean.  Long Branch was not too long a drive for an overnight trip as her Jersey shore favorite Cape May would have been.  Our room at our hotel in Long Branch
 was on a high floor and we had a great view of the beach and ocean.  We had a fun dinner while looking out at the ocean.  The next day we browsed around the trendy new shopping district.  We looked but did not buy finding the stores very expensive.   Of more interest were the statues of the Seven Presidents who used to frequent Long Branch in its heyday  a century ago.  The seven were Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Harrison, McKinley and Wilson, and they are commemorated in larger than life statues looking out over the beach. (One statue shows up in one of the photos.)

Just wanted to point out that we have a Friends of Laura Stiles page at the Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF) site.  The link is over on the right side of the page with Laura's Caringbridge site and other links. You can see a slide show of the 2008 Lemonade Stands there. Though at this time of the year, we do not have any stands planned, we have included a fundraising page  for ALSF.  Also we will soon put up a Giving Tree page for the Children's Neuroblastoma Cancer Foundation where a $5 donation puts an ornament on her tree.  Thank you for your support of the fight against neuroblastoma and childhood cancer in the upcoming holiday season! 

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Laura's room has become a kind of sitting room for us.  Nearly everything of Laura is still there: her collections, her books, stuffed animals, clothes and shoes still at the ready and, on display, many items from and about her life.  She had a good little television and we often all gathered there to watch something together, and still do.  There's a trio of photos propped up on the white chest in her room and every night when I turn off her little Hello Kitty lamp there, I say good night to her, speaking to those photos, including this one of her as a smiling 7 year old.

It's been raining and misting on and off for days now.  What I used to call the "Misty Days",  a brief season that we have most Novembers, that I was always eager to point out to the girls when they were young, and the occasion to quote them a favorite poem, "The Mist and All," by Dixie Willson.

Early November is the time the Japanese Maples around our yard seem to transform overnight from a somber shade of olive  to a brilliant shades of red and orange.  All of Laura's growing up years, she would have glimpsed the fiery color through our windows and admired it around our yard.  

In the tangled garden, there's still a few roses blooming as well as  snapdragons.  And in the woods around our yard, the Witch Hazel are in bloom.

I wasn't going to go there but I will.  It was two years ago that we slogged through the flooded roads, on a very rainy November day, fearing with the traffic we would miss the show Laura was so eager to see but we did make it, finding after long  delays on NJ roads and at the Tunnel, that in the last stretch our travels proceeded quickly, that we could make our way unhindered through the rainy streets of Manhattan, amid lights gleaming everywhere on the wet pavement,  to reach the theater and with helpful assistance getting us to our seats,  sit down, somehow dazed that our luck in traveling had turned around so quickly, for although the show was already underway, we had not missed much.  Yes, the show was Wicked. If we were all soon transfixed by the show, I'm not sure what word describes listening to Elphaba singing "For Good."    Did I know somehow then what that song would come to mean to me or was it that Ana Gasteyer as Elphaba rendered it so extraordinarily, or both.  

Well, read on, if you willing to have a mist in your eye, for below is a portion of "For Good"  which you will remember was read at Laura's Memorial Service, that was to come, astoundingly, only two months later:

"It may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You'll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
by being my friend
Like a ship blown from its mooring
By a wind off the sea
Like a seed dropped by a skybird
In a distant wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you...
because I knew you...
I have been changed for good..."

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Looking back at an early November, many years ago-little Laura and little Suse walk hand and hand over a carpet of leaves on Pepperidge Road.

The wintering ducks have started to return to Griffiths Pond.  Some  Bufflehead and  Ring-Necked ducks arrived on Friday.  Maybe another day will get closer for a photo though these are wild, wary ducks and that will take some luck.

Suse  took care of two nice dogs this weekend.  After an energetic session of retrieving  tennis balls, Gracie (Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever/Lab mix) and Katie (Chesapeake Bay Retriever) here pause a moment with Suse.

Many leaves have fallen but there is still a lot of color in the late turning trees and throughout the woods.  During a walk in the Tourne today, the raspberry colors of the Maple-Leaved Viburnum really caught my eye.