Thursday Book feature: A Low Country Christmas

Image contains: Abbie, smiling.A Lowcountry Christmas

by Mary Alice Monroe

Copyright 2016

 

Christmas 2018 is looking bleak for ten-year-old Miller and his family in rural South Carolina. Miller’s father, a shrimp boat captain, has been forced to dock his boat by rising fuel prices and limited income while his mother works two jobs in an attempt to make ends meet. As a result, his parents have no choice but to tell him they can’t afford to buy him the dog he wants for Christmas. To make matters worse, Miller’s brother Taylor, a veteran suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, receives a service dog, but a miraculous surprise is in store. Each chapter alternates the storytelling from the first person point of view of Miller, Taylor, and their mother Jenny and is preceded by a quotation from Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol. Recipes are found at the end of the book.

I would like to have known more about what happened to these characters after that miraculous Christmas in 2010. The prologue and epilogue take place in 2015, and we learn that Taylor still has the service dog and is married with a baby, but how did he get to that point? We also realize that Taylor did not reconcile with his high school sweetheart, with whom he broke up after returning from Afghanistan, but how and where did he meet his current wife, and what sort of work did he find once he’d overcome, to a certain extent, his post traumatic stress disorder?

What about Miller’s family’s financial situation? In 2010, after docking the shrimp boat, his father was working whatever construction jobs he could find, but did he end up with more stable work after that? Did his mother continue to substitute teach and clean houses? The prologue would have worked better as part of the epilogue.

I liked the many references to A Christmas Carol. I was moved to tears when Taylor was first presented with his service dog and fascinated by the training process, not unlike that of preparing a guide dog for someone with blindness or low vision. This is a great holiday read. I know it’s a little late now, but maybe you can put it on your reading list for next year.

 

My Books

 

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

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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

We Shall Overcome

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Thursday Book Feature: Campbell’s Rambles

Campbell’s Rambles: How a Seeing Eye Dog Retrieved My Life

By Patty L. Fletcher

Copyright 2014.

 

In 2011, Patty Fletcher, a totally blind single mother, acquired Campbell, a black Labrador seeing eye dog, from the facility in Morristown, New Jersey, and brought him home to Kingsport, Tennessee. She first explains how a friend with a guide dog and an incident in a shopping mall inspired her to apply for a dog of her own. She then talks about her boyfriend’s initial reaction, a good foreshadowing of what’s to come. She goes on to describe, in great detail, the trip to New Jersey and the rigorous training process, made more difficult by her fibromyalgia and side effects from her medications. She discusses how one particular trainer influenced her during her training and afterward.

After describing the arduous trip home, she gives the reader a sense of what it’s like to acclimate a new guide dog to new surroundings. She details her disintegrating relationship with her boyfriend, including some instances of abuse, and touches on how that and her bipolar disorder affected her relationships with family and friends. The book has a positive ending.

Once I got into Campbell’s Rambles, I couldn’t put it down. Many anecdotes about her training experiences made me laugh, and I felt her frustration and depression when she messed up. Close to the end of the book, I was virtually on the edge of my seat.

Patty is a remarkable woman. I’ve known her for years, after first meeting her through Behind Our Eyes, an organization of writers with disabilities to which I belong. After acquiring Campbell and her experiences with domestic violence and bipolar disorder and other medical issues, she now runs Tell It to the World Marketing, promoting writers and other entrepreneurs. She has a blog, Campbell’s World, and other social media pages where her clients’ writing can be found. She’s written a second book, Bubba Tails from the Puppy Nursery at The Seeing Eye, and is working on a third.

She’s a survivor. If you take anything at all away from Campbell’s Rambles, it’s this piece of advice her dog trainer at The Seeing Eye repeatedly gave her. “Take a chance. There’s a fifty percent chance you’ll be right.” This applies to all aspects of life, not just the use of a guide dog.

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My Books

 

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

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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

We Shall Overcome

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My Other Links

Visit my website.

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Re-Blog: Forward

On this anniversary of the horrific terrorist attacks against New York City and Washington D.C., I’m pasting below a post I wrote several years ago about Michael Hingson and his book, Thunder Dog, The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero. Since this will be the topic of discussion by my regional talking book library’s group this afternoon, I thought it would be a great time to share this remarkable story once more.

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Forward

We’ve all heard accounts of people killed or seriously injured during the events of 9/11. Here’s a remarkable story about a man and his dog who survived at Ground Zero. Michael Hingson, blind since birth, was working in his office on the seventy-eighth floor of Tower One of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 when the first plane hit. The plane crashed into the opposite end from where he was, and as a result, the tower tipped, then righted itself. If I were in that situation, the first thing I would have done was panic, but not Michael. After shutting down his computer, he took up his guide dog Roselle’s harness and said, “Forward.” This is the universal command guide dog owners issue to order their dogs to move in that direction. Along with co-workers and others, he proceeded down seventy-eight flights of stairs amid the stench of smoke and jet fuel and exited the building. As the towers crumbled and fell, he fled in the wake of dust and debris.

In his book, Thunder Dog, The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero, Michael Hingson talks about his 9/11 experience and his life growing up in a society with low expectations of the blind. When he was born in Chicago in the 1950’s, a doctor suggested his parents send him to a home for the blind, but they refused, determining that Michael would be raised like any other child. As a kid, he rode his bike in the streets. He taught himself to detect obstacles by listening to his environment. When he was in elementary school, his family moved to a community in California where the school district suggested he be sent to a school for the blind. Again, his parents refused to have him segregated just because he couldn’t see, and eventually, the school district hired a resource teacher to help him learn braille and other skills. In high school, he acquired the first of many guide dogs and was banned from riding the school bus with his dog. His father argued his case before the school board, and when he lost, he appealed to California’s governor who intervened on Michael’s behalf. As an adult, despite many obstacles he faced in a society not set up for the blind, he managed to eventually acquire a sales job with a six-figure salary for a prestigious firm, the offices of which were located on the seventy-eighth floor of Tower One of the World Trade Center.

A year after the events of 9/11, he became a public affairs director for Guide Dogs for the Blind in California where he’d acquired his own dogs. In 2008, he formed the MichaelHingson Group to continue his career as a public speaker and consultant for organizations needing help with diversity and adaptive technology training. He still travels today, giving speeches in which he shares his own experiences and talks about blindness in general.

The book’s introduction was written by Larry King, a CNN talk show host and one of many journalists who interviewed Michael about his experience. Not only does he talk about his life in Thunder Dog, Michael also provides a wealth of information and resources about blindness. The book is available through Amazon and other online retailers. For those needing it in a more accessible format, it can be downloaded from the National Library Service’s braille and audio download site as well as from Bookshare.

After reading the book, I had an opportunity to talk to Michael Hingson when I attended a conference call meeting of a writers’ group to which I belong called Behind Our Eyes. He said that he originally wanted to call this book Forward. Instead, the publisher suggested the title Thunder Dog because of a thunderstorm that woke and frightened Michael’s dog Roselle the night before September 11th. There’s irony in the fact that a dog terrified of thunderstorms calmly guided her owner out of a burning building.

Thunder Dog isn’t just a 9/11 story. Although Michael’s experience during that time is a big part of the book, his story is about someone with a disability who faces curve balls society throws at him head on and says, “Forward.”

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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
Like Me on Facebook.

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Thursday Book Feature: Poetry of Mary Oliver and Ted Kooser


Dog Songs
Oliver, Mary
Copyright 2013.

It’s pretty obvious from the title that this collection of poetry and prose is about dogs. Some poems are from the point of view of a dog while others are from the point of view of a dog owner. There are blocks of poems about a specific dog. Amid the poetry is an essay entitled “Ropes.” Here, the author shares her experiences with a dog who could chew through any rope and climb any fence and loved to roam free.

I didn’t particularly care for Mary Oliver’s work until I found this book. The material here is straightforward, funny, and touching. I especially liked “If You’re Holding the Book,” in which Oliver explains that one of the things she enjoys seeing the most is dogs without leashes. It reminded me of the good old days growing up when there were few leash laws, and people didn’t have to worry about picking up after their dogs. If you love dogs, and even if you don’t love poetry, I highly recommend this book.

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Delights and Shadows
Kooser, TedCopyright 2004

The poems in this collection reflect on various aspects of life. The book is divided into numbered sections with the title of the first poem in each section being that section’s title. Some poems are inspired by paintings.

Years ago, I attended a writers’ conference at which Ted Kooser was the keynote speaker. One thing he said stuck with me. The title of a poem should set the scene.

Titles of poems in this collection, like “Walking on Tiptoe,” “Tattoo,” and “At the Cancer Clinic,” give the reader a general idea of what the poem is about. I especially liked “A Rainy Morning,” in which he describes a woman in a wheelchair pushing herself in the rain. I highly recommend this book.

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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
Like Me on Facebook.

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Thursday Book Feature: The Poetry of Billy Collins

In celebration of National Poetry Month, I’m reviewing two collections by one of my favorite poets, Billy Collins. . Some of you may remember that I reviewed The Rain in Portugal last year, but I’ve since read it again, and it’s worth a second look.

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Aimless Love: A Selection of Poems
Copyright 2012.

