Magnets and Ladders

I’m currently working with a group of other disabled writers on our very own Web magazine which is now up and running. Magnets and Ladders contains prose and poetry by disabled authors such as myself. One of my stories appears in the first issue which contains pieces that were published in 2007 in our anthology entitled Behind Our Eyes.  I’ve already posted “The Flower Boy” here so I’ll just leave a link to where you can read the magazine. You’ll find more information about our anthology here. http://www.magnetsandladders.org/files/spring11.html Enjoy!
Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome

Julie and Julia, the Book

This is the true story of Julie Powell’s adventures in what she calls cooking dangerously. In the movie, she was portrayed as an insurance agent, but actually, in 2002 when she cooked her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days and blogged about it, she was working for Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. Her project earned her a lot of attention, not just from those reading her blog. She was repeatedly admonished by her boss not to give the name of the agency either in her blog or in interviews with the media. Either the agency thought her project a source of embarrassment or they just didn’t want to be mentioned. However, they were noted in the Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julie_Powell
The book also covers other aspects of Julie’s life: her and her husband Eric’s  move to a decrepit loft in Long Island City, two friends’ relationships, and another friend leaving her husband for another man. Julie’s cooking is thwarted by pipes that leak and then freeze, drains that don’t work properly, and maggots in the sink of her tiny apartment kitchen. Her story is interspersed with scenes between Julia Child and her husband Paul from the 1940’s which she bases on Paul’s letters. After completing the project, Julie and Eric visit the Julia Child exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. and leave a stick of butter as a token of their thanks. Then comes the book deal with Little, Brown, and Company, and in the end, as Julie is writing the book in August of 2004, she receives a phone call from her mother saying that Julia Child has passed away.
Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously was published in 2005. A second book entitled Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession was released in 2009. According to a review in The Sunday Times, this is about her experiences training as a butcher. It’s also about how she cheated on Eric and how he cheated on her which resulted in their separation. I’m not sure I want to read it. Julie still has a blog at http://juliepowell.blogspot.com/ but the last post was in April of 2010.
I doubt I’ll undertake any dangerous cooking projects. This has nothing to do with my visual impairment. I’ve known people with no vision at all who have barbecued meat over an open flame. My husband Bill is totally blind, and before he suffered a stroke that partially paralyzed him, he made mashed potatoes that were simply to die for. If I wanted, I could learn to prepare the feet of cows and other animals with poached eggs and other ingredients, dissect lobsters even when they’re still alive, and bone a whole duck. If I discovered maggots in my kitchen, I could do what they did on the Battleship Potemkin in 1914 and make a maggot  soup. I’m surprised Julie didn’t think of that, but maybe she didn‘t see the movie. Besides, Julia Child would probably have turned up her nose at such a creation just as the sailors did on the Battleship Potemkin.
Anyway, when Julie undertook this project, she was turning thirty and felt her life was slipping away and needed to do something that would give her a sense of accomplishment. I’m nearly fifty, and although my life might be slipping away, I have plenty to be proud of and keep me occupied. I’ve published my first novel in July of 2007. I’ve put together a collection of poems entitled How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver which I’ve been sending to various publishers. My singing and writing group obligations keep me hopping. Caring for Bill is a project in itself. I considered blogging about that, but Bill would have been mortified if millions of readers all over the world read about how I cleaned him up after his bowel movements. I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing, and as far as cooking is concerned, I’ll stick to macaroni and cheese and tuna casserole.
Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome
abbie@samobile.net

My Life in France

Okay, I’m back in France, this time with Julia Child. Since I recently saw the movie “Julie and Julia” about a New York insurance agent who cooks 524 of Julia Child’s recipes in 365 days and  blogs about it, I thought it would be fun to read the books on which the movie was based. My Life in France isn’t just about Julia’s life in Paris where she earned a diploma from Le Cordon Bleu, the world famous cooking school. After World War II, Julia and her husband Paul lived in various locations in France, Norway, and the U.S. because of Paul’s government job. When Paul retired in the 1960’s, they settled in the U.S. and France. The book also covers the agonizing process of publishing Julia’s first book, Mastering The Art of French Cooking, and the myriad of others to follow plus her television career.
I’m not much of a cook and don’t plan to be so why would I want to read about a chef? I love to eat, and I’m fascinated by French food, except for the snails of course. As a writer, I’m also interested in other authors’ publishing success stories. Mastering the Art of French Cooking was a collaboration between Julia and two others, and it took years to publish. I think this is mainly because Julia and her collaborators didn’t live in the same city, and this was in the good old days before e-mail and file sharing. Once it was published, the others didn’t seem to take as long, but they were still a lot of work because each recipe they used was researched and tested numerous times.
One difference between writing and cooking is that when you make a mistake in your writing, it’s easy to go back and fix it, especially with computers nowadays. But once a meal is on the table, that’s it. If Bill doesn’t like the onions in the macaroni and cheese, I can’t open it on my computer and delete the onions. For this reason, I’ll stick to writing stories and poems and cook only when necessary. For more information about Julia Child, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julia_Child As Julia would have said, “Bon appetit!”
Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

In this book, Amy Chua details how she raised her two daughters Sophia and Louisa, using methods that might be considered unconventional by today’s standards. When I read about it in The New Yorker in January, a lot of people were blogging about it, and there were quite a few harsh comments on her methods. Someone even suggested she be arrested for child abuse. Now that I’ve finally gotten around to reading the book, it’s my turn. I’m not a parent so far be it for me to tell her how she should have raised her children, but I will say this. Looking back on how my younger brother Andy and I were raised compared to the upbringing of Sophia and Louisa, Amy Chua didn’t hold a candle to our mother.
After reading the book, I can understand why Amy raised her children the way she did. It’s no different from the pattern of the abused child who grows up to abuse her own children. Amy was the daughter of Chinese immigrants, and she and her siblings were raised in a strict environment. They were required to speak only Chinese at home and whacked with chopsticks for every English word accidentally uttered. They were expected to get straight A’s in school, and heaven help them if they came home with a B on a report card. When Amy won only second place in a school contest, her father said she had disgraced him. Amy’s husband isn’t Chinese, but Amy decided to raise their children in what she calls the Chinese way as opposed to the Western way which I’m assuming means the American way. Her husband went along with it, although he tried unsuccessfully to intervene when she was especially harsh with the girls. Sophia and Louisa were forbidden to participate in sleepovers, play dates, and school plays. They also were not allowed to watch TV or play computer games. All their free time was taken up with practicing the piano and violin. They were expected to receive no less than an A in most school subjects.
On the other hand, Andy and I were raised in a less restrictive environment. We could have sleepovers and play dates and do a lot of other things that kids did. I took piano lessons and  tried the violin. Andy learned to play the drums. We were never forced to play any musical instruments like Sophia or Louisa. Our parents were proud of us even when we got B’s.
Sophia and Louisa were born three years apart with Sophia being the older. When both girls were five, they started formal musical training. Amy was present during all their lessons which was actually required by the Suzuki teachers. At home, she sat next to them when they practiced and gave pointers. At times, she told them they were getting worse and threatened to burn or give away their toys and deprive them of food if they didn’t play a piece correctly. The girls were forced to practice five or six hours a day and sometimes not allowed to leave the piano to get a drink of water or go to the bathroom. When they were teen-agers, Amy left strict instructions on how to practice certain pieces in the event she couldn’t be home to supervise them.
Andy and I are seven years apart. I started lessons when I was five. Andy started taking drum lessons when he was about eight. Mother rarely stayed with us during our lessons. At home, she showed me how to play the pieces because I couldn’t see well enough to read the music, and I never learned Braille music. Andy could figure out drumming on  his own without help from Mother. We were never threatened with serious consequences if we didn’t play correctly, but  Mother lost patience with me from time to time when I didn’t get the pieces right the first or second time. Once I got the hang of the pieces, I was left to  my own devices, but Mother was always nearby since the piano was in a central location. There was no set amount of time for us to practice. Once we had gone through our assigned practicing, we could do what we  wanted.
Sometimes, I stayed at the piano and made up songs. When I was older, I sang popular songs I heard on the radio or records and accompanied myself on the piano. Andy often played the drums with me. I’m glad Amy wasn’t our mother because she would have frowned on this. Although she encouraged her daughters to play together, she insisted they play strictly classical music.
When Sophia and Louisa were seven and four, they gave her birthday cards they’d drawn on construction paper with crayons. She rejected them, telling her daughters she wanted something better. She claimed that since she went all out for their birthdays, buying fancy cakes and party favors, she expected the same in return.
My mother never reacted in such a way to any gifts we gave her. Dad often took Andy and me shopping for Mother’s birthday and helped us pick out stuff he thought she would like: shampoo, lotion, and other cosmetics. Mother always expressed appreciation for the things we gave her, and I think she tried to instill in us the idea that it’s the thought that counts.
As a result of Amy’s rigorous schedule of practice and lessons, Sophia played at Carnegie Hall when she was thirteen, and Louisa became concert master for a youth orchestra and recorded a CD when she was the same age. I never made it to Carnegie Hall, and Andy never recorded a CD, but I won second place in a talent contest when I was in high school with my piano and vocal rendition of “You Light Up My Life,” and of course, my parents were proud. I had hoped to be the next Debbie Boon or Olivia-Newton-John, but that didn’t happen, either. It doesn’t matter. I’m happy with my life, and I’m glad that when I was growing up, my mother taught me to enjoy it. I hope that when Sophia and Louisa grow up, they will learn to enjoy life as well, and when they have children, perhaps they will break the vicious mother daughter cycle and raise them in the Western way.
Amy Chua tells a compelling story, weaving incidents of the girls’ musical exploits with other family events: the acquisition of two dogs, the loss of Amy’s mother-in-law, and her sister’s bout with leukemia. In the end, she describes how Louisa rebeled against the strict regimen and her decision to retreat from Chinese parenting tactics. I purchased the book in recorded format from audible.com and was lucky to hear the author read it. She did a terrific job. This book is available in print anywhere Penguin books are sold. I recommend it to anyone who likes  a heartwarming family story. For more information, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_Hymn_of_the_Tiger_Mother#Summary
Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome

Three Weeks in Paris

No, I’m not planning to take a vacation in France. That’s too expensive. It would be nice to go there. A few years ago, I read an article about a restaurant in Paris where patrons dine in the dark to get a feel for what it’s like to eat when you’re blind. Although I have some vision, I would fit right in. I wouldn’t have to worry if I dropped food in my lap while cutting it or knocked over my water glass because everyone else would be doing the same thing.
Anyway, I just finished reading Three Weeks in Paris by Barbara Taylor Bradford. This has nothing to do with dining in the dark, although a few of the characters have romantic candlelit dinners in Paris restaurants. Alex, Kay, Jessica, and Maria are four friends who attend a design school in Paris. Right before their graduation, they have a falling out, and after they graduate, they go their separate ways. Seven years later, they are reunited and  make up when they return to Paris to attend their teacher’s eighty-fifth birthday party and deal with other unfinished business. I like the way the author leaves the question of why the friends quarreled until close to the end of the book.
Barbara  Taylor Bradford grew up in Yorkshire, England. Her mother, a children’s nurse and nanny, introduced her to books when she was four, and by the time she was twelve, she had read all the books by Charles Dickens and the Brontes. When she was fifteen and a half, she started working as a typist for The Yorkshire Evening Post. Within six months, she was promoted to cub reporter. According to her official Web site, she joked that this was because she was such a lousy typist. At the age of eighteen, she became the newspaper’s women’s page editor. When she was twenty, she moved to London where she worked as fashion editor for Woman’s Own. She wrote for other magazines and newspapers on a variety of topics from crime to show business. In 1961, she met film producer Robert Bradford on a blind date, and in 1963, they were married and moved to the U.S. After years of writing children’s books and a  column on fashion and interior design that was published in newspapers across America, she realized her dream of publishing adult fiction when in 1976, she sold her first novel, A Woman of Substance, to a publisher on the strength of a ten-page outline and a hundred and ninety-two pages. Today, she is published in over ninety countries and forty languages with a sales figure in excess of eighty-two million dollars. To learn more, go to http://www.barbarataylorbradford.com/
Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome

Three Weeks in Paris

No, I’m not planning to take a vacation in France. That’s too expensive. It would be nice to go there. A few years ago, I read an article about a restaurant in Paris where patrons dine in the dark to get a feel for what it’s like to eat when you’re blind. Although I have some vision, I would fit right in. I wouldn’t have to worry if I dropped food in my lap while cutting it or knocked over my water glass because everyone else would be doing the same thing.
Anyway, I just finished reading Three Weeks in Paris by Barbara Taylor Bradford. This has nothing to do with dining in the dark, although a few of the characters have romantic candlelit dinners in Paris restaurants. Alex, Kay, Jessica, and Maria are four friends who attend a design school in Paris. Right before their graduation, they have a falling out, and after they graduate, they go their separate ways. Seven years later, they are reunited and  make up when they return to Paris to attend their teacher’s eighty-fifth birthday party and deal with other unfinished business. I like the way the author leaves the question of why the friends quarreled until close to the end of the book.
Barbara  Taylor Bradford grew up in Yorkshire, England. Her mother, a children’s nurse and nanny, introduced her to books when she was four, and by the time she was twelve, she had read all the books by Charles Dickens and the Brontes. When she was fifteen and a half, she started working as a typist for The Yorkshire Evening Post. Within six months, she was promoted to cub reporter. According to her official Web site, she joked that this was because she was such a lousy typist. At the age of eighteen, she became the newspaper’s women’s page editor. When she was twenty, she moved to London where she worked as fashion editor for Woman’s Own. She wrote for other magazines and newspapers on a variety of topics from crime to show business. In 1961, she met film producer Robert Bradford on a blind date, and in 1963, they were married and moved to the U.S. After years of writing children’s books and a  column on fashion and interior design that was published in newspapers across America, she realized her dream of publishing adult fiction when in 1976, she sold her first novel, A Woman of Substance, to a publisher on the strength of a ten-page outline and a hundred and ninety-two pages. Today, she is published in over ninety countries and forty languages with a sales figure in excess of eighty-two million dollars. To learn more, go to http://www.barbarataylorbradford.com/
Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome

Social Media in the Workplace

Today, I heard on public radio that people are losing their jobs because of what they’re saying about their bosses on their blogs, Facebook, and other social media. I can understand businesses wanting to preserve their images, but in two cases that were reported on, both women did not divulge their places of employment, and they still lost their jobs. One was a teacher and one a paramedic. A lawyer interviewed during the report said that companies are developing policies to regulate their employees’ use of social media and that during a job interview, you could legally be asked to open your Ffacebook page under the pretense of your prospective employer wanting to see if you are engaged in illegal activity.
Here’s my opinion. What you say and do outside of work is nobody else’s business as long as it doesn’t affect your work performance, and as long as you’re not threatening to plant a stink bomb in your boss’s chair that will detonate when he sits down, you should be able to say anything you want on Facebook, your blob, or in a bar. What happened to the First Amendment, anyway?
Fortunately, I’m my own boss. I can say anything I want on my blog without repercussion. Abbie Johnson Taylor is a fat bitch, and her writing’s not worth the paper it’s printed on or the computer and software used to generate it. Okay, Abbie, you’re fired! Oh, shoot, I guess I won’t be able to plant that stink bomb now.
Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome