Friday, March 30, 2012

Chopping Down Trees

Several years ago, the people who bought the house next door decided to remodel the entire house and yard. In the process, they cut down a couple of trees. With the yard being virtually outside our bedroom window, the noise was deafening at times. Needless to say, we couldn’t sleep late while this was going on. The following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver describes a typical morning in which I get Bill dressed while the tree cutting is going on.


We hear the workmen next door,

as we get ready for our day.

Lying down, we put on his pants,

one leg, then the other,

roll, pull, roll, pull

till they’re up as far as they’ll go.

Sitting on the side of the bed,

we remove his sweaty t-shirt.

His arm encircles my waist.

We tug, laugh,

swear till it’s over his head.

One arm, then the other,

it’s off.

On goes the sweatshirt,

one sleeve, then the other,

over his head it goes.

All the while,

chain saws whine.

Branches and limbs fall,

bring change, welcome or not.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


When I was growing up, one of my favorite movies was Mary Poppins. I loved Julie Andrews’ portrayal of the nanny with the umbrella and carpet bag who held a tea party on the ceiling, jumped in and out of a picture with her charges, and never gave them castor oil or gruel. I almost wished my parents would hire me a nanny.

My mother said she first took me to see the movie when I was four. I don’t remember this, but I do recall seeing it in a theater later when I was older, and I saw it on television a few times. We had a sound track of the movie which I played often. I even had a Mary Poppins umbrella.

I also liked The Sound of Music, but I never saw the movie until I was an adult so it didn’t make as much of an impression. A friend from school had the sound track, and we listened to it often when I went to herhouse. At the Arizona State School for the Deaf and Blind in Tucson, our choir sang “Climb Every Mountain” for graduation one year.

I just finished reading Home: A Memoir of My Younger Years by Julie Andrews. This book portrays her life from birth until 1963 when she went to Hollywood to start filming Mary Poppins. She was born Julia Elizabeth Wells on October 1st, 1935 in Walton-on-Thames, Surrie, England. During her childhood and early adulthood years, she performed in a variety of theatrical productions in England. Her first Broadway performance was in the 1954 production of The Boy Friend. She also starred in My Fair Lady and Camelot and won Tony awards for these performances. In 1957, she first appeared on television in Cinderella. She made many other television appearances with such stars as Bing Crosby and Carol Burnett.

Mary Poppins was her first film in 1964, and she won an Academy Award for best actress. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in The Sound of Music in 1965. From 1964 to 1967, she appeared in The Americanization of Emily, Hawaii, Torn Curtain, and Thoroughly Modern Millie. In the 1970’s, her film career slowed down when her performances in Star!, Darling Lili, and The Tamarind Seed weren’t as successful. Her popularity rose with her performances in 10 in 1979 and Victor Victoria in 1982. She received a third Academy award nomination for Victor Victoria. During the rest of the 1980’s, she starred in other unsuccessful films including That’s Life and Duet for One. Her voice was damaged by a throat operation in 1997.

She returned to fame in this century with her performances in The Princess Diaries in 2001 and it sequel, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, in 2004. She directed a production of The Boy Friend at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, New York, in 2003 and at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut in 2005. She also appeared in the Shrek animated films and Despicable Me from 2004 to 2010. She wrote children’s books.

In Home: A Memoir of My Younger Years, Julie Andrews talks about her life growing up in England before, during, and after World War II and her career as a singer and actress in England and the U.S. Hermother played the piano, and her father was a teacher. She learned later that she was conceived by her mother and a family friend.

When World War II broke out, her parents separated and eventually divorced. Her mother moved to London and married singer Ted Andrews and they developed their own act. Julie continued to live in Walton-on-Thames with her father and brother but eventually went to live with hermother and stepfather in London. Her mother changed her name from Julia Wells to Julie Andrews and insisted she call her stepfather Pop. Julie still maintained a wonderful relationship with Ted Wells, the man she thought was her father, even after discovering he wasn’t.

Her stepfather tried giving her voice lessons but decided she should study with a professional. She performed often with her mother and stepfather before branching out on her own. In the late 1950’s, she married Tony Walton who approached her years earlier after one of her performances and became a good friend. In the 1960’s, she divorced him and married Blake Edwards, and she mentions this briefly in her book.

Home: A Memoir of My Early Years left me wanting to know more about Julie Andrews. I found some information on Wikipedia but not what I wanted to know. At the end of the book, she and Tony seem to be getting along pretty well so I wonder why they split up and why she married her second husband and stayed with him until his death in 2010. I’m also interested in her experience with her throat surgery and what it was like to discover that her voice was damaged as a result of it. According to Wikipedia, this is the first of a two-part memoir series so I guess I’ll have to wait for the second part.

Did you have any favorite movies or stars when you were growing up? Did you hang posters or other memorabilia in your room or gawk at pictures in magazines? Did you play those movie sound tracks over and over until the records wore out? Did you ever want to be in pictures? Please feel free to share your memories below.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Friday, March 23, 2012

Sleeping Late

Taking care of Bill is a twenty-four-hour-a-day seven-day-a-week job. I try to get as much sleep as possible so I have enough energy to tackle the day to day tasks of his care, housework, and my writing obligations. I often take short afternoon naps. The following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver describes how I lie awake on a Sunday morning, wishing I could go back to sleep and not being successful.


“Just give me one more hour of sleep,”

I silently pray

to my husband, unable to care for himself,

my body, the world in general.

It’s eight in the morning.

I lie with my eyes closed,

enjoy the Sunday morning peace.

It doesn’t last.

When you were growing up, could you sleep in when you didn’t have to get up and go to school, or did you rise early every morning because you lived on a farm or had a paper route or other obligations? When my younger brother had an early morning paper route, he often overslept. Needless to say, when my dad, an early riser, didn’t find his morning paper neatly rolled up outside the front door, he awakened the entire household by yelling, “Ah hell! Andy!”

By the way, you can order an autographed copy of How to Build a Better Mousetrap directlyfrom me through Pay Pal for which you don’t need an account. When you visit my Website, click on the Pay Pal link in the ordering information section at the bottom of my book’s page. If you have trouble, you can contact me by using the e-mail link on any one of my site’s pages.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring Officially Sprung

Today is the first day of spring. The sun is shining in a cloudless sky. Birds are singing, and our thermometer says it’s forty-eight degrees. The following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver describes a walk I often took when I was single. The route took me through a city park, across a bridge, and along the creek. If you click on the link below the poem, you’ll hear me play and sing a song I’m sure you’ll recognize. The link will be available for at least a few days. Happy spring!

A Spring Constitutional

In the early morning, a cold wind blows.

The weak sunlight from a hazy sky offers little warmth.

Despite the chill in the air, I’m glad to be out walking.

I smell fresh new-mown grass and hear bird songs.

In the park, a workman mows the lawn.

There’s no one else in sight.

I walk by the creek, hear its gentle babble,

the neighing of horses from a nearby veterinary clinic,

smell the manure.

My white cane rolls from side to side in front of me.

In the late afternoon, I traverse the same path,

relieved to be out in the fresh air.

I hear the cries of children from the nearby playground.

My stomach tells me I’m hungry.

I quicken my pace, eager to reach home.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Friday, March 16, 2012

Killing Two Birds with One Stone

I just received word from my publisher, iUniverse, that We Shall Overcome is now available in Kindle and other eBook formats from various sources.. While doing a search for these sites, I discovered that How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver is now available from Amazon for the Kindle. I’m going to try to plug both books at once. Since I’ve never posted an excerpt from We Shall Overcome on this blog, I’m going to paste below the beginning of Chapter 1. This will be followed by links to various sites where both books can be purchased in eBook formats. These Links will also be available on my Website.

The demonstrators sang as they stood blocking the entrance to the courthouse in the gathering dusk of a chilly March evening. Lisa clutched her long white cane in her right hand and a small sign in her left hand and sang with them. For the past few months, she and her friend Joan Ferrin were involved with a group of peace activists trying to prevent the war with Iraq. They participated in marches and meetings where people spoke out against the war. However, their efforts were futile because on this day, the conflict was beginning. The group organized this gathering at the last minute. Since they wanted to get the public’s attention but wanted to disrupt the proceedings at the courthouse as little as possible, they decided to hold their gathering in the early evening after the courthouse closed for the day and while it was still light so people driving by could see them. They stood at the entrance nearest the busy main street, and their voices rose over the sound of traffic.

“All right, folks, listen up,” said a voice amplified by a bull horn. “You have five minutes to clear out or you’ll all be arrested for civil disobedience.”

Startled, Lisa dropped her sign and began making her way through the crowd, holding her cane diagonally in front of her. Despite her limited vision, she could see people moving aside to let her pass. Ahead of her, she glimpsed the busy intersection and heard the traffic. “Lisa, what are you doing?” Joan called.

Lisa turned toward the sound of her friend’s voice and said, “I’m not going to jail.” She broke free of the crowd and headed for the intersection. She paused at the corner, waiting for the light to change. Although she could see colors, she could not make out traffic lights. So she could only determine whether the light was green or red by observing the flow of traffic.

Running footsteps sounded behind her. “Hey, can you stop a minute?” a male voice asked.“I’m with the Sheridan Press, and I want to know why you’re running away.”

Her panic rising, Lisa turned to the man and said, “Just let me get far enough away so they don’t arrest me, okay?”

She turned toward the street, and noticing that it was safe to cross, she dashed to the other side, the tip of her cane sweeping from side to side in front of her. When she reached the opposite curb, she paused and turned to the reporter who was hurrying after her. She hoped she was far enough away that she would not be perceived as one of the demonstrators.

“Boy, for someone who can’t see, you sure move fast,” said the reporter, panting and taking a notebook and pen from his pocket.

Lisa forgot about the demonstration and the threat of arrest as she was seized by an instinct to educate this reporter about her visual impairment and her accomplishments despite the disability. “I have some vision,” she said. “I can see people, places, and objects if they’re close enough, but I don’t always recognize people by their faces. Most of the time, I have to go by voices. I can also read with the help of a closed-circuit television reading system that magnifies the print. As a matter of fact, that’s how I read your paper.”

“That’s interesting,” said the reporter, scribbling in his notebook. “Do you use a computer, too?”

“Yes,” Lisa answered. “I use one at home and at work. Both have screen readers that read the text aloud to me in synthetic speech and help me navigate without using a mouse.”

“And where do you work?” the reporter asked.

“I work with my father, Brad Taylor,” Lisa answered. “He owns Taylor Novelty, a company that sells and services coin-operated machines to restaurants and other businesses in Sheridan, Buffalo, Gillette, and other towns in this area.”

“Oh, yeah,” the reporter said. “I believe you guys do our candy machine at the office. That reminds me. Did anyone from there call you today about that machine? It took my fifty cents but didn’t give me a candy bar.”

“No, but I’ll make sure someone gets there tomorrow,” Lisa said.

“So what kind of work do you do with this company?” the reporter asked.

“I do the books and keep track of all the cigarettes, junk food, coffee, cocoa, and jukebox records that go into those machines,” Lisa said.

“You use the computer to do all that?” the reporter asked.

“Most of it,” Lisa answered. “I also have a closed-circuit television reading system there that I use to read the labels on all the merchandise. I then label everything in Braille so I can find it easily.”

“By the way, I don’t think I caught your name,” the reporter said.

Before she could answer, she heard the amplified voice that earlier announced the demonstrators’ impending arrest and was surprised that it was still audible from across the street, despite the noise of the traffic.“All right, folks, you’re all under arrest.” She heard the sound of approaching sirens.

“It looks like the police are coming,” said the reporter. The gathering dusk, the sound of the sirens growing closer and closer, and the amplified voice across the street reminded her why she was there, and she turned to leave. “Wait,” said the reporter. “You haven’t told me why you’re running away, why you don’t want to be arrested.”

“I also haven’t told you my name,” she said, turning back to the reporter and trying to keep her voice calm. “My name is Lisa Taylor, and although I am opposed to the war with Iraq, I don’t think the cause is worth going to jail. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get home before it gets too dark for me to see.”

“You’re scared,” the reporter said as she turned to leave.

“What do you mean?” Lisa asked, turning back.

“You’re afraid of going to jail,” the reporter answered.

“Of course I’m afraid of going to jail,” Lisa said. “But I’m more afraid of losing my job, which could happen if I’m arrested.”

Lisa knew this was a lie. Her father didn’t approve of the war with Iraq any more than she did. If she were arrested, he’d bail her out and then pat her on the knee and tell her how proud he was of his little girl for standing up for a cause.But she wasn’t about to tell the reporter that. However, his next words made her realize that he saw right through her.

“Look, I’ve met your dad. He seems to be a real nice guy, not the sort of father who would fire his own daughter. But a lot of those people across the street are not lucky enough to have employers who understand something like this, and I don’t see any of them running away. Could your visual impairment have something to do with it?”

Exasperated, Lisa turned and fled along the sidewalk. In the distance, the wail of police sirens was replaced by the screech of brakes as the squad cars arrived at their destination. Lisa didn’t look back, not until she reached the safety of her apartment building only a few blocks away.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Making Music

After my younger brother got his first drum set, and we started playing together with me on piano and vocals, my parents decided we needed a room in our house primarily for playing and listening to music. We’d been using the dining room for this, but it was a bit crowded and not as comfortable. In the summer of 1979, with the help of my uncle, an architect, and a reliable crew of carpenters, this room was built. The following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver describes how this room evolved and effected our lives.

The Music Room

After one crew removed the old room,

another poured cement, created a floor, walls, windows, roof.

Carpeting was laid.

The piano, drum set, and stereo were installed.

A love seat and Franklin stove were purchased.

For years, we played together in that room,

me on piano, my brother on drums.

We eventually went our separate ways--

the house was sold--

we still remember.

Did you make music when you were growing up? What instruments did you play? Did you take lessons? Did you and your siblings ever form a band? Please feel free to share your memories below.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Bedroom

One of my many tasks as a family caregiver is to help Bill when he relieves himself. When he came home six years ago, he was able to use a urinal while sitting on the side of the bed. In the middle of the night, still groggy, I pulled him into a sitting position, handed him the urinal, and waited for him to do his business. Sometimes, it took forever, and I dozed in a comfortable armchair until he was done. This happened at least once a night, sometimes twice. The following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver illustrates how this usually worked.

The Bedroom

At three in the morning,

I’m mildly aroused

by the gentle touch of his hand.

He only has one good arm and leg

but still knows how to please me.

As he strokes me,

and I breathe the scent of his sweat,

I purr with anticipation.

The mood is shattered

when he whispers, “I need to pee.”

Now, Bill can no longer balance on the side of the bed while he urinates. He has figured out how to use the urinal while lying down without making too much of a mess so all I have to do is get up and empty it when he’s done. This makes the nighttime a lot easier.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


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. His Website contains even more information about blindness and adaptive technology as well as recordings of his speeches plus news articles about him. You can order an autographed copy of Thunder Dog from there. The book is also available through Amazon and other online retailers. For those needing it in a more accessible format, it can be downloaded from BARD and Bookshare.

After reading the book, I had an opportunity to talk to Michael Hingson a couple ofnights ago 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.

You may wonder why I’m blogging about this now. Why don’t I wait until September 11th? Thunder Dog isn’t just a 9/11 story. Although Michael’s 9/11 experience is a big part of the book, it’s about someone with a disability who faces curve balls society throws at him head on and says, “Forward.”

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Friday, March 2, 2012

More Commentary on Food

I love to eat in Italian restaurants. The following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver explains what I like to eat and notes that unlike the Italians, I don’t drink wine with my meal.

An Italian Meal Without Wine

I love to eat seafood fettuccini Alfredo,

taste the shrimp, crab, scallops

in a rich, creamy sauce

on a bed of fettuccini noodles,

slurp the noodles into my mouth,

savor the flavor,

garnish it with garlic bread,

chase it down with water.

What kind of restaurants do you like: Italian, Mexican, Chinese? When you were growing up, did your family eat out often or just once in a blue moon when you could afford it? Do you remember any favorite dishes you liked to order?

When I was a kid in Tucson, Arizona, we often went to a place called Hobo Joe’s. No matter what time of day we went, I always ordered pigs in a blanket. Don’t ask me why, but I loved those little link sausages wrapped in pancakes and smothered in syrup. The combined taste of pancake, sausage, and maple flavoring just couldn’t be beat. Please feel free to share your memories below.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver