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.

***

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.

***

Tuesday Book Feature: Love Letters in the Grand

Note: Since Thanksgiving falls on the day I normally review books here, I’m changing things around a bit. I’ll have a special treat for you on Thanksgiving Day, so stay tuned.

***

Love Letters in the Grand: The Adventures and Misadventures of a Big City Piano Tuner

By John Justice

Copyright 2017

In this collection of stories, the author, totally blind, relates his experiences tuning pianos in New York City and Philadelphia during the 1960’s and 70’s. Some tales are humorous like “It Won’t Play If You Don’t Pay,” in which he describes his underhanded way of dealing with a customer who refused to pay for his services. Others showcase how unfairly he was treated by some customers, e.g. “Unintended Disaster,” in which he was blamed for breaking a music lamp on a piano top after being told it was clear.

Some stories don’t have much to do with piano tuning like “Star’s Rippingly Good Solution,” in which he explains how his guide dog handled a mugger on a New York City subway. In the title story, he relates how he found a packet of love letters inside a grand piano. At the end, he explains how he met his second wife at a rehabilitation facility for the blind in Little Rock, Arkansas, and eventually married her and found other employment while still tuning pianos on the side.

Since I play the piano, I was fascinated by his explanation of the inner workings of the instrument, as he related his various experiences. I liked his descriptions of Madison Square Garden and the Lincoln Center where he was sent to tune pianos. As a registered music therapist, my favorite piece was “Song for Adrienne,” in which his playing of a familiar Christmas carol touched the heart of a young woman in a psychiatric hospital. I loved his quote at the end. “Life is like a piano. It has highs and lows, but when all is said and done, it is an instrument on which we all must play our tunes.”

***

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.

LIBRARY Days

Thanks to blogger Alice Massa for inspiring this. In her post, she shares fond memories of visiting a public library as a child. Reading it brought back reminiscences of my own.

In the fall of 1973 after we moved here to Sheridan, Wyoming, from Tucson, Arizona, my younger brother Andy took an interest in library science. He’d started kindergarten, and I was in the sixth grade. Since Mother had taken us to a public library in Tucson on a regular basis, it was only natural that we would continue to do this once we were settled here.

The Sheridan library was an old building with a children’s section in the basement. Once a week or so, we would descend a creaking stairway to a world of wonder. The aroma in the large room reminded me of the library at the school for the blind in Arizona, where I’d enjoyed browsing shelves of Braille books. I couldn’t do that here, but there were records and cassettes containing stories and sometimes just plain music. Mother encouraged me to check out such books as Understood Betsy and Ann of Green Gables, which she read to me. Eventually, a librarian came to our home once a week and brought books on records that were issued by a library in Utah that specialized in recorded books for those with visual and other impairments that made reading difficult or impossible.

The check-out process at the Sheridan library was what fascinated Andy. He watched, wide-eyed, as the librarian stamped each of our selections with that day’s date. One day after we got home, we discovered that Andy had walked away with the librarian’s stamp.

Nonchalant, Mother told Andy he could keep the stamp for now, but the next day after school, he would have to return it and apologize for taking it. The librarian must have had extra stamps on hand for when we showed up the next day, and Andy handed her the stamp and told her he was sorry for stealing it, she only smiled and said it wasn’t a problem. At Christmas that year, Santa Claus gave Andy his own stamp and ink pad. For the next few months, he enjoyed playing “library” until he took an interest in something else.

A couple of years ago, Andy, now living in Florida, sent me, for my birthday, a t-shirt emblazoned with library stampings. He’d forgotten about his petty theft until I brought it up after receiving the shirt. It was apparently a coincidence that he, knowing I appreciated books as a writer, thought I would like the shirt, and he was right.

Today, the Sheridan library is located in a modern building with books and other items for both children and adults on the ground floor and an art gallery and meeting rooms on the second floor. With an elevator, it’s no longer necessary to ascend or descend any stairs. Instead of a card catalog, there are computers, and records and cassettes have been replaced by CD’s and devices called playaways, which contain one recorded book each. However, I download books from other sources, so I only visit the library to attend monthly Range Writers meetings and other programs. As for Andy, with a P.H.D. in physics, a family, and a full-time teaching job at a private high school in Jupiter, I imagine he has little time to visit a library, but we can still remember.

What do you remember about visiting your public library as a child? What kinds of books did you like to check out? Did you ever bring food or drink into the library, as Alice and her cousin did?

***

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 Offers Insight into Vision Loss

Cane Confessions: The Lighter Side to Mobility

by Amy Bovairde

Copyright 2016

 

This Christian author and motivational speaker shares her humorous experiences with vision loss. She describes accidents she had as a teen-ager while learning to drive and even as an adult, which makes readers wonder whether she was already starting to lose her vision before she was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa. She talks about her teaching and world travels: visiting a spa in India, hiking in Scotland, and climbing Mount Fuji in Japan, all while denying to herself and not admitting to others that she was losing her eyesight. With humor, she describes her adventures in shopping, gardening, cooking and other activities while still in the denial stage.

She describes how she learned to use a cane and how much she hated it because it symbolized her blindness. She explains how she eventually realized that a cane equals independence despite having a visual impairment. She discusses how her motivational speaking career took off after she was asked to be the keynote speaker at a women’s retreat and how she joined a Lions Club after presenting at a benefit for the Leader Dog program.

Many of her anecdotes made me laugh, like the time she became entangled with a group of airmen on a military base while teaching there. I was frustrated with her when she described mishaps that could have been avoided, had she been using her cane. Of course I’ve dealt with low vision all my life, but when you’ve had sight and lose it, that’s a whole new ball game.

I can appreciate this book’s three powerful messages. Don’t be afraid to admit that you can’t see very well. Don’t be ashamed to use a white cane or other adaptive tool, and don’t hesitate to ask for help. If you’ve just lost your vision, this book will help you realize that it’s not the end of the world and that you’re not alone. If you don’t have a visual impairment, you’ll still appreciate the insight on vision loss. In fact, I highly recommend this book to non-disabled professionals working with people who have visual impairments.

***

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.

 

Anthology Knits Life Through Poetry and Prose

Walking by Inner Vision: Stories & Poems

by Lynda McKinney Lambert

Copyright 2017

 

This collection starts with a prologue in which the author, who is also an artist, describes how knitting sustained her during difficult times after she lost most of her vision in 2007. The poetry and prose that follow are divided into twelve sections, one for each month of the year. Some pieces reflect the time of year while others discuss the author’s faith in God, nature, art, music, and other topics.

In “Harbingers,” Lynda reflects on the ground hog and other species that predict when spring with come and signal its arrival. In “William’s Red Roses,” she reminisces about a rose bush her father gave her. In “A Visitation from Butterflies,” she describes a miraculous event that occurred while her daughter was in a medically induced coma following cancer surgery.

My favorite piece is “A Wintry Tale” because it reminds me of many tumbles I took in the snow when I was younger due to my lack of vision. I believe Lynda was still sighted at the time of this story, so I found that refreshing. My second favorite is “A Pennsylvania Christmas” because it brings back memories of my own childhood Christmases, even though I’ve never received coal in my stocking.

I’ve known Lynda for years through our association with Behind Our Eyes, a not-for-profit organization for writers with disabilities. I’ve always been amazed by how, despite her sight loss, her appreciation of art and nature comes through in her vivid descriptions. Even if you have normal vision, this book will open your eyes, ears, and heart to life’s wonders.

***

Note: Since Lynda invited me to guest post on her blog several years ago, I returned the favor, and she graciously agreed. Her post will appear on May 16th, so stay tuned.

***

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.

 

Of Falling Silver and Glass

Late one night while I was emptying my dishwasher, a couple of forks slipped out of my grasp and hit the floor with a loud clang. Normally, I would have been annoyed, since I was anxious to get this done and get to bed. However, I found myself laughing hysterically, struggling not to wet my pants. I thought back to a similar situation years ago in a different kitchen.

In 1988, I was attending the Wyoming Lions Summer School for the Visually Impaired on Casper Mountain. After supper one night, I volunteered, or was chosen, for dish duty. After accumulating a neat pile of dry plastic glasses, I was reaching for a wet one when my arm brushed the pile hard enough to set it off balance. Glasses flew everywhere, hitting the floor with a loud clatter.

The normal human reaction in this situation is to be mortified, but having always enjoyed the sound of disaster, it was all I could do to keep a straight face, especially since others were laughing. The staffer in charge of the kitchen knew I’d just completed a music therapy internship. Not known for a sense of humor, he said, “Is that what you trained for at Villa Maria?”

I should have said, “No, I trained as a music therapist, not a dishwasher.” At the time, I couldn’t say anything, speechless as I was with mirth.

Isn’t it frustrating when you think of something you could have said in a particular situation? Of course that’s better than regretting something you said but still…

So what’s the point of this post? Again, I’m speechless with mirth and have no idea. Maybe years from now, I’ll have a better answer to that question.

***

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.

 

Circus in the Bedroom

Abbie-1

In light of the announcement that the Ringling Brothers circus is closing after 100 years of operation, I decided to re-blog a poem from a couple of months ago that appears in My Ideal Partner. At one point during the six years I cared for my late husband Bill, we had to purchase a mechanical lift to make it easier for home health care aides to transfer him from the bed to the commode in order to give him a shower. As you’ll note from the excerpt below, Bill didn’t like the lift, but I came up with a pretty good solution to that problem. Click on the poem’s title to hear me read it.

***

At first, Bill didn’t like the lift, because it suspended him in mid–air while he was transferred from the bed to the commode and vice versa. I almost laughed when I saw the process for the first time, because it reminded me of the song about the man on the flying trapeze. Because Bill had no vision, I could imagine how insecure he felt during the process. We kept reassuring him that he was securely fastened into the sling and wouldn’t fall, but after his first shower, he said, “I’m not using that damn lift again.”

I was flabbergasted. It had taken one month to get the lift, and another for the carpet in the bedroom to be replaced. For two months, Bill traipsed back and forth to Eventide (the nursing home) for his showers. I had to dress him every day, not just on the days when his showers at home weren’t scheduled. My own back was starting to bother me. I was ready for a break. “Please, honey, just try it for another week,” I said. “It takes some getting used to.”

“It’s not a problem,” said Bonnie. (Bill’s case worker) “Jean said you can keep getting your showers at Eventide if you don’t want to use the lift.”

I wasn’t about to settle for that. Because Bill joked about girls seeing him naked, I got an idea. “Okay, honey, just imagine you’re naked on a flying trapeze in a big circus tent, and fifty women are in that tent who paid $50 each to see you naked on that flying trapeze, and you’re going to get all that money.”

It sounded outrageous, but it worked. After another week, he seemed happy as a clam, being propelled across the room, hanging in mid air.

***

UNDER THE BIG TOP

 

Like the daring young man on the flying trapeze,

he glides through the air, smiles down on me.

I wink, say, “Bravo!”

 

We’re not in a circus but in our bedroom.

His left arm and leg useless,

a mechanical lift raises him off the bed,

propels him across the room,

lowers him to the commode, ready for the shower.

***

It’s too bad men on flying trapezes don’t bring in as much money for circuses as elephants do.

***

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.