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

Holiday Greeting 2012

This has definitely been an interesting year. It started with a bang after my poetry collection, How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver, was published in December  of last year. In January and February, I held readings and signings in various locations around town. In June, I sold a few books at the Wyoming Writers conference in Casper, and I sold a few more in August at the Wyoming state fair in Douglas.

In April, I attended a poetry workshop in Casper. In May, we received a visit from our friend Louie Padilla in Colorado. Since Bill and Louie went to school together, they spent an enjoyable few days catching up and talking about old times. In June, our friend Rob Jenkins visited from New Mexico. He took Bill around town in his wheelchair, and I believe they hit one or two bars. While here, Rob took a day trip to Custer Battlefield which he enjoyed.

At the end of September as most of you know, Bill and I were forced to make a difficult decision. Because his appetite was decreasing, and he was losing strength, he was becoming harder to lift. We called in a couple of therapists to see if there was anything we could do to make transferring him easier. They told us, in a nutshell, that it was no longer safe for me to care for  him at home.

We hoped Bill could move to a facility called Green House. This is a whole new concept in elder care where residents are housed in cottages of twelve people instead of with over a hundred people in one big building. Each resident has his or her own room and bath, and each cottage has an expansive living and dining area and even a patio. With fewer residents in each cottage, each person can receive more individual attention. Bill would have been happy in his own room with his recliner and computer and all other comforts of home.

However, there was a waiting list, ad we were told it could be six months to a year. For the time being, Bill agreed to move to Sheridan Manor. This was where he stayed on the rare occasions when I had to be out of town or couldn’t care for him for one reason or another. But his health steadily declined, and on October 30th, he left this world for a better place. I guess he couldn’t wait six months to a year to get into Green House.

Perhaps one good thing about Bill’s passing is that I got to see some relatives I hadn’t seen in years. Bill wanted to be buried with his parents and grandfather at the cemetery in his home town of Fowler, Colorado. We made the arrangements several years ago so in the beginning of November, Dad and I made the trip to Colorado. We stayed in Colorado Springs with Dad’s brother Tony. He and my aunt and cousins from Denver plus my uncle from California came with us to Fowler for the graveside service where I performed “Stormy Weather,” one of Bill’s favorite songs which he requested I sing. Many people from Fowler and other nearby locations were there. A few shared their memories of Bill during the service. Afterward, a local church provided lunch for us, and I had an opportunity to visit with a lot of these people and hear more memories. Dad and I also visited my deceased mother’s brother in Denver and his son and his family before returning to Sheridan.

It was nice seeing my relatives again.. Now that Bill is gone, maybe I can do more traveling. I’m already thinking about taking a trip to Florida in March to visit my brother in Jupiter. I hated leaving Bill in the nursing home while I went off and had fun. For the past few years, I only traveled when necessary, to attend writers’ conferences and sell books. Now, perhaps he’s watching me and can experience everything I do vicariously. As I write this, I can imagine him snorting. That was his way of telling me he thought I was being silly. He once said after his first stroke that he had twelve smiles. He also had twelve laughs, and I’ll miss them all.

In case you haven’t read Bill’s obituary or the poem I wrote that was included in his graveside service or would like to read them again, here they are. You can then click on the links below to hear me sing a couple songs: “Stormy Weather” and a song more appropriate for this time of year. I wish you all a safe and happy holiday season and a year filled with joy and prosperity.

 

 

Bill L. Taylor October 18, 1942-October 30th, 2012

Bill L. Taylor, 70, longtime resident of Fowler, Colorado, passed away on October 30th, 2012 at Sheridan Manor. At his request, he will be buried with his family at the Fowler cemetery, and a graveside service will be held there. Kane Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

He was born in Fowler, Colorado, on October 18, 1942 to Marlyn William Taylor and Francis Maxine Smith Taylor. At an early age, he was stricken with rheumatoid arthritis which affected his legs and eyesight.  He attended the School for the Deaf and Blind in Colorado Springs, graduating in 1963.  He then attended Adams State College in Alamosa, Colorado, and ColoradoStateUniversity in Fort Collins where he received both an A.A. degree in 1968 and in 1969, a B.S. degree in business administration and business data processing.

He then moved to California in 1969.  He was employed by SwimQuip in El Monte as a computer programmer. In 1971, while still working at SwimQuip, he started a company called Tashi which built closed-circuit television systems for the visually impaired. He was later hired by J.B.Lansing in Northridge as systems manager. After being laid off in 1985, he worked with his sister Sandy in South Pasadena, doing transcriptions.

He later returned to Fowler, Colorado, where he opened The Fowler Computer Store which operated for ten years.  He also invested in real estate, managed properties, and served on the city council and chamber of commerce.

On September 10, 2005, he was united in marriage to Abigail L. Johnson, (Abbie) of Sheridan, Wyoming, where they took up residency. He suffered a stroke in January of 2006 and again in January of 2007 but survived both with limited capacity, being paralyzed on one side.  In spite of adversity, he and Abbie lived happily in Sheridan until his death. He enjoyed playing chess and other games, reading, sailing, and listening to sports on the radio. He was a great inspiration to all who knew him.

He was preceded in death by his parents and a brother, Edwin, who died at age one. He is survived by his wife Abbie, two sisters: Sandy Taylor of South Pasadena, California, and Shirley Thayer of Lady Lake, Florida, and two grandnieces. Memorials can benefit the SheridanSeniorCenter at 211 Smith Street, Sheridan, Wyoming82801 or the Fowler Historical Society at 114 Main Street, Fowler, Colorado, 81039.   

 

Bill’s Hands

 

 

 

Soft, gentle, they caressed me,

once milked cows, fed livestock, gathered eggs,

tapped computer keys in a busy office,

glided back and forth along Braille pages,

placed a ring on my finger, as he said, “I do.”

When one hand no longer worked,

the other was just as reassuring.

Now, they’re both gone

but will be remembered.

 

 

 

Stormy Weather

 Christmas Medley

 

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

Chasing the Green Sun

I just finished reading a book by this title by Marilyn Brandt Smith. I met Marilyn through Behind Our Eyes, a group of disabled writers. We published an anthology of our stories, poems, and essays in 2007, and we produce an online magazine, Magnets and Ladders. Marilyn has been totally blind most of her life, but that hasn’t stopped her from teaching blind children in the Dominican Republic as a Peace Corps volunteer, counseling and teaching blind adults here in the United States, raising a family, working with her husband, and of course writing.

Marilyn was born with glaucoma and lost all her vision as a result of an accident at school when she was thirteen. She grew up in Texas, was educated at the state school for the blind, and received a teaching degree from TexasStateUniversity. After her volunteer work with the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic, when she couldn’t get a teaching job in the U.S. because of her blindness, she got a Master’s degree in counseling psychology from TexasTechUniversity. She was an administrator, counselor, and teacher of blind adults in WashingtonD.C. and Utah before returning to Texas.

Marilyn’s writing was first published in a poetry anthology while she was in college. She later wrote articles about her work with the Peace Corps and other essays about disability. She also submitted pieces about music and technology to club newsletters. She helped blind college students with research and copy editing.

She moved to Louisville, Kentucky, when she married her husband Roger. They had two children. Jayson was born in Texas and their daughter Carol Ann was adopted from  Korea. Marilyn helped her husband in his piano store and vending facility. For ten years, her family bred and sold boa constrictors. She loves to cook and hopes to publish a book of recipes she contributed to other cookbooks and magazines. She has also written flash fiction. She edited Behind Our Eyes, the anthology we published in 2007, and she and I and others in our group edit Magnets and Ladders.  

Chasing the Green Sun is a collection of stories, poems, and essays written mostly by Marilyn. She collaborated on a few of them with her husband Roger and other authors. The book is divided into twelve sections, each corresponding consecutively with the months of the year. Some of the pieces are seasonal. Others were originally published in Behind Our Eyes and Magnets and Ladders. You’ll wonder what will become of a woman in a hospital on New Year’s Eve after her husband has beaten her. You’ll laugh when a blind man tells a policeman who asks him to move his van, “You don’t want me behind the wheel.” You’ll be moved when Marilyn describes her and her husband’s decision to give up a third adopted child who is sighted because they thought the little girl would be happier in a home with sighted parents. You’ll empathize with Marilyn when you read her poem about being home alone during a snowstorm. Another essay details how Marilyn’s father influenced her life while she was growing up and his reaction to the accident that left her totally blind when she was thirteen. She also writes about her Peace Corps volunteer experiences. The title comes from an essay in which Marilyn describes how her son Jayson perceived the moon when he was a child. Jayson was also born blind.

This book can be downloaded in recorded format for free from Marilyn’s Website. Most of the narration is done by Bonnie Blose, a friend of Marilyn’s who is also blind and hosts a book discussion group on Accessible World, a site that provides Web activities for the blind. Marilyn reads a few of the pieces herself. One such poem is a spin-off of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” from the point of view of the mouse with “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of  Music playing in the background. Both Marilyn and Bonnie do an excellent job of narrating in this recording produced by Marilyn’s husband Roger and her son Jayson.

This book can also be purchased in print from Create Space and Amazon, and it will eventually be available for Kindle. If you can read print without difficulty, I urge you to buy the book so you can support this author. Chasing the Green Sun would make a great holiday gift for anyone who loves a good poem, story, or essay.

 

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

From a Husband’s Perspective

When Bill came home after his first stroke, I talked to him about writing a memoir about our experience. We could take turns writing alternate chapters from our points of view. He said, “I don’t know.”

Since he only had the use of his right hand, I suggested he could dictate his chapters either into a recorder or to me directly, and I could write them down. I even joked that we could both sit at his computer. I could press the keys on the left side, and he could press the keys on the right side, kind of like playing “Chopsticks” on the piano. He said, “I’d rather play ‘Chopsticks’ on the piano with you.”

I gave up on the idea of a book written by both of us, but now that he’s gone, I’m thinking of writing a memoir about my six years of caring for him. In the meantime, I’ve written three poems from what I hoped was Bill’s perspective. I could only imagine what he was thinking. These poems were published in How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver. I’ll paste one below.

 

 

From a Husband’s Perspective

 

 

She works hard

to care for me, the house.

She cooks, cleans, does laundry,

fetches, carries,

does everything I’m unable to do.

She writes short stories, novels, essays.

She’ll be a best selling author one day.

I couldn’t do without her.

 

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