Mourning Has Broken: A Book Review

I would like to read this book, but I can’t find it in an accessible format, even from Audible. However, I thought I would share this review along with my rendition of a song that went through my head, as I read the review, never mind that the spelling of “morning” is different. https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/15213189/morning%20has%20broken.mp3

Annika Perry's Writing Blog

mourning2

I read this book during a time of loss and sadness. When my spirits were so low neither music nor books could enter my heart. Numerous books remained unread, the words and stories therein unable to penetrate the wall. 

Then I recalled reading about Carol Balawyder and ‘Mourning Has Broken’; her book on loss and grief. On a whim I bought it.

My attention was seized from the very first few sentences and as I devoured it within two days ‘Mourning Has Broken’ left a deep and profound impact on me.

The writing is exceptional and beautiful. Poetic in places, full of wisdom. Her words spoke directly to me, then at times mirrored my experiences of loss exactly. I have never highlighted so much in a book since my student days. Nor have I I talked so much about a book – I am sure my family by now feel…

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News from Abbie’s Corner July 2016

Friday, July 1st, 2016 1:45 p.m.

 

I’m composing this during what’s called a writing marathon, sponsored by the Wyoming Writing Project, a program developed by the university to facilitate writing. Here’s how it works.

After gathering at the agriculture building at Sheridan College, we split into groups. Each group’s goal is to travel to two or three locations around town and write for about fifteen or twenty minutes before sharing with others and moving to a new setting. Right now, I’m sitting at a picnic table at Whitney Common, a local park I often walk through on my way to other places.

Here’s the big news. My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds, is soon to become a reality. David Dvorkin is in the process of formatting the manuscript for Createspace. It will also be available as EBooks on Smashwords and Amazon.

This month promises to be busy, what with my book coming out. I’ll write and send press releases to the media and mail sell sheets to bookstores and libraries. I’ll also plan as many appearances as possible to promote my book. It’s always exciting when a new book comes out.

On the last Tuesday of June, I did my usual monthly gig at Westview, where I played my guitar and sang, much to residents’ delight. This month, I’ll be at Sugarland Ridge, an assisted living facility, on July 8th. They’re doing a red, white, and blue social, so I’ll supply some patriotic music along with some country and western songs, since our annual national rodeo is the following week. On July 26th, I’ll be back at Westview.

Speaking of the rodeo, that’s the week my brother, Andy, from Florida, will be visiting. He and his wife Christina will fly into Denver on the 12th and rent a car. After spending time with relatives in Colorado, they’ll drive here the weekend of the 15th for his 30th class reunion. They also want to spend some time in Yellowstone Park, so I hope they’ll do that the following week and come back that weekend before returning to Colorado and flying back to Florida on the 26th. Will just have to wait and see what they have planned.

***

Friday, July 1st, 2016 2:15 p.m.

I’m sitting downtown across the street from the post office. After sharing what we wrote at Whitney Common, our group has moved here. Time drags by on this hot July afternoon, as I sit on a hard bench with no back and watch cars go by. After about ten minutes, Aaron, one of my traveling companions for the day, says if we’d been using our heads, we could have gone kitty corner to the Pony Grill and Bar, sat on the deck, and had a drink. Oh well…

***

Friday, July 3rd, 2016 2:45 p.m.

 

I’m in the Sagebrush Community Art Center, located near the Sheridan Inn next to the railroad tracks. I’m sitting in a cool, quiet room, surrounded by walls sporting paintings, most of which I can’t make out from where I am. On the way here, Aaron pointed out a yellow truck where a vendor sells a variety of foods including barbecue and stir fry. This reminded me of a food truck festival I attended with Andy and Christina when I visited them in Florida last March. The streets were lined for miles with nothing but food trucks selling everything from pizza to Chinese food. Anyway, after we’re done writing and sharing at the art gallery, we’ll return to the college and wrap up.

***

Sunday, July 3rd, 2016 12:32 PM

 

Two days later, on another hot July afternoon, I’m reclined in my air conditioned living room, trying to put this writing marathon in perspective. It’s a fun activity for those who need motivation and inspiration to write. It provides a safe environment for writing and sharing, where no feedback is allowed, and readings are followed by a respectful “thank you” from others in the group.

Since I had an agenda, to write this blog post, I found the constant interruptions to share work and move to different locations an unwelcome distraction, reminding me of times when Bill was alive and I had to drop what I was doing every so often to take care of him. I guess I should have expected that.

Others in my group shared work inspired by their surroundings: a poem about children playing in the fountain at Whitney Common, a narrative about a homeless man wandering downtown streets. Next time, I’ll just go with the flow and write about what I see, smell, and hear around me. Who knows? A poem or story may come forth.

***

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

 

 

News from Abbie’s Corner June 2016

Last month, I was busy with singing engagements. I played my guitar and sang at two nursing homes, an assisted living facility, and an adult day care program. I’ve decided to space out these performances so I’m not doing them all in one month. I won’t do any this month except for Westview where I’ve already committed to doing it once a month for the monthly birthday party. I’ll start in July, doing just one of the other facilities each month so I’m doing only two per month instead of four every other month. That way, each of the other facilities will have me every couple of months, and it won’t be quite so hectic.

The first weekend of this month, I attended the Wyoming Writers annual conference in Riverton which was quite an adventure compared to other such conferences. It was held at the Wind River Hotel & Casino, and as I usually do, I traveled with Rose Hill, Wyoming’s current poet laureate, and we stayed together in a hotel room.

At about ten thirty on Friday morning after getting up at the crack of dawn and driving for hours, we arrived at the hotel to discover that we couldn’t check in until four o’clock that afternoon. Being on the Wyoming Writers board, I had a meeting to attend on the other side of the casino. Rose wanted to accompany me so off we went. As we wound our way through the maze of slot machines and black jack tables, the song “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” from Guys and Dolls popped into my head. We needed luck to survive the barrage of noise, flashing lights, and cigarette smoke.

After the meeting and lunch, it was back through the casino to the hotel where conference registration was taking place. When we got there, we were told we could use a golf cart to get around the casino, instead of through it, and to the meeting rooms on the other side. It came with Austen and Garland, two friendly young drivers who took turns shuttling people around during that weekend. The cart only held one person besides the driver so Rose and I had to take turns using it. I felt sorry for those poor guys, having to run back and forth and decided to attend Saturday workshops on the hotel side so I wouldn’t have to press them into service as often.

I’m glad I made that decision because the workshops I attended were led by poet and University of Wyoming instructor Lori Howe. In one session, she had us choose seven words from a list and write a poem about a particular moment in life. In another, she asked us to write a poem about an event from more than one perspective. Needless to say, I wrote two poems that day. I’ll submit them for possible publication in an anthology she’s editing that will consist of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction by Wyoming authors.

On Saturday night, there was a banquet featuring Native American historian and storyteller Joseph Marshall III as keynote speaker. I must admit that writing two poems in one day is exhausting, and I dozed off during his presentation. However, I downloaded one of his short story collections, The Dance House, and will read and review it here later.

After the banquet, an open mic session was scheduled in one of the large meeting rooms on the other side of the casino. I’d already promised friend and fellow poet Christine Valentine I’d do a duet with her so there was no turning back. It was nearly nine o’clock, and Rose said, “Do you think we could hoof it over there without calling those guys to help us?”

“Sure,” I said, confident that if Lady Luck was with us the first two times we traversed that den of iniquity that is the Wind River Reservation’s main economic source, surely she would be with us a third time. I needed the exercise, and I figured I was already a candidate for lung cancer since my mother probably smoked while I was in her womb.

When we arrived at the Cottonwood Room, Rose huffing and puffing, me smiling with another sense of accomplishment, our conference chair said, “Why didn’t you use the cart?”

“We figured the guys were off duty,” I answered.

“Well, they’re not,” she said. She then produced her phone, made a call, and said, “Austen will be back to pick you up at ten o’clock.”

The duet Christine and I did was a poem she wrote about being driven to distraction by two songs. The first was “101 Pounds of Fun” from South Pacific. In the poem, she writes about how she and her husband kept singing that song together after watching the musical on television. She even sang it to the postmistress who probably thought she was crazy. In the end, she explains how she purchased Brigadoon from Netflix. Now, they’re singing ”Go Home with Bonnie Jean.”

