Thursday Book Feature: Essays Provide Audio Insight


Eavesdropping: A Life by Ear
By Stephen Kuusisto
Copyright 2006.

In this collection of essays written mostly in chronological order, the author, who has been legally blind since birth, discusses how he takes note of sounds most of us don’t perceive. He talks about how, as a child, he enjoyed listening to his grandmother’s radio and records and developed an appreciation for opera as well as other musical styles. He also describes how he learned to love literature through talking books. He explains how he traveled around the world as an adult, sometimes alone, sometimes with others, relying mainly on his hearing for information and insight.

Like Kuusisto, I developed a love of opera as a child, so I could relate to that. I also enjoyed his account of how he lugged his specialized talking book record player to his junior high music class so he could share a recording of someone reading his favorite poem instead of his favorite song. I also found his account of getting lost in an airport especially interesting, wondering why in the world he didn’t request assistance from the airlines in advance like I do when I travel. Even though I have some vision, I think this book does a great job of portraying the world through the author’s ears instead of his eyes.

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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: An Amazing Story


The Paddy Stories: Book 2
By John Justice
Copyright 2018

In this sequel to The Paddy Stories: Book 1 , Pat, a totally blind boy, enters high school. It’s the 1950’s, and he’s mainstreamed into a public school in California, along with another blind boy and a girl in a wheelchair. Lucy, his bosom buddy from the children’s home in Philadelphia where Pat lived, along with others who were also at the home, start high school with him.

Pat takes a music class as an elective and forms a band with Lucy and others. In the course of four years, they become popular. Romantic relationships develop, and Pat and his friends help others along the way. The book also contains sub-plots involving other characters Pat knew in Philadelphia.

There are some missing pieces to this puzzle. In the last volume, Pat was orphaned at age eight, and after spending time in a Philadelphia children’s home, he traveled to Oakland to live with his uncle and aunt. His friend Lucy soon followed, after being reunited with her father. The book ends with Pat in a dormitory at a school for the blind, facing an uncertain future.

As the second volume opens, Pat is starting high school. His uncle and aunt have adopted a couple of other children, but there’s little back story about them or any of the other characters from the previous volume. This would have been helpful, especially to those having not read the first book.

Otherwise, this is an amazing story. It’s amazing that in the 1950’s, a high school principal welcomed three students with disabilities at a time when mainstreaming wasn’t popular. It’s amazing that Pat was able to do so well in school despite one teacher’s attitude and few materials available in braille and that other teachers and students didn’t have a problem with Pat’s blindness. It’s amazing that Pat and Lucy and other young couples were able to express their love for each other openly and talk about getting married when surely this was frowned upon back then. Although this book, in my opinion, is not realistic, despite the missing pieces to the puzzle, I enjoyed being taken to a world where dreams really come true.

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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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Tuesday Book Feature: Love Letters in the Grand

Note: Since Thanksgiving falls on the day I normally review books here, I’m changing things around a bit. I’ll have a special treat for you on Thanksgiving Day, so stay tuned.

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Love Letters in the Grand: The Adventures and Misadventures of a Big City Piano Tuner

By John Justice

Copyright 2017

In this collection of stories, the author, totally blind, relates his experiences tuning pianos in New York City and Philadelphia during the 1960’s and 70’s. Some tales are humorous like “It Won’t Play If You Don’t Pay,” in which he describes his underhanded way of dealing with a customer who refused to pay for his services. Others showcase how unfairly he was treated by some customers, e.g. “Unintended Disaster,” in which he was blamed for breaking a music lamp on a piano top after being told it was clear.

Some stories don’t have much to do with piano tuning like “Star’s Rippingly Good Solution,” in which he explains how his guide dog handled a mugger on a New York City subway. In the title story, he relates how he found a packet of love letters inside a grand piano. At the end, he explains how he met his second wife at a rehabilitation facility for the blind in Little Rock, Arkansas, and eventually married her and found other employment while still tuning pianos on the side.

