Florida Loons

In my last third Thursday poets group meeting, we were prompted to write some loons. A loon is similar to haiku, written in one of two ways: syllables with the first line having five, the second three, and the third five, or words with the first line having three, the second five, and the third three. I chose to write three loons about my recent visit to Florida, using the word three five three method. Below each loon is a description of the event that inspired it.

 

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downtown jupiter pub

with one or two drinks

stranger in photo

 

My brother Andy, his wife Christina, and I went to a festival where food trucks lined the streets for blocks, selling all kinds of goodies from tacos to ice cream. After we ate our fill, we wandered into a bar. When Christina took a picture of Andy and me with her phone, upon studying the photo, she discovered that a stranger standing behind me was also captured. Nevertheless, she posted that picture on Facebook moments later.

 

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paddling our canoe

down the lazy loxahatchee river

shy alligator appears.

 

We were in a narrow part of the river, hoping to spot some wildlife. We found more than we bargained for when Christina spotted an alligator about six inches away from the boat. She snapped a picture, and then she and Andy back paddled as fast as they could to get to safety. Christina said the alligator seemed shy so we probably weren’t in any danger. I hope that’s the closest I ever come to being consumed by one of those creatures.

 

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tug of war

with a loving energetic doxhund

in glowing firelight

 

One warm evening, Andy lit a fire in the pit on the patio, and we sat around, drinking, chatting, and listening to music. Max brought me a dirty sock to throw for him. When I reached for it, he tried to pull it away from me. I tugged back and so it continued.

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walk on sand

feel cool, refreshing ocean waves

sit on tree

 

While walking on the beach, we found a tree stump that appeared to have been washed ashore. Andy thought it may have come from The Bahamas. The first time we saw it, the stump was almost totally submerged, but when we returned a few days later, it had been washed farther onto the bank so we could sit on it and stick our feet in the ocean. That felt heavenly.

It’s your turn to write a loon or two or three, using either method above. Please feel free to share your results below.

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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

Order from Amazon

November 2015 Reviews

A Place to Belong by Phyllis Campbell. Copyright 2002.

 

Jill, a high school student, loses her vision after a brain tumor is removed. Her mother and stepfather send her from her home in Washington to live with her paternal grandmother in rural Virginia with whom she’s never had contact. With the help of Susan from Come Home, My Heart, she learns Braille and other basic adaptive skills.

She also develops a bond with Ben, a little boy who was traumatized by his father’s death and a friendship that could turn into romance with his older brother. In the end, after Jill learns why her father was never in contact with his parents after marrying her mother, she helps rescue Ben when he falls in a hole. She then decides to attend the Virginia State School for the Deaf and Blind and go on with her life.

I like the stark contrast the author illustrates between opinions of those with disabilities. In the small town where Jill’s grandmother lives, most of the people accept her like they would anyone else, despite her blindness. On the other hand, Jill’s mother and stepfather think she should have a private tutor and not associate with others blind or sighted.

I also like the way Phyllis Campbell incorporates characters from a previous book. However, I noticed one problem. In Come Home, My Heart, which I’m assuming is set in the 1980’s, Wanda, Susan’s adopted daughter, was only nine years old. In A Place to Belong, she appears to be only in high school when in 2001, she would have been in her twenties. As a child, Wanda suffered from epilepsy, but I doubt that would have slowed her learning, especially since she’s able to drive Susan everywhere.

Otherwise, I think this is a great book, especially for teen-agers. I hope young people reading this will gain more of an understanding of what it’s like to lose your vision. To learn more about this and other books by Phyllis Campbell, go to http://www.phylliscampbellbooks.com/ .

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Friendships in the Dark: A Blind Woman’s Story of the People and Pets Who Light up Her World by Phyllis Campbell. Copyright 1996.

After reading Come Home, My Heart and A Place to Belong, I wanted to read this author’s memoir which talks about her life and the animals who shared it with her. She starts by describing what it was like to be five years old in 1943 on a farm in Virginia, the fear of her older brother going off to war, how her older sister, also totally blind, taught her to read Braille, and the animals on the farm with whom she developed a close bond like Sly, the old dog and Mouser, a kitten who met a tragic end.

She then goes on to talk about the years she attended the Virginia State School for the Deaf & Blind with her sister, how her first year was marred by illness, her music lessons, and learning to walk with a cane. During this time, her family moved from the farm to a house on the grounds of a nearby mental hospital where her father found a job.

She talks about her life in the 1960’s after graduating from high school, her mother’s death from cancer, her father’s stroke, her brother getting married, living with her older sister in an apartment until she, too, got married, and eventually, her own marriage to a sighted man who worked various jobs. She then describes acquiring a guide dog in the 1970’s and how she and her husband bought an old fixer-upper in the 1980’s. She describes the myriad of animals in her life including but not limited to Buttons, the pooch her family owned when they lived on the mental hospital grounds, Miss Muffett, the cat she and her sister owned in the apartment together, her guide dog Lear and a cat she called Lady Gray who came with the old house she and her husband bought in the 1980’s.

For the benefit of those not familiar with blind people, she describes Braille, the process of walking with a white cane, and what it’s like to train with a guide dog. Each chapter begins with a quotation, some of which are from the Bible, and she occasionally shares how God answered her prayers and gave her the courage and strength to do certain things.

Having read other tales of not-so-pleasant experiences at state schools for the blind, I braced myself for more stories of horrible bullies, sadistic house parents, and bad teachers, but I was pleasantly surprised. Mrs. Campbell spoke with nothing but fondness for other students, teachers, staff, and even the superintendent. She even describes dogs and cats the school acquired while she was there. In fact, she loved school so much that when she became ill during her first year, she hated staying in the infirmary and begged to be allowed to return to classes. I laughed at her many anecdotes involving animals like the time the superintendent’s dog kept following her and her mother home from the school. I was moved to tears when Lear, her faithful guide, needed to be put down after almost twenty years of service. I recommend this book to anyone curious about blindness who likes heartwarming stories involving relationships between humans and animals. To learn more about Phyllis Campbell and her books, go to http://www.phylliscampbellbooks.com/ . Other reviews of this book can be found at http://www.brettbooks.com .

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Bark by Lorrie Moore. Copyright 2014.

 

The stories in this collection have nothing to do with dogs or trees. In “Debarkation,” a divorced historian ends up in a relationship with a divorced pediatrician who seems more interested in interacting with her teen-aged son than him. In “The Juniper Tree,” a woman visits the ghost of a friend who just passed away, or does she? In “Wings,” a musician at rock bottom in her career returns to the town where her grandmother used to live, befriends an elderly neighbor with a terminal illness, inherits his house when he dies, and turns it into a sort of Ronald McDonald house. In “Thank You for Having Me,” a motorcycle gang crashes a wedding. Other stories deal with such topics as divorce and mental illness.

Although I found these stories intriguing, the author’s nasty habit of including too much back story and description caused my mind to wander, and I must admit I dozed once or twice. Lorrie Moore is an award-winning author of other books with outlandish titles such as Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? To order her books, go to http://www.amazon.com/Lorrie-Moore/e/B000APWFEY .

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Crossing the Plains with Bruno by Annick Smith. Copyright 2015.

 

In this author and filmmaker’s memoir, she describes a road trip she took with her dog Bruno about ten years ago during the month of May. She drove from her home in Montana to visit her mother in Chicago and back. Along the way, she provides histories of landmarks and shares memories they evoke of her life growing up in Chicago, her marriage to Dave Smith, their life in Seattle and California, her husband’s sudden death after they’ve settled in Montana, and her filmmaking career.

After arriving in Chicago, she talks about the time she spent in the senior high rise apartment building where her mother lived and at the family’s lake side cottage about eighty miles away. She describes visits from family and friends during that time and shares more memories such as her parents’ divorce and reconciliation and her father’s affair with a teen-aged girl.

She then describes the trip home, a bit rushed because her partner Bill Kitterege’s brother just passed away, and she was anxious to get home to meet his family before they returned to Oregon. Nevertheless, she takes time to reflect on more landmarks and share more memories like the time she came to Montana to research the film, Heartland, based on the true story of a pioneer woman in Montana during the earlier part of the 20th century. She also touches on her relationship with Bill Kitterege, her dog Bruno, and other animals.

This book brought back some fun memories for me, especially of traveling with our Irish setter Clancy when I was a teen-ager. When Annick Smith described sneaking Bruno up a back staircase at an inn where no pets were allowed, I was reminded of many times we did the same thing with Clancy. Like Bruno, Clancy loved to run alongside a creek or river, jump in and swim for a while, then get out and shake himself all over you.

