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
Wishing you all a very Happy New Year! May your 2022 be filled with love, happiness, good health, and lots of good books!
The first word I chose was “HOPE,” and it was so appropriate for 2019. Then I chose “GRATITUDE” for 2020, and that turned out to be the perfect word for such a crazy year. It reminded me each day to focus on the positives instead of all the negatives that surrounded us all during a year of pandemic and quarantine.
When 2021 arrived, I chose a word that reminded me each day to be present in the moment, to appreciate the love and beauty that surrounds me, and to treasure all the people in my life. That word was “CHERISH.”
Here I stand at the beginning of 2022, a year that I already know will be filled with challenges like no other. I will need to continue to be guided by HOPE and GRATITUDE, and I will continue to CHERISH the people in my life and the precious moments of each day. But to face the unknowns, and all the physical and emotional challenges of Byron’s declining health, I will need courage, and all the different words that help define it, such as grace, vulnerability, strength, love.
So my word of the year, for 2022, will be COURAGE.
Last year I found a beautiful blessing that I shared with a friend who had lost her mother. It was such a simple, but deeply heartfelt thought to give someone at a time of loss. It was something I read by Naomi Shahib Nye, one of my favorite poets, and it touched my heart:
“Blessings on your mom’s memory and her spirit in you.”
Since then, I have been paying attention to all kinds of blessings and things written about them. I am not a religious person, but I believe in the power of words and poetry, and blessings are some of the most beautiful and powerful phrases to be found.
I recently read To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, by John O’Donohue, and found some very nice ideas, poems and blessings. About blessings, he says:
In the parched deserts of postmodernity a blessing can be like the discovery of a fresh well. It would be lovely if we could rediscover our power to bless one another. I believe each of us can bless. When a blessing is invoked, it changes the atmosphere. Some of the plenitude flows into our hearts from the invisible neighborhood of loving kindness.
The publisher said this about the collection:
…his compelling blend of elegant, poetic language and spiritual insight offers readers comfort and encouragement on their journeys through life. O’Donohue looks at life’s thresholds—marriage, having children, starting a new job—and offers invaluable guidelines for making the transition from a known, familiar world into a new, unmapped territory.
As we enter the new year, we are all transitioning into new, unmapped territory with new goals and with many challenges to meet. So I share with you, as a New Year’s gift, one of his poems/blessings about new beginnings. And may your New Year be blessed with health and happiness!
FOR A NEW BEGINNING
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
This year, I loved our Thanksgiving because we celebrated it three different times! I often feel quite anxious about the holidays, but this year is different. I decided that we will simply be prepared to celebrate whenever our loved ones can be with us. So for Thanksgiving, I had the dinner fixings ready to go when our grandson could be with us on the weekend before Thanksgiving, and with our son on Thanksgiving Day, and then again when our daughter arrived on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. We are now repeating that same practice with the Christmas holiday!
So last night we had an early family Christmas celebration because our daughter is with us for a few days. This celebration included our family dinner, opening a present or two, and watching a video…and lots of laughter. We will repeat this when our grandson is with us on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
These are cherished times with our family. May your holidays be warm and wonderful, and full of love, too.
My reading has always been all over the place. There are genres I love, like mysteries and gardening books, and I love children’s literature. But reading is how I process most things in life. Books and authors are my guides. I am curious and a learner and have gotten my best education from my books. So simply put, I read all kinds of things, and when I need to learn about a new topic, I dive in head first.
Byron and I are now facing changes and challenges that require a whole new education. Thus, I am reading about all kinds of topics that I haven’t read about before so I’ve started calling this “my other reading.” Many of these books, articles, even research papers are recommended by our current support team which is made up of family and friends, doctors and our grief counselor, and new acquaintances who are going through similar things to what we are facing.
Some of this reading I am doing slowly, over time, because the topic is so intense emotionally. Others I am reading quickly needing the information right now already. And some are fiction that give me a completely different view and understanding of our situation.
This “other” reading is helping me understand, cope, prepare, and live with the certainty and uncertainties of life since Byron’s diagnosis.
My current “other” reading:
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gwandi, after having loaned it to our daughter to read. This is a reread for me. It’s such an important topic, rarely discussed in public, but a book that I think everyone should read. We are all mortal.
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee, is beautifully written, but difficult (emotionally) to read. I’m reading it a little bit at a time, learning sooo much about cancer, and finding passages that perfectly describe our life right now.
During one session recently, my grief counselor read to me an excerpt from the book, The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief, by Francis Weller. The passage she read to me was called “An Accumulation of Losses,” and it really hit home with me. So I ordered that book and am slowly reading it, savoring the wisdom it imparts.
She also recommended that I read the book Cured: Strengthen Your Immune System and Heal Your Life, by Jeffrey Rediger, MD. I was hesitant at first to read this one because “being cured” seemed like such a long shot when we are coming to terms with the finality of Byron’s diagnosis. But as the author says, “We have a lot of work to do, in both medicine and as a larger culture, when it comes to talking about death and understanding what it can tell us about life,” and this book is full of ideas to ponder about life when faced with a terminal diagnosis.
Last year, I read a fiction book that touched my heart. The Springtime of the Year, by Susan Hill, was a story of loss and grief. A young, newly married woman loses her husband in a sudden accident. Her journey through grief and how she found her way back into Life, was beautifully told.
I also recently read a non-fiction book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. Notes on Grief, was about the sudden loss of her father during the Covid 19 quarantine (he did not have Covid), and her own journey through the grief and difficulties of losing him during a pandemic. I wrote a mini-review of it here.
And finally, I am reading a lot of Mary Oliver‘s poetry…because she puts it into words…beautifully deep-felt words.
Today our family is celebrating Byron’s 74th birthday. There is chocolate cake and lots of laughter. I reminded him that he told me early in our relationship that he didn’t think he would live to be 30 years old (not an unusual statement from a man facing the draft during the Vietnam War). We will pamper him all day, make his favorite dinner for him this evening, and let him know in as many ways as possible that he is so dearly special to all of us. A happy day!
Today’s header (just for one day) is an old photo of my daughter, Jamie. She was born on Halloween and so our celebrations of this day have always been joyous rather than spooky. She is a beautiful and talented person, and is such a delight for us with her humor and compassion. We are so very proud of her. Happy birthday to our lovely daughter! And happy Halloween to you all!
This week, I have been focused on finishing one of my enjoyable reading challenges. It’s a great feeling to meet a challenge one sets for oneself! However, it’s another level of good feeling to meet a major challenge that Life throws at you. In the last month, my husband has been faced with another major physical and mental challenge related to his Stage IV metastasized cancer.
One month ago, he finished the radiation treatment he underwent to hopefully lessen the pain in his hip caused by the bone metastasis there. He walked into the five-day treatment on the first day, unaided but limping from his sore hip. Unfortunately, by the end of the five days, he was suffering from a not-so-common side effect from the treatment called a “pain flare, ” which is an inflammation of the lining of the bone due to the radiation. And it is extremely painful. So for his final treatment, I had to wheel him into the building in a wheel chair.
The inflammation was treated, the pain has slowly lessened throughout the month, and Byron has worked hard to regain his mobility. Truly a challenge! But he has embraced each step in this process, which started with the arrival of a cane we ordered on the day after that final treatment because he could not walk unsupported. A few days later, a simple walker was delivered to our porch, a surprise ordered by his primary care physician! He was delighted with it because he was much steadier getting around the house and could now do some limited walking outdoors. After a week with that more limited walker, we went shopping for his “off road walker,” as he calls it. And he was thrilled with the new walker we found!
So now, he does laps around the house with his fancy walker. We load it in the car and walk the sidewalks around the campus here in this university town. And the more he walks, the better he feels, even though energy and endurance are limited. It was not the kind of month we expected, but I am so proud of the way my husband faced the pain and the setback, and embraced the challenge to return to better mobility, one level at a time.
For many of us who are around my age, The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran, was a guide and an inspiration in our early adulthood years. My husband and I used his passage “On Marriage” as part our wedding ceremony. And we took Gibran’s wise insights “On Children” to heart when we began our family. Some of my other favorite topics he wrote about are “On Love” and “On Joy and Sorrow.”
I pulled the old book off my shelf the other day and reread it, and was once again inspired by its wisdom. If you’ve never read it, you might find a cozy reading spot and a quiet, uninterrupted afternoon, and treat yourself to the beautifully-written and thought-provoking wisdom of Khalil Gibran.
Khalil Gibran was born in Lebanon in 1883. He immigrated to the United States with his mother and siblings in 1895. The Prophet was published in 1923 and became a best selling book that has been translated into over 100 languages. He died at the very young age of 48, and is buried in Lebanon.
I also chose to read this book for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book written by a Lebanese/American author, so I am counting it for the country of Lebanon.
My husband has long admired Joseph Conrad’s writing. Conrad’s stories are both powerful and profound, and his writing is impressively beautiful, especially considering that English was not his first language. Byron’s old, yellowed copy of Heart of Darkness sits on our coffee table these days rather than on the bookshelf.
So I wasn’t surprised the other day when Byron asked me to read a quote from Conrad’s, Lord Jim. He had just run across the quote in his handwritten reading notebook, copied down from his reading of the book in 2018, and told me that the quote described what having terminal cancer is like for him. He said that Conrad nailed it. It is heart-wrenching to read, but I’m glad that he shared these really deep emotions with me, through the words of one of his favorite authors.
I decided to share this quote with you, because I think it perfectly demonstrates a big part of why we read — to find those nuggets of truth that explain, give an understanding of, or put into words what we are going through in life at the moment.
Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim, Chapter 2
There are many shades in the danger of adventures and gales, and it is only now and then that there appears on the face of facts a sinister violence of intention—that indefinable something which forces it upon the mind and the heart of a man, that this complication of accidents or these elemental furies are coming at him with a purpose of malice, with a strength beyond control, with an unbridled cruelty that means to tear out of him his hope and his fear, the pain of his fatigue and his longing for rest: which means to smash, to destroy, to annihilate all he has seen, known, loved, enjoyed, or hated; all that is priceless and necessary—the sunshine, the memories, the future,—which means to sweep the whole precious world utterly away from his sight by the simple and appalling act of taking his life.