Review: Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone

Abbie-1

Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone: An Anthology of Wyoming Writers

Edited by Lori Howe

Copyright 2016

 

This is a collection of stories, poems, and essays that touch mostly on aspects of western life. Some pieces talk about nature and dealing with the elements, such as Patricia Frolander’s poem, “Wyoming 1949,” in which she describes cutting open a dead horse and crawling inside to stay warm while in the middle of nowhere during a snowstorm. Then there’s Aaron Holst’s poem, “Fire and Water,” inspired by one of the author’s firefighting experiences, that depicts an incident that can happen anywhere, not just in the west.

Other works discuss wildlife, such as Susan Marsh’s essay, “A Heart in the Shape of a Bear,” about the plight of this creature in the wild and in civilization. Still others deal with history and culture, like Cindy Jackelen’s poem, “Whose Land,” which depicts the brutality of the Indian War through several voices.

Not all pieces are set in Wyoming. There’s Patti Sherlock’s short story, “Mother George, Midwife,” a fictionalized account of a Negro midwife in Idaho during the 19th century who turned out to be a man disguised as a woman. Julianne Couch’s short story, “Reintroduction,” is set in the Nebraska wilderness. Then there’s Alyson Hagy’s short story, “The Saddlemaker,” in which a young girl from South Dakota is sent to live with her grandparents near Riverton, Wyoming, before her mother’s shady past catches up with her.

I’d love to tell you about each poem, story, and essay in this book, but there are so many of them. Like most anthologies, Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone can be read either cover to cover or in bits and pieces, depending on what strikes your fancy. Poems, essays, and short stories are bunched together, each in their own section.

That’s one thing I don’t like. In many anthologies and literary journals, stories, poems, and essays are together, not each in their own section. You might see a poem sandwiched between two short stories or two essays or one short story and an essay. For example, in Magnets and Ladders, an online journal I help edit, poems, stories, and essays are grouped into sections by topic. It creates less monotony that way.

Otherwise, I enjoyed reading many of the works in Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone. I know some of the writers whose works appear in this anthology, and it’s always fun to read what they have to say. Even if you don’t live in Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, or Idaho, this book will give you great insights on western life.

 

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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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Two Final Holiday Books

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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.

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Review: The Christmas Carriage and Other Writings of the Holiday Season

Abbie-1The Christmas Carriage and Other Writings of the Holiday Season

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

Copyright 2016.

 

This collection of short fiction, poetry, and essays spans from Thanksgiving through New Year’s and beyond. In “The Thanksgiving Phone,” a blind woman finds a cell phone belonging to another woman whose son is in the military, serving overseas. In the title piece, a widow gets her long-awaited Christmas wish and more.

In “The Puppies of New Year’s Eve,” a dog breeder and a woman who buys two of his puppies discover they have a lot in common on a stormy New Year’s Eve. The author’s essays and poetry explore her holiday experiences while growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s, adventures with her guide dog, and other topics. Instructions for playing a Thanksgiving poetry game and making Christmas cards are included.

I met Alice several years ago when she joined Behind Our Eyes, a writers’ group to which I belong. She’s a delightful lady who has inspired my own writing and helped and supported me and other writers.

Most of the material in her book has appeared on her blog over the years, but I enjoyed reading it again. For a second time, I was indignant after reading accounts of people in Catholic churches refusing to shake hands with homeless men during Mass and of one woman who told a homeless man he didn’t belong there. Again, I was moved almost to tears when a soldier serving overseas was reunited with his family at Thanksgiving. Many pieces in this book are appropriate for all ages, so I suggest families make it an annual tradition to read at least one of the stories together during this time of the 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.

 

Season’s Greetings 2016

Abbie-1

This year has been busy as usual. I took a trip to Florida in March to visit my brother Andy and his family. This trip was a lot of fun. The weather was perfect, and highlights include a food truck festival in downtown Jupiter, a canoe trip along the Loxahatchee River where we encountered an alligator, and a trip to the beach.

At the beginning of April, I planned to fly to California to attend my uncle’s wedding, but I developed a bad chest cold. Two days before I was scheduled to leave, I woke up and could barely talk and decided to cancel my trip. I didn’t want to travel when I felt so miserable and risk passing my crud on to anyone else. I was sorry to miss the wedding. Andy told me about it later, and it sounded fun.

In the middle of April, my Third Thursday Poets group gave a reading at the local senior center to commemorate National Poetry Month. We were joined by twenty-five high school students, some of whom shared their work.

At the end of April, my friend Rose Hill, who was our state poet laureate last year, and I drove to Riverton to attend the WyoPoets annual workshop at the Holiday Inn. The night before the workshop, there was a reading at the Riverton public library, during which Rose unveiled WyoPoets’ newest chapbook, Labyrinth: Poems from Wyoming and Beyond. Yours truly and others featured in the book shared work.

In June, Rose and I returned to Riverton for the Wyoming Writers conference, held at the Wind River Hotel & Casino. This was more of an adventure than most conferences we attended. In order to get from our hotel room to most of the meeting rooms, we had to cross the casino, full of noise and cigarette smoke. Needless to say, “Luck be a Lady tonight,” was going through my head all weekend.

A couple of months earlier, I finished my new memoir and contacted Leonore Dvorkin, of Denver, Colorado, who, along with her husband, David, helps authors publish their work online through Amazon, Createspace, Smashwords, and other sources. She encouraged me to send her my manuscript but said she wasn’t sure they could get to it until possibly after the first of the year.

At the end of June, though, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from Leonore, saying that she’d read through my manuscript, and because it was so well written, she thought it could be published this summer. To make a long story short, Leonore and David were true to their word, and in August, My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds, was published.

Also during the summer months, I started taking a poetry class from the Hadley Institute, a school that offers free correspondence courses to those who are blind and visually impaired. You may wonder why I’m taking a poetry class when I already have two poetry collections under my belt. Well, there’s always room for improvement. Because of my new book’s publication and other activities, I haven’t been able to devote as much time to it as I would have liked, but I hope to finish it next year. I’ve already written several poems as a result, so maybe I’ll have enough for another book. Who knows?

In July, Andy and his wife Christina spent a weekend with me. They also visited friends and relatives in Colorado and hiked in Yellowstone Park. While they were here, we attended the rodeo parade, explored our old neighborhood, got ice cream in the park, and ate dinner with friends and relatives. I had such a great time while they were here, and I hope they’ll come again next year. I’m planning to spend a week with them in January.

On July 20th, fellow poet Christine Valentine and I were featured as part of the weekly Vaudeville program at the Wyo Theater. We performed a poem Christine wrote, “Driven Insane by Mitzi Gaynor,” which talks about songs that get stuck in your head. The songs mentioned here were “101 Pounds of Fun” from South Pacific and “Go Home with Bonnie Jean” from Brigadoon. Christine read the poem, and we sang the songs together when she got to them. It was a lot of fun, and the audience loved it.

In August, my brother’s in-laws from Florida came to town one day. They’d been traveling across the country for several weeks, and they took me out to dinner at Frackleton’s. The food was delicious, and I had a great time visiting with them.

On October 8th, I participated in a national event for independent authors at the Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library. Many libraries across the country hosted this program which was open to the public.

We watched a digital presentation featuring leaders in the publishing industry giving advice to authors wanting to self-publish. After that, several authors, myself included, participated in a panel discussion where we shared our experiences. We then sat at a table and tried to sell books for about half an hour. Although I didn’t make any sales that day, I enjoyed networking with other writers.

On October 20th, my Third Thursday Poets gave another reading at the Sheridan Senior Center to commemorate National Poetry Day. Several poets, myself included, shared work. Some read poems by other authors. I performed a poem I wrote about my memories of listening to music with Dad when I was little.

My Thanksgiving this year was pretty quiet. I had the traditional turkey dinner at the senior center, came home, took a nap, and did some reading and a little writing. It would have been wonderful to gather with family for this occasion, but it was nice spending the holiday alone. As far as I know, my Christmas will also be a quiet one.

Of course I did my share of singing. My group, Just Harmony, performed at various functions in the past year, and we’ve got several Christmas performances lined up. I’ve also been singing at nursing homes, an assisted living facility, and an adult day care center on a regular basis. I enjoy doing this and will continue to do it as often as I can.

