Thursday Book Feature: A Christmas Embrace

I know it’s a little late, but maybe you can put this on your reading list for next year.

A Christmas Embrace

By Ellen T. Marsh

Copyright 1994

In California, Alex and Rose have been married for almost ten years. He is an accountant, and she is a veterinarian. Their careers have kept them busy over the years, and as a result, Rose feels they’re drifting apart. In an attempt to save their marriage, she books a surprise weekend for them both in Pennsylvania Dutch country. Meanwhile, Alex, by a stroke of luck, ends up with a pair of tickets to a football game in San Diego and a weekend’s stay at a posh hotel there. He plans to surprise Rose with this, but when she reveals her surprise first, although he’s angry, he reluctantly agrees to accompany her. After landing in Baltimore, Maryland, during a snowstorm, Alex and Rose get more than they bargained for.

When I read this book, I was depressed because my Internet was down, and a technician wasn’t scheduled to repair my service until the day after Christmas. I soon realized that there are worse things than being without Internet. Although I knew that all along, I needed to be reminded of the important things in life: food, clothing, and shelter. These I had. I’m also thankful that my own marriage with Bill, though short, was never strained, despite the fact that I had to care for him during the last six years of his life. This feel-good book helped me escape from my woes and retrieve my attitude of gratitude.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

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Saturday Song: Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer by Elmo & Patsy

In 1973 after we moved from Tucson, Arizona, to Sheridan Wyoming, my grandmother, who lived close by, often came to our house Christmas Eve. No doubt she had too much to drink, but she somehow managed to return home in her maroon Cadillac without encountering any reindeer. The grandmother in this song was less fortunate. Enjoy, and have a great Saturday.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

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Thursday Book Feature: Follow Your Dog

Follow Your Dog: A Story of Love and Trust

by Ann Chiappetta

Copyright 2017.

The author, blind as a result of retinitis pigmentosa, shares her experiences with a succession of dogs that influenced her life, focusing on her first guide dog, Verona. She describes her turbulent childhood: her parents’ divorce, her father berating her when she broke or lost her glasses, and how she found a way to escape through nature and books.

She talks about the dogs she and her husband and children had as pets before Verona came along. She explains the process of applying for a dog through Guiding Eyes for the Blind in Yorktown Heights, New York, about a forty-minute drive from her home in New Rochelle: why she was rejected the first time, how she applied to other schools and was eventually accepted by Guiding Eyes for the Blind and started training in January of 2008.

She then describes the arduous twenty-six day process of learning to work with Verona: her apprehension and excitement on the day she first met her, the full days of walking routes in bitter winter weather, the exhilaration upon graduation. She explains the adjustments her family had to make since Verona wasn’t a pet.

She then describes reactions of others to her dog and how Verona impacted her life until 2015 when she was compelled to retire her. She explains how she returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind and obtained Bailey, her second dog, describing how Verona adjusted to Bailey doing the work she once did. She then talks about how Verona became a certified therapy dog. Inserted at strategic points throughout the book are essays, poems, and blog posts, and at the end, a list of resources for those interested in applying for a guide dog.

I met Ann over a year ago through Behind Our Eyes, a group of writers with disabilities. I’ve always enjoyed reading her material.

I like dogs but am not interested in getting a guide dog. For one thing, I do really well with a cane, so I don’t think it’s necessary for me to have one. For another, they’re a lot of work, as illustrated in the book, whereas with a cane, when you arrive at your destination, you just fold it up, put it somewhere out of the way, and forget about it until you need it again. It’s a matter of personal choice.

Since November is National Adopt a Senior Pet Month, after reading this book, you might want to think about adopting a retired guide dog. Verona was lucky that Ann and her family were willing and able to keep her after she was retired, but other former guide dogs aren’t as fortunate. In any case, this book would make a great gift for a dog lover or someone with a visual impairment interested in getting a guide dog. It would also be a good educational tool for anyone training in a disability-related field.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

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Jim, the Mischievous King

After reading the latest Chicken Soup for the Soul book, I was inspired to write my own canine tale. I doubt Chicken Soup for the Soul will publish any more dog books, since they already have two on the market, so I’ll post my dog story here.

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In the spring of 1977 when I was a freshman in high school, and my younger brother Andy was in fourth grade, our family decided to get a dog. We were living in Sheridan, Wyoming. Before Andy was born, when we lived in Tucson, Arizona, we had a pooch that died as a result of Valley Fever, common in that part of the country. Despite the fact that we had two cats, my parents were now ready for another dog, and Andy and I liked the idea.

Mother found an advertisement in the newspaper announcing Irish setter puppies for sale. She called the woman who placed the ad and arranged for us to visit her and see the puppies.

The little dogs were in a box, and all except one were scratching and whining. The silent pooch sat in a corner, aloof. Mother said, “Oh, let’s see this little guy.”

She lifted him out of the box, and despite my limited vision, I could tell he had the sweetest face. He was red with floppy ears, which I immediately stroked and scratched, and he didn’t seem to mind.

“Let’s take him,” I said. The rest of the family agreed, and a week later, he was ours.

We debated what to call him. Dad, liking all things Irish, suggested Shem, the Irish name for Jim. Andy liked the name Clancy. Mother and I didn’t have a preference. We settled on Shem Shenanigan Clancy Leroy. Leroy was my grandfather’s name, and in Irish, it means king.

When we brought Clancy home, he was full of mischief and ruled his kingdom. When he wasn’t napping, he was running and playing with Andy inside the house and out, chewing on anything he could find, and antagonizing the cats. He eventually came to an understanding with our feline companions. Although they were never friends, they were civil toward one another.

In the summer, Mother enrolled Clancy in an obedience class for puppies. For Clancy, this was play time. At home alone, Mother was able to teach him to come, sit, and stay, but around the other dogs in the class, it was as if she hadn’t even tried to train him.

Andy tried training him with the girl next door, but that didn’t work, either. I suppose we could have hired a trainer like some of the authors in the Chicken Soup book did for their unruly dogs, but in the 1970’s, that wasn’t something to be considered.

Andy hoped that he and Clancy would be like Timmy and Lassie, but Clancy eventually became Dad’s dog, accompanying our father everywhere, even to the shop where he sold and serviced coin-operated machines. Clancy enjoyed riding in the back of Dad’s pick-up or in the station wagon with his head stuck out the window, eating air. This was before seat belt laws were enacted.

If Dad couldn’t take Clancy, he’d say, “not you.” With sad eyes, the dog would watch, as his master strode out the door. In Dad’s absence, Clancy would often follow Mother around, thinking she was responsible for Dad’s disappearance and that if he stayed by her side, she would magically make Dad appear.

Since the high school I attended wasn’t far from our home, Dad and Clancy often walked me there, through a park and up a hill. This was in the days before leash laws became more stringent, and Clancy ran free through the park, playing in a nearby creek while we walked. During the winter months, Dad drove me to school. At the top of the hill, where there wasn’t much traffic, he stopped and opened the rear passenger door, and Clancy jumped out and ran alongside the car the rest of the way.

Like any dog, Clancy enjoyed rolling in fish heads, cow pies, and anything else that stank. Andy tried hosing him off, but naturally, because the water was too cold, Clancy didn’t like that at all. Dad gave him a shower, which was a disaster, with water everywhere in the bathroom and Mother pissed. In those days, there was no such thing as a do-it-yourself dog wash, which is similar to a car wash and mentioned in the Chicken Soup book.

Despite his antics, Clancy was a lovable addition to our family for eleven years. He died suddenly in the summer of 1988, one of the hottest on record. By that time, my parents were separated, and Dad lived in a house halfway across town. I’d just completed a music therapy internship in Fargo, North Dakota, and was staying with Mother in our family home. Andy had graduated from high school two years earlier and was off somewhere for the summer.

One hot night, Dad let Clancy out so he could do his business, and the dog wandered off. He was found dead the next day by the creek near Grandma’s house. Here’s what I think happened.

Since Dad didn’t have air conditioning, Clancy was hot and wanted to get somewhere cooler. In gest, Dad always called him a dummy, but that dog had some smarts. For years, he’d been driven, along with the rest of the family, to Grandma’s house, which was air conditioned. He knew it was cooler, and he knew how to get there.

Unfortunately, Grandma was hard of hearing by that time. Upstairs in her bedroom, perhaps with the television on full blast, she didn’t hear Clancy scratching at either the front or back doors. When he couldn’t get into Grandma’s house, Clancy knew the next coolest place was the creek, so he went there. He no doubt passed as a result of heat stroke.

Dad said Clancy could have lived longer. Several years later after he moved to another house and acquired a second Irish setter, he bought a window air conditioner. That’s another story.

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Why don’t you tell me about a pet you had when you were growing up? If you have a blog, you can post your story there and a link to it in the comment field here. If not, you can just share your memories. I look forward to hearing from you.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Memoir Portrays Unconditional Love Between Human and Wild Bird

Wesley the Owl: A Remarkable Love Story Between an Owl and His Girl

by Stacy O’Brien

Copyright 2008

This is a true story of how a California wildlife biologist adopted a baby barn owl she called Wesley and raised him for nineteen years during the 1980’s and 90’s. Most rescued owls are sent to rehabilitation facilities and eventually released back into the wild. However, Wesley had an injured wing and probably wouldn’t have survived if he were released.

Stacy O’Brien, who’s grandfather was a traveling musician, became a child actress, singing in commercials, movies, and television as well as with John Denver, The Carpenters, and other artists. As a child, she screamed when her mother swept a spider off the wall and flushed it down the toilet. Because of this and her overall interest in and love of animals, it was only fitting that, after her career in show business, she receive a biology degree and a job at a California lab.

She explains how she made a nest for Wesley from blankets and other materials and placed it next to her in bed at night so she could train him to sleep when she did. He spent most of his days on perches she adapted for him. She describes how she killed mice and fed them to him and explains why mice are an important part of an owl’s diet. After Wesley turned a year old, she tried encouraging him to kill his own mice, but it never worked out.

She describes how, as a toddler, Wesley took an interest in water while watching her brush her teeth and wash her face at night before going to bed. He enjoyed washing his own face under the faucet while she did this. When he grew older, he liked taking baths in the tub, even though owls aren’t usually water birds.

She explains that since day care and baby-sitters were out of the question during Wesley’s infancy and toddler stages, she took him to work and everywhere else she went, including on a date, which was a disaster. There were several men in Stacy’s life, but relationships didn’t last long once they found out she was raising a barn owl.

She describes how Wesley taught himself to fly, his embarrassment when he crash landed, and his pride when he finally mastered the skill. She describes what are called owl no nos, when an owl turns his head from side to side to indicate that he’s about to attack something or someone. She explains that because birds of prey perceive aggression as a threat, Wesley could never be disciplined like a child because he would never trust her, even if she only raised her voice to him.

She explains how Wesley developed mating instincts, even though he wasn’t in the wild with other owls. One night when a female owl appeared at her window, Stacy was tempted to either let Wesley out or the other owl in so they could do their business. She realized though, that she would never have been able to tame the female owl, and Wesley couldn’t have survived in the wild, even with a mate.

Because of a criminal movement to free animals in captivity and leave them to fend for themselves, resulting in these animals’ deaths, Stacy felt she couldn’t tell anyone about Wesley except her close family and the men with whom she developed relationships. She learned later, after her grandmother’s passing, that she, too, raised a barn owl.

She explains how she changed jobs and locations and how Wesley adapted to these moves. She describes how she discovered a family of barn owls on a roof and tracked their movements and recorded their vocalizations. She discusses how she battled a serious illness as a result of an inoperable brain tumor, how Wesley sustained her, and how she recovered, though not completely. In the end, she explains how Wesley, like any other species, aged and eventually passed. She then discusses her process of writing this book, which includes photographs of Wesley.

I loved her description of how the father owl feeds his family. When baby owls are older, he hovers over the nest, dumps his payload of dead mice, and zooms off, just like a fighter plane. I also chuckled at her explanations of Wesley’s bodily fluids. When she explained that owls aren’t water birds, I remembered a stuffed owl I had as a kid when I was hospitalized for pneumonia and how it fell off my bed and into a pale of water that was part of my oxygen apparatus. At least Oliver, my owl, was easier to dry off.

Wesley the Owl is similar to my own memoir, which was published last year. My Ideal Partner is about how I met, married, and cared for my late husband Bill until he passed. It describes the trials and tribulations of being a caregiver, as does Stacy’s book. At the end of Wesley the Owl, Stacy describes the guilt she felt, thinking she could have done more for Wesley when he went downhill, and I felt the same way when Bill passed. Stacy and I have one other thing in common. My grandfather was also a traveling musician. If you enjoy heartwarming stories of unconditional love, you should read both books.

 

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

On an April Afternoon (Poetry)

A bird, annoyed at being trapped,

chirps, flits about in my tree house.

Finally breaking away,

it flies across the yard,

song celebrating its freedom.

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This poem was recently published in The Weekly Avocet and appears in my collection, That’s Life: New and Selected Poems. Click below to hear me read it.

 

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Poem Depicts Florida Wildlife Adventure

Last week when I posted “Thirty-Foot Sloop,” a poem about my Pacific Ocean misadventure, someone asked me if I ever tried sailing again after that. Well, I have, but not on the high seas. When I visited my brother and his family in Florida, we often took trips down the Loxahatchee River, which is a lot smoother. Last year, we rented a canoe, and I wrote a poem about what happened. Click on the title below the picture to hear me read it.

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My sister-in-law snapped a photo of this creature with her iPhone before she and my brother back-paddled the canoe away from it as fast as they could. 

THE ALLIGATOR

 

A warm March afternoon under a cloudless Florida sky,

floating down the Loxahatchee River,

I sit on the canoe bottom, cramped,

while others paddle.

In a narrow section,

where we hope to spot wildlife, it appears.

Not a snake, but still a deadly creature,

it stands among plants on the bank,

gazes at its reflection in the gleaming water.

I don’t see it–they do.

After snapping a picture,

we sail far, far away

while icy fingers of fear massage my spine.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.