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.

What’s at the Top of Your Lifetime Playlist?

What’s at the Top of Your Lifetime Playlist?

Being married to a musician, I probably spend a lot more time listening to, watching, and learning about music than the average non-musician. It helps that I’ve always loved many kinds of music, even though the extent of my musical training and skill ran to a six-week course in the recorder back in second or third grade at St. Agnes Catholic School. I think we learned “Baa-Baa Black Sheep” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” The boys used the recorders as swords – I’m not sure what ever happened to mine.

So when John tries to explain using this chord instead of that one or how Dave Nachmanoff doesn’t use traditional tuning for a lot of his songs, it’s mostly lost on me. He tells me, however, that I have a pretty good grasp of sound for a non-musician, even though I don’t know the musical terms to precisely convey what I mean. When we’re watching those singing competition shows and I say, “It’s not round enough” or “It’s very tinny,” he knows exactly what I mean, and usually agrees with me.

My mom’s family was very musical. I wish I knew what happened to it, but there was a black-and-white photo of her with a number of her 11 siblings, each standing around a tree holding a musical instrument. My mom held a violin – but I never heard her talk about playing it, so that may have just been a pose for the picture. Back at about the same time I was tinkering with the recorder, my Aunt Molly (Modesta) made an album of Spanish songs of which my mother was both very proud and very envious. That, like the photo, disappeared into the wind with my mother’s illness. She spilled stuff on or broke or tore up or otherwise destroyed most of the mementos I – and, presumably Eric and his family – would cherish today.

My niece, Samantha, has quite a vocal talent. Corina and I thought for some time that she would study music and perform professionally, but after high school, she gave up singing entirely, except to occasionally sing with her church group. She sang two songs at my father’s funeral – and we wanted her to sing at my mom’s memorial Mass five years later, but she refused. Cori finally cajoled her into it, and she sang “Ave Maria,” after which all of my mother’s relatives clapped, like it was a recital. I thought the priest was going to have a heart attack. I really wanted her to sing at our wedding reception, but that didn’t happen. John’s stepmom, Gayle, stepped in and did an amazing job covering U2’s “All I Want Is You.”

In spite of my father, who preferred silence to any sort of music, I have appreciated music from my earliest days. And, I have what I sometimes think of as a series of soundtracks from different eras of my life. I put those all together into a musical version of my life story for Eric this past Christmas. I vacillated about giving it to him, as it felt more than a little self-indulgent. Nevertheless, my history is his history, so I gambled that he would find it at least somewhat interesting. I won’t share the whole list here because it was a very personal gift to him. If this blog ever makes it into print as a book, I’ll reconsider. I will, however, give you my intro to Eric’s Playlist:

So the last time I heard “Forever Young” on the radio, it occurred to me that I might make you a “mix tape” of the songs that were important to me throughout my life – and as I put the playlist together (we actually recorded them on cassettes when I was your age), I started jotting notes about each song. My initial goal was to record the whole thing on an MP3 player for you so I could include these descriptive bits as audio recordings – but that became labor intensive, so I decided to move into the 21st century and do it the sensible way, with an iTunes playlist (or, more accurately, two iTunes playlists).

The songs are more or less in some attempt of chronological order. Some will seem weird to you, no doubt – but all played a key role in my growing up, development as a person, are things I just love, and/or are pieces of music I’ve shared with John. Maybe you’ll enjoy listening to them – maybe just reading about them. Either way, here we go.

  1. Rod Stewart – “Forever Young” –This song is the whole reason I made this playlist for you, Eric. Every time I hear it, I think of you. I’m not sure how well we will ever get to know each other, but I hope you have even a small understanding of how much you are loved and that I wish only the very best things in life for you.

Eric never commented on the playlist, so I have no idea what he thought of it. No matter – it was a wonderful walk down Memory Lane for me. I had a blast playing most of the 92 songs on it a few times each as I put the list together. I say most because I included music I didn’t especially like, if it was important for some reason.

So there you have it, the first of my promised posts created from randomly selected words. Still have Bravery and Caves to tackle as topics from the same writing prompt, so stay tuned!

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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.

Meeting the Grandparents

Meeting the Grandparents

Although John and I have taken many short trips together – mostly for music or book events – we’ve never had a proper honeymoon. We spent the day after our wedding with my son and his family. We knew we wanted to do something together – and John was happy to go along with whatever plans we made. Yet it was an interesting process, trying to decide how to spend that day. I cast my vote for the Pink Jeep Tours, an opportunity to go off-road and see the rugged terrain of the Sedona area. However, the majority won, and we wound up visiting the Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde, a small town a few miles from Sedona.

Even though we spent it together, Eric largely kept with his parents while John and I sat together during the tour. Bruce was busy with his camera, photographing the wild animals that came up to the window of the bus. I remember a friendly giraffe with a huge tongue, in particular.

After our visit to the park, we went for pizza, and then made our way back to Phoenix. The trip back was a bit of a friendly competition, John and Bruce trading the lead back and forth between them as we drove down the hill from Sedona.

Though my mom had been ill, we decided to stop by the nursing home to see her, so that Eric could meet at least one of his birth-grandparents. My dad had passed away five-and-a-half years earlier, and it remains unlikely Eric will meet Tony’s mom – though I do believe anything is possible. According to my occasional FB research, Tony’s dad died nearly three years ago. What I remember about them was that Dale could be extremely sarcastic, often making his wife, Diane, the butt of his jokes. I would watch her wince at his comments and think to myself that I would not be surprised if one day, after 30 years of marriage, she walked out. As far as I know, that did not happen. It was also a teaching moment for me and Tony, because when he tried to belittle me the same way, I let him have it. Turns out I did have a few boundaries with him.

My mom had been on a progressive decline for the few years prior to going into the nursing home. For years – as long as I can remember, actually – her behavior had been odd. It wasn’t until after the massive stroke that would take her life that Corina and I received an explanation for her strange behavior: the vascular surgeon called in to officially determine that hospice was our only option told us that our mom had indications of severe vascular dementia, the likely result of multiple strokes that had occurred throughout her life. By the time Eric met her, about five months before she passed away, she was already severely incapacitated. Though it’s possible she understood when I introduced her to Eric and his parents, she was unable to say much. But she nodded happily and smiled a lot.

I’ve never spoken with Kathy – or Eric – about that meeting, so I really have no idea what his response was. I do believe he was grateful for the opportunity meet at least one grandparent, though.

My husband was blessed to have known all four of his grandparents – and to have a close relationship with his paternal grandfather and grandmother. His grandpa died nearly 25 years ago; Grandma left us just last June (2017). Though she doted on him, he had a difficult relationship with her, as she was every bit the family matriarch, with high standards, particularly when it came to what others might think … about everything. He was a smoker until almost two years ago – a fact he tried to keep hidden from her. I doubt she could have missed it, though she might have chosen to ignore it, as her sister died of lung cancer and she claimed to abhor smoking – and, by association, people who smoked. He said at one point a couple months after her passing that he wished he’d been able to be more of himself with her. She loved him nonetheless.

It occurs to me as I write this that I don’t know much about Eric’s adoptive grandparents – which ones he might have met or had relationships with. I believe Bruce’s father was still living when Eric was born – but I’m not one hundred percent certain about that. Kathy, again, would certainly have all of those details.

I have few regrets about the adoption, but I do wish Eric and my father had had the chance to meet. I know my dad would be so immeasurably proud of his only grandson. My dad was a college professor, once upon a time – and, if my experience is at all reflective of his teaching skills, perhaps not a very good one. He’d find one way of communicating an instruction – on pretty much any topic – but if you didn’t understand him and asked him for further explanation, he’d say the exact same thing again, just more slowly and with greater volume. No, I would think, it wasn’t that I didn’t hear you – rather that I didn’t understand you. Can you explain it in different words? But he was kind and gentle, and he gave me the gift of compassion. He was a year younger than John’s grandmother – so they were of the same era where etiquette and proper manners mattered greatly.

Unlike John’s grandmother, Mary, my father was a scholar of his faith – knew the Bible inside and out (rare for a Catholic) and understood and accepted every aspect of the church’s dogma, pretty much without question. We had a pretty intense argument when the retired bishop of Phoenix was accused of a hit-and-run accident that left a man dead. My father felt it was unseemly for the bishop to be treated as a common criminal. I insisted that shepherd of the church or not, he’d killed a man and left the scene – it was only right that he pay the same price any other person would pay. Mary had no such highfalutin ideas. She went to church most Sundays, but had a difficult time distinguishing between the holy seasons of Lent (leading up to Easter) and Advent (leading up to Christmas). For her, church was more of an obligation with the benefit of marvelous social interactions.

My mom was pretty much the polar opposite of my dad. She got her GED the same year I graduated from high school. I remember some of the sessions with Mary, my social worker at the adoption agency. As we talked, I would tell her about my parents and she’d scribble furiously on her yellow notepad, taking notes she would give to the Stanfields’ caseworker to share with them (before they knew the adoption would eventually become open). One of the things that most caught her attention was when I told her that although my mom had very little formal education, I thought she would have been a very good student. “What makes you say that?” Mary asked. The fact that she read everything she could get her hands on. She was a slow reader, often vocalizing her words as she read. But she loved books of all sorts. While she was functional, she was curious and loved learning.

She was creative, too. My dad was efficient – my mom resourceful and imaginative. I suspect I blend gifts from both of them in my writing and in building and running my business. I see some of that in Eric already – but he also has a great deal of Tony’s super-analytical mind.

I still have no idea whether Eric even knows about this blog – or is reading it. Still, a part of me writes every post for him. Better still than him reading these words would be the chance to sit and talk about this stuff with him. Maybe someday…

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to 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.

My Six Soul Mates … So Far

My Six Soul Mates … So Far

In his book Journey of Souls, Michael Newton posits that rather than one soul mate, each of us likely has a soul group – an assembly of about 150 “people” we travel with from one lifetime to the next (yes, this post presupposes you can, at minimum, entertain the idea of multiple lifetimes). He arrived at this conclusion after recording the stories of thousands of people he hypnotized in his analysis practice and hearing the same pattern repeated time after time, regardless of the person’s religious beliefs at the time of the hypnosis.

When his patients were taken back to a prior lifetime, their reporting of what went on between lifetimes followed a pattern that included recognizing the same others from lifetime to lifetime. The most vivid depictions tended to be of individuals who showed up as close family members: mother, father, siblings, spouses – although their roles tended to change from lifetime to lifetime.

Given those very loose parameters, I’ve identified a handful of soul mates – people from my soul group with whom I am traveling this lifetime. It’s hard to define exactly what makes them a soul mate, other than that they “get me” or that I have an inexplicable comfort level with that person. Maybe for you, they are people you seem to relate to from the first moment of meeting them. Except, of course, my mother – with whom I was not at all close, and yet whom I am certain is in my soul group. Because of a history of vascular dementia, she demonstrated mental health issues from the time I was very young, and was thus incapable of a “normal” mother/daughter relationship. Yet her very presence in my life, the fact that we were never able to have any sort of a “real” conversation, and the unfinished nature of things between us leads me to believe that there’s still more to come in another incarnation.

Others who fall into the prior category have included: my sister, Corina; my best friend, Jane; the only man I ever loved besides my husband, “Tom”; my husband, John; and my son’s birthfather, Tony. My sister and I had our ups and downs, as most same-gender siblings probably do. But toward the end of her life (thank god neither of us knew it was nearing her end!), we grew very close. And even at our most distant, she was always the one person I knew I could count on – no matter what. Jane and I just clicked from the moment we met at a summer program for gifted high schoolers held at Arizona State University.

Tom and I never dated, but we had an emotional affair more intense than any romance ever written. He was kind and thoughtful and so incredibly smart. He constantly challenged me, and I appreciated the fact that I always had to be on my toes with him. And he had a girlfriend he couldn’t/wouldn’t leave – so eventually I ended things. I finally spoke with him a couple months after my sister passed away for the first time in a half-dozen years. Things with him had always felt so unfinished – and this conversation was eye-opening because it seemed he hadn’t moved an inch from where he’d been when we last connected. I’d been through so much and grown so much as a person in those intervening years – and he seemed still to be in the exact same place, in spite of having gone through some difficulties of his own. Talk about closure!

My husband seemed to recognize our connection much sooner than I did. Part of the challenge for me was that, even though I was falling in love with John, things with Tom were still unresolved in my memory and psyche. I remember my friend Sunil, my relationship guru, for lack of a better term, suggesting to me that I stop looking for the person of Tom and instead look for his essence in the next person. John – though he couldn’t have physically resembled Tom less, most definitely embodies the amazing parts about Tom’s essence – the parts with which I so inextricably connected. While I never had that “prove the universe wrong” determination about Tom, I was so sad when that relationship dissolved, and yet today I am so glad that I had the sense to leave it when I did, because otherwise I couldn’t – more importantly, probably wouldn’t – have met John.

And then there was Tony. He’s actually the hardest to put my finger on, in terms of what the connection was. Other than that he was just instantly comfortable to be around. There was no pressure to be or perform or say anything. He was fine just being with me. We could wander around New York City or make dinner or sit around watching TV or play video games in perfect harmony. For the first 24 to 48 hours. Then, inevitably, we’d begin to get on each others’ nerves and the antagonistic, overwrought, dramatic push/pull pattern would emerge. So we’d step away for a few days to a couple weeks, and then come back together. And the cycle would repeat. Things would be idyllic for a day or two – and then we’d bug each other again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. If he truly is a member of my soul group, it’s no surprise, then, that it was so challenging to break off and remove myself from that intense relationship. Makes me so grateful that things with Tom never blossomed into a physical romance when I think of it in those terms. And it wasn’t that I didn’t love Tony, as much as I don’t think I even understood what love was at the time we were together.

So that’s six soul mates I’ve identified. Meaning there are some 140 others I haven’t yet recognized quite so specifically. That’s not to say they’re not in my life now, or are unimportant in my life. Just that the connection hasn’t presented itself quite so viscerally and clearly. I’d like to think that Eric is among them. After 23 years, we’re still getting to know each other, so I’m guessing he might well be an important member of my soul group. All I know is that I’m staying open to all possibilities.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to 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.

Valentine’s Day with “The One”

Valentine’s Day with “The One”

Today is my 9th Valentine’s Day with my husband, and I have lost track of the number of cards and gifts he has given me in the years since we met. Such a stark difference from my relationship with Eric’s birthfather. I told John the other day that I can probably count on two hands the number of gifts Tony gave me over the 10 years we were “together.”

“Really?” John asked. “Even including birthdays and stuff?”

Yep. Including birthdays and stuff.

I still remember what may have been the only Valentine’s Day gift I ever received from Tony a Chieftains CD the year Eric was born, 10 days before his birth, to be exact.

Looking back now, there were so many clues that Tony wasn’t “the one,” and yet I clung to that relationship for dear life. I had a loving father and (through no real fault of her own) an absent mother. I remember realizing how similar my relationship with Tony was to my relationship with mom. Although I lived in the same house with her, it was like she wasn’t really present. And though I was in a relationship with Tony, he was never really around. One of first things I had to get used to with my husband was being able to go to the movies by myself by choice, as opposed to going alone because he didn’t happen to be calling me back that week.