Well, I believe I’ve gone on long enough. Speaking of singing, I leave you now with my Christmas wish for all of you. Click on the Dropbox link below to hear it. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a terrific new year to come.

 

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/15213189/merry%20little%20christmas.mp3

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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.

 

Christmas Tree

Abbie-1

Some people get their trees the weekend after Thanksgiving, but I don’t remember our family being quite that eager. Usually sometime during the first week of December, we piled into the car and drove to a Christmas tree lot, no trudging through the woods with a chain saw for us. Despite my limited vision, I loved seeing beautiful Christmas trees lined up in neat rows. While my younger brother Andy ran around and got into mischief, I wandered among pines, touching branches and inhaling the sweet aroma.

After Mother and Dad found the perfect tree, we somehow managed to get it home, despite the fact we didn’t have a pick-up truck most of the time. Once home, I watched and Andy played while Dad got out the tree stand, and he and Mother erected the tree. Then, they attached the lights, first testing them on the floor to be sure they worked before stringing them on the tree. Dad sometimes had to run to the store to buy bulbs to replace ones that were burned out.

Once the lights were on the tree, the fun began, at least for me. I loved touching and looking at our wide selection of ornaments from balls to snowmen to the baby Jesus, some handed down from my mother’s mother’s mother. Mother showed me how to attach the hook on each ornament to a particular branch. She didn’t care where ornaments were placed as long as two of them weren’t on one branch and fragile ones were on more secure branches. Andy sometimes helped, but most of the time, he did his own thing while Dad sat nearby with his nose in a book or newspaper.

When all the ornaments were in place, Mother flipped the switch, and I watched in awe, as the tree lit up. I gazed at our wonderful tree and wondered what gifts would be underneath it Christmas morning.

On New Year’s Day like clockwork, Mother was ready to take the tree down. Since Dad and Andy always had better things to do, I helped her disassemble everything. I loved our ornaments and didn’t mind taking them off the tree, putting them in their respective boxes, and helping Mother put the boxes away until the following year. Then she managed to haul the tree out to the alley to be picked up with the next trash collection.

When I grew up and moved into my own apartment, I didn’t bother with a tree or other decorations since I could still enjoy these in my family home. After my parents separated, and Mother moved to Story, about twenty miles north of my home town of Sheridan, Wyoming, I didn’t do much with decorating, but Dad and I spent Christmas Eve and Day with her. By this time, Andy was living in Colorado, and he and his family often spent the holiday with us.

After Bill and I were married, we didn’t bother with decorating. I’m not sure why. When I first met Bill, he was living in Fowler, Colorado, and when Dad and I visited him at Christmas time before he proposed to me, his house was decorated, and he said, “Let’s kiss under the mistletoe.” I thought he was joking. You can read more about this in my new memoir.

Now that Bill and my parents are gone, I don’t bother decorating the house. Besides, I don’t have room for a tree. I have a few ornaments I’ve collected over the years that I put out if I think of it and can find them, but that doesn’t happen often.

What do you remember about tree trimming in your house during the holiday season when you were growing up? Have your decorating habits changed now that you’re an adult?

I leave you now with a song to get you thinking about that Christmas tree. Happy decorating.

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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.

 

Review: The 10 Cent Chocolate Tub

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The 10-Cent Chocolate Tub

by Mike Mcgann

Copyright 2006.

 

In this collection of essays, the author talks about his life growing up in Pitsburgh, Pennsylvania, and in the suburbs as well as his experiences in the military and in musical theater and his broadcasting career. He explores such topics as parenting, radio, bullies, and disco. In one piece, he explains how he met Gene Kelly while collecting money on his paper route. A 10-cent chocolate tub is a huge ice cream cone made by Bard’s Dairy in Pittsburgh during the 1950’s when children were given only a nickel for vanilla ice cream.

Although Mike Mcgann grew up a little before my time, I enjoyed reading his stories. I almost wish I’d been alive back then. I laughed at some of his anecdotes of life in the city and in the suburbs. Having perfect pitch, I can appreciate one thing he says when talking about his musical theater experiences. “There should be a rule that if you can’t sing in tune and on key (or close to it), you can’t sing in public.” I love the title. I wouldn’t mind having one of those 10-cent chocolate tubs right now, but I guess I’ll settle for chocolate frozen yogurt from Schwann. It’s more healthful.

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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.

 

How I Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Abbie-1

As Han Solo in Star Wars once said, “Sometimes I even amaze myself.” This is true of me as well, although I’m not a spaceship pilot who rescued a princess from an ominous Death Star.

For six years, I cared for my late husband Bill, who was totally blind and partially paralyzed. He was nineteen years older than me. When we met, I was in my forties, and he was in his sixties. When we married in September of 2005, he was walking, albeit with a cane. Three months later, he suffered the first of two strokes that confined him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. I’m visually impaired, so how did I bathe, dress, and feed him and transfer him from bed, to wheelchair, to recliner, to commode?

I doubt it would have been possible without the help and support of Laura Andrews, the occupational therapist at Sheridan Manor, where Bill spent nine months after his first stroke and another couple of months after his second. She didn’t say, “I don’t know how you can do this if you can’t see.” Instead, her mantra was “Let’s see if we can figure it out.”

For two months before Bill came home in September of 2006, she worked with us every day on dressing and transferring him from the bed to the wheelchair. Because of my limited vision, figuring out how to do these things was a challenge, but she was patient. We tried one technique after another until we finally found ways that worked.

She suggested to a local carpenter ways he could modify our house for wheelchair accessibility. When that was done, she came home with us to work on transferring Bill from the wheelchair to the recliner and commode and vise versa as well as between the bed and wheelchair. She also gave advice on toileting and other personal care issues. When Bill suffered his second stroke in 2007, we did it all again, but this time, Bill was only in the nursing home for a couple of months. I must admit there were times when Bill landed on the floor, but fortunately, he was never seriously hurt, and no one questioned my ability.

My caregiving feat would also not have been possible without the services provided by the Sheridan Senior Center’s Help at Home program. An aide came to the house three days a week to give Bill showers because this would have been too difficult for me. Not only was I grateful for the extra hands, I also appreciated having another set of good eyes around to notice lesions, bruises, or other medical issues with Bill about which I might not have known due to my lack of vision.

Day Break, the senior center’s adult day care facility, was also helpful. While I attended water exercise classes and a weekly poetry class, I didn’t have to worry about him being home alone. However, two weeks after Bill started attending the program, he said to me one morning, “I don’t want to go there anymore. It’s a baby-sitting service.”

I was flabbergasted. Yes, Day Break is a place where caregivers can leave their loved ones in a safe, friendly environment. They can watch television, play cards, and do just about anything else they can do at home, or they can participate in group activities. Having been a social butterfly, at least before the strokes, Bill enjoyed visiting with others and playing cards, so I thought he would have a great time there.

However, he assured me he could manage at home alone for at least a couple of hours, although he couldn’t get to the bathroom by himself, not to mention get out of the house in case of fire. He wore a LifeLink necklace which allowed him to call for help in an emergency. Although I was nervous about leaving him home alone, he turned out to be right. When I came home, I often found him with wet pants, but that was the only casualty. I eventually got a cell phone so he could call me when I was away from home. This gave me even more peace of mind.

Big Goose Transit was also a big help. Their friendly drivers came to our house and drove Bill and me to Day Break, physical therapy, doctor’s appointments, and anywhere else we needed to go. Because of my limited vision, I had difficulty attaching pedals to Bill’s wheelchair so he, in it, could be loaded into their vehicles more easily. Drivers were only too happy to accomplish this task, since it only took someone with good eyes about a minute. We eventually bought a wheelchair accessible van so my father and others could drive us on weekends, evenings, and holidays when Big Goose Transit wasn’t operating. You can read more about how I amazed myself in my new memoir.

Being a caregiver can be a challenge, even with good eyes. If not for the support of others, Bill would probably have spent the last years of his life at Sheridan Manor. He might not have lived as long. Despite his paralysis and the difficulty I had caring for him, we spent six happy years together. That’s amazing.

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Note: a portion of the above article appears in the November 5th issue of The Sheridan Press, my hometown newspaper.

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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.