Turtles and Talismans

Turtles and Talismans

John and I saw a seal today. We’re still in the Los Angeles area, taking a couple days’ R&R before heading back to Phoenix. The back of the Tahoe is loaded with book festival paraphernalia (mostly books, but also chairs, table cloths, email sign-up sheets, postcards, etc.), and we added a rack to cart our brand new bikes with us. Seemed like a LOT of extra effort, until we got them out and road 8 or so miles along the Santa Monica/Venice Beach bike path. The weather was perfect and it was the most delightful ride! It was on the pier at Venice Beach where we encountered this little guy.

Venice Beach seal

I always thought of my sister, Corina, as the animal person in our family. Then I met John, and it seemed he and Cori had a lot in common – not the least of which was that he’s an animal person, too. The owner of the VRBO guest house where we’re staying has a very friendly Golden Retriever by the name of Jessie – and John has been cheating on our dogs with him. His owner has been away, so we’ve been taking Jessie for morning and evening walks, just like we would with our own dogs, Lucy and Sugar. I sent this photo to our friend, Barbara, who’s pet-sitting for us, so she can let them know John’s been seeing another dog.

John and Jessie

We’ve also seen squirrels, geckos, and these regal gulls who even agreed to pose for a photo.

Lois and Larry

Haven’t yet seen any turtles, my favorite of all the water and land animals. My fascination with them began some dozen years or so ago, when I stood and watched them for about an hour, outside the main gates of the Phoenix Zoo. They were sunning on a log, sometimes climbing over each other for better position and other times content just to sit and soak up the sun without moving for the longest stretches of time. I was reminded of the time I saw a turtle – decent-sized guy, maybe 10 inches wide by 14 inches long – wandering down the street in my neighborhood as I walked from the bus when I was a freshman in high school. I ran home to get a box to carry him in so I could take him back to my house (I’ve since learned that pet turtles frequently escape their captors), but he was gone by the time I got back to the spot where I’d seen him. I figured some other turtle-saving kid must have scooped him up in the interim.

Phoenix Zoo turtles

Having missed my chance back then, I’ve never actually had a living turtle as a pet. I do have many inanimate turtles, though. When I was planning the design of my still-fledgling atrium, I knew I wanted a way to incorporate my many turtles into the design. Found this awesome wrought iron shelf with wood slats – and it has become the new home for a little more than half of my turtle collection. My friend Kebba recommended I change the name from atrium to turtlarium. I like it! The other turtles are still in a box in storage, so I’ll have to g over there and rescue them soon! We also have a pewter turtle that guards our wedding bands, in addition to my small turtles and turtle earrings.

Back in December 2015, I got a henna tattoo at a street fair. It was a Celtic pattern on the inside of my left wrist, and every single time I looked at it for the roughly three weeks it lasted, it made me smile. So I have decided to go for the permanent version – but the design will be a turtle I cobbled together from a few different cultural images I liked. The center two are Celtic. A Facebook friend described it this way:

So your graphics seem to have different cultural origins. The one below is Gaelic. The one above, not sure – maybe Asia Pacific? And the overall image is Northwest tribal.

LO's Turtle TattooFirst, I planned to get the tattoo for my 50th birthday, but that’s come and gone. Then I was going to do it to celebrate reaching a specific weight goal – but that’s taking longer than I want, and my trainer encourages me not to tie rewards like that to my goals. Now, with Eric about to graduate from college, I could have it commemorate that – or I could just effing do it, right?! No reason attached to it other than that I want to do it.

I’ll be sure to write about it when I actually get the ink. In the meantime, you can check out my turtle collection on Pinterest, as well as just a few of the meanings ascribed to turtles and tortoises:

  • The turtle is a sacred figure in Native American symbolism, as it represents Mother Earth.
  • The turtle symbol signifies good health and a long life.
  • Turtle symbolism is characterized by its association with the Earth and the earth symbols of groundedness and patience.
  • The turtle is a symbol of the world.
  • The turtle symbolizes deliberately slowing down and pacing yourself.
  • The turtle is a symbol of determination and persistence.
  • The turtle represents emotional strength and understanding.
  • The turtle symbolizes ancient wisdom.
  • In Tibet, the tortoise is a symbol of creativity.
  • According to the principles of feng shui, the rear of the home is represented by the Black Tortoise, which signifies support for home, family life, and personal relationships. A tortoise at the back door of a house or in the backyard by a pond is said to attract good fortune and many blessings. Three tortoises stacked on top of each other represent a mother and her babies.
  • In Taoist art, the emblem of the tortoise represents the triad of Earth, humankind, and heaven.

