Holiday Traditions

Thanks to Butt to Chair for inspiring this post. Our family did the usual things during the holiday season. When Dad owned his coin-operated machine business, December was the time for the annual company Christmas party where employees and friends were invited for dinner at a fancy restaurant followed by brandy Alexander at Grandma’s house. On Christmas Eve, we ate oyster stew and went caroling to our neighbor’s house in the next block where they had their annual Christmas party. My brother and I went to bed early while our parents waited up for Santa Claus so they could help him unload the loot when he arrived. On Christmas morning, we rose bright and early, and after an exhausting day of opening and enjoying presents, we sat down to a meal of turkey and all the trimmings.

Now that my mother and husband are gone, and most of my relatives are scattered across the country, Christmas has been a quiet affair. This year, Dad and I had Christmas dinner with my uncle and aunt who live here in Sheridan, Wyoming. It was just the four of us, and instead of turkey, we had prime rib. We opened presents and watched White Christmas. We actually had a white Christmas.

In the blog post I linked to above, author Melissa Hart writes about her family’s Christmas Eve tradition of eating in a Chinese restaurant. This reminds me of A Christmas Story, the classic movie about a little boy who wants a Red Rider BB gun for Christmas. In the end, after the neighbor’s dogs devour the family’s turkey on Christmas Day, they eat out at a Chinese restaurant where they are served duck and serenaded by immigrants who don’t have the words quite right. Next Christmas, I may travel to Florida to be with my brother and his family, but if for some reason, that doesn’t happen, I’ll see if Dad will go for the Christmas Eve tradition of eating in a Chinese restaurant. If not, I’ll order take-out and watch A Christmas Story. Meanwhile, please feel free to share your family’s holiday traditions below.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor , Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

The Night Before Christmas

On this day in 1823, the Troy Sentinel, a New York state newspaper, published “Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clark Moore. It was originally known as “A Visit from Santa Claus.” You can read the poem here. Also, click on the link below to hear me sing my Christmas wish for you.

 

 

the Christmas Song

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor,  Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Winter Solstice

Today is the shortest day and the longest night of the year. The world was supposed to end, but as far as I know, that hasn’t happened. If it had, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this, would I?

Last Saturday, I attended a day-long poetry workshop in Buffalo, Wyoming, about a thirty-minute drive south of Sheridan. The presenter asked us to write three five-line stanzas: one about a mirror, one about the moon, and one about the winter solstice. Below is my product of this exercise. Thanks to A Writers’ Alchemy for inspiring me to post this.

 

On the Winter Solstice

 

The woman in the mirror

shows no trace of grief,

no hint of inner turmoil,

no clue that she’s middle-aged,

no sign of being a widow.

 

The moon hovers in a starlit sky,

streams through the window,

unseen in the lighted room,

shines on the sleeping world,

as I gaze at my reflection.

 

 On the shortest night of the year,

part of the advent season,

one night no different from another,

I reflect on my life

and the turn it has taken.

 

 Abbie Johnson Taylor Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

A Ruff Ruff Christmas

I like dog stories because reading about dogs is easier and more fun than feeding, walking, and cleaning up after them. I like to read Christmas stories this time of year because they allow me to escape into another family’s holiday since mine hasn’t been the same since my mother’s death in 1999, and it will be different this year now that my husband Bill is gone. Last summer on this blog, I reviewed two books by T. Bruce Cameron about a dog who is reincarnated several times and makes a difference in his owners’ lives. The two books I just finished reading, by Greg Kincaid, are also about one dog, but this dog only has one life and one family.

Both books are set in the fictional town of Crossing Trails, Kansas, and the stories are told from varying points of view of the main characters: George McCray, a dairy farmer, his wife Mary Ann, and their developmentally disabled son Todd, who is the youngest of four children. In A Dog Named Christmas, Todd is in his mid-twenties and living with his parents on their farm. He becomes excited when he hears about the local animal shelter’s program to encourage people to adopt a dog for the holidays and wants to participate. George, who lost two dogs in the course of his life, isn’t sure he wants another but makes a deal with his son that they will adopt a dog on the 18th of December and return the dog to the shelter on the 26th. The dog Todd chooses is a yellow Labrador he names Christmas. George finds himself bonding with the dog right away and his torn between teaching his son the importance of following through on a deal and keeping the dog. Meanwhile, Todd decides to find homes for all the dogs in the shelter, and he manages to do this with the help of his family and a television reporter from a neighboring town and ends up getting a job at the animal shelter. In the end, the yellow Labrador named Christmas becomes a permanent member of the McCray family.

 A Christmas Home takes place several years later. The animal shelter is due to close after the first of the year because of lack of county funding, and homes must be found for all the animals or they’ll be moved to other shelters that don’t have a no kill policy. This upsets Todd, and again, with Christmas at his side, he makes it his mission to find homes for all the animals. We also meet Gracie, a white Collie abandoned by her family when they moved away. Todd has trained Gracie to be a service dog for Laura, a nurse with arthritis that makes it hard for her to get up and around from time to time. Todd and Laura, who were classmates in high school, develop a relationship, and Laura helps Todd find another job at a school in another town that trains service dogs. In the end, all the dogs and cats in the shelter find homes. A local citizen donates money to open a new shelter. Although Todd has developed a special bond with Christmas over the years, he decides to leave the dog with his parents on their farm when he moves away to start his new job.

