A Sci-Fi Experience

I was happily reminded this month of the very enjoyable January/February reading challenge hosted by Carl V. Anderson (@Stainless Steel Droppings) years ago. His “Sci-Fi Experience” was always a highlight of my winter, and expanded my reading horizons exponentially. It was something that recently happened to my husband, Byron, that reminded me of that fun, immersive experience.

A couple of months ago, when Byron was sleepless due to some side effects of his cancer treatments, he would read articles and listen to podcasts about his cancer. It was fine that he was learning as much as he could about it, but I worried that such reading in the middle of the night would add to his insomnia and would raise his anxiety levels.

As an early Christmas present, our daughter sent him an audiobook, the first in a science fiction series she liked called The Expanse. Byron was not much of a science fiction reader, but we had watched the TV series and liked it. Our daughter told him the books were even better, so he started listening to that instead of those podcasts. The first book was called Leviathan Wakes, by James S. A. Corey (actually two men who collaborate on writing this series), and he became completely hooked on the series! He’s just about to finish the sixth book, the seventh book is ready to download, and he is loving his winter “Sci Fi Experience!”

“Quality of Life” is a phrase we are using often in our home right now. Reading and special book-related experiences like this one greatly enhance our quality of life and are so deeply appreciated during a difficult time.

The Cat Who Saved Books

The Cat Who Saved Books, by Sosuke Natsukawa, is a book I read for Dolce Bellezza’s fifteenth Japanese Literature challenge.  It is a book for book lovers! There are many books in that genre of books and bookstores, but this book was a sweet fantasy that didn’t disappoint. It’s a perfect read for a dark January afternoon.

From the publisher:

Bookish high school student Rintaro Natsuki is about to close the secondhand bookstore he inherited from his beloved bookworm grandfather. Then, a talking cat named Tiger appears with an unusual request. The feline asks for–or rather, demands–the teenager’s help in saving books with him. The world is full of lonely books left unread and unloved, and Tiger and Rintaro must liberate them from their neglectful owners.

Some wise words from the book:

“Suddenly the cat spoke.
‘ Books have a soul.’
‘ A book that sits on a shelf is nothing but a bundle of paper. Unless it is opened, a book possessing great power, an epic story is a mere scrap of paper. But a book that has been cherished and loved , filled with human thoughts, has been endowed with a soul”

“I think the power of books is that – that they teach us to care about others. It’s a power that gives people courage and also supports them in turn. [. . .] Empathy – that’s the power of books.”

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Malala’s Magic Pencil

There are so many wonderful books for children that fit into my “Wanderlust” project of reading books that are from or take place in each country around the world. When I made an early January trip to the library, I found a very nice story for this project.

Pakistan:
Malala’s Magic Pencil is the first picture book written by activist and Nobel Prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai. It is autobiographical and a sweet story about how she became an activist, using her pen and her voice to advocate for women’s education and a better more peaceful world. When Malala was little, she watched a tv show about a young boy who had a magic pencil. He helped people by drawing—whatever he drew, came true. So if someone was hungry, he would draw a bowl of curry and feed them. Malala thought it would be wonderful to have a magic pencil, and she thought about ways she could help others if she had one. That thinking lead her to realize that, if she was to really be able to help others, she would need a good education.
This is a wonderful introduction to Malala and her influence worldwide. I would have used this book in my classroom to start discussions about many important issues in today’s world, and to introduce my students to one of my heroes!

Our Incredible Cedar Tree


We live on Cedar Street, and although I don’t know this for sure, I suspect the street was named because of our incredible Cedar tree that has been here for 100 years. The street was originally named something else, and I have no proof whatsoever that a change was made because our tree grew in such an amazing way. But it is unique and majestic, home to all kinds of wildlife, and worthy of having a street named after it, in my opinion.

That Good Night


Many people are unaware of the branch of medicine known as “palliative care.”  Some, who have sort of heard of it, may think it is the same as hospice care, that when you enter into palliative care, you no longer have medical treatments for serious diseases, and you are on the verge of death. But that is not so. The World Health Organization defines palliative care this way:

”…an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with life threatening illness, through the prevention of suffering by early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychological, and spiritual.”