Do you have a talisman that represents something special for you? Tell us about in the Comments section below!

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Laura Orsini is an author who works with other authors to help them make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Pulpwood Queens and an Adoption Theme

Pulpwood Queens and an Adoption Theme

Today is the first day of the 2018 LA Festival of Books. I am here with a colleague, Birgit Walker, who with her husband Jim, cowrote Keep Your Paws on the Road, about teaching your dog to be a great travel companion. I am also representing about a dozen other Phoenix-area authors’ books – titles ranging from Hollywood crime fiction to a Western to spiritual books to children’s picture books, and lots of others in between.

So it seems the perfect time to offer up a few comments on some recent books I’ve read. In January, I attended my first Pulpwood Queen Girlfriend Weekend in Nacogdoches, Texas. This was not a meeting of female lumberjacks, but rather the 18th annual gathering of book lovers – also known as readers – and a slew of amazingly accomplished authors. Started by a woman named Kathy Murphy, Pulpwood Queens is a book club that grew from one meeting in Kathy’s hair salon to more than 700 clubs around the world! These are some serious book lovers, and Kathy has created such a level of influence in the industry that she can pull household name authors to her event. On the flip side, she also has helped launch more than a few authors out of obscurity into a new level of fame.

packing tape handle

The weekend was packed with panel discussion after panel discussion wherein the authors shared their stories, discussed their creative motivations, and encouraged the writers in the audience to follow their passions. I came home with so many books that I had to pack a boxful to carry as luggage for the plane. You should have seen my very stylish packing tape handle. Laugh all you want; I was able to get myself from the rental car to the shuttle to the ticket counter with my fabricated tape handle. Of course, I received a love note from the TSA that they had searched my carefully taped box. For my safety – of course it was.

Author Katrina Shawver, my roommate for the Pulpwood Queen event, which takes place every year over MLK Weekend, told me her New Year’s resolution was to read a book a week in 2018. When I met him, my husband could – and did – read a book about every 2 to 3 days. I don’t think I’ve read more than 20 books in a year since college. So the idea of reading a book a week sounded like a pretty significant goal to me. In the 3 months since that weekend when I purchased, won, and was gifted all of those books, I have read five, about which I’m feeling pretty good. Once upon a time, my reading ratio was more or less 95 percent fiction to 5 percent nonfiction. Sometime over the last 20 years, it hasn’t exactly reversed, but it’s been more like 35 fiction to 65 nonfiction. These five books I read were all novels, so I’ve gone and skewed my recent ratio quite a bit.

A quote from Stephen King comes to mind: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” This blog has been my exercise in steady, if not daily writing, lo these last 3+ months. And I seem to be upping my reading – especially of fiction – quite a bit, as well. So maybe there is hope for me as a writer after all.

Adoption fiction

One interesting thing occurred as I listened to the authors speak over this very intense weekend – adoption seemed to be a thread running through a surprising number of the books. I had started this blog about two weeks earlier, so immediately thought I would read and write about these books. It has taken me until now to do so. I understand from the Pulpwood Queens Facebook group that the first author I will mention, Lisa Wingate, has recently sold her millionth copy of Before We Were Yours, no small feat. This is her 30th book, so she’s one of those many-years-to-get-there overnight successes. The book is the heartbreaking fictional story of a family impacted by a real-life monster by the name of Georgia Tann, a woman who literally stole babies and small children away from poor and “undeserving” families and sold them to wealthier people – all in the name of “the good of the child.” This child trafficking ring, covered up by police, judges, and child “welfare” workers ran from the 1920s to the 1950s. The book is extraordinarily well written, but truly a gut-wrenching read. I’m amazed it’s found such purchase among a wide audience, but happy for Lisa – of whom I asked a question about birthmothers during the Q&A and spoke with briefly as she signed my book – and grateful to have more light shone on such a dark era for American adoption.

Another “adoption” themed book whose author I heard speak is titled The Cage-maker, by Nicole Seitz. This book uses an interesting device, in that it tells the story of a wealthy family and the “curse” that seems to follow them across the years through the lens of letters, journal entries, and newspaper articles. The writing is eloquent and lyrical – but the story is slow-moving and a bit challenging to follow because of the device of telling it in bits and pieces, not all of them chronological. A modern-day woman who writes a DIY home decorating blog unexpectedly inherits the birdcage – with the promise that it will reveal the identity of her birthmother. She reads the letters, journal entries, and newspaper clippings and very occasionally comments on them as the story progresses. The bigger problem than the slow-moving nature of the book is that the adoption angle is utterly unnecessary to the story. In fact, it’s just confusing. Why make the heir an adopted person with no interest in knowledge about her birthfamily, when making her a long-lost niece would have worked just as well?

Then there was Cherry Bomb, a debut novel by a lovely woman named Susan Cushman. This freshman effort has received some glowing reviews; nevertheless, I found it a ridiculous and annoying read. It tells the story of a young graffiti artist who was abandoned by her mother at the age of five. While I have actually occasionally wondered about the people who’ve drawn some of the amazing and weird and obnoxious graffiti I’ve seen on walls in different parts of America, I found the inside lingo in this story awkward and overused. OK, I get it that a piece of graffiti is a tag, and stocking up on spray paint cans is referred to in the language of the artists as “racking.” But it felt like so much emphasis was placed on using this inside vernacular that the story was secondary. That, the age of the protagonist, and the general writing style made this feel like an unintentional YA novel. The most challenging piece of all, however, were the two massive coincidences used as plot devices. I understand, as I make this comment, that I have had some massive coincidences occur in my adoption. This, however, is a fictional story, and the coincidences are too incredible to be believed. They are also trite and so obvious that by the time you get to the end of the story, there is no surprise at all in “the reveal.” The intentions were good, but in my opinion, this book missed by a mile.

The last of these four books with something of an adoption theme is by the charming and very funny author Jamie Ford. What I mean is that Jamie is a funny person – his books would not be considered humorous. Here’s a detail that might impress you as much as it impressed me: Jamie’s first novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, was so well received that it has been picked up for use in high school literature classes across the country. He shared that the feedback from students that has most touched him are the comments that it was the first book they were required to read for school that they actually enjoyed. I had him autograph the copy that I bought to Eric, as my son made similar comments about losing his love of reading because of all the boring books he was required to read in high school.

So it was an interesting coincidence that Jamie’s third novel, Love and Other Consolation Prizes, also had adoption – of sorts – as its premise. A Chinese woman puts her young son on a boat to America, certain he will starve to death otherwise. Once he arrives in Seattle, he winds up in a children’s home where he’s made to work hard for his meager sustenance. When the boy is perceived as a complainer by the “do-gooder” who runs the home, she decides to get rid of him by literally putting him up for auction as the grand prize at the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, or the World’s Fair. Cardboard tickets are sold as an amazed crowd gathers to gawk at the boy-turned-raffle prize. The winning number is drawn – and people are dismayed to learn that the winner is the madam of a high-end brothel. During his presentation, Jamie Ford explained that this much of the story is said actually to have taken place, although he was unable to unearth any further details about the boy, whose name was Ernest. Another heart-breaking story, this was by far my favorite of the four adoption-themed books I recently finished.

Other than the sometimes loose theme of adoption, the other thing these books have in common is that they are all historical fiction – a favorite of the Pulpwood Queens. If you’re an avid reader who would truly enjoy meeting authors and a congenial community of other readers, you might want to consider a trip to Nacogdoches next January for the Girlfriend Weekend – the theme will be Western! I will definitely be there with bells on.

In the meantime, if you’ve read other adoption-themed fiction you want to share, please post your suggestions in the Comments section below.

____________________
Laura Orsini is an author who works with other authors to help them make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Turning My Brown Thumb Green

Turning My Brown Thumb Green

I finally got my own room when I was 12. My folks had an addition built onto the back of our house that included a master bedroom and bath, as well as a family room with a fireplace. I got my parents’ old room and Corina got the room we shared to herself (the larger room). We used that fireplace all of about three times because the chimney released soot – as chimneys do – that dirtied the roof of my mom’s white sedan. That, and the fact that one of the dogs knocked the Christmas tree over and some of her favorite bird ornaments were scorched to little charcoal puffs.