I long ago gave up trying to figure out the low self-esteem that must have driven my willingness to stay and stay and stay through the years. I’m just grateful for the day I finally had enough and decided the only way we were truly going to move on from each other was by putting physical miles between us. When I originally moved to New Jersey, it was with the thought that Jersey would be just a pit stop; ultimately I would make my way to Boston. Though I visited Boston a couple times, I never made the move there. Interesting, it’s where Eric chose to attend university.

By the time I was finally ready to leave Tony, I had neither the money nor the emotional stamina it would take to start over somewhere new, so instead of moving to Boston, I moved back home to Phoenix even though the desert has never, ever really felt like home to me. Those divine plans being what they are, it still took nearly 10 years for me to disentangle all the tentacles from my relationship with Tony so that I could finally be open to meeting John. We met though a blind date via Craigslist in July 2009 and have never looked back.

And just as there were all those signs that Tony was not the right guy, there were many signs that John was. For one thing, he had a cat. A single, 30-something guy had taken it upon himself to head to the Humane Society in search of a four-legged friend. He told me he had originally intended to adopt a dog, but when he saw Libby, she told him she was going home with him, and she did.

He was also the first one in our relationship to give the other a greeting card and a gift. Long was my habit to be the first to make such a bold move, but on our third date, John brought me a card and some flowers. He’s sentimental like his grandmother was. When she passed away in June and we cleaned out her house, we found what appeared to be every greeting card she’d ever received, going all the way back to high school. Whether it’s his birthday or Christmas or our anniversary, John sets the cards out on the coffee table or his desk in his office and displays them for a while.

Most importantly, though, John was where he said he’d be when he said he’d be there. He had a job that required him to be up before dawn, so even on weekends he went to bed early. I remember going to his apartment one Friday night around midnight to leave a surprise on his car. I wrote messages on a couple pads’ worth of heart-shaped sticky notes and stuck them on the back windshield of his car in the shape of a large heart. As I made my way over to his place, the old doubts started creeping in. Would he be home? Would his car be in its regular parking space at his apartment complex? Man, what a sigh of relief I breathed when his Corolla was right where it was supposed to be.

Over the years, he has surprised me with concert tickets, flowers, balloons, stuffed animals, jewelry, and seemingly countless other thoughtful gifts, big and small. Today will be no different, I am sure. The best thing about Valentine’s Day with John is that it’s not that big of a deal because every single day with him is special.

One of the best relationship books I’ve ever read is The Surrendered Single, by Laura Doyle. In it, she explains that the right guy will never make you wait for his call or wonder if he cares about you. He will treat you like a queen, and you will always know how much you mean to him. I spent a lot of years giving the wrong guy the benefit of the doubt. He was the right guy for just long enough, though, or our son would not be here. Nevertheless, I couldn’t be happier that I moved on and gave the actual Mr. Right a chance.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to 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.

When It Comes to Sharing the News of Great Loss

When It Comes to Sharing the News of Great Loss

Today is the second anniversary of losing my sister. It’s hard to believe two years have already gone by. Then again, I looked up on February 10, fearful for a moment that I’d let the day go by without remembering. But would that have been such a bad thing? My husband’s grandmother was a big one for death anniversaries. It seemed she would mark the day on the calendar and look forward to it for weeks, then spend the whole of it working herself into a frenzy of sadness and tears – as if that were somehow expected of her, that she wouldn’t be a good widow or mother if she weren’t visibly and viscerally wracked with grief.

Death anniversary or not, I think about my sister often. She was two years younger and, in the last dozen or so years, my best friend. It’s a hole that will never be filled, as no one could ever take her place because no one will ever know me like she did. My husband is a wonder – he understands and accepts most of my moods and peccadillos, whether it’s excitement for a new project or sadness because I’m feeling Corina’s loss. But we don’t have the shared history, the stories, the childhood memories, the laughter about how weird things could be with our mom. He also won’t go thrift store shopping with me or to get a mani-pedi, no matter how nicely I ask.

Although, as you may have guessed if you’re reading this blog, I’m not a terribly private person, I am rather selective about with whom and how I share personal information. I don’t typically post every detail on social media, preferring instead to be in more direct, personal contact. I have a small circle of girlfriends, and as things were progressing with Corina’s health, I kept them updated. She was getting better for a while, and we were quite hopeful. Then things went downhill quickly.

The adopted family relationship can be a difficult one – what do you tell them, and when? Kathy’s sister-in-law was in treatment for breast cancer when I was back in New Jersey in June 2013 for my son’s high school graduation. She passed away that October – and Kathy emailed me a day or two after it happened. I knew she was sick in June, but was still surprised to hear of her passing. Then a year later, my husband’s father passed away in late 2014, after a brief illness. I’m not even sure that I updated Kathy before it happened because it was so quick. When it came to Corina, though, I continued to hope she would rally again, so I hesitated to tell anyone how much her health had deteriorated. Finally, I felt I had to let Eric’s family know … just in case. So I called Kathy – and she told Eric – maybe a week beforehand.

When Corina actually passed, I knew that I had to be the one to tell Eric. (I don’t know why I still have such a hard time saying she died. Usually I refer to her passing as “when Corina left.”) I couldn’t leave that job to Kathy. Eric was still in college at the time, and he hadn’t been returning my texts or emails very promptly in the months prior. But that day, he answered when I called. I really wanted to hold it together and just report the news, but I couldn’t. I could barely get the words out because I was crying so hard. Poor kid – I can’t imagine how that must have freaked him out. He’s a kind, sensitive young man – but how was he supposed to respond to such terrible news from his birthmother, a person he’s intimately related to but still doesn’t know all that well? I was so grateful in that moment that Corina and Eric had had the chance to meet and get to know each other a bit at my wedding.

He got pretty distant almost immediately after that phone call. And as much as I might think I deserve to be upset about that (on the rare occasion, I do feel that way), I know that Eric has had a lot to process when it comes to all avenues of life, not to mention the adoption. Being adopted, at all – why didn’t we keep him? The fact that his birthfather walked away and Eric has had no contact with him since the day he left the hospital with his adoptive parents. My dad dying when he was 11 – and them never having met. Meeting me for the first time at 16. Adolescence and graduation and choosing a college that was far enough away from his parents to give him a sense of freedom. Keeping up his GPA. Losing his aunt. And then me dumping more loss on him. When I can view it with that clarity, I’m not at all upset that he needed some distance and time – just grateful that we’ve subsequently managed to evolve to a pretty good space, at least for the moment.

My son is going to be 23 in a few days. He’s no longer a little boy – or a teen – barely still a student. He’s a young man with a bright future. I’d love to think it will all be sunshine and roses for him from here on out, but that’s not reality. Life is a mix of ups and downs, good and bad. The fact is that there will be more loss, because that’s just the nature of life. My hope is that he’s developing a strong coping mechanism and that he continues to lead with his heart.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to 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.

Cousins, Cousins, and More Cousins

Cousins, Cousins, and More Cousins

To my knowledge, my son has 3 bio first cousins: my sister’s daughter, Samantha, and Tony’s sister’s daughters, Emily and Rebecca. He has never met any of them. He also has a cousin on Kathy’s side, little Parker, the most precocious 7-year-old you’ve ever met in your life. It was very special to watch Eric, this brilliant college senior, spend time with his little cousin over the Christmas holidays. The two of them have a very special bond that is heartwarming to see in action.

My husband has just a couple cousins, as well – and they are quite a bit older than he. That is, on his dad’s side. Not sure about his mom – she’s not really in the picture, and other than his sister, he’s not close to anyone from her side of the family, including any cousins who may exist.

I, on the other hand, have literally dozens of cousins. My parents, though not prolific childbearers, had siblings who more than made up for their lack. My father’s younger brother had 11 children, and his younger sister had five. His oldest brother and sister entered the religious life, so neither had children, but the five Orsini siblings managed to bear an average of 3.4 children each. Then there was my mom’s family. I don’t even know with certainty how many cousins I have on the Rendon side – but as she was one of 11 herself, there are many, many cousins. I believe only three remained childless, and each of the other eight had between two and six kids each. Let’s lean toward the six and say that’s an average of 4.5 – so I’ll put my guess at the number of cousins on my mom’s side at 36. Holy cow! My family, alone, has enough first cousins to field more than five baseball teams!

Things is, I still don’t really know what it’s like to grow up in a sizable family. Because my dad left the priesthood to marry my mother, they were forced to move away from the diocese where they met. They decided if they had to leave, they might as well move to a sunnier climate – which is how I ended up in Phoenix, as opposed to growing up in Michigan. Or so the story goes (I feel certain I am missing a few details!). So there were five of us for a while: my mom, dad, younger sister, and older half-sister – until my older sister decided to seek her fame and fortune in New York City when I was all of about 6 or 7. So then, it was just the four of us. No big Thanksgivings. Only ever needed the leaf for the dining room table if my mom invited people over for dinner – which might have happened twice in my entire childhood.

I was so excited to spend the holidays with my high school boyfriend because his family always had a houseful of people. His mom and aunt and grandmother would make lasagna noodles from scratch, hanging them over the furniture to dry – what a sight! And there were PEOPLE around! It didn’t matter that I didn’t know them and went mostly unnoticed in the corner – it was just so exciting to have more than three others to share special family events with.

My niece had a strange growing up experience. My sister did the very best she could, always putting Samantha’s needs first. And if she were honest, I think Sam would tell you that she was never really deprived of anything. She was in the Phoenix Children’s Chorus, which enabled her to travel the country and the world performing. She attended and graduated from TCU – and spent two semesters abroad during that time. Yet, she bounced around a lot as a kid – spending only the first couple years with both parents. Then she went with Corina to New Jersey for a bit, before they eventually came back to Phoenix. And, for better or worse, she spent a lot of her growing-up years around my mental-health-challenged mother.

She and Eric are just 3.5 years apart in age, and they’ve never met. John and I will celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary this St. Patrick’s Day. I had wanted Samantha to sing at our wedding, but she made other plans, opting to go to Florida for spring break instead. It really wasn’t that she missed our wedding that was so upsetting – although John has said he can’t wait for her to get married so he can not go to her wedding – as much as it was the fact that she turned down the opportunity to meet one of her few cousins, my son, Eric. I’m not sure whether or how much thought he’s ever given to the fact that he has never met Samantha, but I’ve given it quite a lot. Sam’s not what you’d call the giving type – she’s always done things her way, regardless of the consequences – so in retrospect, it shouldn’t really have come as such a surprise that she chose a personal vacation over our wedding. My sister called it karma that Sam got the flu the second her plane landed and she spent her entire vacation in her hotel room.

My son is pretty much the exact opposite – going out of his way to be kind and generous. Kathy told me that he was right around 3 when his sister went to sleep-away camp for the first time. Kathy was a bit nervous, as her daughter had never been away from home for more than a night. Eric could see how upset his mom was, so he threw his arms around her neck and told her, “Don’t worry. I love you, Mama.” Eric and Sam are both smart, though, and have both attended fairly exclusive schools. I wonder what they’d talk about if given the chance – and hope they’d get along. Maybe someday.

In the meantime, I’m quite happy to know that Eric does know what it’s like to have bigger family get-togethers. Kathy and Bruce were very generous in including me in Eric’s high school graduation celebration. That was a party that extended far beyond just family. But even when it is just the family, it’s Eric, Kathy, and Bruce; Eric’s sister and her husband; Kathy’s brother and his little boy; and Bruce’s sister and her husband. That more than doubles the size of my family celebrations as a kid.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to 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.