Since I play the piano, I was fascinated by his explanation of the inner workings of the instrument, as he related his various experiences. I liked his descriptions of Madison Square Garden and the Lincoln Center where he was sent to tune pianos. As a registered music therapist, my favorite piece was “Song for Adrienne,” in which his playing of a familiar Christmas carol touched the heart of a young woman in a psychiatric hospital. I loved his quote at the end. “Life is like a piano. It has highs and lows, but when all is said and done, it is an instrument on which we all must play our tunes.”

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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.

Sunday Best: Concert in the Park

Last Tuesday, I went with friends to a concert at a local park’s band shell. Such programs are held every Tuesday during July and August. This week, the community band, made up mostly of music teachers and students, played a variety of old favorites and new pieces.

My friends and I bought ice cream from a nearby stand. I had a scoop of salted caramel in a dish, and that was good.

There’s also a food truck that sells burgers and chips, so next week, we’ll go a little earlier so we’ll have time for both a hamburger and ice cream before the concert starts. A different band will play. I’m looking forward to that.

What’s the best thing that happened to you this past week? Please share in the comments field. I hope something good happens to you this coming week.

 

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.

 

Anthology Knits Life Through Poetry and Prose

Walking by Inner Vision: Stories & Poems

by Lynda McKinney Lambert

Copyright 2017

 

This collection starts with a prologue in which the author, who is also an artist, describes how knitting sustained her during difficult times after she lost most of her vision in 2007. The poetry and prose that follow are divided into twelve sections, one for each month of the year. Some pieces reflect the time of year while others discuss the author’s faith in God, nature, art, music, and other topics.

In “Harbingers,” Lynda reflects on the ground hog and other species that predict when spring with come and signal its arrival. In “William’s Red Roses,” she reminisces about a rose bush her father gave her. In “A Visitation from Butterflies,” she describes a miraculous event that occurred while her daughter was in a medically induced coma following cancer surgery.

My favorite piece is “A Wintry Tale” because it reminds me of many tumbles I took in the snow when I was younger due to my lack of vision. I believe Lynda was still sighted at the time of this story, so I found that refreshing. My second favorite is “A Pennsylvania Christmas” because it brings back memories of my own childhood Christmases, even though I’ve never received coal in my stocking.

I’ve known Lynda for years through our association with Behind Our Eyes, a not-for-profit organization for writers with disabilities. I’ve always been amazed by how, despite her sight loss, her appreciation of art and nature comes through in her vivid descriptions. Even if you have normal vision, this book will open your eyes, ears, and heart to life’s wonders.

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Note: Since Lynda invited me to guest post on her blog several years ago, I returned the favor, and she graciously agreed. Her post will appear on May 16th, so stay tuned.

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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

Abbie-1

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.

 

Season’s Greetings 2015

Hello, my name is Debbie, or at least that’s the name Abbie gave me because when my hand is squeezed, I sing “You Light Up my Life,” a song made popular a long time ago by a woman with the same name as mine. I guess you could say I’m a doll, although I’m made from the same material they use for stuffed animals. I’m soft and plush. Wearing a red dress and hat with a bow, I’ve been sitting on the buffet in Abbie’s living room for over five years.

I was a Valentine present for Abbie’s husband Bill who was in a wheelchair. Every night before they went to bed, Abbie squeezed my hand, and I sang my song while they embraced and kissed each other good night. Then she wheeled him into the bedroom, and I didn’t see him again until morning.

As I understand it, when Bill proposed to Abbie, he was on his feet. Actually, he wrote her a letter in Braille, asking her to marry him so he must have been on his butt at the time, but he didn’t need the wheelchair. By the way, he and Abbie weren’t living in the same town before they were married.

A month after he proposed, he sent Abbie another doll she calls Annie because when her hand is squeezed, she sings a song John Denver wrote for his wife who has the same name. Annie sits across the room on top of the piano. Although she’s made from the same material as me, she doesn’t appear to have anything on except a light purple bow around her neck and a hat with another bow the same color.