I liked this book in particular because it emphasizes the ways dogs help people with disabilities. Christmas and Gracie help Todd realize his potential as a dog trainer when he successfully trains Christmas to do tricks and Gracie to help Laura stand and fetch things for her. Of course Gracie makes Laura’s life and job a lot easier. I can’t help thinking that maybe I should have looked into the possibility of Bill using a service dog. Caring for Bill was a lot of work, and I didn’t want the added responsibilities a dog would have brought, but maybe a service dog would have made our lives easier by doing part of my job. Bill loved dogs, and maybe he would have lived longer if he had one. It’s hard to say, but I encourage anyone caring for a loved one to think about getting a service dog.

As a child, Greg Kincaid read a lot of books including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Hobbit. In 1982, he started working at a corporate law firm. He then began writing his own stories. When his children were born, he continued the family tradition of reading and storytelling. After returning to his family’s farm in Kansas, he made it his mission to supply books to troubled children in juvenile facilities and eventually extended his program to young men and women. His first book, Death Walk at Acoma, was published in 1993. Over ten years later, he published A Dog Named Christmas which was made into a CBS Hallmark Hall of Fame movie that was viewed by twelve million people and won a Genesis Award for raising awareness of public animal shelters. Today, he continues working at his law practice and advocating for child literacy and animal welfare.

I downloaded these books in recorded format from Audible, and the narrator does an excellent job distinguishing between characters’ voices and making them come alive. The author’s Website contains links to where these books can be ordered online in print formats. I encourage dog lovers who like good Christmas stories to read these books.

Not to be outdone by the Bible, Greg Kincaid provides a sub-plot in A Dog Named Christmas about a birth on the day in question. Besides the yellow Labrador named Christmas, the McCray family agrees to take in a second dog who is about to give birth. On Christmas morning, the puppies are born in the McCray barn among cows and other animals. Now, please click on the link below to hear me sing a song about the birth that symbolizes Christmas.

 

Away in a Manger

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Rising Tide

One of the blogs I follow is MS Caregiver Sharing. Donna Steigleder cares for her husband Lynn, an author with multiple sclerosis. Lynn’s first book, Rising Tide, was published a couple of years ago. He just sent a second book to his publisher and is editing a third. His disability makes marketing his books difficult so Donna does what she can to help. You can read about Lynn Steigleder and an excerpt from Rising Tide here.

I haven’t read this book yet, but it could be good if you’re interested in global warming and like a good adventure story. I don’t think it’s yet available in accessible formats for those of us who are visually impaired, but it might make a good holiday gift for a sighted friend or relative. In any case, please check it out and pass it on. It might be a worthwhile read.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

The Canine Paper Shredder

Thanks to my friend Bruce Atchison for inspiring this post. On his blog a couple of weeks ago, he wrote about how one of his rabbits loved to chew cardboard. Years ago when I was single and working as an activities assistant in a nursing home here in Sheridan, Wyoming, Dad acquired an Irish setter he named Maud.

She was about a year old when he got her, but like any puppy, she still loved to chew paper. Heaven help you if you left any important documents lying around. One day after printing an e-mail message Dad received from my brother Andy, who was living and working in Colorado at the time, he placed the letter on the table next to his computer and went to take a shower. Later, he found Maud happily shredding the document. Fortunately, it hadn’t been totally obliterated, and he was able to get it away from her and piece it together with Scotch tape so he could read it to me later when we had lunch together.

I believe this happened a few years after the Iran Contra scandal. At the time, I joked that Oliver North would have offered Dad a lot of money for Maud because if he had a dog who could shred paper, he wouldn’t have had to use the paper shredder at his office to dispose of his incriminating evidence.

Years later, I wished I had such a dog, not that I needed to get rid of any proof of wrongdoing on my part. I was serving on the advisory board to the Montgomery Trust, a fund that provided grants to visually impaired people and the agencies that served them to buy adaptive equipment and services. After reviewing the applications and either approving or denying them, those documents needed to be shredded. Because they contained confidential information about the people applying, they couldn’t just be tossed in the wastebasket. Twice a year, I ended up hauling at least a hundred of those applications to a local office services store and paying a nominal fee to have the papers obliterated. Just think how much time and effort I could have saved if Maud could have done all that for me. But by then, she had outgrown that habit.

In fact, I think she outgrew it by the time she spent her first Christmas with us. This was a good thing since the Johnson family Christmas present opening extravaganza would have been an even bigger mess than it usually was. Mother loved to save wrapping paper so it could be re-used the following year, and she hated it when we kids tore into our presents with reckless abandon. I hope that wherever you are this year, you’ll be able to open and enjoy Christmas gifts with your family. Please click on the link below to hear me sing a song that echoes this sentiment.

 

I’ll Be Home For Christmas

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Cancer

A little over a week before Christmas on December 15th, 1999, my mother passed away. I’m guessing she would have been 77 today. Her death was a shock because although she’d been battling cancer for six months, she had just received a good prognosis. The following poem was published on Voxpoetica. It details her lost battle.

 

Cancer

 

It started with a lingering pain.

X-rays were taken,

fluid found in her lungs.

“It’s cancer,” Mother told me.

 

She started chemotherapy, couldn’t keep anything down,

grew thin, emaciated,

spent a week in the hospital.

 

Dad cared for her at home.

Although they’d been divorced for years,

he abandoned his house and dog,

moved in with her and her cats,

drove her to and from chemotherapy.

 

Six months later, she received a good prognosis,

thought she would live,

but a week later, she was gone.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver