Angels and birds in my garden

When my sister Annie died, angels took on new meaning for me. If there are really angels, and I truly hope there are, then I know I have a little sister angel somewhere, everywhere.

I always had angels in my gardens. Now I have more angels in my gardens.

When my sister Annie died, setting suns, snowfalls, and singing birds took on new meaning.

I always had birds singing in my gardens, but now I hear their songs more clearly.

I don’t know why.

I look and I listen and I seek and I hope. For what, I really don’t know.

Maybe just an angel in my garden.

Waiting for miracles

I debated whether or not to post this. It came to me like a flash a few days ago. That often means there’s a revelation or message for me in it. I realize now that this is more about Annie miracles than book miracles. It’s a journey I’m on. Growing up with Annie had a profound effect on me; I’ve never denied it. As I mention in Dancing in Heaven, a lot of things got buried out of various needs: not to be a problem for my parents, not to feel guilty about my abilities—there’s probably a whole laundry list of things that happen in a child with a disabled sibling.

I debated because I don’t want everyone to think I’ve given up on Dancing in Heaven. I feel more at peace with its publication than ever. I hang on to the words of one of my faithful readers, William, who commented, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” I think I’m off the starting blocks and well into the race. I’ve worked out the early kinks and pains, and am settling into a comfort zone in this particular marathon. I intend to continue to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. And I’ve got an idea or two that I hope to try. I’m just going to enjoy the view as I run, or in my particular case, walk.

(You might enjoy these humorous posts from William at Speak of the Devil: for dog-lovers—A day in the life of a dog, and for those who prefer feline friends—A day in the life of a cat. I promise you will at least smile and likely laugh. I did.)

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I join the ranks of all the other writers I’ve read about who want to write, want to publish, but do not want to do the work necessary to promote their books.

Maybe it’s Annie’s story. Maybe it’s because it’s history, and family, and love. Maybe it’s because we always treated her gently and held her close. Even though talking about Annie’s story with others is rewarding, sending out press releases, holding book launch parties, and drumming up business at bookstores has never felt right.

Maybe if I wrote fiction, a fantasy or suspense. . .maybe then I would feel justified in beating the bushes and announcing to the world at every opportunity that I had a book to sell. Maybe I could approach it in the more professional manner I am continually encouraged to do in publishing-and-promotion-self-help posts and articles I read.

Maybe deep back in the dark recesses of my mind I always thought a miracle might happen for Annie’s story. Just like I grew up hoping for a miracle to happen for Annie. But miracles for Annie didn’t happen then. Why should the miracle of her story happen now?

Books from unknown authors, particularly self-published authors, don’t sell without people knowing about them. Promotion is required.

I see now that I may not be able to adequately promote that which is closest to my heart.

So I’ll wait for a miracle. That’s nothing new. I’m used to waiting for miracles.

R.I.P. Annie.

Things that last a lifetime — and a book giveaway

I dreamed about Annie last night. We were in an old house, not old in a decrepit way necessarily, but old in a quaint way— the kind of house that has the wide dark woodwork, thick plaster walls and large doorways. Annie was lying on the floor. I noticed a long gray bug with wings crawling across the floor. Then I noticed another and another. Then seven and ten. I looked up and saw that one of the small square tiles in the ceiling was partially falling out exposing the empty space above.

All at once a swarm of these bugs poured out of that space the tile provided.

My first instinct was to flee, but then I remembered Annie. So I went back and picked her up and tried to barricade us in a room with a rug stuffed under the door.

Maybe some things last a lifetime.

If you haven’t already gotten a copy or read Dancing in Heaven, you might want to enter to win a free book at Goodreads on St. Patrick’s Day. Tell your friends.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Dancing in Heaven by Christine M. Grote

Dancing in Heaven

by Christine M. Grote

Giveaway ends March 17, 2012.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

A tribute to being human

I had a thought Tuesday morning while I was sitting in my rocker-recliner in the study looking out the window and watching the birds visit the feeder hanging from the porch ceiling.

Then I was reminded of that same thought again when I read a comment on my Self-Publishing Update from  Patti who writes A New Day Dawns. Patti wrote, “Most people know an Annie, or know someone else who is living your story. . .”

And she’s right. I hear it all the time from people who’ve read Dancing in Heaven: “Annie reminds me of my neighbor,” or “My sister-in-law has a child who has a serious condition that requires a lot of care,”  and so on. In my own life I’ve encountered people who are not only disabled in some way but who remind me closely of Annie, on a walk around the park, waiting in my car behind a school bus for the handicapped, at a special Christmas concert.

While I was gazing out my window, I wondered, what happens to the birds that are born with a disability, or the squirrels, or the deer? Surely human beings aren’t the only creatures for whom something goes awry during the procreation and gestation process. Surely there exist in the animal kingdom births of the blind, the lame, the brain injured. I think that’s probably true.

And then I realized one more thing that makes human beings so special. We take care of others who are challenged in some way to make it on their own. We not only take care of them, as a human society we strive to find better ways and means of enabling independence by inventing all sorts of speech, hearing, mobility, and just basic life sustenance aids.

I don’t know what happens to the unfortunate bird that is born unable to fly, the squirrel that can’t walk, or the deer that can’t see. But I have a pretty good idea.

So when Patti says, “Most people know an Annie,” let’s see it as the great tribute to human nature, or perhaps human nurture, that it is.

“The Biggest Regret” from Sally at Hot Dogs and Marmalade

I hope today you’ll visit Sally’s blog post The Biggest Regret at Hot Dogs and Marmalade where she comments on both my memoir Dancing in Heaven, and my father’s Alzheimers.

Sally’s title for this post comes from words my father said about Annie that I included in Dancing in Heaven: “The biggest regret I’ve got of the whole thing is that she cannot speak.  Everything else I can deal with pretty much as it comes along.”

Sally is walking a similar journey as mine, as she struggles to maintain a meaningful relationship with, and life for, her mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s.

I’d like to thank Sally for her kind words and am hoping you’ll read her short, insightful and inspirational post.

Dad and Annie circa late 1960s

Wish List – Upgraded Wheelchair would make life easier for 13-year-old boy

Ian Hatfield from the Cincinnati Enquirer - December 6, 2011

Every year our local newspaper, the Cincinnati Enquirer, generates a wish list and prints a daily story about an individual who needs something to better their lives. The campaign is sponsored by the Enquirer and administered by United Way. Thirteen-year-old Ian Hatfield was featured on today’s wish list.

Like my sister Annie, Ian has cerebral palsy. Also like my sister Annie, according to John Johnston who wrote the story, Ian “can’t walk or talk, but his smile speaks volumes.” When Ian was 10 months old, he was diagnosed with schizencephaly, a rare brain disorder, and cerebral palsy. My parents were first alerted that there was something wrong with Annie when she was 9 months old. She was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 14 months.

Ian’s mother is quoted as saying, “The way the doctors describe it, he’s trapped in a body he can’t use.” (Cincinnati Enquirer, Dec. 6, 2011)

Because of modern technology, unlike my sister, Ian is able to communicate with a device that “speaks his thoughts when he pushes buttons on a screen.” Also unlike Annie, he was likely trained from an early age to use a power wheelchair for mobility.

Ian has outgrown his power wheelchair, and his insurance is expected to only cover a portion of the cost. His parents have limited financial resources because of his mother’s time off work from serious medical issues and his father’s loss of a job due to the recession.

I have no way to know, but sometimes I wonder how different life might possibly have been for Annie had she been born in 1998 instead of 1958. When I see someone like Ian it warms my heart and makes me want to cheer out loud. Sometimes I criticize all the things we’ve lost in this age of technology. But when I see a 13-year-old boy who is able to go to school, and communicate because of the devices technology has provided, I am overwhelmed by the goodness of our society’s achievements.

Go Ian.

If you would like to help, print the coupon below and mail it with a donation to

Wish List
P.O. Box 6207
Cincinnati, OH 45206

(Click to enlarge).

Something to Celebrate – a guest post at The Idiot Speaketh

Today it is my great honor to be a guest blogger at The Idiot Speaketh (otherwise known as Mark). When I first started reading Mark’s blog, he was in the middle of his virtual trip across the US and Canada on his stationary bike. I was enthralled by his energy, commitment, and creativity. His humorous blogs, admittedly 90% fiction at times, keep me smiling at the Idiot’s antics. What kind of a warped mind would think of doing that? I often wonder. Mark also blogs about entertainment in the 70’s and 80’s and has refreshed my memory on many of my favorite musicians, movies, and television shows. Mark also blogs about his disability due to a spinal surgery gone terribly wrong, and the resulting law suit. Well-worth reading. As I’ve gotten to know him better through his blogs and comments, I realize that even though at times I shake my head at the antics of the Idiot, there is a kind, gentle, and very support man behind the curtain.

I hope you’ll take a minute to read my guest post, Something to Celebrate, at The Idiot Speaketh. Then I hope you’ll click around a bit on Mark’s blog where he says, “I do this blog because I like to hopefully make people smile or laugh a little bit each day in these otherwise tough and depressing times.”

Thank you Mark.

The Idiot Speaketh (Mark) in front of the Empire State Building with his stationary bike.

When individuals read what you write

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Christine M Grote signing books at the Cincinnati Authors class, College of Mount St. Joseph, Nov. 5, 2011
Signing books at the Cincinnati Authors class November 5, 2011

While at the College of Mount St. Joseph earning my English degree several years ago, I worked as a writing consultant in the writing center. We assisted students in every stage of the writing process from idea generation to final editing. I heard more than one student complain about writing, I can tell you. My response was “It is an honor when someone wants to read what you wrote. They are interested in getting inside your mind. They want to know what you think.” I don’t always have this idea of respect and esteem in the forefront of my mind when I’m writing. But it is the simple truth.

I took a course while at the Mount called Exploring the Sacred. It was a wonderful combined English and religion course, taught by a team of two excellent professors: Elizabeth Bookser Barkley (Buffy), and Alan DeCourcy. One of the books we read was Martin Buber’s I and Thou where he discusses the nature of relations. In a bare-bones simplification of his idea he maintains that the expectations we impose on relationships reduce it to an “I-it”-ness. Whereas if we have unconditional love and acceptance we elevate the relationship to an “I-thou”-ness. Really listening, seeing another person fully and respecting that, elevates them from an it to a thou.

All you really have to do is think of how you view the employee at the cash register or the slow driver in front of you and compare that to your child, sister, or spouse. I could go into a lot of examples here, but that isn’t the focus of this post. The focus is to share how it feels as a writer to have individuals read what you write.

I’m experiencing this wonderful, scary, validating feeling over and over again with the launch of Dancing in Heaven.

On Saturday November 5th, I was the guest speaker at Jeff Hillard’s Cincinnati Authors class at the College of Mount St. Joseph. To be perfectly honest, I was anxious about this class from the time Jeff asked me to participate up until I was sitting at a desk Saturday morning and had begun to speak. I don’t have a lot of experience with public speaking and it makes me nervous. I also was concerned I would cry. It has always been difficult for me to talk about Annie, even before she died. Sometimes I would be having a discussion about her with someone and I would try to say something that struck a hidden nerve and I would tear up. I never saw it coming.

Fortunately, one of the students gave me a perfect segue. I had asked them to introduce themselves and tell me their majors. Since they all had recently read the book, most of them also volunteered what they thought about Dancing in Heaven. One woman said, “I am emotional. It made me cry at times.” I answered, “I cry easy too. In fact, I cry when I talk about it sometimes.” I reached in my purse, took out a little pack of tissues, and said, “Don’t worry about it if I do. I’ll recover.”

It was extremely validating for me to be there and hear their comments and questions. They got it. They really got it. And in some cases they saw things in the story that I missed myself. It’s amazing to me that I wrote this book from my own personal experience, and yet I continue to learn more about my own experience by the light that readers shine on it.

One of the first readers of my book was a high school classmate of mine who now works as a home health aide for a disabled young man. “I remember the first time I met Annie at your home on Gainsborough,” she said. “I remember being afraid.”

I don’t think it’s terribly unusual for people, especially young people, to be uncomfortable or even afraid when they see someone or something they don’t understand. My dad once told me when he was a child he was afraid of people in wheelchairs. But I had forgotten this aspect of my experience.

Many of the students in the Cincinnati Authors class had a relative, a neighbor, or knew someone who was like or similar to Annie. “My nephew has a rare disorder and was only expected to live eight years. He’s eleven now. What would you tell his parents?” one student asked. “I’m going to share this book with my neighbor’s mother. He’s a lot like Annie. He smiles whenever I go over and visit him. I don’t know if he knows me or not,” another student said.

I sent a copy of Dancing in Heaven to another high school friend who had been particularly helpful. He emailed me last night after finishing it to thank and compliment me. Here’s the miraculous part. He wrote, “Coincidentally, I loaned your book out to one of my staff today as she just received a diagnosis of cerebral palsy for her four-month-old baby who has been demonstrating seizures and other symptoms. . .I think she will find inspiration and strength from your memoir.”

I could go on and on. It’s uplifting for me to see the effect Dancing in Heaven, Annie and my parents really, have on readers.

But I want to end with this comment from a student in the Cincinnati Authors class because it had a big impact on me. A few students had gathered around me after class. One of them said, “Annie was lucky. Your family was perfect for her with your parents and their abilities to make the things she needed.” And then another man said, “Or, to look at it another way, Annie was perfect for your family.”

We needed her more than I ever fully realized. She was perfect for us.

Resolving a quandary – one communication success story with Alzheimer’s

One of Dad’s first symptoms of Alzheimer’s was his inability to keep track of the days of the week.

Over two years ago, in July of 2009, I was driving to Dayton to visit my parents and I called to let them know I was on my way. Dad answered the phone.

“Are you going to go exercise today?” I asked him. Since he had been under the care of a cardiologist, he regularly went over to the monitored exercise facility at a nearby hospital.

“I don’t go on Sundays,” he said.

“It’s Wednesday,” I told him.

“Well, I’m not going anyway.”

I don’t know why my dad always thought it was Sunday. Maybe it was because he was raised by an extremely religious mother, and was a devout Catholic himself. The faith, the sacraments, attending Mass on Sunday morning, all those things were important to him.

This past Saturday Mark and I took dinner up to Mom and Dad to share with them. We were sitting around the kitchen table eating when Dad started making a motion with his hand over the wheel of his chair. I knew he wanted something but I didn’t know what. Mom and I both tried to ask him specific questions, but were unable to get to the bottom of it.

“Say what you what,” Mom said. “Maybe we should get the whiteboard out for him.”

“Maybe he needs a hankie,” Mom said noticing that his nose had started to run. I got one for him and that seemed to solve the problem. I also got the whiteboard and placed it on the table beside him.

Our conversation drifted to my memoir about Annie. I try not to bring Annie’s name up too much around Dad because it always makes him cry. But I had talked about the book at a nearby college class earlier in the day and I wanted to tell Mom about it.

Dad reached for the whiteboard and marker and started to write. “I” he wrote clearly. And then he wrote what looked like an “a” followed by what might have been multiple “m’s.” He was writing in cursive with small letters and a thick pen that all ran together. He also was not spacing the letters well and they were on top of each other. I had to watch the movement of his hand and try to guess the letter he was making.

“I am?” I asked.

He nodded. Then he continued to write what I was eventually able to decipher, with some effort, “in a. . .”

I had absolutely no clue what he wrote next. I guessed. Mom guessed. “You are in a what?” Mom asked. I asked Dad to print the letters really big. He wouldn’t. I started getting a sick, panicky feeling in my gut. What if I can’t figure out what he is trying to say? I thought. He was trying to communicate and I wasn’t able to understand. I got more desperate and tried to tease it out of him.

“Why don’t you say the word,” I suggested, “and I will spell it for you.” I think he got the joke, by the way he darted a look at me. My dad was always a big tease, and he could take what he could dish out.

All of a sudden, out of Dad’s mouth the word “quandary” came, clear as day. Jaw-dropping amazing. How did he manage to enunciate that word when he rarely speaks at all?

Uh oh, I thought. This was not going to be a simple “Pass the lima beans,” request.

“What are you in a quandary about?” I asked. Now I was really worried. Dad was upset, confused, or concerned about something and I might not be able to figure it out. We were talking about Annie, so I thought that it had something to do with her. “Write it down, Dad.”

“My daughter,” he wrote. “Which daughter?” I asked. “Are you in a quandary about Annie?” He nodded. Then I started to sweat. We had been at this for what seemed like an hour, although I suspect it was only several minutes. I started making guesses. I was afraid he didn’t remember that Annie had died.

“Are you wondering where Annie is?” He shook his head. “You remember that she died, and she’s gone now?” He nodded and began to cry. “What is it that you’re worried about?” Then I added, “You don’t have to worry about her now. She’s happy. She’s in heaven.”

He went back to the whiteboard and wrote something that looked like “Did a prt” and I eventually deciphered as “Did a priest,”

“Are you worried that she didn’t receive her Last Rites?” I asked. He nodded. The weight of the world dropped off my shoulders.

“She did, Dad. I was there. Mom and I both were there. Father Meyer came to the hospital early one morning and celebrated the Anointing of the Sick with us for Annie.”

“I told you about it, Jerry,” Mom said. “I hope you remember this time.”

Pulling threads of intelligible communication out of the Alzheimer’s plaques and tangles of Dad’s once-sharp brain was like wringing a drop of water out of a stone-dry sponge. But we got there. Thankfully, we did.

Cynthia Robertson reviews Dancing in Heaven (with a giveaway)

Cynthia Robertson is a writer living in Arizona. She is the founder of the Arizona Novel Writers Workshop – dedicated to helping writers write and polish their novels for publication. Cynthia has written a monthly newspaper column, Lucid Moments, and has had her short story Peanut Butter Kisses published in a literary journal.  She has recently completed her novel Sword of Mordrey, an historical adventure set amid the sun-baked alleyways of ancient Jerusalem and the squalor and color of medieval London.

I ran across Cynthia’s blog fairly early in my (somewhat brief) blogging career. I remember reading a post where she talked about a stack of books she had to read and review.  I’ll let her tell you the rest.

Dancing in Heaven

Book Review and Giveaway

When I was quite young I remember wishing, or maybe even praying, that I could share my life with my sister Annie. In the innocence of my child’s worldview, I suggested to God that perhaps I could take Annie’s place every other week. We could trade places and then she could have the chance to ride a bike, roller skate down the sidewalk, climb trees, have friends, go to parties and do all the things I loved to do. (Quote from Dancing in Heaven)

When Christine Grote asked if I would read and review her memoir, Dancing in Heaven, I was hesitant. I don’t read memoirs typically…and the focus of this one was a younger sister who spent her entire life brain damaged and paralyzed. Would the book be depressing? Would it be maudlin? I knew Christine was self publishing…would the writing be horrendous? Would the layout be a nightmare of typos and random odd formatting? I recall that I wrote Christine back and asked her how many pages the memoir was—figuring if it was short, I could get through it, no matter what. She graciously wrote back that it wasn’t long, 179 pages, and lots of photos, so it could be read in an afternoon or two. “Okay,” I said, “I’ll do it.”

I’m so glad I did.

Read more.

I really hope you will click the link (leave a comment on Cynthia’s blog for a chance to win a copy of Dancing in Heaven) and take a moment to finish reading Cynthia’s review. It moved me to tears. She nailed me with the opening quote she selected. She really “got” it and was in turn able to communicate it beautifully. I want to publicly thank Cynthia for her great sensitivity and insight.

Initially I was hesitant to ask Cynthia for a review. But after having gotten to know her a little better through blogging comments and a few tweets here and there, I decided I would.

I’m so glad I did.