Speaking of earworms, “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” stuck with me all weekend. Often, I found myself humming it in our hotel room. Finally, Rose, a Methodist grandmother, in exasperation, countered with her rendition of “How Great Thou Art.” (Here’s my version.) All in all, despite the hassles, this year’s conference was pretty good.

Now, here’s some good news. I originally thought my memoir, My Ideal Partner, wouldn’t be published until the end of this year or the beginning of 2017. A few weeks ago, I was surprised to receive an email from Leonore Dvorkin, saying she and her husband David were ahead of schedule. It looks like the book will be out sometime this summer. Meanwhile, she has been copy editing. The email messages that would normally have been flying fast and furious have not been because she says this book is well written. I guess it had better be since it’s my fourth one. When it’s published, it’ll be available as an eBook from Smashwords and Amazon and in print from CreateSpace.

This summer, I’ll be taking a correspondence class in the elements of poetry from the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired. I’ve never taken a course from them but have heard good things about their classes so am looking forward to the experience. You may wonder if it’s necessary for me to take a poetry class when I have two poetry collections under my belt. Well, there’s always room for learning and improvement.

As Garrison Keillor would say, that’s the news from Sheridan, Wyoming, my home town. Have a great month. I’ll have more news for you in July.

 

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

 

 

May 2016 Reviews

The Glass Family

by Leonore H. Dvorkin

Copyright 2012

 

Have you ever wondered what your glasses in the kitchen cupboard would say if they could talk? Well, this short, whimsical one-act play might give you some ideas. The action is centered around four glasses of varying sizes and takes place at night after all the humans have gone to bed, and the glasses are left to their own devices. They talk about their neighbors: the plastic glasses that don’t break when they’re dropped, the fancy glasses in the dining room that are handled with care and never allowed to associate with other glasses. They describe how good it feels when they’re washed in hot soapy water in the kitchen sink, making you wonder if their humans have a dishwasher. They reflect on how horrible it would be to break and have their pieces swept into a dust pan and tossed into the garbage. They banter about this and that all night until they hear the alarm clock upstairs and other signs their humans are stirring. Then, they fall silent.

Leonore H. Dvorkin is also the author of a novel and a memoir. She lives in Denver, Colorado. Her husband and son are also writers. She and her husband help other authors publish their books online in eBook formats through Amazon and Smashwords and in print through CreateSpace. With their help, my memoir, My Ideal Partner, will be published sometime this summer. You can learn more about their publishing services here. Leonore also tutors foreign languages and teaches exercise classes in her home. If you click on her name above, you’ll be taken to a Website where you can learn more about these services.

Having some experience in theater, I told Leonore that her play could be produced in conjunction with other one-act plays. She said she’s looking into that. I hope one day, her work can be featured on stage.

***

The Apartment

By Danielle Steel

Copyright 2016.

 

Four women share an apartment in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen: a shoe designer, a writer, an investment broker, and a doctor. They’ve been living there for years and become best friends. In the course of almost one year, two of them lose jobs and boyfriends. The third gets married, and the fourth becomes pregnant. The book opens in the fall, and by June of the following year, the apartment is empty except for one.

I downloaded this book from Audible, and I wasn’t impressed with the male narrator. His portrayal of female characters seemed forced, and I think the book should have been read by a woman. Otherwise, Danielle Steel has done a terrific job with another must read.

***

Midwives

By Chris Bohjalian

Copyright 1997

 

In March of 1981, you’re a midwife delivering a baby in someone’s home during an ice storm. After a long, difficult labor, the mother stops breathing. Numerous attempts to revive her with CPR fail. The mother is clearly dead, but the baby’s heart inside the womb still beats. What would you do?

In this novel, midwife Sibyl Danforth is in such a situation. Unable to get her patient, Charlotte, to the hospital because of downed phone lines and impassible roads, she uses a kitchen knife to perform a Cessarian and saves the baby. Her apprentice tells authorities Charlotte was still alive when Sibyl first cut her open. This starts the ball rolling on an involuntary manslaughter charge against Sibyl.

The story is told mainly from the point of view of sibyl’s daughter Connie, fourteen at the time, who later becomes an obstetrician. Connie talks about her life growing up with a midwife for a mother: her mother’s long absences while delivering babies and accompanying her mother to births when baby-sitters weren’t available. Bit by bit, she reveals the details of the fateful night in March of 1981 when Charlotte died. She then shares the details of the investigation, her mother’s arrest, and the long months before the trial begins in the fall. She talks about the trial itself, two agonizing weeks that changed the lives of her and her parents. The trial appears not to be just about whether Sibyl is guilty but also explores the question of home versus hospital births.

I’ve always found the topic of childbirth fascinating, probably because I’ve never experienced it. My mother once said that having babies isn’t bad, and you forget about it right away. That may have been because my brother and I were born in a hospital, and she was given gas during the difficult parts of her labor. Nowadays, I understand that with an epidural, hospital births are almost pain free.

Okay, enough of my reflections on childbirth. This book is a definite must-read. In fact, I might even recommend it to teen-aged girls, although it has some graphic descriptions. Maybe after reading this, girls might think twice before having unprotected sex.

***

Society’s Child: My Autobiography

by Janis Ian

Copyright 2008

 

This book was on sale at Audible for only $4.95. Remembering the author’s 1975 hit “At Seventeen,” I decided to read her memoir. She starts by describing a California audience’s negative reaction to her 1967 hit “Society’s Child.” She then talks about her life growing up. Her father was a music teacher, but because he was on an FBI watch list in the 1950’s and 60’s, he couldn’t have tenure no matter where the family went. They moved often.

When Janis was ten years old, she learned to play the guitar at a summer camp and got hooked on music. She described how playing and singing became a solace from the difficulties associated with moving from one place to another, being molested regularly by a dentist in one town, and her parents’ eventual divorce. She started writing songs as a teen-ager, and her music career took off. Her family was living in New York, and for a couple of years, she went to a performing arts high school but dropped out because teachers and even the principal resented her fame.

She describes in detail the next few decades of her career, writing songs, making records, touring, and her relationships with both men and women. During this time, she drifted between New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville and traveled overseas. She explains how she was inspired to write “Society’s Child,” “Stars,” “Jesse,” and “At Seventeen.”

At the end of the 1970’s, she married a man who turned out to be abusive. After ten years of putting up with him while still performing and making records, she left him and drifted in and out of several relationships. At the end of the 1980’s, she moved to Nashville and took a break from performing to write more songs. She then discovered her accountant had been purchasing insecure stocks by forging her signature. As a result, she owed a huge debt to the IRS, and they hounded her for years until she was finally able to pay it off. During that time, she battled chronic fatigue syndrome, and through a miraculous twist of fate, she found a true partner.

In 1998, doctors discovered a tumor on her liver, but when it was removed, it was found to be benign. Janis describes how she got into writing articles and short stories as well as songs and made a comeback in the performing world, creating her own record label. The book ends after she talks about how she and her partner were married in Canada five years after her cancer scare.

The recording of this book I downloaded from Audible features Janis Ian narrating it. She sings snatches of her songs, accompanying herself on guitar or piano during her reading. As she describes how she wrote certain songs, she plays and sings passages she is discussing. It’s fascinating to learn how her writers’ imagination works.

Like her, I wanted to be a singer, but I’m glad I’m not after reading her memoir and that of other performers. I wouldn’t have enjoyed the grueling hours or the lack of privacy if I became famous, and I’m sure there were times when she didn’t, either, but I enjoy living the life of a performer vicariously by reading such books as Society’s Child.

***

Losing to Win

by Michele Grant

Copyright 2013

 

In Belle Haven, Louisiana, a small town economically ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil spill, Carissa, a high school English teacher, is chosen as a contestant on a reality TV show in which people compete to see how much weight they can lose in three months through a grueling regimen of diet and exercise. The last thing Carissa wants to do is lose weight while millions of viewers are watching, but family and friends, concerned about her health and the town’s economy, convince her that this would be good for Belle Haven. She then meets the other contestants, most of whom she knows, and to her dismay, she learns that one of them is Mal, her high school sweetheart and now a professional football player who was once her fiancé.

As the author takes us through the contestants’ lives over the next three months, we learn that Carissa broke up with Mal because she no longer wanted to take a back seat to his career. Mal is recovering from an injury and hopes to get back into the NFL. As the two are forced together, things heat up between them, but what about the future? Does Carissa still love Mal, and is she willing to give him another chance? Has Mal realized there’s more to life than football? Who wins the weight loss contest?

I don’t usually read this sort of thing much anymore, but for some reason, I was drawn to the story. Maybe it was the light, steamy read I needed after the seriousness of Society’s Child. I was reminded of the phrase, “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow, we die.” A friend once told me that when you diet, you die in a way. The pun would have been perfect for this book because the contestants do just that. They eat, drink, and are merry the night before the competition starts. Then they die-et.

***

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

 

 

Mother’s Secret

Sister Earnest came into our lives, unexpected. We weren’t Catholic. In the fall of 1985, Mother was teaching English and communications at Sheridan College in Wyoming, and the nun was one of her students. She was part of a contemplative Benedictine monastery located about fifteen miles south of town near Big Horn where people could retreat to meditate and swim in their pool.

At Christmas that year, while I was home on break from the University of Montana in Billings where I was doing graduate work in music therapy, Mother made a startling announcement. We were walking in the park on Christmas Day. Dad and my younger brother Andy were off somewhere so it was just her and me. Because of my limited vision, I held her arm, as she guided me along the snowy road while the sun shone overhead. “I’m moving out,” she said.

“What?”

“There’s a house I can rent about a mile from the monastery. It’s on the Walters Ranch property, and there’s a swimming pool which I could use. I’ll probably move there in January.”

Shocked but intrigued, I said, “Okay, it sounds like you’ll be settled there by the time I come home for summer vacation. I can’t wait to try out the pool.”

“Actually, there won’t be room for you and Andy. The house only has one bedroom. There’s a utility room, but it has a washer and dryer and not much space.”

My heart sank. Then I thought of something else. “What about Clancy and the cats?” Clancy was our Irish setter, or to be more precise, Dad’s dog.

“Andy can feed the animals, and I’ll show him how to run the washer and dryer and dishwasher so he can do all that.”

Stunned, I slipped on a patch of ice and nearly fell. After steadying me, Mother said, “I have a right to be selfish.” I didn’t know what to say.

We finished our walk in silence. After returning home, I rushed upstairs to my room and found Howard, our tiger-striped cat, stretched out on my bed. As I did many times when I was a child, I flopped down next to her, buried my face in her fur, and let the tears flow. She purred as if to say, “There, there, it’ll be all right.”

In January, I returned to school and tried not to think about Mother moving out, leaving Dad, Andy, Clancy, and the cats to fend for themselves. It wasn’t too hard not to dwell on our dysfunctional family since my studies took a lot of my attention.

About a month later, Mother called. “Your dad is moving out. He found an apartment, and he’ll take Clancy.” I was relieved that Andy and the cats would still be in good hands. I wasn’t as attached to Clancy but knew Dad would take good care of him.

Soon after that, Mother came to visit and brought Sister Earnest. I hadn’t met her before. Although I couldn’t put my finger on it, I thought she was weird. She said, “Why don’t I rub your feet? Massage is my specialty.”

I took her up on the offer, not knowing what else to say or do. It felt pretty good, but for some reason, I didn’t sleep well that night.

I compared notes with Dad later when he came with Clancy. He said, “Yeah, you’re right. There is something strange about her.”

During the following summer, Mother spent more and more time with Sister Earnest. She stayed overnight at the monastery once in a while, and I was often invited to play my guitar and sing for their religious programs and swim in their pool. I liked the other nuns, and the pool was great.

Mother seemed to be a different person around Sister Earnest. It was as if the nun brought out something in her that nobody else could, but I didn’t know what. I felt uncomfortable when I was around them both or when Mother talked to her on the phone for long periods of time.

“Her original name was Jackie,” Mother said. “She used to be a nurse.” That didn’t help.

