Samantha Balaban

Imagining your place in the universe can make you feel pretty small and insignificant, and in the midst of a global pandemic? Well, even more so.

"I think this moment that we are living through reminds us how fragile our species is, living on this small rock in the vastness of the cosmos," says astrophysicist Ray Jayawardhana. But he doesn't think that the universe should necessarily make you feel alone. It's inspiring, he says, to remember the "intimate and enduring connections that we have with the rest of the cosmos."

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Animal shelters around the country say that they're seeing more interest than usual during the pandemic. Are you perhaps thinking of adopting a dog? Or B.J. Leiderman, who writes our theme music? NPR's Samantha Balaban worked with our Life Kit podcast to assemble advice on where to start and how to prepare.

JILLIAN MOLINA: If possible, I'd love to just see your yard to make sure it's, like, dog proof.

Sarah Knight has built a career on saying no.

Her latest book, simply titled F*ck No! is a 300+ page book about how to say a single, two-letter, one-syllable word.

It's tongue-in-cheek self-help that offers advice on how to do what Knight calls mental decluttering, in order to pare down life to the essentials.

When Nancy Redd's daughter was three years old, she started wearing a bonnet to bed. It's a "ubiquitous black experience that I grew up with, my mom grew up with, all my friends grew up with," Redd says — and yet it's one that she felt ashamed of as a kid.

"If the doorbell rang, I would immediately take it off — I didn't want anybody to know it existed," she recalls. "I didn't want my daughter growing up with that same shame."

But Redd couldn't find a book that celebrated black nighttime hair routines, so she wrote it herself.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

When Daniel tags along with his parents to work — they are janitors in a big office building — he's surprised to find a fantasy world full of kings, queens, a throne room and dragons.

Author Helena Ku Rhee drew on her own childhood as she wrote The Paper Kingdom. Her parents were night janitors for a law office in Los Angeles. They couldn't afford a babysitter, so they brought her along.

Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey have been "making stuff" together since they were kids. They grew up in a family of four brothers, and from a young age, Jarrett says, he and Jerome "just clicked."

When Ellison Nguyen was 4 years old he got the chance to meet Thi Bui, the illustrator of one of his favorite books. He was so inspired by her work that he promptly wrote and drew his own picture book — "It came to me," Ellison, now 6, explains simply.

Many of us have celebrated Thanksgiving by dressing as Pilgrims and Indians and sharing a potluck at school.

Dr. Carrie Jurney is on the board of an online organization that works to prevent suicides. It's called Not One More Vet.

This isn't a mental health support group for veterans — it's for veterinarians.

For nine months, Rosa Gutierrez Lopez has been living at Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda, Md. She can't leave the property. If she does, she risks being deported to El Salvador.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes early in life, and ever since has given herself insulin shots before she eats, to help manage her blood sugar levels. No big deal. But some years ago, she had an upsetting experience at a restaurant.

She was in the restaurant bathroom, just finishing up her injection when another woman walked in. They both returned to their dinners, but as Sotomayor left the restaurant, she heard the woman from the restroom say: "She's a drug addict."

Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney are literally the couple that met at the copy machine. They attended business events, went out to lunch, and from there, "we started sharing about our lives," Brian says. He was an illustrator, she was a writer, and "We thought, wow, we could really do some amazing things together."

Dr. Julie Rickard thought her visit to Wisconsin over the Christmas holiday would bring a break from her day job working in suicide prevention in Wenatchee, Wash.

The visit didn't go as planned. After a tense fight broke out between her mother and another family member, everyone dispersed. Rickard readied herself for the trip back to the Pacific Northwest.

At the airport, she received a call from her mother, Sheri Adler. This was not out of the ordinary — Adler, like many adoring mothers, always calls her daughter after parting ways.

Nicole Rikard had recently married Sgt. John Rikard of the Asheville Police Department in North Carolina. He had an 8-year-old son, Tucker, from a previous marriage. From the time Nicole and John started dating, they had scarcely been apart.

Soon after they married, however, Nicole had to go to Florida for some work training — she was a crime scene investigator in the same police department. John worked an overnight shift and would call her when he woke up to check in.