That Good Night: Life and Medicine in the Eleventh Hour, is a memoir by Dr. Sunita Puri, who chose Palliative Care as her medical specialty. She tells the story of her training and experiences in medical school that led her to make that choice. And she shares the experiences she had with patients and colleagues, many of whom were not familiar with the type of help palliative care can give patients and their families, and the kind of help and support it gives the doctors treating those patients. It was an eye opening and very moving education for me about a relatively new field of medicine.

From the publisher:

As the American born daughter of immigrants, Dr. Sunita Puri knew from a young age that the gulf between her parents’ experiences and her own was impossible to bridge, save for two elements: medicine and spirituality. Between days spent waiting for her mother, an anesthesiologist, to exit the OR, and evenings spent in conversation with her parents about their faith, Puri witnessed the tension between medicine’s impulse to preserve life at all costs and a spiritual embrace of life’s temporality. And it was that tension that eventually drew Puri, a passionate but unsatisfied medical student, to palliative medicine–a new specialty attempting to translate the border between medical intervention and quality-of-life care.

Interweaving evocative stories of Puri’s family and the patients she cares for, That Good Night is a stunning meditation on impermanence and the role of medicine in helping us to live and die well, arming readers with information that will transform how we communicate with our doctors about what matters most to us.

My husband, Byron, is now in palliative care while undergoing his treatments for cancer (see my post on his diagnosis). I should probably say that “we” are in palliative care, because family is as much a focus there as is his pain management and quality of life help. It is a very individualized care, with much more direct communication, and the team includes the palliative care doctor, a social worker, and a nurse. And all of this care is in support of his ongoing treatments and of his oncologists and other doctors who are treating him. Our palliative care team is helping Byron to have the best quality of life possible as he fights his disease, and they are providing support and care in helping us make the many profoundly difficult decisions of treatment and end of life care. When Byron’s ongoing treatments no longer work and are terminated, he will be moved from oncology and palliative care into hospice care.

Wise and poignant words from Dr. Puri:

“For we will each age and die, as my father told me years ago. We will lose the people we love. No matter our ethnicity, place of residence, income, religion, or skin color, our human lives are united by brevity and finitude, and the certainty of loss. Just as we strive for dignity and purpose throughout our lives, well before the light fades, we can bring this same dignity and purpose to our deaths, as we each journey into our own good night.”

I highly recommend this book. It is very moving and heartfelt, and it has a positive, uplifting, and empowering effect, overall. For those of us experiencing palliative care right now, it is an important and helpful education.

Dr. Sunita Puri…

A Man and His Cat

My first book read in 2022 was a manga/graphic novel called A Man & His Cat, by Umi Sakurai. It is a story about a lonely widower who adopts a cat and of all the changes that happen because of that new relationship. It was delightful!  A gentle, sweet story that warmed my heart was the perfect beginning for 2022!

And then I discovered that it is the first in a series of six books — oh joy! — so I’m off to the library to find the other volumes!


I read this book as part of Dolce Bellezza’s Japanese Literature #15 challenge.

 

Winter Entertainment

Although reading books (and listening to audiobooks) is the favorite entertainment at our house, Byron and I are also avid birdwatchers. We have always enjoyed watching the birds that frequent our yard, no matter where we have lived. However, watching birds has become a major entertainment since we have been mostly housebound in the last few months while continuing our Covid precautions because of Byron’s impaired immune system, and because of our recent snowy and icy weather.

A few months ago, with our daughter’s help, we expanded our bird feeding station, added new platforms and a suet holder, bought a 40-lb box of Audubon bird seed at Costco, and put our binoculars and our favorite bird book in the drawer by the kitchen window. The birdwatching entertainment has been endless!

I’ve been keeping a list of the birds we’ve identified. There are two other birds that don’t show up at the feeders, but that we know are keeping close tabs on the entertainment below (the Great Horned Owl which we hear often in the early morning, and the Cooper’s Hawk that has taken two of our scrub jays in the last few years). And of course I must mentioned the squirrels that add even more drama and entertainment out our kitchen window.

Here’s a collage of the winter birds we’ve had visit our yard recently and keep us highly entertained by their endless antics. (Photos from the internet)

In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.
~ Robert Wilson Lynd