What a blessing it is to love books. Everybody must love something, and I know of no objects of love that give such substantial and unfailing returns as books and a garden.
~ The Solitary Summer, by Elizabeth von Arnim
In this time of changes in my life, I find great comfort in reading the books in the Fairacre series, by Miss Read (the pseudonym of British author, Dora Saint). Changes at Fairacre is the 18th book in the series, so I am getting close to the end of my time in Fairacre. I’ve been reading them slowly, savoring them, not wanting them to end. Since I only have two books left in the Fairacre series, I am grateful that Dora Saint wrote another series to follow — that takes place in a neighboring village called Thrush Green. So it will be awhile before I have to say goodbye to these gentle, delightful stories.
I think Changes at Fairacre is one of my favorites in the series so far. It was a tenderhearted story, with all the changes that were happening in the village and in the life of the main character. Time moves on in these books, and this main character, the village school teacher, faces new challenges and some losses that touched my heart. The seasons and each school year come and go. The children grow and change. Life goes on as the village faces all the problems of modernization. Changes.
From the Publisher:
Times are changing in the charming downland village of Fairacre, and Miss Read isn’t certain that it’s all for the best. The new commuter lifestyle has caused a drop in attendance at the local school, and officials are threatening closure. Miss Read worries about the failing health of Dolly Clare. Vegetable gardens have given way to trips to the Caxley markets, and the traditional village fete now includes a prize for best quiche. With her trademark patience and good humor, Miss Read hopes for the best and plans for the worst as the village grows increasingly modern. Despite all the innovations, Fairacre still retains its essential elements: gentle wit, good manners, and the comfort of caring neighbors.
A few of my favorite passages from the book:
“Everything was quiet. I leant out of the bedroom window and smelt the cool fragrance of a summer’s night. Far away, across Hundred Acre field, an owl hooted. Below me, in the flowerbed, a small nocturnal animal rustled leaves in its search for food. A great feeling of peace crept over me. The tranquillity of Dolly’s old abode and my new one enveloped me. I knew then that I had come home at last.”
“My bedtime reading at the moment was Virginia Woolf’s essay about my favourite clergyman, eighteenth century Parson Woodforde. I had come across her remarks on the entry: ‘Found the old gentleman at his last gasp. Totally senseless with rattlings in the Throat. Dinner today boiled beef and Rabbit rosted.’ ‘All is as it should be; life is like that,’ she comments.”
“There may be many changes in Fairacre, I thought, but the seasons come round in their appointed time, steadfast and heartening to us all.”
I will start with an apology for not checking in sooner and for leaving this blog sitting too quietly for the last while. It has been an up and down month, a very emotional month, since my last post. The update on my husband, Byron, is that he has continued with his chemotherapy treatments with infusions every three weeks, and we have played the waiting game now for 9 weeks to see if the chemo is actually working to [temporarily] halt the progression of his cancer. We had to wait until a certain period of time had passed to repeat his CT scan. The scan was done last Saturday, and we finally received the results yesterday. At this point in time, it is working. *Big sigh of relief here!*
So he will continue with his three-week cycle of infusions, and our lives are adjusting accordingly. The infusions are on Mondays. That first week is a challenge for him, with deep fatigue and other struggles. The second week, he feels better but not great. And the third week, he is almost back to “normal,” feeling well enough to work on projects (although his stamina is low), and have family come to visit. Then, the cycle is repeated …until it no longer works, or the side effects become too much to offset the benefits.
With this major change to our daily/weekly routines, plus the anxiety about whether or not this treatment is working, I simply couldn’t focus enough to read a book, and writing a post seemed too difficult. But, I am very thankful that we have a lovely grief counselor who is helping us through this roller coaster time, and she recommended a book that she thought I would enjoy. I downloaded it onto my Kindle directly after my appointment and read it in just a couple of days.
The Last Bookshop in London: A Novel of World War II, by Madeline Martin, brought me back to my reading.
“The Last Bookshop in London is an irresistible tale which showcases the transformative power of literacy, reminding us of the hope and sanctuary our neighborhood bookstores offer during the perilous trials of war and unrest.”
–Kim Michele Richardson, New York Times bestselling author of The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
My counselor was right! I enjoyed it very much, and all of a sudden, my world seemed to right itself again! She added one other recommendation for me: she suggested I get myself over to Powell’s Bookstore for an hour of wandering. Do you see why I love this counselor?
Back to my apology for leaving you without an update on our situation for so many weeks… I will try to check in with you here, dear blogging friends, at least once a month as we continue on our current health journey. And thank you so much for your care and concern.
Is it only April 7th today? It seems like April has already been a month long! How much Life can be packed into seven days, anyway? Well, I have to answer my own question with: A LOT!
April Activities thus far:
I have finished two books already in April. I read Round the Bend, by Nevil Shute, for my Classics Club Spin book. I will be reviewing it soon. Then, I listened to the audiobook version of When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi. It’s a beautifully written memoir of a young neurosurgeon’s battle with lung cancer. It made the waiting room time go much faster.
Our daughter came to spend time with us, which is always a delightful time for us. Once again, she helped out with our yard work and gardening, something she loves to do and which we appreciate so deeply.
Byron underwent his second chemotherapy infusion, and in these first few days of April, has completely lost his hair. He is tolerating these chemo treatments every three weeks pretty well, with fatigue (and hair loss!) being the main side effects so far. During the times that he is feeling deep fatigue, we have been watching (and really enjoying) a YouTube channel called 4kSeoul. A very talented young man films his walks through the beautiful city of Seoul, South Korea. There is no narration, just sounds of the city surrounding you (especially if you put on your headphones to listen). Byron loves to see the architecture of the city as we walk through different neighborhoods. I am fascinated by the people we see, the energy of that city, and the historical structures we come across on these walks. It’s a fun way to experience a different place and a different culture.
So, hello to April! Life is full and busy for us right now, albeit in some ways we didn’t anticipate, and we are enjoying and appreciating the beauty of early Spring. I hope you are enjoying your April, too!
It’s time again for a Classics Club Spin! (Click here to see how a “SPIN” works.) I missed the announcement of this new Spin, so I didn’t make a list of 20 books from my current Classics Club list. However, I want to participate, and so when I realized that a number (#11) had already been chosen (too late to put together a list), I looked at my list for my TBR Pile Challenge, and found that #11 on that list is also on my Classics Club list. Perfect! So for Classics Club Spin #29, I will be reading Round the Bend, by Nevil Shute! And I’m looking forward to it!
The Elephant’s New Shoe, by Laurel Neme, is a non-fiction picture book about a young elephant in the forests of Cambodia who lost its foot in a snare trap. When he as found, he was thin and suffering tremendous pain. His rescuers nursed his wound and took care of him, but were afraid that he would die soon. However, this little elephant had both courage and a great will to live, and when his rescuers saw his fighting spirit, they worked to find a way to help him become a whole elephant again. They began to design a “shoe” that would enable him to walk again. This account of Chhouk’s healing and recovery, and the attempts to make a comfortable shoe for an elephant, is a warm and heartfelt story.
In the forward to the book, Nick Marx, the man who rescued this little elephant, wrote:
We must not forget that animals have feelings, too. Baby elephants are like children and need love if they are to grow up happy and strong. Please remember this and try to conserve wild animals. They may look a little different, but they are people, too! We should leave them in the forest where they belong, not capture them in snares, put them in cages, or keep them as pets.
This book jumped out at me as I was browsing through the library this week. When my focus and emotional energies are drained, I find solace in reading children’s books, and this little book touched my heart.
March is turning out to be a very busy month for us. The calendar filled up quickly with both happy and some not-so-happy events for this month. We had a lovely visit from our daughter. She is trying to visit us about every three weeks now, which is so nice for us during this time. I am continuing with my Spanish language learning through the program, Duolingo. I have included my Spanish practice as part of my early morning routine, and I just love it! Another part of my morning routine is my outside walk. It’s been cold in the mornings, but just beautiful outside, so I am enjoying the outdoor time after what feels like a long, gray, too-much-time indoors kinda winter.
We are facing some serious changes in Byron’s cancer treatment. At the end of February, we learned that the treatment he’s been on since his diagnosis is no longer working. That leaves just one treatment possibility left, and that is chemotherapy. So this afternoon, he begins his first cycle of chemo. My word of the year, Courage, is in play for both of us as we face this new unknown territory. Our doctors and support teams have prepared us well, so now we’ll wait and see how well Byron tolerates the treatment and whether or not it will make a positive difference for his condition. This is “palliative chemo,” not “curative chemo,” but our goal, our hope, is that it will allow a better quality of life for now.
So with all this happening, the reading I have been doing is of the kind and gentle type. I am reading another of Miss Read’s Fairacre series, Changes at Fairacre, and it is like balm for my soul. I’m also enjoy reading children’s books, some in Spanish for helping with my language goals. And I read The Garden by the Sea, by Amanda James, which was a sweet romance book that takes place in Cornwall and includes a rather magical garden.
And, of course, with all of this packed into busy weeks, March is just flying by! So, dear friends, I hope you are having a lovely, healthy, book-filled month!
I have discovered a new love: Kimchi. My knowledge about kimchi was minimal, so when I found The Kimchi Cookbook, by Lauryn Chun and Olga Massov, I checked it out of the library to learn more about this delicious subject. This was a fun cookbook to read because it was a complete education on the subject, not just a book of recipes. I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever attempt to make my own kimchi, but I’m loving trying it out with new recipes and adding it to things I already eat. (A melted cheese sandwich with kimchi is a winner here!)
As I said in my previous post, I am heartbroken for and inspired by the people of Ukraine. There is so much violence and death right now, and so many people are having to flee for safer places. But their fighting spirit and resilience are incredible.
Recently, I read two books for young people about having to flee their homes and homelands because of war. Mali Under the Night Sky: A Lao Story of Home, written and illustrated by Youme Landowne, is a picture book and the true story of a five-year-old girl whose family had to flee the civil war in Laos. They left their home under cover of night, and the little girl carried only her memories with her. She has shared those memories over the years with many people across the world. It’s a lovely little book, and one that can help with discussions with young children about the difficulties of being a refugee. Certainly a timely discussion to have right now.
The other book I read on the struggle of refugees was Katherine Applegate’s young adult book called Home of the Brave. It is the story of a refugee boy fleeing the brutal war in the Sudan. His father and brother have been killed and his mother is missing. His aunt and cousin, earlier refugees from the Sudan to the United States, welcome him to their home in Minnesota. He arrives in the middle of winter, and his culture shock is mind boggling. He has never seen snow nor felt the deep cold of a Minnesota winter. He is heartbroken over the loss of his family and especially traumatized by not knowing whether or not his mother is alive. He starts school right way and struggles with the language, the loneliness, the discrimination, and the cold. But he is a boy with tremendous resilience, and his story is inspiring.
There are many other excellent books on the humanitarian crises brought on by war, and I’m glad I found these two to read right now.
My heart goes out to the people of Ukraine right now.
“The most valuable possession you can own is an open heart
The most powerful weapon you can be is an instrument of
(I found this painting and quote on the Instagram page of The Charter For Compassion.)
There have been many disruptions in my daily outdoor walking ritual in the last few months, cold and darkness accounting for most, but I am happy to report that I am back to my early morning walks! Two photos below, taken yesterday and the day before, show how beautiful it is out there and why I love these walks.
A few weeks ago, I published a post about the books I have been reading since my husband’s diagnosis of cancer. I called it “My Other Reading” because I felt at the time that it was a separate reading journey for me. It was also a little easier than coming right out and saying that I am reading about disease, death, dying, end-of-life, and grief. But I have come to understand that it is not a separate reading journey for me. It is a very important pursuit of knowledge, and is taking central stage for much of my reading time these days. So I’m going to keep an ongoing list of this new journey, (like I do with my other reading journeys) and the books I am reading that help me understand and process what Byron and I are going through. I hope you will check back here occasionally to see where this search for knowledge and understanding is taking me.
I recognize that “end-of-life” is a topic that is uncomfortable for many. It is a very private journey, and our culture deems it to be something we just don’t talk about very much. But I make sense out what is happening in my life by reading, learning as much as I can, and then writing and talking over those ideas/learnings with my friends and loved ones. The conversations that have already been sparked, the book recommendations from friends and family, the kindnesses being shown to us by so many around us and in so many ways, are all deeply appreciated and help us with our processing. I also hope that in talking openly about our experience, it may help someone else process their own experiences with loss and grief.
And I am finding such interest, understanding, and solace in my reading about what we are going through right now. My reading is empowering me to do the best I can to be supportive, helpful, and understanding of Byron’s daily struggles with this disease. It is Byron’s illness, but our journey, together. And I want to do it well.
Red = click to read my review
Blue = Read but not reviewed yet
- The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee.
- Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gwandi. (Recommended by my friend, Les, at Coastal Horizons.)
- The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief, by Francis Weller. (Recommended by my friend, Sandy, a breast cancer survivor.)
- Cured: Strengthen Your Immune System and Heal Your Life, by Jeffrey Rediger, MD. (Recommended by my grief counselor, Nina.)
- Crying in H Mart, by Michelle Zauner
- Notes on Grief, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche.
- That Good Night: Life and Medicine in the Eleventh Hour, by Dr. Sunita Puri. (Recommended by my sister-in-law, Nancy.)
- The Springtime of the Year, by Susan Hill.
- Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell.
- Courage, by Bernard Waber (a gift from my friend, Marlo.)