Relationships

I just finished reading Yours and Mine by Debbie Macomber. Tanner and Joanna are two divorced parents with eleven-year-old girls who are best friends. Their daughters scheme to get them to marry so their families can become one, but Joanna has been deeply wounded by her ex-husband who cheated on her, and she’s not ready to marry again. In a fit of anger, Tanner tells her that maybe her ex-husband had affairs because she didn’t tell him she loved him. In another book by this author, Thursdays at Eight, a divorced woman realizes her husband cheated on her because she didn’t show him how much she needed him. At the time, I thought that was ridiculous, but now, I think Debbie Macomber is trying to tell us something.

I thought back to a time last year when I visited my brother and his wife in Florida before they were separated. In the two weeks I was there, I rarely saw my sister-in-law display any affection toward my brother. Half the time, she was yelling at him or the kids for this or that minor infraction or ordering him around when she wasn’t carrying on a pleasant conversation with me. As a matter of fact, in the twenty or so years my brother and his wife have been married, I rarely saw my sister-in-law display affection towards my brother. It was always him who initiated contact, putting his arm around her while they were watching television, calling her kitty cat.. I could be wrong.

It’s possible my brother’s wife may have been more affectionate when they were behind closed doors, but I don’t think that’s enough. In the five years that I’ve been married, I’ve always felt a need for reassurance that I’m loved, not just when we were in the bedroom. The words I love you have never come easily to Bill, even before he had two strokes, but he shows his love many times by putting his arm around me, stroking and kissing me. Although he can’t see, he knows when I’m near and reaches out to me.. I hold him, stroke his hair, kiss him, and tell him many times a day how much I love him. Now that I’ve come to the realization that lack of affection may cause marital problems, I plan to express my love more often.

Maybe some people cheat on their spouses because they’re not getting enough affection. It doesn’t excuse such behavior, but it explains why they feel a need to seek love from people other than their partners. Significant others need to know they’re loved every day in every way possible. I’m glad I didn’t learn this lesson the hard way.

Isn’t it funny how romance novels can provide true insight on relationships? For more information about Debbie Macomber and her books, visit http://www.debbiemacomber.com/

Now, click on the link below to hear me sing one of Bill’s favorite songs. It will be available for at least a few days. This is another way I show him how precious he is to me. I love you, Bill, with all my heart.

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/15213189/unchained%20melody.mp3

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome

http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

The Piano

It’s a myth that you’re born with perfect pitch. I found this out in college when I was studying music therapy. Perfect pitch is acquired through constant exposure to music.

When I was a small child, my parents often played records for me. At the age of two, they took me to a performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto, and I sang along. I’m glad I don’t remember that. It must have been embarrassing.

At home, Mother played a recording of Puccini’s Tosca, and I cried when the heroine sang her famous area lamenting the fact that she has been forced to have sex with a sadistic police chief in order to gain her lover’s freedom. When I was older, Dad played Fats Waller, and I stomped around the room in time to “Your Feet’s Too Big.” He put a speaker in my bedroom that was hooked to the phonograph in the den and played a record each night at bedtime.

When I was five, we got a piano. I delighted in running my fingers up and down the keys and inventing harmonies and melodies When Mother heard me play the opening bars to Bethoven’s fifth symphony, she called a piano teacher.

Mrs. Teska was a pleasant woman about Mother’s age with two children of her own. Her house had two pianos, and during my lessons, I sat at one, and she sat at the other. She started by teaching me fun pieces. She gave me a book of songs with food titles such as “Strawberry Short Cake” and “Banana Split.” Since Mother could read music, she taught them to me at home. I played them for Mrs. Teska during my lessons, and she helped me with fingering techniques.

I had to warm up every time with the dreaded Hannon exercises designed to increase finger dexterity. I got pretty good at these. When I grew older, I graduated to simple classical pieces like Bach’s Minuet in G.