To make a long story short, Bill and Abbie were married six months after Bill sent her that proposal letter. They would have had a happily-ever-after life except for Bill’s strokes. They made the best of it together for six long years, and I witnessed most of their trials and tribulations. Now, Abbie wants me to tell her story of the past year. I’m not the writer she is, but I’ll do my best.

Last year, Abbie spent Christmas with her brother Andy and his family in Florida, AGAIN, leaving me, Annie, and other stuffed dolls and animals scattered around the house to fend for ourselves. We expected her back on December 30th midafternoon, but she didn’t come stumbling in until three o’clock the next morning. Apparently, she missed her connecting flight in Denver and had to wait seven hours for the next one. Then because of the extreme cold, the flight was delayed three hours and didn’t get off the ground until almost eleven, arriving in Gillette close to one in the morning.

Also, while Abbie was in Florida, she got sick AGAIN, but at least she got to open presents with the family downstairs Christmas morning and didn’t start throwing up until after dinner. The day after she returned home, I overheard her telling Andy on the phone that this year, she was going to try an experiment. She would stay home for Christmas, and if she got sick, that would mean that Christmas was making her sick and not Florida.

Since then, it’s been a pretty quiet year for Abbie. Snow is on the ground so she probably won’t be walking anywhere till spring which is too bad since she just got a brand new cane. Oh well, that’s life, as stated in one of her poems. Okay, this is a Christmas letter, not a Garrison Keillor monologue so Abbie tells me. Sorry about that.

In January, Abbie started work on her memoir that she began writing a few years ago after Bill died. It’s called My Ideal Partner, and it’s about how she met and married Bill and cared for him after he had his two strokes. She finally finished the thing in August and is in the editing process. She hopes to work with a couple in Denver who help authors self-publish their work on CreateSpace, Amazon, and Smashwords. What kind of a name is Smashwords, anyway? Is it really possible to smash a word? Okay, okay, I gotcha. Just the facts, Ma’am.

In May, Abbie went to a women’s writing retreat where she hoped to spend two days working on her memoir. As it turned out, she didn’t get any more work done than she would have if she’d stayed home. They spent most of the time writing from prompts, doing yoga, and eating a vegetarian spa diet. Yuck! Actually, they did have ice cream sundaes so it wasn’t all vegetarian, and Abbie brought home about half a gallon of Neapolitan ice cream that would have been thrown out otherwise. Nevertheless, the first thing she did when she got home, after consuming a Dr. Pepper while checking email and venting her frustrations through a series of loud, rambunctious belches, was to toss a steak on the grill.

In April and June, Abbie went to her usual writers’ conferences she attends every year. This year, she was elected to the Wyoming Writers board of directors. In September, she was elected secretary of Behind Our Eyes for the third time. If you ask me, she’s a glutton for punishment. Okay, onward and upward.

Earlier this month, Abbie gave a poetry reading at a meeting of Akcita Win, a women’s organization that does community service projects and offers scholarships every year. She learned that her grandmother formed the organization years ago so feels compelled to join them, but she’s not that much of a glutton for punishment.

Anyway, they really enjoyed her program where she sang a few songs a Capella which she incorporated into her poems. They’d better have liked it. I had to listen to her practice that routine for three days. Now, she’s gearing up for more performances with her guitar at nursing homes, an assisted living facility, an adult day care program, and maybe even the senior center. I have to listen to that now for God knows how long. Oh, I suppose I should also mention her gigs with Just Harmony. She thinks she’s a better singer than I am. Well, if we ever end up on American Idol, we’ll see what happens.

That’s the news from Sheridan, Abbie’s home town, where the men are… All right, all right, never mind. You get the picture. Happy holidays.

For the past hour, I had to listen to Abbie record another holiday song, and you can click below to hear it. She’s been using a new device called a BrailleSense U2 to make the recording, and she’s had to do several takes. Oh well, I guess that’s what it’s like in a recording studio so if I want to make it to the big time, I’d better put on my big girl pants and deal with it.

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https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/15213189/chestnuts%20roasting.mp3

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Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

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

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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