Sister Earnest also spent nights at the house with Mother, sometimes when I was home on breaks. The following Christmas, she took over the decorating of the house and wouldn’t let me or Andy help Mother with the tree. She was overbearing and often patronizing, and I was nervous around her. When she ate Christmas dinner with me, Andy, Dad, Mother, and Grandma, she insisted on saying grace before the meal. This was something we never did, and I could tell everyone besides Mother was just as uncomfortable as I was.

One night, Mother and Sister Earnest had been in the study where the nun slept when she stayed with us. After they left to start dinner, I passed the study on my way downstairs and noticed the sofa bed already unfolded and the sheets in tangles. I felt sick to my stomach but told myself this couldn’t be. Nuns didn’t have sex with women or anyone else. She was just giving Mother a massage, right?

In the fall of 1987, I moved to Fargo, North Dakota, where I completed a six-month music therapy internship. As luck would have it, next door to the nursing home where I worked was a convent. Although they weren’t the same order as Sister Earnest’s, she contacted them, hoping I could perhaps live in a cottage on their premises. No such accommodations were available so I rented an apartment instead.

I was invited to eat Thanksgiving dinner at the convent. One nun brought me a care package containing pop, canned goods, and other non-perishable items sent by Sister Earnest and invited me to a Christmas concert. Another often asked me to play my guitar and sing for religious activities she conducted at the nursing home.

Sister Earnest was hoping I would stay in Fargo after my internship ended and get a job. Mother suggested as much. At first, I liked the idea, but by April of 1988, I’d had enough of that town, the brutal winter, my bank that wouldn’t cash a check from Mother because of limited funds, and my internship supervisor who, from January on, made my life miserable.

Despite the D grade I received in my internship, I was eventually able to become registered as a music therapist, but that didn’t make finding a job any easier since the profession was little known back then. For the next six months, I lived at home. Andy was in college by that time so it was just me, Mother, and often Sister Earnest. I had lunch with Dad and helped him with the business occasionally, but I spent most of my time sending out resumes and filing job applications with little success. Mother and Sister Earnest did their thing, and I was often left to my own devices.

In January of 1989, Sister Earnest left the Benedictine order and moved to California. I half expected Mother to follow her, but she didn’t. Instead, she suggested I find an apartment since I had enough in savings, and I could get by for a while with the money I received from Social Security every month. I was only too happy to move out. At that time, I was offered a volunteer position at a nursing home in Sheridan. In March, I was hired as an activities assistant.

Although my parents separated and eventually divorced, they got along a lot better than they did when they were married, especially after Sister Earnest left. Mother traveled to California frequently to visit her, and the former nun came to Sheridan once in a while. A couple of years after I moved out, our family house was sold, and Mother moved first to a townhouse in Sheridan and then a cabin in Story, , a small town twenty miles away at the foot of the Big Horn Mountains. Andy was married by this time and living in Colorado.

One day while Dad and I were visiting Mother in Story, she said, “Earnest keeps asking me to return things she gave me, and now, she wants to come and live with me. I don’t think I can take any more of this.” I was relieved that Mother had finally come to her senses.

Years later, Mother was diagnosed with cancer. When she became weak as a result of chemotherapy and malnourishment, Dad moved to the little house in Story to care for her for six months before she passed away unexpectedly in December of 1999. In November of 2012, after my husband’s funeral, Dad, perhaps a little drunk, said, “Your mother wanted a divorce because she was in love with Sister Earnest.”

***

This was published in the spring/summer issue of Magnets and Ladders. Names were changed to protect privacy.

***

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

 

March 2016 Book Reviews

Born with Teeth: A Memoir by Kate Mulgrew. Copyright 2015.

 

Believe it or not, I hadn’t heard of Kate Mulgrew until I ran across this book on Audible with her reading it for only $5.95. I enjoy reading about the lives of actresses and other celebrities, and this book didn’t totally disappoint.

She starts out by talking about her life growing up in Dubuque, Iowa in a large Irish Catholic family. In a parochial school, the nun who taught fifth grade sparked her interest in poetry and acting by encouraging her to enter a poem recitation contest. In high school, she decided to graduate as early as possible and become involved in local theater. She describes how her younger sister Tessie became a willing slave to her big sister, the star.