At the Arizona State School for the Blind in Tucson, where we lived, Mrs. Berrand, an elderly blind woman, taught me piano, violin, and a little Braille music. I mostly learned to play by ear. What delighted me the most was playing songs I made up. A babysitter once taught me “Heart and Soul,” usually played as a duet. We took turns playing the top and bottom parts. At school, we kids often played that song.

I tried to teach it to Mother, but she said, “You need to work on the tarantella Mrs. Teska wants you to play.” Later, she got out a book of classical duets that were more difficult, but I managed to master the top part while she played the bottom, and that was fun.

I also enjoyed singing, and I often sang along with music I heard on the radio or on my eight-track tapes. When I was in the third grade, a boy and I sang Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” together during a school talent show. That was a glorious moment. At home in my room, I relived that moment over and over by singing the song with my Three Dog Night eight-track.

When we moved to Sheridan, Wyoming, in 1973, Mother and Dad found me another teacher, an elderly man named Duke who used to play with Grandpa Johnson’s band. He taught me popular pieces, which I enjoyed, but Mother insisted I learn to play classical music. He finally gave me a few difficult classical pieces. Time and time again, Mother lost patience while trying to teach them to me. At one point, she said, “Maybe you can’t play classical music.” Duke was also crabby at times, and after a year, I gave up taking lessons from him.

It was then that I got the idea I could use my piano playing to accompany my singing. The first song I sang this way was “El Condor Pasa” from Simon & Garfunkel’s album Bridge Over Troubled Water, one of my favorite eight-tracks. I performed it at the Stars of Tomorrow talent contest, and although I didn’t win, it was a great experience.

Since Dad was in the coin-operated machine business which included jukeboxes, he installed a remote control box in my room, hooked to a unit in the basement. The print on the title strips was too small for me to read so I memorized the letter and number combinations that played my favorite songs. This was my way of playing records. I also had a cassette player, and I still used the eight-track machine from time to time.

After I heard a song several times, I went to the piano, picked out an accompaniment, and sang the words I’d memorized. I enjoyed playing and singing these arrangements which weren’t too different from the original recordings. I practiced these pieces more diligently than all the pieces I was ever assigned during my piano lessons. In junior high, I gave unaccompanied performances during study hall, much to the delight of other students and the teacher.

We soon moved to a bigger house, and the remote control unit in my room was replaced by a jukebox in the laundry room which my younger brother Andy and I both enjoyed playing with our friends. The house had a wide front porch, and I pretended it was a stage. I stood at the edge, holding a wood chip to my lips. Andy sat behind me and banged on an old paint can to accompany my singing. Neighborhood kids gathered and applauded.

I still used the piano to accompany my singing. Our parents bought Andy a drum set and placed it next to the piano. I was fourteen, and Andy was seven. He was fond of saying, “Abbie, hop on your piano, and I’ll get on my drums, and we’ll play.”

After several lessons, he became proficient with the drums. Like me, he did a lot of his playingby ear. In fact, he played drums along with his Beatles records. The house rang with the strains of “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, augmented by Andy Johnson, the extra drummer.

When I was a freshman in high school, Dad and I took a jazz improvisation class at Sheridan college. We had to buy records containing exercises consisting of simple melodies that we played straight once or twice and improvised after that. The exercises were accompanied by a full band. No matter how long or often I practiced them at home with the records, I never mastered the art of jazz improvisation.

The instructor told me I needed to absorb jazz in order to be successful. “Don’t listen to anything but jazz. Get one of those record players that shuts off automatically, and put a jazz record on when you go to bed at night.” Being a teen-ager, I couldn’t appreciate jazz as much s popular music. I hoped Dad wouldn’t replace all the popular songs on our jukebox with jazz numbers, and he didn’t.

I continued performing whenever I had a chance. Andy often accompanied me. Dad bought a used string bass and tried playing with us but soon gave up. During my sophomore year in high school, after several years of competing in the Stars of Tomorrow talent contest, I finally won first place with my rendition of “You Light Up My Life.” After that, Dad started calling me a star.

I dreamed of being a singer, but others convinced me that I needed to do something else on the side to supportmyself. Since I didn’t know what else I wanted to do, my major in college was in music performance. After two years at Sheridan College, I graduated with an associate of arts degree in music. I transferred to Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana, where I also majored in music and graduated two years later with a BA. By that time, I’d discovered music therapy as a career. I transferred to Montana State University, also in Billings, and after two more years of study and a six-month internship at a nursing home in Fargo, North Dakota, I returned to Sheridan as a registered music therapist.

I found a job in the activities department of a nursing home. Besides the piano, I used a guitar I learned to play in college. I also used an electronic keyboard from time to time, but it wasn’t as portable as the guitar. Although the residents considered my activities performances, they were therapeutic in nature. We sang, played name that tune and musical bingo, and I often encouraged them to talk about their younger years. I also created an activity called singer-cize which combined singing and exercise. People often told me I should record a CD. Remembering past dreams, I laughed and thanked them for the compliment.

Besides the group activities, I also worked one on one with residents who couldn’t or wouldn’t come out of their rooms. I used the guitar to accompany my singing and often held their hands and sang unaccompanied. Most of these residents weren’t as responsive, and since I couldn’t see facial expressions, it was hard for me to gauge their reactions, but other staff members told me that my music brought a smile to their faces.

As part of my job, I had to learn a lot of old songs. Some of these I picked up in college during my practicum sessions and internship. I bought recordings of others and learned them by ear, as I did with the songs of my youth. Residents often requested songs, and I made every effort to find recordings and learn them. Besides my work at the nursing home, I volunteered at other senior citizen facilities and joined a women’s barber-shop singing group.

After fifteen years, I met and married my husband Bill. I realized I was tired of learning and singing songs for seniors and creating activities for them. I’d taken up writing as a hobby, and I decided it was time for a career change. I quit my job and volunteer obligations in order to write full time. I still perform with the women’s singing group, but when people ask me if I’m still singing at the nursing homes or assisted living facility, I tell them I don’t have time anymore since my writing keeps me busy. They think I’ve lost my true calling, but I don’t care. I’m happy.

I still have a piano in my home. It belonged to Grandpa and Grandma Johnson. Grandma gave it to me when I returned to Sheridan after completing my internship. I’ve sold the electronic keyboard, and my guitar sits neglected in a closet. I occasionally sit down at the piano and play for Bill the songs of my youth: “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Memory” from Cats, “The Rose,” “Unchained Melody,” “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” “You Light Up my Life.” After many years, I still remember the words.

Did you play an instrument while you were growing up? Did you take lessons? Did you learn to read music or play by ear? Please feel free to share your experiences below.

You can also click on the link below to hear me sing “Memory” from the Broadway musical Cats. I made this recording years ago when I was single and still had my electronic keyboard. The link will be available for about a week so enjoy!

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/15213189/memory_.mp3

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome

http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

Blame It on Cupid

Here’s an interesting scenario. Eleven years ago, a friend divorces his wife because of her drug addiction and unwillingness to seek help and wins sole custody of his little girl. You promise to care for his child in the event of his untimely death even though you’ve never met her. Now, your friend has died unexpectedly, and his lawyer contacts you, expecting you to follow through on that promise. What would you do?

Such is the case of Merry in Blame it on Cupid by Jennifer Greene. Merry is one of those people who doesn’t know what she wants. She drifts from job to job and can never become attached or committed to anything. So naturally, when she hears from her friend Charlie’s lawyer, she uproots herself from her home in Minnesota and moves to Virginia, ready to face the challenge head on, much to the dismay of her family and friends.

Charlene is not what Merry expects. At eleven years old, she deals with her grief for her father by appearing as a boy. She wears her father’s clothes which of course are too big for her. She puts wax in her hair and insists on being called Charlie, her father’s name. She even gets in a fight with a boy at school who calls her gay because of her clothing and hairstyle.

Merry understands Charlene’s behavior because her own mother abandoned her and her father to pursue a career when she was Charlene’s age. Unfortunately, the girl’s behavior does not meet with the approval of June, the guardian ad litem appointed by the court to determine what is in the child’s best interest. A battle of wills ensues. June is an older woman apparently set in her ways about child rearing. It’s not known if she has children of her own. She suggests that Merry take Charlene for counseling and insist the child dress more appropriately, but Charlene refuses the counseling, and Merry doesn’t want to make her change her appearance because she’s trying to bond with the girl and earn her trust. June does research on Merry and confronts the other woman about her lack of commitment during a home visit. Charlene, from her bedroom, overhears this conversation and automatically believes that Merry will abandon her as well. This doesn’t help with trust and bonding issues.

Despite the challenges, Merry leaps head first into her role as a parent. After dropping Charlene off at school the first day, she visits with the principal and volunteers in this and that capacity. She takes Charlene to and from extra curricular activities, bakes cookies, and even hosts a slumber party in which most of the guests are boys, only because Charlene doesn’t tell her that most of the friends she wants to invite are of the opposite sex. Naturally, although the other parents seem okay with this arrangement, it doesn’t meet with June’s approval.

In the process of building a new life with Charlene, Merry falls in love with Jack, the next door neighbor, a divorced father with two teen-aged sons who get along great with Charlene. As it turns out, Jack’s ex-wife left him and the boys to pursue a career, and as a result, Jack has some trust issues of his own. But as you would expect, everything is resolved by book’s end.

According to Jennifer Greene’s Web site, the author won the Rita ward six times and in 2009, she received the RWA Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. Her real name is Alison Hart, and she writes under other pseudonyms. Blame It on Cupid was a Rita finalist in 2008. She sold her first book in 1980 and has since sold over 85 contemporary romance novels. She has been on a number of best seller lists, and her books have been published by Harlequin, Avon, Berkley, and Dell. They have been sold all over the world in over twenty languages.

Born in Michigan, she started writing stories when she was in the seventh grade. She graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in English and psychology. Her exploration of women’s issues first motivated her to write, and she has become an active supporter of women’s fiction.

One thing I like about Blame It on Cupid is that there isn’t a lot of narration at the beginning explaining how Merry gets herself into this situation. The book begins with her arrival in Virginia, and we learn what happened through her conversation with Charlie’s lawyer. This is a good example of showing and not telling. I also like the humorous touches the author adds to offset the themes of trust and relationships.

There’s one thing in this book I find hard to believe. Would parents nowadays allow their sons to attend a girl’s slumber party? If you’re a parent or grandparent, you’re welcome to share your thoughts in the comment box below. Here’s what I think. As a writer, I can see why Jennifer Greene wrote it this way. If after Merry calls parents to let them know the situation, they all rush over to her house, grab their kids, and call Charlene a slut and other unspeakable names, it would be a disaster, and the story would go in a totally different direction. As it happens, when Merry gets no negative reaction from parents, she calls Jack who comes over, much to the delight of Charlene and her boyfriends, and they all watch movies together. As a result, Charlene’s friends think Merry’s a cool mom which helps with the trust and bonding issues. I recommend this book to anyone who likes a heartwarming, funny, and romantic story.

To learn more about guardians ad litem, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guardian_ad_litem#Guardian_ad_litem You can find out more about Jennifer Greene and her books by going to http://www.jennifergreene.com/

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome

http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

The Fine Art of Belching

We were sitting at the dinner table one night, my brother Andy, my mother, and me. I was about sixteen, and Andy was seven years my junior. As we savored another one of Mother’s delicious meals, the only sounds in the room were the clink of silverware against plates and the mastication of food. It cut through the air, loud, raucous, obnoxious. It came from Andy.

“In some countries, people belch to show their appreciation for a meal,” he once told me. “In McDonald’s, a guy will walk up to the counter, lean over it, and belch at the person behind it.”

