While we slumber— the messages in our dreams

Annie in the first chair our dad made for her - circa 1961 when she was three years old. The chair had small metal wheels so we could easily move her around, and neck support because she wasn't able to hold her head up well.

I had a dream last night where I was remembering the time when my disabled and now deceased sister Annie was kidnapped, but we weren’t alarmed because we didn’t realize it until she was returned a few hours later, wrapped in a blanket and lying on the porch. Pretty bizarre, but perfectly possible in a dream.

It reminded me of another vivid dream I had about her shortly after she died. We had all gone to a parade and Mom had pushed Annie there in one of the wooden chairs that Dad made for her. The chair had small metal wheels that vibrated voraciously as it was pushed across the rough concrete sidewalk.

I held Annie on my lap in a lawn chair. Mom and the others decided to leave, but I wanted to stay with Annie for a while. She was enjoying being someplace different, and I thought to myself, “I should take her out more often. It’s got to be boring staying home nearly every day looking at the same four walls.” Just this small change of scenery was a big entertainment for her.

When I wanted to go home, I looked around and didn’t see her chair at first. I thought, “Uh oh. I hope I am strong enough to carry her all the way back.” I cradled her close, stood up and thought, “I can do this. She’s not that heavy.” But I jostled her a little bit adjusting my hold on her and her head flopped around. I hoped I hadn’t hurt her. She was still smiling after an initial gasp and pucker that she does when she was surprised or  hurt.

I crossed at the crosswalk and turned to take a last look behind us. That’s when I saw her chair sitting under a store’s awning. I knew I had to go back for it.

Right when I turned around to cross the street and get the chair, my sister Carol showed up to help me. I debated on putting Annie through the vibration of the ride back in her chair, or just carrying her. I decided on the latter and Carol pushed the empty chair. She said, “It makes a lot of noise, too.”

I had no thoughts about Annie’s death until I woke up and even then it took me a minute.

There are several things wrong with this dream:

One, Mom would not likely take Annie out on the street in a crowd like that. For one thing, being in close quarters would make Annie nervous.

Two, Annie probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it and may have looked more like she was being tortured. The sun in her eyes bothered her.

Three, even if I wanted to take Annie out more often, I wouldn’t have done it. Annie had bad allergies and her eyes would itch if she was out for any period of time and her skin was extremely sensitive to the sun. Besides that, Mom would never let me.

Four and most importantly, Mom would never have left and gone home without taking Annie with her.

Here is another post I did in April about recurrent dreams.

What do you think about dreams? Do they tell us anything significant? Are they giving us messages we should heed? Or are they just our minds playing around while we sleep?

Comments are wonderful — and a response to Sally

The thing that surprised me the most about blogging is the comments. When I blog, I search my mind, my heart or my soul, (or sometimes I just search my photo files) for something to write about. I type it in and hit publish. And then somewhere on this continent, or across an ocean, you read it. And sometimes you respond.

This is wonderful for many reasons. The first one is— just the verbal acknowledgement of a simple comment like, “Good post,” lets me know I’ve been heard. That’s why writers write, to be heard. Acknowledgement. It’s wonderful.

Sometimes you or someone else will go one step further and say, “This happens to me too. I know how you feel.” That lets me know I am not alone. Someone understands. Affirmation. Wonderful and soothing.

I’ve had people give me helpful suggestions, “You might try this,” or “This is how I handle that.” Now the reader cares about what I’m saying and is touching my life. He or she has given me something that I take inside, a new way to think about something, or do something. My life has been changed. Life-expanding. And wonderful.

Many times a reader’s comments will challenge me, sometimes in subtle and diplomatic ways, but occasionally in a very upfront way. The reader has not only heard me, understood me, and cared, the reader is trying to move me.

This happened very recently on my A Matter of Faith post from June 29th. Sally is a blogger I found and continue to follow because of her posts about her mother with Alzheimer’s. She writes a blog called Hot Dogs and Marmalade — Recipes for Life/ Caring for Family aged 7 – 82. Here is an early post she wrote about her mother that you might like — The Twilight Zone.

Sally has a good sense of humor and strong faith in God. She left the following comment on my Matter of Faith post:

Hi Christine — I’ve been thinking about this post of yours for days now.

The thing that jumped out at me was the fact that you viewed your sister Annie as a gift, but not your father’s Alzheimer’s. I think we learn more about God and our faith in God through suffering than any other way. It’s when we pour ourselves out for another that we can see God.

That’s the whole basis of Christianity, a God who left the comforts of heaven to get blisters on his feet as he walked from town to town healing people and giving them hope, and then finally getting nails in his hands as suffered tremendously at the end. It wasn’t fair. But it was love.

My mother’s Alzheimer’s is a gift. It is in caring for her that I better understand the sacredness of life. I think you would say the same about Annie.

Even though I have waited days to respond, I still have a hard time putting words to my faith. It’s my core. It’s my rock. It’s my hope.

Love to you — Sally

Sally saw through all the noise and zoomed in on the basic contradiction I’ve been living with. Annie, with her severe brain damage and complete disability was a gift. My dad with Alzheimer’s and an increasing amount of disability is not. Sally’s right. There is a disconnect here.

I want to say, “Well, the two cases are very different. Annie was always that way. We didn’t lose her to her disability. She was born with it. Annie was always happy and smiling. She was a joy to be around. She wasn’t taken away from us. She was given to us.

“Dad, on the other hand, used to be a strong, intelligent, loving, giving man. Now he barely speaks. We have to watch him lose his abilities one by one. He’s started falling out of bed. He fell out of his chair. He never smiles and he cries often. He is sad to be around. He is being taken away from us one slow step at a time.”

But Sally is very right when she says about her mother, “It is in caring for her that I better understand the sacredness of life. I think you would say the same about Annie.”

True. So very true. It is what made Annie a gift to me. I saw and knew things about life because of her, and because of watching my parents care for her, that I likely never would have known otherwise. I’ve always said, of all the people who have ever touched or influenced my life, Annie is the one who had the greatest influence on my character. It’s true.

But here’s the thing. I’m not sure my parents saw Annie as a gift when she was first diagnosed. I’m sure they didn’t see her disability as a gift at that time. Annie lived for 51 years. Everyone had time to accept and process what was going on. She became recognized as a gift with time.

We’re still neck-deep with pain and grief over Dad. It’s only been a few years since he was diagnosed, and we continue to have to watch him slip away. The grief overwhelms any sense of gift.

Maybe later I will be able to see it that way. I’m just not there right now.

But I want to give a heart-felt thank you to Sally for challenging me, because in my mind I know she is right. It’s my heart that has the problem.

Dad and Annie — 1969

Successful Self-Publishing: Assignment #10

For this final workshop assignment we were asked to go back through our project binder and review each worksheet. Then we were to write a response about what what we learned, what surprised us and what indie authorship means to us and our work.

After this, I plan to continue to periodically post about my self-publishing journey. For more frequent updates, please friend me at my Facebook page — Christine M Grote.

I’ve gone back over the previous nine sessions and don’t see a lot of things that need to be adjusted or changed for this project.

I’ve been focusing mostly on the publication process itself and less on the promotional aspects.

I think the schedules I defined earlier are still do-able, but I need to make some things happen. I mentioned those things in the last assignment. I would like to have a solid book in my hand by the second anniversary of Annie’s death, August 16. Ideally, I would like the book to be available for purchase by then, but I’m not sure the timing will work out.

I’m still deliberating on whether or not to purchase my own ISBNs. I have three or four more book ideas I want to work on, so I could use the extra ISBNs down the road. I need to re-examine the opportunities purchasing my own give me.

I am moving along building a platform, as I mentioned last session. I know I still need to put a lot of work here.

My biggest unknowns right now are promotional activities. I am confident my daughter will be able to design any print materials I need. I know that at minimum I want to print some nice quality bookmarks. I will need other materials as well.

Another big concern I have right now is getting significant reviews. I need to go back through the chapter on this and check with my online resources about the best way to get reviews.

Right now I am focused on getting the business set-up, getting the book ready to print, and getting my author website up so that I can communicate with readers. I think all of these things have to happen before I can publish.

After I get the POD book out, I think I should be able to quickly publish in e-book formats.

Once I have the book available for purchase, I will focus my efforts on promotion.

What surprises me the most about this course and the idea of self-publishing is just how excited I am about doing it. I came into this workshop with a lot of questions, doubts and concerns. Through the course of this workshop I have been able to work my way through most of those.

I can make this happen. That’s what I am most excited about. I don’t have to draft letters, psychoanalyze responses, or lack of, from too-busy and overwhelmed agents, redraft, sit and hope and pray.

I’m going to make this happen. I’m going to give the book the title I want it to have. I’m going to include all the stories I want to. And I’m going to do it now, not two, three or four years from now.

It may not be as professional as other books are that are published by traditional publishing houses, but it will be out there. And it will be heartfelt.

I may not receive the esteem of the literary community, or perhaps even the public at large, but my story will be available for anyone who wants to read it.

And it will hopefully let Annie’s light shine a little longer.

A matter of faith

I try to avoid writing about religion and politics. I’m like a genteel hostess who attempts to keep the conversation on  non-controversial topics. And I read somewhere in Blogging Tips 101, or some such thing, that this was a good code to blog by. So when I woke up at 4:00 with faith on my mind, I looked at the clock and rolled over again thinking, I’m not getting up at 4:00 am to write about religion.

When I woke up at 5:00 am, I thought, If I really want to write about this I will remember all these nagging little thoughts when I get up at a reasonable hour.

Here I sit at 6:30 am.

Growing up as a Catholic Christian I had a certain perspective that if you lived a good life and did well by other people, God would look out for you. Your good acts would be rewarded. There was a sense of fairness or justice about the religion I was raised on. Ours was a loving, caring father. A just God.

Growing up beside my disabled sister Annie, I didn’t question God’s judgement or justice. In fact, I justified it all by my view that Annie was a gift. And truthfully, I still think of her that way. But other people who witnessed my parents caring for her would sometimes say, “Your parents are saints. They have a special place in Heaven.” My parents always disavowed this kind of talk. They knew they were not alone in their responsibility for caring for a disabled child. Many people lived a similar life. They never thought of themselves as special.

But the point is, I was still okay with God. Annie was a gift. We had what we needed to take care of her. She seemed happy.

It wasn’t until I had to watch Annie suffer as she was dying a fairly prolonged death that I got mad. I wanted to know, after the life she had to live, why did she have to die in such a difficult way? Why couldn’t she just have a heart attack in her sleep? Other people do.

My dad’s Alzheimer’s was icing on the cake of disillusionment I was baking. A friend of mine said, “It doesn’t seem fair, after your parents spent their life taking care of Annie, for this to happen to them now.” No. It doesn’t seem fair.

But as the dean of the school of Engineering at the University of Dayton once told me when I was complaining about an awful, inept teacher there, “Life isn’t fair.”

And apparently, neither is God.

It reminded me of studying Robert Browning’s poem Caliban Upon Setebos in Jack Hettinger’s Literature class at the College of Mount St. Joseph. In the poem, Browning portrays a view of an ambivalent almighty creature who has no regard for the smaller beings and randomly inflicts death and suffering on them.

“Let twenty pass, and stone the twenty-first,
Loving not, hating not, just choosing so.”

I also realized that there was nothing special about Christianity. If I had been born in another non-Christian country it’s very likely I would be a Muslim or Buddist or share some other faith. My religion is, in many ways, an accident of my geographic location. How can it be the “One true church”?

If you look at them closely, most religions contain similar ideas about how to behave kindly to other people.

You will not win an intellectual debate over whether there is a benevolent God. You may not lose, but you will not win. It cannot be proven scientifically either way. It is a matter of faith.

The closest anyone ever came to proving the existence of a God was my philosophy teacher at the Mount. She explained how Aristotle justifies the existence of a creator with his Unmoved Mover theory. This theory made sense to me at the time I was first introduced to it, although the above link is rather weighty.

I think it boils down to: Aristotle believed all existence was caused, like a series of dominoes falling one against the other. Someone, or an outside force, has to push the first domino. That is the unmoved mover. But according to Yahoo Answers which got its information from Wikipedia (so take it for what it is worth), “One can argue that this unmoved mover is a sort of God, however it is important to understand that it is not a God in the traditional sense we think of one. Ultimately this is a very limited function for a God, and constitutes a beginner, but not a God who is imbued in, or even aware of, the goings on of the universe past the original act of motion.”

Heavy thoughts for 4:00, 5:00 and now 7:00 in the morning.

In all fairness to Christianity, nowhere does it say the rewards will be on this earth. In fact, this religion is based on a God who gave up his own son to be crucified. See what we’re dealing with? The rewards will be in the next life. It’s all about the next  life.

Ultimately, I believe in a humanistic worldview—behaving as if each human life is equal and valuable, respecting all forms of life, “Do unto others . . .”

I still hope for an afterlife where I will be reunited with loved ones who have gone before. I don’t know what that looks like. And quite frankly, sometimes I get bogged down thinking about how that will work exactly. But I’m not willing to give up the hope.

It’s a matter of faith.

We put the shovels away

Friday and Saturday Mark and I did a blitzkrieg on the Chameleon ivy. The weather was dry and in the seventies here, so it was perfect for gardening. We worked all day both days. A couple of sections of the garden we re-dug for yet again. Some of these plants have been uprooted and re-planted three times. These sections are now largely free of the ivy.

Where the daylilies are planted, we only worked around the perennials. I didn’t want to uproot these plants and risk delaying or destroying their blooms. You can see them under one of the hydrangea bushes.  We will pull these out and clear the ivy rhizomes from their root systems in the fall.

And the section to the very right under and around the Oak Leaf Hydrangeas is misleading. Under the mulch, under the top layer of soil, a tangled maze of Chameleon rhizomes thrives. Mark has started using Roundup herbicide to kill the emerging ivy in the sections we have cleared. We know it is only a matter of time before this section is inundated with the ivy again. All of those rhizomes are underground generating new growth as I type.

But we’re having a little family reunion with our children and grandchild here this weekend, and I have things to do inside our largely neglected home to prepare. So we put our shovels away. (If you look closely, you might notice my gardening fork planted in the ground, just in case I can’t help myself.)

The daylilies are rather limp from battling for light and water with the Chameleon (and perhaps the assaults by our shovels). I hope they will regroup. I found a little identification tag in the soil. These daylilies are called JoAnn or Joan something. In our gardening fervor, the tag went the way of the trash can. Perhaps you recognize them and can enlighten me.

They have a pretty vanilla-colored blossom. If you look closely at the bottom flower, you will see a little morning hitchhiker.

I used to be afraid of the praying mantis. Now I’m fascinated by them. This is a young one. They are supposed to be excellent garden companions because they take care of the undesirable pests.

Here is a little attention-seeker in my St. Francis garden. This plant came with the garden.

These lovely golden daylilies were also here.

But we planted these daisies last year. They are the same variety as the ones we planted at Annies gravesite. Now that they are blooming I hope to make the trip north to Piqua, Ohio to see and photograph the flowers there. My dad is the one who insisted we plant daisies on Annie’s grave. He won’t be able to go this year.

Mark and I installed a few of the birdhouses I purchased online and from an Amish store on Murphin Ridge.

We put this one in the cleared section of the woods below the garden. Mark drove the four-by-four post into the ground using a metal mailbox spike. I have spotted several birds checking out these new residences.

I bought this little acorn bird house at the Amish store.

We hung another house, not pictured here, from a tree in our front yard, and we still have three cedar bluebird houses to install. I’m a little concerned because we want to put them on trees, but I read about it online and the experts suggest you install them on a 1-in diameter metal pole to protect them from predators. I don’t know what bluebirds do in nature. I’ve never seen a naturally occurring 1-inch metal pole with some kind of naturally occurring birdhouse on top. On the other hand, I don’t want to feel responsible if a bluebird moves in only to have her nest ransacked by a snake, squirrel, cat or raccoon. It’s a dilemma.

For now, I’m just glad to be done with the shovels and the mud for a while, and relax of an evening on the front porch with my man and my little white dog.


See more posts about gardening in my series.

Successful Self-Publishing — Assignment #8

This week’s assignment was “Choosing a Print Service Provider.” In lesson six I investigated and compared several POD providers. This week I took a hard look at the numbers, calculating my break-even point considering the upfront costs, the per-copy production cost, and the net author royalty. Since this was a short response, I also included my first draft of a brief, 200-word summary for the back of my book cover.

Assignment #8 — Choosing a Print Service Provider

Although I never did what I would consider to be a thorough comparison and investigation of POD service providers, I’m going to stick with Createspace which was recommended to me by several sources.

The Createspace website has handy little calculators for determining the cost of the book, shipping, and royalties. I used these to estimate that my book, at about 185 pages, in a 6×9 format will cost about $3.08 to produce.

Createspace offers a Pro-plan for $39 which discounts the cost of each book printed and increases the royalty payments.

If I sell the print books at $10.00 each which is on the low-end of the scale, and I take into consideration the bookseller’s cut, I will make $4.92 on every book sold in the Createspace e-store, $2.92 on each book sold at Amazon.com, and $0.92 for the books sold through the expanded distribution channels.

The following are my actual and some estimated upfront costs:

$300 — professional editing

$39.00 — Createspace pro-plan

$3.08 —proof copy

$3.59 —proof copy shipping

$154 —author copies (50) for family members, reviews and promotions

$23 —shipping author copies

$100 —promotional materials (estimate)

$100 —website hosting/year

$312 —cost to set up business (estimate)

$1039 —total upfront costs

At the royalty rates I anticipate based on the Createspace calculators, I only need to sell 211 books on the e-store to break even, or 355 books on Amazon.com. There are other means of distribution that I do not consider in these calculations. For example, I plan to sell Dancing in Heaven as an e-book. It’s possible I may at times hand sell books if I choose to do any book signings or attempt to get the book into smaller, independent bookstores.

I don’t really know what to expect in terms of sales. I suppose the way I look at it is, if I don’t break even, I will have to write it off as a hobby.  It’s not nearly as expensive as other hobbies can be.

My main goal all along was to get Annie’s story out there. When the first person buys a book, I will have begun to accomplish that goal.

Book summary draft:

If you are reading this, I would appreciate any help you can give me by posting or sending me your comments on this first draft of a book summary for the back cover of my book. The book summary will also be used in any advertising materials I have, so it is important that it is clear and engaging.

My sister Annie was born with severe brain damage in 1958.  She was born a year after me and was the fourth of five children in our family.

Annie never outgrew the needs of an infant. She didn’t walk or talk. Our parents fed her, changed her clothes, and carried her for her entire life. Although the doctors who initially diagnosed her predicted she’d have a life expectancy of eight years, Annie lived to be 51 years old.

In the summer of 2009, Annie became ill, was hospitalized, and returned home with our family for her few remaining days, under the tender care of Hospice.

Dancing in Heaven is an inspirational story about Annie’s life, death, and her significance in the lives of those of us who loved her and others who were somehow touched by her.  This memoir provides a window into my family’s life with a severely disabled member. But more importantly, Dancing in Heaven is a testimony to the basic intrinsic value of human life.

Annie never walked. She never spoke. She never worked. Yet she filled our lives with smiles and radiated light and love every day of her life.