After moving to New York, Kate discusses how she studied at New York University and took lessons at the Stella Addler Acting Studio for a year. Stella had a rule that while in her program which usually lasted a couple of years, an actor couldn’t work professionally. However, when Kate had an opportunity to star in a production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and in Ryan’s Hope, a television soap opera about an Irish family that runs a pub, she couldn’t resist. She left the studio with Stella’s blessing, and her career took off.

She then describes how she played role after role on TV and stage and her affairs with one man after another. At one point, she became pregnant and decided to give up the baby for adoption. She describes her feelings of guilt, even before she signed the final papers, and how she tried to find out about her baby a year later before moving to L.A. to star in Mrs. Columbo. Her experience was similar to that of Philomena but had a more positive outcome.

She eventually married Robert Egan, a director of an acting company in Seattle where she was working. She describes that and the birth of her sons and how she juggled their care and her career. Someone predicted that she could never be a natural mother, and she wasn’t.

The marriage ended in divorce about five years later, and she describes how she met Tim, a politician who was a friend of her mother’s, in Ireland where she and her sons were vacationing. She then details how she landed the role of Captain Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek Voyager. She describes how her seven-year stint in this role affected her relationship with her sons and their surprising reaction when she took them to the first season premiere at the Paramount Theater in L.A.

I would like to have known more. When Kate finally met her daughter, whom she gave away at birth, she promised to introduce her to her sons, but how did that pan out? Did her sons throw spit balls at her daughter like they did at the screen during the first season premiere of Star Trek Voyager? By the end of the book, it’s pretty obvious she married Tim, but he had two daughters so I’m wondering if they became a big, happy family. I’m also interested in her role on Orange Is the New Black, but I suppose a memoir must end somewhere. To learn more about Kate Mulgrew, click here.

***

Palisades Park by Alan Brennert. Copyright 2013.

 

This novel, based on the author’s experiences with this New Jersey amusement park, spans almost fifty years. In 1922, eleven-year-old Eddie enjoys visiting the park with his family, swimming in the pool, riding the rides, viewing the side shows, and eating his fill of hot dogs, French fries, and cotton candy. Eight years later, he returns to the park to work and meets Adelle. They marry on a carousel, and after having two kids, they eventually open their own French fry stand in the park.

After the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor in 1941, Eddie enlists in the Naval Reserve, much to Adelle’s annoyance, but she and the children do their best to carry on while he’s away. At the end of the war, when Eddie returns home after serving in a non-combat position on a Hawaiian island, Adelle, who has always wanted to be an actress, runs off with a magician who was one of the attractions in Palisades Park, leaving Eddie and the children to fend for themselves.

Their daughter Toni aspires to become a high diver after witnessing such acts at the park. At eighteen, she leaves home for Florida where she trains with a lady high diver and soon becomes the Amazing Antoinette, traveling all over the country to different carnivals and amusement parks, diving off a 90-foot tower into a tank filled with six feet of water, sometimes while on fire. Her brother Jack takes an interest in art at first but enlists in the Army during the Korean War, returns home traumatized by battle, and becomes a writer. Eddie, inspired by his years of service in Hawaii during World War II, opens a restaurant specializing in food and drinks from the islands. The book ends in 1971 after Palisades Park is bought by a real estate conglomerate and turned into high-rise apartments. The author leaves us with the impression that life goes on.

This book reminded me of two amusement parks I visited when I was younger: Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, and Elich Gardens in Denver. I liked faris wheels and carousels but wasn’t too fond of roller coasters or haunted houses. I didn’t get much out of side shows due to my limited vision but would probably have been able to see someone diving off a 90-foot tower into a flaming tank while on fire. To learn more about Alan Brennert’s books, click this link

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On My Own by Diane Rehm. Copyright 2016.

 

In a memoir by this National Public Radio talk show host, she discusses her husband’s death, their life together, and how she manages without him. She starts by talking about how her husband John died in an assisted living facility after years of suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. When it was clear no more could be done for him, he decided, with the support of his doctor, to starve himself. After ten agonizing days without food, water, or medication, he died peacefully in June of 2014.

Diane describes the memorial service and then shares many aspects of her life with John: how they met and married and lived together and raised two children, how her radio broadcasting career took off, and how John supported her through that and other trials and tribulations. She expresses guilt for moving John to an assisted living facility instead of giving up her career to care for him at home. After John’s death, she became involved in a movement to pass legislation to allow patients to die with the help of a physician. When NPR executives expressed ethical concerns, she was compelled to cut back on such activities. She also talks about her work to raise money for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s research. She reflects on grief and her eminent retirement from broadcasting.

I downloaded this book from Audible and enjoyed the author’s narration. I could identify with the agony Diane felt in the ten days leading up to John’s death. Fortunately, my late husband Bill only lasted three days after it was determined the end of his life was near. Even with oxygen, he struggled. Many times during those three days, I wished he would just die so we both could be at peace. It wasn’t until he heard me play my guitar and sing his favorite songs for the last time that he felt he had permission to go.

Diane Rehm plans to retire from broadcasting sometime this year. Once free of National Public Radio’s ethical constraints, she plans to become more of an advocate for a patient’s right to die with a doctor’s help. Six states have already passed such legislation, and I hope that someday, all fifty states will allow residents to die with dignity. To learn more about The Diane Rehm Show, click here.

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Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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Big House in the Little Town

As a kid, I always wanted to live in a house with a lot of stairs. The irony was that due to my visual impairment, I was more prone to falling down them. In 1973, we moved from the big city of Tucson, Arizona, to the little town of Sheridan, Wyoming. I was twelve years old, and my brother Andy was seven years younger.

Grandpa Johnson passed away two years earlier, and Grandma needed someone to run the family’s coin-operated machine business. Since Dad’s siblings weren’t interested, he felt compelled to make the move. We found my dream house a couple of years later.

It was a three-story red brick structure on a quiet street. The house faced south with a basement containing the furnace and hot water heater.

The ground floor consisted of a living and dining room, kitchen, and breakfast nook. Off the living room was a small study and a bathroom containing only a toilet and sink.

The second floor had three small bedrooms, a full bath, and a laundry room. My room was next to the laundry room.

The washing machine never worked right after Dad and my uncles dropped it down the second floor stairs while moving it. Sometimes, it agitated more slowly than usual, making an ominous buzzing noise. During the spin cycle, no matter how evenly clothes were distributed throughout the machine’s interior, it shook, as if in in an earthquake.

For a while, there was also a jukebox in the laundry room. Andy and I spent many happy hours with friends, listening to music and watching the washer dance.

My parents occupied the bedroom across from mine, and the one next to it was made into a study containing my closed-circuit television magnifier, Mother’s typewriter table and desk, a couch that folded into a bed, and for a time, Grandma’s old recliner.

The area off the living room downstairs was what we called the book room. Shelves were installed, and for a while, there was even a pinball machine, a couch, and a stereo. When nobody was playing pinball, it was a place where one could sit and read and/or listen to music.

The third floor was Andy’s domain. It contained two large rooms and a full bath which he later converted into a dark room when he took up photography. He used the front room as a work area where he built model airplanes. The middle room served as his bedroom.

The back yard, surrounded mostly by a fence, consisted of a large open area where at one time, we had a trampoline. Andy and others with better eyes played ping pong and croquet. There was also a wooded area near the back gate, just right for barbecues.

A circular driveway led from the street around back to the garage. Next to the garage was a carriage house with a loft. We moved in the spring of 1976 at the end of my eighth grade year while Andy was in elementary school.

When I was in high school, I pretended to be a singing star like Olivia Newton-John. I stood on the front porch and sang, using a wood chip as a microphone while Andy banged an old paint can to accompany me. Neighborhood kids acted as our audience.

Eventually, Mother and Dad got Andy a drum set and lessons. The drums were set up in the dining room, and our little band was formed with me on piano and vocals and Andy on drums. Dad occasionally joined us on string bass. A couple of years later, the breakfast nook was converted into a music room, and all our equipment, including the stereo, was moved in there.

Now, my parents are gone. Andy lives in Florida with a family of his own. The house was sold long ago, but I still remember.

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What do you recall about a childhood home?

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Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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