To this day, Andy’s policy has always been to let ‘er rip. You should never squelch a belch. On the other hand, I’m concerned about offending people. When I’m alone with my husband, I follow Andy’s directive. At first, Bill complained when the noise filled the air, but he likes to fart so we’ve come to an agreement that allows us each to expel wind in our own way.

When I’m away from home, I squelch it. This isn’t easy, especially when I’m talking. I’ve occasionally punctuated my sentences with noisy expulsions of wind.

As adults, Andy and I still try to out-belch each other, especially when his kids aren’t around. We keep score on a scale from one to ten with one being the lowest. We also base ratings on whether we’re consuming carbonated beverages at the time. If the belch is loud and long and we’re only drinking water, the score is higher. It’s funny, but when I’m with Andy, I can never get a score above six with or without carbonation.

I recently wrote a poem about a belch which I’ll paste below. I was sitting in a poetry workshop, and it came from the woman next to me. Rose and I have attended many writers’ conventions and workshops together. She’s in her mid seventies, a grandmother, not given to loud expulsions of air in public. When the event occurred during a writing exercise, it was all I could do to keep from laughing and keep on writing.

When the presenter asked us to write a poem about something out of the ordinary, I jumped at the chance to put my experience on paper. I shared it with the group, much to the amusement of everyone, including Rose.

It could have been worse. When Rose and I attended a poets’ convention in Salt Lake City, we had an opportunity to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir live. Rose could have accompanied the strains of “Sunrise Sunset” with a loud discharge of wind. Since drinking carbonated beverages is not acceptable in the eyes of the Mormons, I can imagine choir members shaking their heads and bowing them in silent prayer for the poor sinner in the fifth row.

BELCH!

The room is silent

but for the scratch of pencil against paper,

murmur of voices,

flip, rip of pages.

Unexpected, it cuts through the silence,

raucous, obnoxious,

breaks my concentration.

I fight to diffuse a bomb of mirth

that threatens to explode.

The effort brings tears to my eyes.

After a moment, I continue writing,

but my heart’s not in it anymore.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome

http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

Senior Picture

While shopping one day at Walmart, I needed to pick up some pictures for a friend. I’m visually impaired, and I told the employee who was helping me shop that I needed to go to the photography department. She asked, “Do you mean the photography studio?”

“No,” I answered. “I mean where you pick up pictures that have already been developed.”

“Oh,” she said. “I was just checking because we now have a portrait studio, you know.”

This struck me as interesting. I knew Walmart had a bank, a vision center, and a beauty shop, but a photography studio was something unique. Later, it occurred to me that the only time I went to a photography studio was over twenty years ago when my high school senior picture was taken. This realization made me feel old, but it was interesting looking back on that day.

At the time, my younger brother Andy was dabbling in photography. I would have let himtake the photograph, but since Mother wanted a professional job,off we went to the photography studio with Andy tagging along, hoping to pick up some pointers.

The photographer, a pleasant woman in her mid thirties, said, “I like people to wear make-up when I take their picture, that is, if you’re not allergic.” I told her I wasn’t, and since Mother didn’t object, the photographer took me into an adjoining bathroom where she applied the stuff.

In the studio, she positioned me and adjusted the lighting and camera. Andy asked questions about her technique, and she explained what she was doing. I don’t remember much else except that when the picture was taken, I was sitting in a chair with my right arm resting on something. I do remember that the finished product looked pretty good.

That was a long time ago, and I don’t look much older than I did then. I’ve heard that a picture is worth a thousand words. If I were to go to that photographystudio at Walmart and have my portrait taken, that picture would be worth just as many words as the one taken during my senior year in high school.

I leave you now with a picture of me that was taken several years ago by a neighbor when I was single. This photo also appears on my Web site and my novel’s back cover, but only my head is visible. In the picture I’ll paste a link to below, most of me is shown sitting on the couch in the living room of the apartment where I was living at the time. I’m flanked by stuffed animals perched above my head. The link will only be available for about a week so enjoy!

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/15213189/abbiephoto.jpg

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome

http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com