Now, she’s dancing in heaven.

Start at the beginning with Successful Self-Publishing Workshop

A light show from the heavens

Last Thursday we were driving home from dropping Arthur off at my daughter’s house in Columbus, Ohio. We were going to Minnesota for a wedding and Anna was going to watch Arthur for us as she has done in the past.

We were driving along I-71 south towards Cincinnati when the dark ominous clouds rolled in. We had a panoramic view of the thunderous clouds in the distance with streaks of gray shooting down to the earth. Soon it started pouring big drops of rains that splatted on our windshield.

Up ahead the sun broke through the clouds and Mark said, “I see a rainbow behind us.”

I twisted in my seat, constrained by my seat belt, and saw a full brilliant rainbow arch across the sky. (And no, I did not open the moon roof and stand up to shoot from there as Mark helpfully suggested. I do have my limits.) By the time we were able to pull over so I could hop out and take a photograph, some clouds had obscurred the view. But I notice now, that the rainbow has the shadow of a double rainbow.

It has been many years since I’ve seen a rainbow, a sign from the heavens that all will be well after the storms.

The last few years, with the onset of Dad’s dementia, Annie’s illness and death, Dad’s continued decline, and my mom’s day-to-day struggle with coping, sometimes I feel like I am in a never-ending storm.

So I’ll willingly, happily, and gratefully take this light show from the heavens as a sign that all will be well.

If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland

For Mother’s Day  my son and daughter-in-law gave me two books on writing: If you Want to Write—A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland, and Writing About Your Life — A Journey into the Past by William Zinsser.

I’ve started reading Ueland’s book a chapter at a time, and although I haven’t gotten very far into the book, I find it refreshing, uplifting and inspiring. This is particularly true because of  the negative environment I often encounter on the web in terms of the likelihood of getting an agent, the validity of self-publishing, and the general question of are you good enough?

Ueland writes:

“Now perhaps the thoughts, ‘There is no money in it,’ and ‘It may never be published,’ dry up all the springs of energy in you so that you can’t drag yourself to a piece of paper.

“I have experienced this often. I have cleared it up for myself in the following way:

“At the time of the Renaissance, all gentlemen wrote sonnets. They did not think of getting them published in the Woman’s Home Companion. Well, why write the sonnet at all?

“A Renaissance nobleman wrote a love sonnet for a number of reasons. [. . .] But the real reason was to tell the lady that he loved her.”

Ueland continues with an example of an artist:

“If you read the letters written by the painter van Gogh, you will see what his creative impulse was. He loved the sky, for example. He loved human beings. He wanted to show human beings how  beautiful the sky was so he painted it for them. And that was all there was to it,” (Ueland pp 20-21).

I find this very inspirational. When I began writing my memoir, I did not think of getting it published. I loved my sister Annie, and I loved human beings. I simply wanted to show human beings how beautiful Annie was, so I wrote it for them. And that is all there is to it.

In the late 50s when my sister Annie was born, sometimes families placed severely disabled children in homes where they could be cared for. When Annie was born with severe brain damage my parents’ family doctor told them, “You have two choices. You can keep her and take care of her, or put her in an institution.” My parents took care of Annie in their home for 51 years, until her death. The following is an excerpt from Dancing in Heaven—a sister’s memoir.

Dad said, “All I know is that very early on we were both quite young and had no idea what was down the line. We made a decision. She’s the way God gave her to us, and we agreed to take on that responsibility. There was no pressure from anybody else to do it or not do it. We chose to do it.” After a moment he added, “She’s been a major pleasure to me on a one-to-one basis.”

“And she has been a major pleasure to a lot of other people, some of whom do not even know her,” Mom said. “I think it’s because she just smiles. She has some kind of charisma there that doesn’t have to be spoken. She’ll look up at people and just smile. And they’ll melt right there.

“You can take her to the store; you can take her anywhere, and the way she’s sitting back, she can see people’s faces good. And she’ll just look up and smile, and you’ve got everybody in the place smiling at her. But I think any ordinary person could do that too, I just don’t think we do.”

Successful Self-Publishing: Assignment #5

Assignment #5 was called A Self-Publisher is a Small Businessperson. This is where the rubber meets the road for the writer. Most things I’ve read about self-publishing say the challenge for the writer is the business part of self-publishing. I can’t say for myself. Right now I’m feeling pretty challenged about a lot of aspects of self-publishing including editing, copyrights and permissions. In these areas, I suspect an  editor at a traditional publishing house would likely have your back.

We read a handout for this session that covered setting up your small business, identifying and complying with legal and regulatory requirements, record keeping and tax reporting, and contingency planning.

As with the other assignments, we had two worksheets to fill out: a business entity worksheet and a small business startup compliance checklist. Here is my response:

Okay, this is a little intimidating. But I suppose that may be the point — a reality check.

The reading materials were quite helpful. I’m not sure how I would have even known that I needed this information and these forms without them.

I believe my best plan is to start a LLC, primarily for liability concerns, but also for the tax benefits. My husband has an S-corp and I will consult with the accountant and lawyer we used to help us set it up.

I’m a little uncertain about some of the licensing steps because I live in West Chester, Ohio, which is a township. I’m not sure what city hall I need to go to. I did find a site online about licensing a business in West Chester, but it listed a variety of businesses, none of which applied.

Would I need a vendor’s license? They also had a miscellaneous permit, so I’m not sure what to do.

I went to the Ohio small business site and found that there are small business development centers, SBDCs, here. I plan to contact one located in the county in which I reside. Hopefully they will have good information for me there.

I downloaded all the recommended publications from the IRS site, but haven’t read them yet. I also visited the SBA (small business association) site and bookmarked it for later reference.

In summary, I understand there are licenses I need to acquire and tax responsibilities I need to understand. I have some resources to get started with.

Regarding a contingency plan, I have an external hard drive that automatically backs up my computer on a regular basis. That will not help if I have a fire or a natural disaster, like a tornado for instance. I might look into an online backup service, or consider backing up important files to my daughter’s computer and external hard drive. I also keep hard copies of everything.

I have an office set up with a good workspace and filing system.

I’m not sure about virus or malware protection because I use a Mac. This is something I will need to investigate.

So, this was an intimidating session, but helpful.

 Our instructor offered to look over an excerpt of our manuscript. And by good fortune, I chose an excerpt that contained lyrics to a song and was promptly informed by the instructor that I could not included the copyrighted lyrics without permission. I should have known. That sent me into a panic of what other things might be in my memoir for which I need permission. I have now changed the names of every doctor, nurse and priest I write about. The only people who are named are family members. I will need written permission to publish what I’ve written about them. I will also need written permission for everyone who is included in a photograph.

I think I’d better learn how to write fiction.

Here is a short excerpt from my memoir (minus the lyrics). I have set the chapters up so that each one begins with a journal-type entry of the days when Annie was sick, diagnosed, and under the care of hospice, until her death. The second part of each chapter contains a vignette, or explanation of some aspect of Annie’s life or my relationship with her. Annie was born with severe brain damage. She couldn’t walk or talk and required the care of an infant, but she knew who we were, and she enjoyed our company. This excerpt is a vignette from the end of the 23rd out of 26 chapters.

late 1960s

I was at home babysitting Annie, and we were listening to the radio when her favorite song, Windy by the Association, came on.

“Annie! It’s our favorite song,” I yelled as I jumped up, grabbed an imaginary microphone, and started singing out loud along with the radio, in front of her chair. I replaced the name “Windy” with “Annie.”

“Everyone knows it’s Annie. . .

I started marching to the beat of the words, “ Da da, bum bum bum bum.”

Annie got excited and started waving her right arm up and down. She had a big grin on her face. I had a captivated audience, and now I was in full swing. I ran over and jumped onto the sofa, still holding my imaginary microphone in my right hand and using big dramatic arm motions with my left. I was singing out loud. Emphasis on the loud.

I jumped back off the sofa, got behind Annie’s chair, and twirled her in a circle as I sang. Annie was laughing all the while. By the time the song was over I was short of breath, and I had worked Annie into a state of utter excitement. She was hollering and laughing and swinging her arm up and down with fervor.

“We love that song, don’t we Annie?” I said. “ Whew!” I collapsed to the floor, arms and legs flaying out from my sides in an exhausted position, going for one more chuckle from Annie.

She complied.
Read Assignment #6

Start at the beginning with Successful Self-Publishing Workshop

A Time Capsule in the Driveway

It would have been a good day if I hadn’t decided to clean out my parents’ van—a time capsule from two years ago

The van with the electric lift for my sister Annie, sits in my parents’ drive, its tire flat and battery dead. I don’t think it’s been driven except for a handful of times since Annie died. It really was her vehicle. They got it in 1993 to be able to take her places in her wheelchair once the electric lift was installed.

And they did go places. They went to their cottage on a lake. My dad spent lazy afternoons on his pontoon boat, fishing, and my mom enjoyed the change of scene with the view of the lake from the windows of the cottage, where she kept Annie company and read books, or worked crossword puzzles.

My parents, with Annie, drove the hour to our house when we were celebrating our children’s graduations or a bridal shower for my daughter-in-law.

They drove to my sister’s when she held a birthday party or mother’s day celebration.

They drove to church every Sunday, with Annie in her chair, it securely fastened to the floor of the van.

I opened the door of the van today, climbed into the driver’s seat, and felt like I had entered a time capsule. I was assaulted by the pent-up, locked away mementos of the time before, like a blast of too strong and too heavy perfume. Overdone. Stifling. Nearly suffocating.

A half-full plastic bag contained trash—an empty French-fries carton, a few discarded receipts, one from Arby’s a year ago June. Probably one of the last times they drove with Annie anywhere, before she got sick.

I think the eighteen dimes in the spring-loaded coin holder on the sun visor was the first thing that got to me. I imagined my dad patiently putting his coins away when he was still able to drive, when he was still able to buy thing for himself and get change.

I found a half-empty 15-stick package of Wrigley’s Doublemint gum in the glove compartment. Does Dad even chew gum anymore? I haven’t seen him. Maybe no one has thought to ask, and he can no longer can help himself to it. Or maybe like knives, he can’t be trusted with gum. So many things are dangerous, or just messy, now that his Alzheimer’s is progressing.

By now, nearly two years after Annie’s death, Mom has cleared away from Annie’s room most of the reminders left behind, but not so for the van. A little electric bottle warmer lay discarded on the floor, behind the driver’s seat. They must have used it to warm Annie’s baby food when they were away from home.

At first, I put the audiotapes of Disney songs about princesses, and the country music that Annie loved, in the “save” bag. But after thinking it through, I moved them to the trash bag. These tapes are not going to make anybody in this house happy to hear.

I tried to remain detached, as my pragmatic sister Kathy would. In my mind I could hear her say, “Just do what you have to do, Christine.” And if we’re going to sell this van, this is what we have to do.

I know if I stop to hold onto the items I’m finding in the pouches behind the seats or in the doors, if I stop to dwell on who put them there, or why they landed in this abandoned time capsule, I might just crumble.

And I won’t crumble.

I put the yellow rubber rain suit with overalls and jacket into the “save” bag. I leave the fishing rods where they are, leaned at an angle against the wall of the van where Dad loaded them on his last fishing trip. I’ll have to do this later.

I’ve done enough for now.

We’ll change the tire, and charge the battery, and sell the van. No one needs a two-year time-capsule sitting in their drive, reminding them of yesterdays.

My dad and nephew JD are fishing at the cottage on Lake Loramie, in Ohio. Circa 1988.

You can read more stories about my father under the category My father’s story, and about my sister at the Annie category.