Category Archives: Life

Goodnight, Sweet Prince

To all my dear blogging friends…

I’d like you all to know that my dear husband, Byron, passed away Wednesday night, almost exactly two years after his cancer diagnosis. He was a courageous fighter, and accepted his continually changing condition with grace and acceptance. At the end, he was where he wanted to be — at home, lovingly surrounded by his family.

Your kindness and lovingly supportive comments on my various posts throughout this journey have been deeply appreciated. I haven’t been on my blog much during his decline, but I will now take some time to mourn and regroup, and redesign my life without him. I will return, before too long though, to my reading and to this blog.

With love,
Robin

August Reflections and September Plans

Hello, my friends. It’s time for some reflecting on life and reading in the month of August. It was another rather intense month, but flew by amazingly quickly. I’m proud to say that I actually finished reading two books during that month! Focusing on my reading has been a challenge with everything going on in our lives right now, but I decided to return to a much loved book, Persuasion, by Jane Austen, and just enjoy whatever reading time I could find. It was such a pleasure! The book and the simple act of reading! And then I ended up the month reading a book by another favorite author, Edith Nesbitt. The Story of the Treasure Seekers was a reminder of how childhood used to be a time of intense innocence and imagination.

The end of August also brings my favorite Fall reading challenge. Although I can hardly take on a bigger challenge than life itself right now, I’m going to join the Readers Imbibing Peril XVII challenge and read as much as time allows. I have a dear friend (a high school friend!) that loves the Fall and this kind of Fall reading, but he’s still a university professor and therefore doesn’t have the time to participate. But we both love Ray Bradbury, and he is inspiring me to read more of Bradbury’s stories and novels, so I’ve decided to make that my focus of my RIP reading this year!

My Readers Imbibing Peril XVII reading list!

On the home front, August brought another major change in our journey through cancer. Byron’s chemotherapy stopped working, just that quickly after 6 successful infusions. It was not unexpected but it was disappointing nonetheless. So he is now on hospice, and August was spent getting settled into that new reality, and focusing on finding the right combination of medications that would manage his pain more efficiently so that he can have some comfortable quality of life during this stage. We are so appreciative of our new hospice team! They work incredibly hard to manage his comfort care, and we feel very supported and cared for.

On our “Walk ‘n Roll.”

When I use the word “hospice,” I find that people assume that death is imminent. That’s what I always thought, too. But now we know that although hospice is “end of life care,” there’s a period of time before the final decline that can be much longer than anticipated. That’s where we are right now, this week — in the calm of pain management and improved quality of life. Byron is still able to care for himself and work on his home projects and his reading. Because he is quite disabled due to the cancer in his hip and pelvis, he  requested a wheel chair from our hospice team, and so we are able to get out for early morning walks as often as we can now. Being outside and surrounded by beauty feeds our souls! Our daughter calls these cherished walks, our “Walk ‘n Roll” time.

I hope that you had a good August, my friends, and will have a book-filled and enjoyable September.

July Reflections

I look at this old photo that I took at the Salt Flats near the Utah/Nevada border and marvel at the calmness of that morning a few years ago. July has been a tumultuous month, plain and simple, but we are here at a calm spot at the end of this month, taking some deep breaths before moving into August.

Once again, I did not get much reading done this month. Too much Life happening. But yesterday I actually sat down with a new graphic novel, called Dancing at the Pity Party, by Tyler Feder, and started reading again. It felt wonderful to just sit and read on a hot afternoon!

I was also able to finish my Classics Club Spin book, so I’ll try to post my review of The Sign of the Four, by Arthur Conan Doyle,  in the next few days.

Stay cool in this summer heat, my friends!

My July in brief:

  • Heat! Although we haven’t reached the 113 degree temperatures of last summer, we’ve had too many 100+ days this month. No central air conditioning in our old home, so we spend much of our day and night managing the fans and window air conditioners so that we can keep the house as cool as possible. It’s been a challenge!
  • Our grandson and Scottie’s Drive-In.  Our precious grandboy (I probably should call him our “grandman” now because he’s over 6 feet tall and very much a teenager) helps us on weekends. He mows the lawns for us and, afterwards, we provide his current favorite meal —a hamburger and fries from our local burger joint, Scottie’s Drive-In.
  • Watching TV. We love getting caught up in a good series on TV, and that happened this month with the Netflix series, Our Blues, a South Korean drama that takes place on Jeju Island. We were captured by the intertwining lives of the various characters, and loved our glimpse into another part of Korean culture. The cinematography was especially beautiful.
  • Remembering my Mom. July 18th marked four years since my Mom’s passing, and I shared photos on my instagram account of the gorgeous sunset we experienced as we left her apartment the night we said goodbye to her. I miss her every day, but I have so many special memories that make me smile.
  • Red Clover.  You may remember my photos of Crimson Clover that fills the agricultural fields around here with brilliant red in early May. Well, the crops of “red clover” bloom in mid-July, and are gorgeous in their more subtle color. Up close, they look pink, not red. And when you look at a field of them, they look a pale lavender color! A crop that is so mis-named!
  • Studying Spanish. I just reached a milepost in my attempt to regain my fluency in Spanish. I’ve worked on it, using the program Duolingo, every single day for 200 days! I’m rather proud of my learning streak, but I’m even happier to be regaining so much of the language I lost due to not using it very much since my year in Argentina as an exchange student. “Use it or lose it” is so true!
  • Byron and his treatments. July was cruel to us. The most difficult thing about Byron’s battle with cancer is the metastases in the bones of his hip. In early July, he suffered a pain flare and after a trip to the ER and many tests over a two week period, it was discovered that he has a series of fractures in that hip joint. So being able to go upstairs to sleep has become too difficult. We now have a hospital bed situated in the bay window of our dining room area, and I’m happy to say that it’s a very workable arrangement for now!

 

 

 

July Thoughts

Hello, friends. It’s past due time for an update on life and reading. Well, there’s been a lot of life going on, but not a lot of reading for me this month.

July has been an intense month for us filled with too many medical appointments. My focus, and the focus of our family, has ended up being entirely on my husband and his illness. The cancer journey truly is a roller coaster, and the last three weeks have been filled with gigantic ups and downs.

That said, we are still living each precious day to the fullest. Despite physical challenges, we still do as much as Byron’s limited energy allows. We share time with friends and family near and far (mostly on Zoom calls), and we laugh a lot, watch good shows on TV, try out new recipes or take-out food that might taste good to Byron’s chemo-damaged sense of taste, and we cherish our time with our daughter, son, and our precious grandboy.

Byron is reading more than I am right now, and what a potpourri of genres! His current read is The World as We Knew It: Dispatches from a Changing Climate, edited by Amy Brady and Tajja Isen. He recently finished the first volume of one of the graphic novels on my shelf called A Man and His Cat, by Umi Sakurai. Before that, he read
The Cat Who Saved Books, by Sosuke Natsukawa. And before that, it was a book he liked so much he bought copies for our kids — Other Minds: The Octopus, The Sea, and The Deep Origins of Consciousness, by Peter Godfrey-Smith.

Early mornings finds me in the garden watering and weeding. I can’t keep up with either, it seems, but it’s nice to be out there. And I have also been working on my project of scanning old slides and photos from the last 53 years!

We are busy with life right now amid the ordered chaos of medical treatments and tests. And we are deeply grateful to our medical team, and to our extended family and friends team, and to our own little family unit team. All of whom bolster us up and help to give us the courage we need to face whatever life brings each day.

A Glimpse of our July in photos: (there are captions to the photos)

It’s June Already!

Artwork by Edith Holden…

June is here already! My husband, Byron, and I have settled into our three-weeks-at-a-time routine dictated by his cancer treatments. He is doing well with his chemo, and while not an easy time, we are grateful that the chemo is working. The “settling into a routine” is so helpful, as is knowing what to expect for each week following his infusion. Getting into a routine has relieved my worries (aren’t the unknowns just the worst!) enough so that I am back to my reading. *Big smile*

So my May reading was all over the place, but enjoyable. After I finished The Last Bookshop in London (discussed in my mid-May post), I read Named of the Dragon, by Susanna Kearsley. I’ve read quite a few of her books and always enjoy them. I enjoyed this one, too, but it wasn’t among my favorites of hers.

Then I read a book called Widowish, by Melissa Gould. It was her story of grief after losing her husband. I wanted to like it more than I did. Although there were some very good, relevant, quotes and passages in it that I copied into my reading notebook, I felt let down by her in the telling of her story. Part of it felt superficial to me, and I’m not sure if that was due to her writing skills, her chosen narrative style, or perhaps not wanting to spend too long in the deep dive into her own story. Anyway, I am glad that I read it, but it fell short of my hopeful expectations.

Following that book, I listened to the audiobook of The Starlet and the Spy, by Lee, Ji-min. It was an interesting historical fiction story of a young Korean woman, quite damaged emotionally from the war, who was chosen to be the interpreter for Marilyn Monroe when she visited the American troops in Seoul, South Korea in 1954. In those four short days that the two of them spent working closely together, they formed a life-changing bond. It was an interesting story, but I didn’t care for the narration and would have preferred to read it instead of listen to it.

I had on my Kindle, a short story/novella by Salley Vickers, a writer I enjoy. It was called Vacation, and was an interesting glimpse into a marriage. Years ago, I read her book Miss Garnet’s Angel, and really liked it. Once again, with this novella, I enjoyed reading her work.

And to end my May reading, I read two delightful books for young people (of all ages!). I read The Golden Goblet, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, and will be posting a review soon. And after talking with my sister-in-law about books we loved when we were children, I read Misty of Chincoteague, by Marguerite Henry. It was one her her childhood favorites and I had never read it!  My review will be posted soon, too.

It was lovely to once again focus on my reading in May, and I’m looking forward to reading on the porch again now that June has arrived!

 

 

May Check-in

A hill nearby covered in Crimson Clover…

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.

Inspired by the true World War II history of the few bookshops to survive the Blitz, The Last Bookshop in London is a timeless story of wartime loss, love and the enduring power of literature.

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.

Byron heading into Kaiser for his CT scan…

 

April Activities

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.

Our daughter starting the spring clean-up the butterfly garden…

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.

On a walk in Namsan Park, in Seoul, South Korea…

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!

Two Stories About Refugees

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.

Back to my Walking

Painting: The Garden, by Pauline Palmer (American, 1867-1938)

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.

After the Diagnosis Reading


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

NON-FICTION:

FICTION: