Thursday Book Feature: Recipes for a Beautiful Life

Recipes for a Beautiful Life: A Memoir in Stories

By Rebecca Barry

Copyright 2015.

 

This isn’t a cookbook, although there are recipes throughout. Instead, this #1 New York Times bestselling author explores what it’s like to balance writing with marriage and family in a failing economy. Through an introduction, epilog, and journal entries spanning from 2008 to 2012, she talks about how she and her husband and two small boys started a new life in a small town in upstate New York.

She describes the difficulties of writing while trying to care for a big house and two small children, especially when her husband’s work took him to New York. She discusses how she and her husband struggled to make ends meet after he was laid off from one of his jobs, how they tried and eventually succeeded at producing a magazine, and how, after working on a book for a couple of years, she realized it wasn’t publishable and the sense of failure she had as a result.

She describes her close-knit family, the reason she and her husband settled where they did. She talks about her sister, who wanted a baby and finally adopted one, and her mother’s diagnosis with kidney failure. In the end, she explains how a new book idea and the success of their magazine gave her a new lease on life.

This book frustrated me at times. Like many of today’s parents, Rebecca Barry and her husband Tommy weren’t as authoritative as our parents were when my younger brother and I were growing up. As a result, their little boys walked all over them.

If I had yelled at three in the morning, “Mommy, get up now!” I would have gotten a spanking, which I would have deserved. When my younger brother acted out in a restaurant, Dad took him outside, put him on the hood of the car, gave him a talking to and perhaps a spanking, which he also deserved. Talking back was not an option. Children must learn to respect others, to take responsibility for their actions, and to do things they don’t want to do like putting on their pants and going to school. That’s how I was raised, and I’m proud of it.

That said, this book helped me put my own life in perspective. I’m so thankful I wasn’t trying to write a book with a traditional publisher’s deadline looming while caring for two small children, especially in a society where spanking is taboo. All I had to contend with while getting my novel, We Shall Overcome, ready for publication was my late husband Bill’s partial paralysis as a result of two strokes. Oh, there were interruptions galore, since he could do little for himself, but at least he didn’t throw things or pee in the bathtub.

Then again, the comforting thing about being a parents is that your children will eventually grow up and be able to fend for themselves. However, when you’re caring for a loved one who will probably never walk again, things don’t usually get better. You can learn more about our struggles by reading My Ideal Partner.

 

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: Against All Odds

Against All Odds

by Danielle Steel

Copyright 2017

 

From this best-selling author comes a novel about the worries associated with parenting adult children who take foolish risks. Kate, a widow, runs a successful high-end clothing resale shop in New York City. In the course of two years, her four grown children, each in turn, risk their happiness.

Isabel, a lawyer, falls for a former client with no job, no ambition, and a drug habit. Justin, a homosexual writer, along with his partner, have three babies with the help of a surrogate mother and donor eggs.

His twin sister Julie, a clothing designer, finds a man who appears to be perfect in every way but turns out to be abusive after she marries him. Willie, the youngest, an information technology specialist, falls in love with an older woman who is divorced with two children.

To add irony to the story, Kate, the parent who worries about her children’s immorality, becomes involved with a married Frenchman with whom she’s doing business. What happens as a result of all this? Read the book and find out.

Despite Danielle Steel’s annoying habit of doing too much telling and not enough showing, I enjoyed reading this, as I did many of her other books. Once I picked it up, it was hard to put down. The Recorded Books narrator did an excellent job portraying all the characters. This book makes a great point. As a parent, you sometimes have to let your children make mistakes, then be there to help pick up the pieces.

 

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.

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Saturday Song: I Feel the Earth Move by Carole King

In the summer of 1971 when I was ten years old, my father and I traveled from our home in Tucson, Arizona, to Sheridan, Wyoming. Grandpa Johnson passed away the winter before, and Grandma needed Dad to help her with the family business, at least for the summer. Johnson Novelty sold coin-operated machines such as jukeboxes, pool tables, vending machines, and video games to businesses in Sheridan and the surrounding area. We ended up moving to Sheridan a couple of years later.
That summer though, memorable events included a rodeo parade and a picnic in the mountains where an adult family friend and I discovered a cave. There were also numerous trips to bars and other establishments where Dad repaired and serviced machines. Of course I was too young to go into the bars.
I also spent many happy hours in the shop with a couple of girls down the street who were my age. We listened to music on a jukebox and played games. Pinball and bowling were two games where I had marginal success despite my limited vision.
The song below was one of many we played on the jukebox. Although I couldn’t understand what it was saying, I loved the beat. This version has a cool drum rift at the end that my younger brother Andy would have loved playing along with on his drum set when he was a kid. Enjoy, and have a great Saturday.

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.

Saturday Song: Heart and Soul by Hoagy Carmichael

 

 

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 Mother-Daughter Relationships

Glitter and Glue: A Memoir

By Kelly Corrigan

Copyright 2014

 

In the 1990’s soon after graduating from college, Kelly Corrigan set off on a trip around the world in search of adventure. Broke in Australia, she found a job as a nanny for a widower’s two children, ages five and seven. In the five months she spent with the family, she learned what it’s like to be a mother and not to have a mother and about her relationship with her own mother.

She describes caring for the children, the little boy who immediately accepted her, and the little girl who was aloof at first. She also explains how she developed friendships with the widower’s step-son and father-in-law, often flashing back to her own childhood, how her mother viewed parenthood as something that had to be done while her father was more affectionate.

After returning to the states, she moved from her home in the East to San Francisco, found a job, and eventually got married and had two daughters. She talks about her relationship with her daughters, a time when she thought she would lose her mother, and her own cancer scares.

I’ve never been on a trip around the world and doubt I’ll do that now, but it was fun to read about Kelly Corrigan’s adventures. She tells a great story about mother-daughter relationships but also delivers a powerful message. You never really know what you had until it’s gone. This Mother’s Day, whether your mothers are living or not, I hope you’ll take time to appreciate them.

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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.

 

Blog Party Now Live

Welcome to my first ever blog party to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Break out the Bailey’s Irish Cream and soda bread or whatever you consume on this day, and let’s have a great time.

I’ll start by re-blogging a post I wrote several years ago that’s fitting for St. Patrick’s Day. After reading it, you’re encouraged to find a favorite post, either from your blog or someone else’s, and paste a link to it in the comments field along with a brief description of the blog.

The post you submit can be about anything, not just the Irish or St. Patrick’s Day. After you do this, you can look at other postings in the comments section and get to know other bloggers, and they can get to know you. Let the party begin.

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Book and Movie Tell Tragic Adoption Story

 

In 1952, you’re a teen-aged girl in Ireland. After a romantic encounter with a man you meet at a fair, you become pregnant. In shame, your family sends you away to a convent.

It’s a breech birth. The nuns have little or no medical training. Other women and children have died during childbirth and are buried in unmarked graves nearby. The mother superior believes that the pain of childbirth is God’s punishment for carnal sin so no drugs are administered. In agony, as the nun removes the baby with forceps, you beg her not to “let them put him in the ground.” Miraculously, a healthy baby boy is born. Thus begins the story of Philomena, a book I’ve read and a movie I’ve seen.

Martin Sixsmith, author of The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, (2009) and Philomena, with Dame Judi Dench, (2013) is a British writer, Russian scholar, BBC presenter, and former advisor to the government in the United Kingdom. He has written about Russian history, the scandal surrounding the adoption of Irish children by American parents, and other current events. Besides two books about Philomena Lee, the Irish mother forced to give up her child for adoption, his other work includes Russia: A 1000-Year Chronicle of the Wild East, (2012) and Spin. (2005) In his writing, he has also focused on political communication in government.

The book, Philomena begins with a short introduction by Dame Judi Dench, the actress who portrayed her in the movie. Martin Sixsmith then starts by describing the birth of Philomena’s son Anthony and their lives afterward in the convent. Philomena and other girls who had babies out of wedlock were prisoners there for four years, working to pay off the cost of their care, so to speak. She did the laundry seven days a week and by night, she and the other girls sewed clothes for their children who stayed in the convent until they were adopted. The mothers were allowed daily contact with their children and naturally, they developed close bonds.

Sixsmith also touches on the sale of Irish children to American families. He describes how some Irish government officials tried to block such adoptions but were thwarted by the Catholic Church. In 1955, Philomena was forced to sign papers giving Anthony up for adoption, and he was taken to the U.S. to live with a family in Missouri. Mary, a little girl at the convent about the same age who developed a close friendship with Anthony, was also taken by the same family who didn’t want to separate the children.

Most of the remainder of Martin Sixsmith’s book is devoted primarily to Anthony’s story. The family who adopted him and Mary changed his name to Michael, and Sixsmith describes his life growing up in Missouri and Iowa. The friendship between Michael and Mary grew stronger in America, and in later years, Mary was the only one in the family who supported him. All through his life, Michael wondered about his natural mother. His adoptive parents, who knew the truth, thought it better to tell him that his mother abandoned him.

Sixsmith explains how Michael first realized he was gay as a teen-ager. A priest at Notre Dame University encouraged him to purge himself of his desires. Michael tried but found himself becoming more and more involved in homosexual activities.

In the 1970’s after graduating from Notre Dame and receiving a law degree from George Washington University, Michael worked for the National Republican Committee in D.C. and eventually became the chief counsel for the White House. Sixsmith pinpoints the irony of a gay man working for the Republican Party during the Reagan and Bush eras when homosexuality was considered taboo and Republicans blocked funding for AIDS research. This, combined with feelings of abandonment Michael harbored from his childhood, caused mood swings and bouts of drinking and engaging in sadomasochistic activities. Most of his relationships didn’t last long.

In the 1970’s Michael and Mary made a trip to Ireland in an attempt to find their mothers but were told by the nuns at the convent that they had no records. In the 1990’s, after Michael developed AIDS, he made a second trip to Ireland with his partner, Pete Nelson, and was told that records from the 1950’s were destroyed in a fire. They later learned at the bed and breakfast where they were staying that the nuns deliberately set the fire because of an investigation into the Catholic Church’s practice of selling Irish children to American families for adoption. Michael died a year or so later, never knowing about his mother. At his request, he was buried at the convent in Ireland where he was born.

At the end of the book, Martin Sixsmith devotes a couple of chapters to Philomena after Anthony was taken from her in 1955. I would like to have read more about her, but she may not have wanted her life revealed in such detail. After Anthony left the convent, the nuns sent Philomena to work at a school for boys in England, and she eventually became a nurse. She married twice and had several children and grandchildren. She made frequent trips to the convent in Ireland to inquire about her son but was rebuffed by the nuns every time. She kept the secret of Anthony’s birth from her family for fifty years.

After she finally broke down and told them, her daughter introduced her to Sixsmith, and the three of them visited the convent in Ireland. By this time, there were different nuns with more liberal views, and through other channels, they were able to learn of Anthony’s life in America and that he passed away and was buried at the convent.

I liked Martin Sixsmith’s style of writing this book. Besides giving us a journalistic rundown of all the events, he takes us into the lives of the main characters, telling us what they were feeling and thinking. The book was written like fiction, and I was compelled to keep reading to the end.

On the other hand, the movie doesn’t tell the whole story and uses some artistic license. After Sixsmith meets Philomena’s daughter at a party, he is introduced to her mother, and the two of them travel to Ireland to inquire about Anthony. The nuns tell them their records from the 1950’s were destroyed in a fire and show Philomena the contract she signed, giving Anthony up for adoption that stated she agreed not to try to contact him. Sixsmith later learns from locals in a pub that the nuns started the fire.

The search for Anthony takes Martin and Philomena to Washington, D.C. where they learn of his life and passing. After talking with Mary and Pete Nelson, they learn of Michael’s burial at the convent in Ireland. Upon their return, Martin confronts one of the nuns, and Philomena finds her son’s grave and says goodbye. I enjoyed the performances of Dame Judi Dench and the other actors, but the movie left a lot to be desired, compared to the book.

According to Sixsmith, Michael requested that “Danny Boy” be sung at his funeral in Washington, D.C. before he was taken to Ireland for burial. I can think of no better way to end this post. Please click this link to hear me sing this song. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

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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.

 

 

 

Two Final Holiday Books

Abbie-1

St. Nick

by Alan Russell

Copyright 2013

 

Nick, a divorced cop, feeling depressed after being suspended from the San Diego police department, grudgingly agrees to work undercover as Santa Claus at a mall, where muggings have frequently been occurring. Not only is Nick expected to catch the bad guys, but he’s also compelled to grant a Christmas wish to a terminally ill child and find another child who wrote an anonymous letter to Santa, asking him to visit. He then meets a female television reporter, and things really get interesting. The realistic ending is predictable.

I usually don’t read detective stories, but the plot of this Audible daily deal intrigued me. It’s funny, sweet, moving, and not your run-of-the-mill mystery tale. I loved the way the narrator, Patrick Lawlor, portrayed Nick and other male characters, and his depiction of women and children wasn’t bad. This book is also available from Amazon. I know it’s a little late now, but maybe you can put it on your holiday reading list for next year.

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A Literary Christmas

Published by The British Library

Copyright 2014

 

This short anthology of Christmas stories and poems includes excerpts from such classics as A Christmas Carol and Little Women and work by Dylan Thomas, Shakespeare, and others. Of course no holiday collection would be complete without “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” also known as “The Night Before Christmas.”

This was another Audible daily deal with two excellent British narrators, Juliet Stevenson and Simon Callow. I could read some of the timeless classics in this collection over and over again. I was especially touched by the excerpt from Little Women, where the girls give their breakfast to a poor family on Christmas morning.

The recording was re-produced from a two-CD set, as evidenced by announcements of “Disc One” and “Disc Two.” With today’s advances in modern recording technology, you’d think those could have been deleted. Also, there should have been more of a pause between selections, especially when switching narrators. It seemed that one barely finished a selection when the other jumped in.

This book is also available from Amazon, so it would make a good family read during the holiday season. Children, depending on their ages, may find some of the pieces hard to grasp, but “The Night Before Christmas” and excerpts from A Christmas Carol and Little Women could surely be crowd pleasers. In any case, I hope you’ll also put this book on your holiday reading list for next year.

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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.