I was also amused that Annick Smith read to Bruno at night from a book called Dog Music which consists of poetry about dogs. This seemed to calm Bruno, especially after he had a bad dream. The author’s appreciation of literature is reflected in the pages of this book which would make a great Christmas gift for anyone who likes to read and travel and loves dogs. To learn more about Annick Smith and her books, go to http://www.amazon.com/Annick-Smith/e/B001IXRWQ8 .

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Note: Speaking of Christmas, next month, I’ll be doing my book reviews a little differently. As you know, I normally review books I’ve read in a given month at the end of the month. However, if you’re like me, by the end of December, you’ll be sick and tired of Christmas so instead, I’ll review holiday books as I read them so you’ll have a chance to read them before you get sick and tired of the holiday season. At the end of December, I’ll review any other books without a holiday theme. You’ll see my regular Tuesday posts, and these may consist of book reviews, depending on when I finish a book. If I finish a book later in the week, I may post another review. If you’re hanging on my every word, you might want to subscribe by email so you don’t miss anything. Happy holidays, and happy reading.

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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

Order from Amazon

Order That’s Life from Finishing Line Press.

Waves (Fiction)

“Why are we doing this?” I asked, as the van pulled into a parking space next to the beach.

“Honey, it’s your birthday,” said Mom, turning in the front passenger seat to face me. “You always loved going to the beach.”

“Yeah, when I could walk,” I said, tapping the side of my wheelchair for emphasis.

“Anna, all you’ve done since you got home from rehab is feel sorry for yourself. It’s time you got some fresh air. I made all your favorite foods: fried chicken, potato salad, corn on the cob. I even baked your favorite kind of cake, chocolate.”

“Mom, you just don’t get it. My legs don’t work anymore. I can’t surf, walk in the water. I can’t even sit on the sand and build castles like I did when I was a kid, let alone go back to college. I can’t do any of it.”

“Listen Anna,” said Dad in his no nonsense voice, as he turned off the ignition. “Your mother went to a lot of trouble here so the least you can do is show some gratitude.”

He was right of course, but I still couldn’t get out of the funk I was in for the past six months since I woke up in the hospital and realized I would probably never walk again after the car crash. I fought to keep from crying, as Dad opened his door and climbed out of the van. “You all stay here a minute,” he said. “I’ll run and find us a spot.”

“I’ll start getting stuff out of the trunk,” said Mom, climbing out on her side.

“Let’s get you out of here, Sis,” said my brother Will, flipping the switches to open the doors and unfold the ramp.

With a sigh of resignation, I unfastened the seat belt as both my younger twin brothers Will and Tim worked together to undo the tie-down that held my chair in place and maneuver me onto the ramp. “Okay, here we go,” said Tim, standing behind me.

I grasped the chair’s armrests, as we descended to the parking lot in the California June sun. “I hate this stupid thing,” I said. “I know. I know I should have thought of that before texting Monica last Christmas Eve while driving to the market for those eggs so Mom could make her world famous eggnog. If I hadn’t been asking Monica what she wanted me to bring to her New Year’s Eve party, I wouldn’t have hit that stupid truck, and Bonnie wouldn’t have gone flying through the windshield.”

“Hey, quit beating yourself up,” said Tim, patting me on the shoulder.

“Yeah, look at it this way,” said Will who’d jumped off the lift ahead of us and was standing on the ground. “The truck only sustained minor damage while Dad’s car was totaled, and the driver, unlike Miss Bonnie, was wearing a seat belt, and since the air bag worked, he was hardly hurt at all.”

“Yeah, but Bonnie’s gone, and I can’t walk, and how could I have been so stupid?”

“Anna, knock it off,” said Tim. “You’re not doing yourself any good.”

Of course he was right. Why did men always have to be right? I stared ahead of me at all the people sunning themselves on the uneven sand. “Oh God,” I said. “even if Dad finds a place, how will I get there? This is a wheelchair, not a dune buggy.”

“No problem,” said Tim. “I’ll carry you.”

“What?” I asked, as I turned to stare at my brother. He was a few years younger but a head taller. Since he played football in high school and lifted weights, his arms were strong, but I still wasn’t sure.

“Don’t worry, Sis,” he said. “I’ve picked up a lot of girls and haven’t lost one yet.”

Will guffawed. “Knock it off, Will,” said Tim.

“Both you boys stop,” said Mom, coming around from behind the van with the cooler. “Here comes your father.”

“I’ll take that,” said Dad, as he approached her. “I found us a spot a ways down. Tim, you get your sister. Will, you grab her chair, and I’ll help your mom with the food. Once you boys get Anna settled, you can come back for your boards.”

I couldn’t believe it. It was bad enough I couldn’t walk on the beach, let alone surf, but now, I had to sit there and watch them surf. They may as well have rubbed salt on an open wound. It was all I could do to keep from crying, as Tim flung me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and carried me through the crowd.

We reached our spot, and miracle of miracles, Will found a flat place to set the wheelchair. “We’ll be back in a few minutes,” said Tim after positioning me. Mom was spreading a blanket on the sand, and Dad was unloading the cooler.

A woman with a dog approached, and I took in a breath when I realized the pooch, a Golden Retriever, looked just like Bonnie. Was I imagining things? “Oh how cute,” said Mom. “She looks just like our dog.”

Apparently, I wasn’t. The dog came up to me, and without thinking, I reached down and stroked the soft head and scratched behind the silky ears. The woman smiled. “You must be Anna Martin.”

I stared at her. How could she possibly know who I was? “Yeah,” I said, not knowing what to think.

“I’m Judy Fridono, and this is Ricochet,” she said, patting the dog. “You might have heard of us.”

I shook my head. “Ricochet is a surfing dog. She likes to surf with people like you.”

“People like me?” Then I remembered. “Oh, I saw something on Facebook a while back about a dog who surfs with disabled people, but I thought she just surfed with kids.”

“No, Ricochet surfs with people of all ages. She’ll surf with you today if you’re up to it.”

It was then I noticed the two guys behind her, lugging a surf board. I couldn’t believe it. How could I possibly surf? My legs didn’t work at all so how could I even climb on the board? With only my arms, what would I do if I wiped out?

In answer to my unspoken questions, she said, “These guys will help you. They’ll get you on the board with Ricochet, take you out into deep water where you can catch the waves, and let you go. They’ll be there if you wipe out.”

“Happy birthday,” said Dad, opening a bottle of beer. He and Mom were both grinning. I looked at them and then at the woman and dog.

“Oh honey, this will be so much fun,” said Mom, rushing to my side. “Here, let’s get your shirt off.”

I now knew why she insisted I wear what I would have normally worn to the beach: my swimming suit with a long t-shirt over it and flip flops. Stunned, I lifted my arms while Mom helped me out of the shirt. Dad knelt and removed my thongs while Mom slathered me with sunscreen. Then, one of the guys put a life jacket on me, much to my relief. At least I’d be able to stay afloat if I wiped out. “You ready?” asked the woman.

“Sure, why not,” I said.

The next thing I knew, I was being lifted onto the board face down with Ricochet in front of me. I reached out and stroked her neck, and she licked my face and wagged her tail. “You set?” one of the guys asked.

“Yeah, let’s do this,” I said, feeling more confident, as we moved into the water. Before I knew it, we were past the shallows, and one of the guys said, “Okay, you’re flying solo, but your brothers are coming, and we’ll be right here.”

Hugging Ricochet, I found myself soaring to heights where I thought I’d never go again. It was as if the accident never happened. For the first time in six months, I felt the exhilaration of the waves, as they rolled over us, and we rode them with ease.

“Hey Anna, isn’t this fun?” I turned to see Tim at my left side on his board, smiling. I grinned back at him.

“Anna, look over here and smile.” It was Will on his board, balancing his camera.

“You’re gonna get that thing wet,” I said.

“So what? This is the underwater camera I got for Christmas, remember?”

Christmas, there it was, but for once, I didn’t feel angry or depressed. Another wave came, and we were airborne once more.

When the water became calm, I stroked the dog’s back. We were both soaked, but that didn’t matter. ”Oh Ricochet!” I said, kissing her forehead. “Maybe life doesn’t suck after all.”