Before we knew the fireplace would be a bust, a neighbor who was cutting down a tree offered us a load of lumber – a nice find, actually, because fireplaces were not (and still aren’t) all that common in sunny Phoenix, Arizona. One of the pieces of wood was less a piece and more the actual stump of the tree, minus the roots and dirt. This stump had a little shoot sprouting from it, so when my mom saw it, she said, “That’s not dead. We can plant it!” And plant it she did. By the time we moved her into a nursing home some 30 years later, that tree had grown to nearly 40 feet. There were regular citations from the utility company because it interfered with their wires, and we could never rake fast enough to keep ahead of the leaves and pods that fell from it.

shoot on stump
The stump my mom replanted grew to more than 40 feet.

That was just one example of my mom’s gardening prowess. She would also take the seeds from the watermelon we had at dinner and literally throw them on the ground – and weeks later, a fully formed vine could be found growing along the next-door neighbor’s fence. Before her illness really took hold, my dad built her a greenhouse and she grew all manner of vegetables. The one that stands out was a cucumber the size of a fire extinguisher. She most certainly would have won some sort of prize if she’d entered that thing in the Arizona State Fair.

Mom’s green thumb didn’t exactly make its way down to me. I had my moments, of course. I grew fantastic sunflowers and a few decent vegetables at my house in Tucson before I moved to New Jersey. Then I grew nasturtiums and mini pumpkins from seeds in containers in the backyard of the house where I lived when Eric was born. I never minded the squirrels the way native Northeasterners do … until those thieving varmints ate every last one of my mini pumpkins clean off the vine. For some reason, though, all growth seemed to stop at the threshold – my indoor plants were usually doomed. I’d buy a few, forget to water them, and they’d die. Then I’d get re-energized and head out to try again. I came home one time with a few terra cotta pots, all ready to start anew, only to have Tony quip, “Oh, look. Little plant caskets.” I wanted to punch him at the time, but now it makes me laugh out loud every time I remember that. He was always funny in that sardonic way.

little plant caskets
“Oh, look – little plant caskets.”

About the time I met Tony, I took a road trip with a coworker out East. We met up with her boyfriend’s family and were invited to dinner at his dad’s home. I still remember the lush plants his stepmom had growing in one particular corner of their Baltimore home. I always wanted that kind of greenery in my house – but never quite got it together to do. Space was often a factor, as was attention to detail. Turns out that most of the growing will take care of itself if indoor plants have appropriate light and are watered once in a while.

Our new home has provided me a chance to try my hand at both indoor and outdoor gardening, once again. I think I’d have to put some real effort into destroying the outdoor plants – mostly rose bushes – we inherited with the house. Mary, John’s grandmother, brought them as clippings when she moved here from New Jersey in the late ’80s – and they are still thriving. They require little effort, other than trimming the dead flowers, as a drip irrigation system was set up when she built the house, so they are always receiving just the right amount of water and sunlight. We are planning to change up the front yard a bit, and this will involve planting a new rose bush and some bougainvillea – so there will be some original effort required on my part to get those going. Fingers are crossed already!

20180418_171714
Mary’s original rose bushes, transplanted from New Jersey

Perhaps all will be well, because I will have had a couple months to practice in our atrium – which is sort of the best of indoor and outdoor gardening. When Mary lived in this house, the atrium was finished with the same ugly rocks as the front and back yards have – and a GINORMOUS concrete fountain that weighed about 200 pounds. Perhaps the fountain worked at one time, but in all the time I ever visited with Mary across 8+ years, I never saw a drop of water in it. It was one of the things I was happiest to release at the estate sale.

My initial thought was that I would grow edible plants inside the atrium, but the more I got to thinking about it, the more I remembered my friend’s stepmom’s plants – and I wanted to do something like that. So, the attempt is underway. So far, so good. Of course, it’s still only getting to the mid-80s to high 90s right now. Once summer comes, that place is probably a heat column – so even with the green shade screen, we may need to install a mister to keep it cool enough for things to actually survive in there.

20180418_105408
Laura’s atrium Zen

I’ve picked up a number of plants in various places since I decided to go for the green. A few of them I inherited from my sister. I neglected those a bit in the months leading up to our move, but they seem to be doing better, now that they have a secure home and some regular TLC – oh, and water. So my goal is to honor both my mom and my sister by reincarnating their green thumbs. Perhaps the nicest facet of the new plant-festooned atrium (you’d think that’d be redundant, wouldn’t you?) is that I can look into it from the desk where I type up these little posts. Seeing those plants – and actually stepping down into that space – makes me happy every time. Imagine how delighted I’ll be if I can actually keep them alive. Wish all of us luck!

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Laura Orsini is an author who works with other authors to help them make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Where the Hell Did the Time Go?

Where the Hell Did the Time Go?

I remember being pregnant with Eric, trying to envision our lives – his and mine, distinctly separate – when he was 18. That’s the magical number to many a birthmother, as it’s the age of consent. They no longer need trouble with pesky adoptive parents when considering contacting the child they placed for adoption all those years ago. Of course, I exaggerate. I don’t have any idea how many birthmoms actually try to circumvent the adoptive family to reach their child, but I’m sure there are some. Particularly if the adoptive family has been extraordinarily stand-offish or breached the agreement after promising a certain level of contact.

As heartbreaking as such behavior no doubt is to birthmothers – birthfamilies – I actually understand it. I don’t sanction it because it’s more than likely born out of fear, but I can imagine an intensely overprotective adoptive parent thinking they’re doing the right thing by shielding their child from his or her family of origin. I believe this thought process is utterly misguided and will do more to hurt their child and harm their relationship with their son or daughter – but I get why they might behave that way.

Fortunately, I had none of those worries. Thanks to Kathy, our adoption has always been open, and I have had nearly unfettered access to my son – to whatever degree he was comfortable with. She always let him set the pace, and I never once got the impression that she felt threatened by me or my presence. And even so, I had a very hard time imagining this unborn baby – barely a seed of a human – at 18 years of age, or older. I used to ask my sister what she thought Samantha would do with her life, and she would tell me she didn’t want to speculate. She preferred to watch Samantha’s progress and growth unfold in real time. My niece is an interesting individual. She is simultaneously both one of the most amazing people I have ever known, and one of the most narcissistic and caustic ones. Cori got to see Samantha reach her 25th year – and given Sam’s extreme behavior the final year of Corina’s life, it’s probably best that my sister didn’t envision it ahead of time (or have a crystal ball).

It’s an interesting thing to be involved in your child’s life from the sidelines. This is NOT a complaint, merely an observation. I made a choice about which I have few regrets. But as Eric’s birthmother, I saw things through the very long lens, rather than through the day-to-day microscope. I received his annual school photos, vacation pictures, and occasional updates about this class project or that sports event. The good news is that I didn’t have to imagine him as he was growing up – I always knew where he was, what he was up to, and that he was safe and loved. Birthmothers – both domestic and international – in closed adoptions have spent their children’s entire lives wondering how they were turning out. I still can’t imagine how difficult that must be.

Five years ago, I received a somewhat last-minute invitation to Eric’s high school graduation. Kathy didn’t want to invite me until she knew there would be a ticket available for me – and she managed to wrangle one at the eleventh hour. It was quite a trip – not my first visit to Eric’s family’s house, but the first where I was fully enveloped into the family. I arrived a few days early and spent them driving around the Stanfields’ little New Jersey hamlet with Kathy, preparing for the graduation party. Everywhere we went, Kathy would introduce me to the clerk or attendant as her son’s birthmother, and they were fairly uniformly impressed by our close relationship. The woman who was our server at the restaurant on graduation night was straight out of Central Casting. Big hair, made up like a cancan girl, authentic New Jersey accent. She teared up when Kathy introduced me, and told us she was going to include our story in her memoir, which she said she was in the middle of writing at the time.

Many, many things have happened and changed in my life in those last five years. And now, our son sits on the precipice of Real Life – about to graduate from Northeastern University with a degree in civil/environmental engineering.

graduation invite

 

Due to the extremely limited number of tickets, I didn’t receive an invitation to this year’s graduation. I know Kathy feels bad about that, because it’s in her nature to want to make everyone happy. I’m OK with missing the graduation, but a bit disappointed to miss the graduation night dinner. Nevertheless, I’ll be there again for the big family party. As much as it won’t be new to me this time, it will be different. This time, our kid is all grown up. He’s an amazing young man of whom I could not be prouder. He’s got his whole life ahead of him, and my heart swells, thinking of the amazing future I hope he will have. Only he can really decide that – but from what I’ve seen, he’s got a giant heart, a brilliant mind, and a whole caravan of people who love and support him. In other words, a huge head start.

When it came to his high school graduation, I didn’t want to give him anything as impersonal as money as a gift. I was stumped about what to get, but then John’s dad came up with the idea of a gift card to the Boston Garden, since we knew he would be attending college in Boston. His pleasure at receiving that seemed genuine. I also gave him the info I’d tracked down about his birthfather – call it a side gift? This is a bigger occasion, so the gift will be commensurate. I’ll write more about that after I return from my East Coast visit in May, as I don’t want to spoil anything ahead of time.

So far, all I know is that I have plans to spend four days in New Jersey. My plane reservations are for a week, though – my plans are open for the rest of that time. Eric will undoubtedly be the center of attention that week, so I’m just going to plan, as usual, to go with the flow. I can always find a way to entertain myself, so there’s no need for anyone to worry after me, although I do hope to get in at least one private meal with the kiddo while I’m there.

Right now, he’s in the middle of finals, so I’m just sending good thoughts and keeping busy with my life in Arizona. I blinked and 23 years flew by. I’m not sure where the time went. Before long, we’ll be sending his kid off to college!

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Laura Orsini is an author who works with other authors to help them make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Breaking the Adoption News

Breaking the Adoption News

Once upon a time, people had a sense of humor. Some of them told jokes – and most of the rest of them laughed. Some of the better joke tellers even made careers of it, a few of them landing their own TV shows and becoming household names. Not everyone laughed, though, because someone had to be the adult, the parent, the schoolmarm, the one with the common sense – and the stick up their ass. But most people laughed. A popular magazine even had a regular feature titled “LAUGHTER: The Best Medicine.”

Slowly, however, this idea of laughter became unpopular – to the point that making jokes became a sensitive issue. People began to feel that laughing was akin to rudeness or insensitivity. Political correctness swept the land, and comedians stopped performing at college campuses where students were the most prudish of all the citizenry.  The best comedians still told their jokes anyway – refusing to apologize or be cowed into shutting up for fear of offending. Some went out of their way to be even more offensive.

Sadly, this is not a made-up story. And it makes my lazy ass hesitant to post a joke about adoption, because we’ve all become so conditioned to overreact about everything these days. I was determined, though. So I looked high and low. If you find this cartoon – or my language regarding it – offensive, I can only offer you a quote from one of my all-time favorite comedians, Bill Burr: “Go fuck yourself.”

funny-cartoons-funny-cats

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Laura Orsini is an author who works with other authors to help them make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Things Don’t Always Go as Planned

Things Don’t Always Go as Planned

Recently John and I bought bikes. We were actually walking – an amazing number of people walk in our new neighborhood – to get pizza at a nearby restaurant and happened by a bike shop. I’d been mentioning wanting to get a bike, so he asked me if we wanted to stop and look around. So we stopped and looked around, and came home with two bikes. They’re nice, as bikes go, particularly for people like us who are not bike people – yet. We got all the accoutrements to go with them: helmets, locks, water bottles, water bottle holders (called cages, if you want to use proper cycling parlance), tire liners, and a rack for the back of the SUV so we can take them with us on an upcoming trip to Los Angeles.

Zippy the Wonder Bike

On our first ride together through the neighborhood, we saw other bike people who had their bikes hanging on U hooks (or maybe they were S hooks) from the ceiling of their garage – right ABOVE their cars. What a marvelous space-saving idea! When our handyman came to do some more awesome work on our house (really – find and call Home Rehab AZ if you need handyman work in the greater Phoenix area!), we had him install similar hooks on our garage ceiling. Now we even look like bike people when we’re not riding our bikes!

In all seriousness, we’ve been working on getting in shape for a while now. John’s a lot LO w helmetmore diligent than I’ve been lately, hiking an average of about 4 miles a day just about every day. We also work out with our trainer twice a week. And I’ve recently committed to walking a minimum of 10 miles a week. So the bikes are icing on the cake, really.

Except that I’ve never been all that athletic, or that big of a fan of exercise. Volleyball my freshman year in high school and a weird city league for a season with some coworkers from Lehman Bros. when I lived in the Tri-State Area. A little softball from about 5th grade through freshman year. The longest distance I ever ran was about 5 miles, back during my first stint with a trainer, about 15 years ago. The fact that I bought a bike (and boxing gloves, but that’s for another post) perhaps means I seem to be voluntarily getting into this whole exercise/fitness/sportiness thing.

I’ve had bikes for most of my life, just never ridden consistently. In fact, I won a 10-speed bike in the third grade, selling raffle tickets for the school carnival. My aunt walked with me, door to door, encouraging me every step of the way. She was handicapped her whole life as a result of an accident that happened when she was about 3 years old. She was also married to a couple of very abusive men. And yet she was one of the pluckiest, most inspiring woman I’ve ever met. She made me feel like I could do anything if I put my mind to it. It was about three years before I could ride that bike, but it was a proud three years.

People who try to convince you how easy something is to do sometimes say “It’s like riding a bike.” The gist is that you’ll remember how to do this momentarily difficult thing because your body already knows the movements. And riding a bike really isn’t all that difficult, in the short term. But I watch these cyclists who appear seemingly everywhere within about a 5-mile radius of our home, and I think I could never do that. These are guys (they seem to be mostly men) who probably ride many miles daily. John did offer to buy me cycling shorts and a jersey when we got the bikes, but I declined. It’s not the gear – it’s the seriousness, the near-total focus it would take to get to be that good. I think the same thing when I see great swing dancing teams or CrossFit competitors. I’d love to be able to do it, but only if it didn’t take every waking moment to get there.

My biking will be casual for now – for exercise, transportation, and a bit of fun.

Here’s what happened when I headed out tonight to get that bit of exercise. I thought I’d ride around, check out another part of this new neighborhood of ours. I told my husband I’d be home within 45 minutes. Everything was going so well, until I wound up on one street, thinking it was a different street a mile in the opposite direction. How the hell did I get here? So I backtracked and headed home – or so I thought. Until I wound up on that same street a second time. These lovely maps will illustrate the story better than my words can explain it. I had to laugh out loud at one point, because I felt like Billy from the Family Circus comic strip.

Biking plan

The keen observer will notice that my plan doesn’t take into account the fact that there are no through streets at the point I thought I would turn and head East.Biking reality

billy-map-family-circus

Then I got home, thinking, Well, at least the speedometer I installed on my phone will tell me how far I went. Turns out, the speedometer only works when you turn it on.

speedometerThe reading at the end of my ride…

Things don’t always go as planned. My son is living, breathing proof of that. And sometimes I am reminded of this fact more often and more inelegantly than I’d prefer to be. Eric’s birthfather was a jackass in a lot of ways, but he was a great travel companion. For one thing, he’s an amazing map reader. And even if we did somehow manage to get lost, it never really stressed him out. My husband, on the other hand, would prefer we drive directly there every time – wherever there is. Sometimes, though – inevitably, even – our journey is windy and unpredictable.

As far as I’m concerned, getting lost isn’t that big of a deal if you keep a few things in mind:

  • Remember to breathe.
  • Keep in mind that, like Steven Wright says, “The world is round – you’ll get there.”
  • You’re never really lost (inside the city limits, anyway) if you have your cell-phone with you.
  • Sometimes when you get lost, you see things you’d never have seen otherwise.
  • You can meet interesting people, too, if you stay open to all possibilities.

When’s the last time you got lost? Was it more terrible or wonderful? Share, if you like, in the comments below.

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Laura Orsini is an author who works with other authors to help them make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Go Ahead, Dance the Night Away – It’s Good for You!

Go Ahead, Dance the Night Away – It’s Good for You!

If you haven’t heard live music in a while, you owe it to yourself to get out and see a show! Doesn’t matter the genre – country, hip-hop, classic rock, classical, bluegrass, flamenco – just go out and see a band. According to an April 2016 article from Science Alert, listening to live music can reduce the levels of stress hormones in your body. And a 2017 study out of Australia found that “people who actively engaged with music through dancing and attending events like concerts and musicals reported a higher level of subjective wellbeing.”

The first album I bought was Journey’s Escape. I saw my first concert, Asia, the same year, with my BFF Jane at the original Compton Terrace in Phoenix. I was 14. My husband, the musician, bought his first album, AC/DC’s Back in Black, at 9 and attended his first concert at 11. It was the Rolling Stones. He was a precocious music aficionado; I was a precocious reader. Since getting together, we have attended a LOT of concerts.

John still goes far more often than I do – he’s becoming a regular on Sundays at Cactus Jack’s, a neighborhood bar near us that features a Grateful Dead cover band called The Noodles. I’ve heard them a couple times – and it was plenty. I can take the Dead, and jam bands in general, in small doses. John’s probably watched a couple dozen Dead & Company simulcasts in the last few years. So there’s overlap to our music tastes, but we definitely diverge. Rod Stewart and Cyndi Lauper are coming to Phoenix this August, and I was surprised when John was surprised that I wanted to see them.

Walt Richardson
Walt Richardson, center

One artist we agree about is a local guy by the name of Walt Richardson. Walt is a music institution in the Tempe/Phoenix area. He started as a solo act, playing the Tempe Festival of the Arts and in front of Moons Cafe in Tempe. In the mid-’70s, he and a guy name Aziz Chadley started a reggae band called Driftwood, which eventually morphed into the Morning Star Band. That’s when I was introduced to him. Walt Richardson and the Morning Star Band opened for Ziggy Marley at Mesa Amphitheatre my senior year in high school. And I am a semi-centarian – so this guy’s been playing for a lonnnnnng time. The Morning Star Band traveled all over the country – so Walt’s also a much loved and well-traveled music man.

John played in a band called Dry Spell back in the ’90s, and would occasionally run across Walt around Tempe, although they didn’t know each other. Today, Walt hosts a weekly open mic event at Tempe Center for the Arts, and John (aka Mickey Clement) is becoming a regular performer there. He had the chance to chat with Walt at a recent Noodles show, and it came up that Walt himself would be playing at Cactus Jack’s this past Friday night – so we went. What a treat! I repeat, if you haven’t been to a live show in a while, put on your dancing shoes and get out there to see some music. You don’t have to spend your kids’ college fund to do it, either. Although we’ve paid a pretty penny to seem some major acts, local acts are sometimes even better, and they’re often free.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Watching my husband dissect the music, learn new songs, rehearse a minimum of three hours a day, and take the stage around town, I have such appreciation for the work these performers do. If there’s live music and you didn’t pay a cover fee, please tip those musicians well. They’re working their butts off, and often the crowd doesn’t even seem to realize they’re there. You got in free – the least you can do is toss them a five. If they’re good, tip ’em extra!

Walt is always fun to watch. Another local act John and I really like is a cover band called The Walkens. These guys do the most amazing job covering everyone from Michael Jackson to AC/DC to U2. We first heard them at a street fair about seven years ago. It had rained earlier that day, so the crowd was pretty thin, but we were utterly shocked at how few people applauded this super talented band. We liked them so much, we went out of our way to plan one of my birthday dinners at a restaurant where they were playing that night.

One night a few years ago, we happened into a local indie coffee shop. To our delight, a jazz trio was just setting up. We hadn’t planned to stay long, but this unlikely group – a long-haired woman perhaps in her mid-30s, an old guy with a golf hat, and a kid who couldn’t have been out of his teens – captured our attention and held it for the next 45 minutes to an hour. We have subsequently discussed, on more than one occasion, how there is nothing like listening to live music to make you feel connected to other people who also are willing to dance and sway and clap and move their bodies to the beat. (In retrospect, perhaps I should have known something was off about my son’s birthfather: he could watch an entire concert by one of his favorite bands and not move a muscle, never even crack a smile.)

Christopher Shayne Band
Christopher Shayne Band bassist, Mark Blades

We recently saw an excellent local Southern rock group called the Christopher Shayne Band at the Pot of Gold Music Festival. Those guys were hard-rocking – and a lot of their songs were drinking themed – but they were excellent. Neither of us had heard of them before, but neither were we surprised to learn that they will be opening for ZZ Top this coming weekend at Arizona Bike Week.

Joe Rush

A Tucson artist whom I grew to love but never had a chance to see live was a guy named Joe Rush. My friend, the marvelously creative Gawain Douglas, introduced me to Joe when he designed the cover for Joe’s first album, Play and Play and Play. You have to know the music is impactful when it stays with you for 30-some years. When I made Eric’s Playlist for him for Christmas, I was thrilled to be able to include a song from Play and Play and Play, which unlike all the other songs on the playlist, is not available on iTunes. It just so happens that someone liked one of my favorite songs on that album, “The Blackbird and the Bluebird,” enough to make an animated video of it. As often happens when books are taken to the big screen, this artist’s rendering is not how I would have interpreted the song, but it’s clever nonetheless.

I’ll admit, my favorite band is a major act: I’d probably go to the ends of the earth to see U2 play live. That said, the most fun I’ve ever had at a concert was the Police reunion tour with opening act Elvis Costello at Desert Sky/Blockbuster/Cricket/Ashley Furniture/Ak-Chin Pavilion. That was when it came home to me that live music is meant to be listened to al fresco. I guess my biggest bucket list concert at this point would be the Cure, since we knocked Huey Lewis off the list last fall at the Lost Lakes Festival. But we’ll enjoy whoever we see next, more than likely a local group. I’m excited just anticipating it…

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Laura Orsini is an author who works with other authors to help them make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.