The poems in this collection provide slice-of-life and often humorous reflections on such topics as nature, religion, and other poets. In “The Revenant,” a deceased dog talks to his owner from the grave. In “The Lanyard,” the author describes how he made a lanyard for his mother, who did a lot more for him. In “Suggestion Box,” he considers writing a poem about all the people who give him poem ideas. The title poem is about unconditional love. Some poems here are previously published while others are new.

If you’re a poet, Billy Collins might inspire you. After reading “The Revenant,” I wrote a poem in which one of our cats speaks to my father from her grave. “Istanbul,” in which the poet shares his experience with a Turkish bath, inspired me to write about a similar experience I had in a California spa run by Koreans. Even if you’re not a fan of poetry, you might enjoy Billy Collins’ work, since most of it reads more like prose, although it looks like poetry on the page.

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The Rain in Portugal: Poems
Copyright 2016.

In the author’s usual humorous style, poems in this collection reflect on jazz, writing poetry, and other subjects. In “Lucky Cat,” Collins suggests betting with other humans on the actions of felines. In “Only Child,” he longs for a sister to help care for his aging parents. In “The Bard in Flight,” he imagines what Shakespeare would do on an airplane. The collection’s title comes from the poem “On Rhyme,” in which he reflects on such common sayings as “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.”

I heard about this latest collection when he appeared on A Prairie Home Companion. . Of course he read a few of his poems, and I was hooked. Needless to say, I downloaded the book and spent a delightful evening reading the poems aloud to myself.

According to an author’s note at the beginning, the electronic version of this book is designed so that formatting isn’t affected when the font size of the type is changed. Words at the ends of lines that are moved down when text is enlarged are indented to indicate they’re part of the same line. This didn’t make any difference to me, since I read the book in Braille, but I’m glad those with low vision can enjoy the poems the way they were written. These poems are meant to be recited, preferably by
Billy Collins, but I enjoyed reading them aloud.

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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
Like Me on Facebook.

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Soggy Morning Contentment

Note: The following comes from fellow blogger Patty Fletcher, who is the author of two books and does marketing for other writers and businesses. Enjoy, and have a great day.

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Good Moonday)Monday morning campbellsworld visitors.
I hope this message finds you well, warm and dry.
Here, Campbell and I woke to another rainy chilly morning, and to be quite blunt, we are sick to death of mornings such as these.
Even Campbell who for those who do not know, is a big black Labrador, that should love water, grumbled as we went out for his first morning park time.
He took care of his necessary rather quickly and shook vigorously as we came back through the door with a mighty wiggly waggly jingly jangly shake, and humph of disgust as I stepped in behind him grabbing a doggy towel and firmly shutting the door against the nasty weather.
Once we were dried off, and he was fed, I went for my usual morning’s cup of coffee.
He came wagging happily along with his nails, clickety clickety clicketing, adding rhythm to the song of the morning rain waiting for his morning meds.
As I gave him his arthritis chews I thought, “Gods, I hope these are truly helping him. I never want him to feel the kind of pain I feel this day.”
Thanks to yet another soggy start to the morning, my wish to keep the light-bill down and not running any heat during the night, I am feeling the damp deep within my joints, and muscles this early morn.
Between the arthritis and fibro, some mornings are a real battle.
As I poured my coffee, and put it into the microwave to heat, I sang in a made-up tune,
“Reach out for the good.
Chase away the bad.
Think of all the blessings you have.
Try, try, and try.
Keep doing it till you smile.
Cause the alternative is, to cry, cry, and cry.”
The microwave beeped, my left-over coffee from yesterday was done, and as I spooned in sugar and began to stir, I chanted softly.
“Happy Moonday, it’s a great day to be sure.
The sun will come up behind the clouds and listen to those birds.
Thank you for the sun.
Thank you, when day is done,
All my needs, they will be met.
Thank you for what I have, and for what I have not yet.
Thank you for being you, and for showing me what to say and do.
Light my path, and guide my way, and help me get through another day.”
As I finished readying my coffee to drink, I realized I’d forgotten how badly I felt, and that I could certainly get through another day.
I went to sit with my Bubba to have my first cup of strength.
As I was kneeling to sit beside him, he began to thump his tale cheerfully on the loveseat where he lay,
When I’d settled myself onto the floor where I normally sit so I can reach to stroke his fur, and snuggle him into my arms, connecting with Mother Earth for my morning love-fest and meditation time, I said to him,
“You really do love your momma, don’t you?”
His answer? a swipe of his enormous tongue, and a generous helping of his loving nuzzles.
Tucking his head gently under my chin, and leaning into his loving warmth, I knew that I was safe, loved, and accepted.
So, I added to my morning prayers,
“Thank you especially for my Bubba. May he be blessed with long-life, and good health, for many years to come.”

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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
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.

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