***

Note: Ricochet actually exists. To watch a video of this dog surfing with two terminally ill teen-agers, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yksy4M6HRxQ . You can learn more about Ricochet by reading my review of Judy Fridono’s memoir at https://abbiescorner.wordpress.com/2014/10/21/riding-waves-with-a-dog/ .

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Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author

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Riding Waves with a Dog

Dogs can do incredible things. When I first started reading Ricochet: Riding a Wave of Hope with the Dog Who Inspired Millions by Judy Fridono, I thought it was just another one of those uplifting dog stories I enjoy reading from time to time. Although the book starts out as a story of a service dog in the making, it turns into something totally unexpected, at least for me.

Judy Fridono starts out talking about how she spent a year raising a service dog puppy while living in Chicago. She describes the agony of having to return the dog to the training facility for service dogs once her year was up. After that, she talks about her life growing up in a tough Chicago neighborhood. Her father was an alcoholic and a drug user, and this made her childhood difficult at times. When she was a teen-ager, both her parents died. She was attacked once and robbed another time, and all this caused her to have nightmares and panic attacks. She also contracted rheumatoid arthritis which didn’t help matters.

She then talks about how Rena, the puppy she raised for a year, helped her overcome her fears and inspired her to train service dogs. After she returned Rena, she moved to San Diego, California, to attend a dog training school. Through a miraculous twist of fate, Rena was returned to her, and after completing a dog training course, she formed her own service dog training organization.

Ricochet was part of a litter of Golden Retriever puppies, and Fridono started training her soon after she was born. However, although Ricochet was intelligent, after several months, she became stubborn, reminding me of the Irish setters we had when we were growing up who would only do something for us if it pleased them. Ricochet loved to chase birds, and since this is not a good trait for a service dog, Fridono became increasingly frustrated with her.

Ricochet also loved to surf, and on a whim, Fridono entered her into a competition. She feared it would be a disaster because of the dog’s obsession with birds. Fridono was afraid the dog would jump off the surf board after a flock of seagulls instead of focusing on her task. To her astonishment though, Ricochet stayed on the board through several waves and didn’t even look at a bird. She then realized that Ricochet had a different purpose in life and started looking for other ways the dog could be of service.

Fridono then describes how Ricochet inspired many people through surfing and other activities: children with autism and physical disabilities, veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress, even a teen-aged boy in Florida with terminal cancer. Ricochet put smiles on their faces and gave them the courage to go on, despite their limitations.

Ricochet also raised money for therapy and other essentials. She even helped Fridono when she underwent open heart surgery. The dog’s efforts gained world-wide attention through Facebook and other media. I’d never heard of Ricochet until I read this book, but I was touched by her story. To learn more about Judy Fridono and Ricochet, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8tUI3EC66M . This video consists of an interview with Fridono and footage of Ricochet in action.

In the summer of 2005 before my late husband Bill suffered the strokes that paralyzed him, we took a trip to California to visit friends and relatives for a couple of weeks. One of our stops was in Valley Village, near L.A., where my uncle lived. After he demonstrated how he does sound effects for movies, Bill asked, “Is there any chance I could work for you?”

At the time, we were living here in Sheridan, Wyoming, and I had no inclination to move anywhere else so I laughed, and nothing more was said. After reading Ricochet’s story, I can’t help wondering what might have happened if we did move to California. Although Judy Fridono lived in San Diego, she and Ricochet didn’t just work with people in that area. Would synchronicity have brought Bill and Ricochet together? He would have loved surfing with this dog. Would Bill still be alive if Ricochet had given him a reason not to give up?

I’m just a 53-year-old writer living in Sheridan, Wyoming. I’m able to walk and care for myself, and I don’t have any serious emotional problems. The only parts of me that don’t work well are my eyes. Because others need Ricochet’s care more than I do, I doubt I’ll have an opportunity to surf with this incredible dog, but maybe I’ll give boogie boarding another try the next time I go to Florida. When I visited my brother in Jupiter last summer, we went to the beach, and I borrowed a boogie board from one of my nieces. After I paddled around in the shallow water for a while, my brother offered to pull me into deeper water so I could catch a wave. The sky was growing cloudy, and the waves were getting choppy so I chickened out. Perhaps next time if the sea and weather are calm, I’ll take him up on his offer. Who knows? Maybe I’ll ride the wave of my life for Bill.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome, How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver, and That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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