Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Red Letter Writing Day

Well, the day started out pretty crappy. Nothing big but just a number of little things right on top of each other and they piled up into something weighty.

But then, two things happened to make the day a lot better.

First, I got a call back (never thought I had a chance) from an editor at Hampton Brown, a subsidiary of National Geographic and he was given my name from one of my editors. He is interested in having me work on a project with them and asked for a resume!!! I sounded cool as a cucumber when I was talking to him, but let me tell ya, my heart was racing. This could be one fabulous connection for me work wise. I'd keep my fingers crossed but then I couldn't do any typing at all.

Secondly, I did an interview this evening with a person for an article I am writing. It is for a magazine I have written for seven years. She told me that she had followed my writing all this time and that one article I wrote about a new study on a new medication encouraged her to take it to her doctor. He prescribed the med and she is much better. She actually credited me with, in part, helping her to live longer. She said, "You will never know what an impact the words you write have on other people. You may be changing other's lives as well. "

Well, wow.

That was quite something. It truly made me feel like my writing does have a bigger purpose than just paying the bills and keeping me in books, Joseph in Volkswagens, Nicole in hiking gear and the boys in game systems.

So, the day has been pretty decent after all. I'm still behind, still overworked and still frantically trying to get ready to leave town tomorrow afternoon.

But you know what? I changed people's lives. That's pretty cool.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Making Up for Lost Time

Somehow, in the last couple of weeks, I lost track of actual time passing. Maybe it was the pain. Maybe it was the Vicodin. Maybe it was a combination. Nonetheless, whatever it was whacked my sense of time so badly that by the time the stent came out, the infection went away and I began feeling almost normal again, I was absolutely shocked and terrified at what I had due. Friday morning I went into a full blown Oh-mi-gawd-I-will-never-ever-survive-this panic mode. I started to make lists of how I would spend every single hour of the next five days. I cancelled an appointment. I cancelled going to a friend's house. I moved to my upstairs office so the lure of the movie screen in the living room wouldn't tempt me. I was DETERMINED.

Now, here it is Sunday afternoon and while I am surely NOT done, I am impressed at what I have accomplished.

I finished a 15,000 word book on racial profiling.
I wrote 12 long lesson plans for a high school American Literature course.

What do I still have to do, you ask? (Yes, I can hear you.)
One passage on dealing with peer pressure.
20 sentence completions and writing prompt items.
Revising a book on Apollo and another on Achilles.
Rewriting an entire manuscript on past prez Franklin Pierce.

When are they all due? Between Monday and Tuesday.

Will I get it all done?

Not likely. But it bet I get ALMOST all of it done. Because I am, as I mentioned before, DETERMINED.

Since I have surgery coming up again in August, I have to do all I can to get caught up NOW. Anybody know how to slow down time so I can work faster and get done before those deadlines start pounding on my door? I'd love to ignore them but since those that are pounding are also those that are paying me, I gotta play nice.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Stent-Free (sung to the tune of "Born Free")

. . "as free as the wind blows,
as free as the grass grows . . . "
Yes my dear friends, the stent is GONE. I gotta tell you, I was one nervous woman going in for that procedure. The urethra is definitely an OUT hole so I knew this wouldn't be pleasant. I tried to stay calm but my hands were shaking and I had tears in my eyes as I got up on the table.
Was it painful? Yes.
Was it as bad as I had imagined? No.
Thank goodness.
It wasn't fun. I had to do some deep breathing but WOW, does my body feel better without that FOOT LONG (yes, FOOT LONG) plastic device in it. Today I am sore on that side but I can pee without pain (and without having to catch it in a container either). Life is good.
So, phase 1 is done. Waiting for a call from the surgeon's office today about phase 2 (hyperparathyroidism). Endocrinologist called to say my urine calcium levels were more than double the normal amount so looks like we are on the right track.
In the meantime, I feel like I can think clearly for the first time since we got back from vacation. I looked at my writing schedule and had a mild panic attack because I have so much work due between now and Tuesday that I am not sure any human could get it all done. Sigh. Oh well, at least I can sit in a chair without wincing now.
So that's the news on this end.
Other stuff? Joseph has a "new toy" because he was given (yes, for free) another VW camper bus. He is busy replacing parts and cleaning and getting it fixed up so we can sell it soon. Of course, as he crawls back under the bus, getting grease everywhere, swearing because a part doesn't fit or he can't reach it and then swearing louder because more often than not it's the wrong part, I ask myself WHY he thinks this process is fun. . . but then I grin, hug him and just let him play. Ours is not to wonder why . . .

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

On Hold

It is a medical week for me, for a change (not).
I went to see my GP and she was thrilled with my lower blood pressure. She changed a few meds around. She discovered I have a severe bladder infection, hence the additional discomfort.
Today I went in for more blood work. They are retesting certain levels since I forgot to fast last time they drained me.
Tomorrow I do the 24 hour urine collection for another doctor. (Watch which jug in the fridge you grab, kiddos!)
Thursday I get the stent out (cue the Hallelujah chorus).
Friday I talk to the surgeon about the upcoming parathyroidism surgery.
Saturday I go in for my weekly hypnosis appointment.
Of course, in the meantime, I have a book to finish, two passages to write, an outline to write and lesson plans to start. Man . . . . all I really want is my couch, a blanket, a good book and a nap.
In other news . . . we got both the van and bus repaired and the two together was only $100--how amazing is that? We needed that break.
And the beat goes on . . .

Friday, July 18, 2008

Round 2

Well, now I am not stoned any longer but fragmented. When the stent comes out on Thursday, the rest of the fragments will pass through which I've been told my innumerable people is the worst pain on the planet . . . so I am hoping that (a) the painkillers are stronger than I think, (b) the stories are exaggerated or (c) the fragments have already gone through and I am clear to launch. Hmmmm. Let's hope, shall we?

So, the next step is parathyroid surgery which will most likely happen sometime in August. Unlike the lithotripsy, it is not an outpatient procedure. Looks like I will be in the hospital for 1 to 2 days this round. How much it will cost is scarier than the actual surgery. This is a lousy year work wise for me to be incurring these costs. My work load is frighteningly light money wise but heavy to accomplish when dealing with surgery and recovery.

I am hoping that when all of this is done, I will feel so fantastic that I will be able to put in long days and catch up. So far, I just feel like I have dealt with one thing after another so I am ready for the tide to turn, as they say. I have really missed my mom throughout all of this. I brought back one of her robes from Indiana and when I hung it up today, I could still smell her scent on it (the woman wore enough perfume for a lot of women!). Of course, it made me cry. I think I will take that robe to this hospital with me.

On the bright side, either the surgeries or the pills or something is working because FINALLY the weight is coming off. I have lost 16 pounds since I started now and since there was a three week vacation in the middle, that is pretty remarkable. I am hoping this trend continues for sure. I've lost 5 pounds just since getting back and that gives me a nice smile in the morning.

So, that's today's update. Stay tuned for the next riveting episode in the life of Tamra Orr, author, mother, wife, daughter, sister and all around wild woman.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Books, Books and More Books

I have always loved books. When I was young and living at home, I didn't ask for a car or clothes or parties . . I asked for more bookshelves. I haven't changed much. I still fill every available inch of my house with bookshelves and think little of moving whatever I need to move to fit in another one (who needs a stove anyway, right?). I read them, collect them, treasure them and of course, write them.

The ones I have written are becoming a problem. I get multiple copies of each title and when you've written 100 plus titles, that really mounts up! So I have been trying to think of a way to get rid of them in ways that don't make me wince (i.e. just giving them to Goodwill). I have tried selling them but that is quite a hassle. I will donate sets to places I respect (which usually leaves out most public schools and churches). I have given many as gifts. Our dentist, massage therapist and counselor all own some copies now. But how many people want a copy of "Inside the Department of Transportation" or "The Debate over the Federalist Papers"? I am sending a batch of the SAT prep books to the kids' teen camp for those who want a free copy. I am giving a set to one of my best friend's childcare center. Yes, I also takes copies to Powell's now and then and get some money for them which is cool. I always sent a copy of every book to my parents but now they have both died and I got back all of those copies.

Anyone have any suggestions of a good place for these books to go? I can GUARANTEE you they are well written. (grin)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

I'm "Hip"

I decided last night I was "hip". (Thankfully this is not based on actual hip dimensions, otherwise, I am hip enough for the whole family.) Why, you ask? (See, I CAN hear you.) Because, when attending a play last night ("Les Miserables"--LOVE musicals), there was a power outage. To keep the audience (the air conditioning went out with the lights) under control, the cast members came out and sang. The first number was from "Rent". I knew all the words. This makes me MODERN. Most people over 40 would not have known the lyrics. The second number was "Eidelweiss" (from "Sound of Music") and I knew all the words to that one too. Most people UNDER 40 didn't know the lyrics. See, I am clearly multi-generational. I can fit in with musicals from all eras. My guess is this makes me more of a geek than hip, but I prefer hip. Sounds better.

Friday, July 11, 2008

OOPS! We Forgot to Tell You . . . .

Ah, doctors, doctors, doctors.
Often life savers.
Often helpful.
Sometimes forgetful.
The doctors neglected to inform me that I have a stent placed inside my kidney and bladder. Oops! They forgot to tell me that, if it is doing its job properly, I am miserable. Oops. It hurts terribly to pee (swearing and hitting the walls awful). It hurts to move around. You pee every 20 minutes. You NEVER forget it is there. (TMI ahead) It feels like a bladder infection and a slipped tampon all at the same time. Oops.
They forget to tell me I wear it for 2 1/2 weeks before I get it out. Or that they remove it WITHOUT any anesthesia. Or that AFTER they take it out is when my stones will pass. So I get a four week sentence of discomfort, apparently.
I learned some of this by online research; the rest by calling the doctor's office and getting the overlooked information. Am I happy? Not by a long shot.
I will get through this but if I'd known I would be in this much discomfort for this long, I would have revamped my working schedule quite a bit. Silly me, I thought I would be on the mend now.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Shock Wave

After this mighty adventure of ours, I had about 24 hours to recuperate (i.e unload boxes, pile up laundry and figure out what the terrible smell in our frig was) and then I went in for lithotripsy--which sounds fun but is actually the process of being immersed in a tub and hit with sound waves, i.e. sonic hammer, to break up kidney stones. Fortunately, I was asleep for all of that . . . . but waking up was rough. My throat was killing me from the breathing tube and let's just say that catheters may be removed but they leave behind a lot of . . . discomfort. I felt like a truck had run over me several times and then parked a while.

Today, 24 hours later, I am recovering. I still move slowly and I still wince a bit but I am eager to see what happens with my pain and my blood pressure now that the stones are gone.

I have an appointment next week to talk to the doc about my hyperparathyroidism issue and that will be helpful. I also may have to do something about the huge gallstone I have floating around inside. Eventually, I should be on my feet and feeling MUCH better. Good thing too as this will cost us a fortune and I had better be able to work L O N G hours.

Soooo good to be home, despite the fact that the house looks like a tornado hit it. I brought six boxes of things from my mom's house and where it will all go is completely beyond me. Ah well, finding just the right place will be part of the fun, right?

. . and They're Baccccccck

We did it.
10 states.
20 days.
6.600 miles.
$1200 in gas.
But, we did it and we have returned. So much to report, so much to describe that I will do my best to hit the highlights and then, in a second post, describe my life since we returned.

As Dickens once penned, "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times", so in that tradition, here are the best and worst moments of the trip (however, let me point out from experience that often the worst moments, with time, become some of the funniest in retrospect):


Seeing the amazing terrain of some of these states. Idaho and Utah almost defy description in their sheer beauty. Likewise, Wyoming is flat, Just FLAT.

Getting to eat a pork tenderloin sandwich again. They don't have them out here for some reason.

Watching the fireflies because they are also not found in Oregon.

Lying in the tent at night listening to traffic roar, frogs croak, crickets chirp, trains whistle and wind blow. The best go to sleep music on the planet.

Sharing a tent only with Joseph--kids in their own. Perfect way to rekindle romance!

Relishing the several thunderstorms we experienced because, once again, none in Oregon. Sitting in a parking lot and watching the storm roll in over the water and gasping at the lightning bolts and getting goosebumps from the roar of thunder.

Watching the faces of two of my kids as they saw their first professional live theatre production. Their passion and enthusiasm matched my own.

Being pleasantly shocked that not only were we averaging almost 27 mpg (on a 14 year old van with 200,000 miles on it) but that gas prices go DOWN as you travel east.

Talking to former neighbors and watching them marvel at how much the kids have grown. Realizing that you were more important to some people than you had ever realized before.

Seeing Nicole meet up with her former best friend in Indiana and realize how much they have grown and changed.

Sitting in a restaurant overlooking the lake in Winona Lake and enjoying being with everyone.

Having dinner at my forever friend's house and laughing and talking like we had seen each other last week. Knowing that this is a relationship I will have the rest of my life and realizing what a blessing that is.

Swimming in the hotel pool all together playing and laughing, then later watching the kids horse around. Blissful.

Getting ALL THE WAY HOME with the trailer in one piece.

Seeing my friend of 24 years for the first time and knowing that my visit gave him a reason to fight the cancer harder. Making him laugh, going over old memories and holding hands.

Sitting around the table with the kids and trying to come up with the names of all the Seven Dwarves. Missing one each time so we started making them up. Our favorites were Wheezy for Nicole (she had a cough), Dupey for Coryn and Moody for Caspian.

Maryann's green beans. YUMMMMMMMMMMMMMM. I don't know how she does it, but they are so good I could eat gallons of them.

Shocked at how many books Coryn can read. Is it NORMAL for a 12 year old to read 4 to 6 books a day (albeit, spending the day in a car for 400 miles. . . )??? I read 6 books on the trip. Nicole read about the same. Caspian read 10 or 11. Coryn read more than 30. Good heavens.

Listening to my husband attempt to sing Karoake at a KOA Campground. The man is superb at most things--fantastic husband, father, lover and friend. But carrying a tune is not his strong suit. However, his enthusiasm for doing it helped he and Nicole pull of a decent rendition of "The House of the Rising Sun".


Having earned the nickname "The Urinator" from my family (I was put on megadose diuretics two days beore the trip), I spent every night of the trip making multiple trips to the closest bathroom. One night, fed up with the trip at a KOA Campground, I decided to pee around the back of the tent. I did. Apparently I also drown an entire ant colony living there because they swarmed on my legs (I not even noticing yet) and as soon as I crawled in my sleeping bag, they made my life a living hell by crawling all over me--including in my hair. My husband told me I was imagining things. Yes, he is still alive but only because he was the driver. In the morning, I showed him the pile of dead ants I killed as proof.

Pitching three tents in the dark at a campground where, apparently, they had kept mosquitoes under lock and key until we got there. Once released, they dined a plenty on the Orr family. Between slaps, swearing and looking for tent poles, it made for an exhausting moment, yet one that gets funnier with time.

Feeling your mattress slowly sink to the ground during the night . . . and finding that your middle aged body does not adjust to the tround as well as it once did. To counteract it, however, laughing your ass off at your husband as he pumps the mattress back up buck naked by flashlight.

Nonstop backache riding in the car. Meet my new friend, Mr. Vicodin.

When Maryann fell off the end of the bench at the restaurant our last day there and scared all of us to death.

Realizing that, one by one, each of my kids was coming down with somethign that included headaches, sore throats and high fevers. Hoping J didn't get it since he's the driver (he didn't).

The trailer fiasco . . . can't begin to include the whole story here. Suffice to say, we got enough things at my mom's that we could either ship it back or use a trailer. Shipping seemed ridiculously expensive. So we went with the trailer idea. U Haul was almost $400 and then we would have nothing to show for it. So we had a hitch installed, bought a trailer and for two painful days my poor husband struggled endlessly to put it together with 4000 parts and directions roughly translated by an illiterate Japanese hobo. A half dozen trips to get more parts or different ones or wood for the sides and bottom or more wrenches and sockets and rachets. Seeing my hubby get more and more tense. Seeing the cost go up and up ($800 all told). Finally, heading out of town, stopping on the way to get a license for the trailer and finding that all DMVs are shut down in Indiana on Mondays.

90 minutes in a rest park because we lost all the lights on the trailer on the left side. Joseph working like hell to figure out WHY and WHAT. Asking an intimidating trucker for some help and finding out he used to be an electrician. He figured out the problem in 5 minutes and we were soon on our way. Followed by Nicole, Coryn and I's "Happy Light Dance" in the middle of the parking lot.

The van not starting in Pennslyvania, having it towed two blocks and then they couldn't really fix it. J. gashing his toe on the way there.

Coryn falling in a parking lot and skinning up his knee pretty nicely.

Going through my mother's stuff at her house. So glad I got there in time to do it but oh my, it broke my heart. I cried and cried and cried. So hard to accept she is gone. Came home with many reminders and special treasures. She will always be a part of my mind, my heart and my life.

Realizing that although we were only 8 hours apart instead of almost 8 days, we would not be able to meet up with our friends living in Maine. They could not get there when we would be there. We were all sad because that was going to be a real highlight for all of us.

My ankles, feet and calves swelling up so much each day we travelled that I could not wear my shoes or walk comfortably. Of course, this led to peeing all night. Typical me trying to figure out how many calories I can burn just with trips to and from the bathroom.

Getting hit in the face with a bungi cord you are trying to fasten. MAN, does it HURT. Swollen cheek, swollen lip.


Joseph went to lie down at a rest stop. Spread out the sleeping bag while the boys walked the dog and I cleaned up the van. Seconds later, he is hightailing it back to the van, clearly chased by SOMETHING yet invisible to me. I am thinking that if it's bees and he is running to the van, I will have to later kick him. It turned out to the world's most ravenous mosquitoes who had been lying in wait in the tall grass, much like raptors. They literally swarmed him and chased him around the van several times. I ran after him flapping a shirt and laughing my butt off.

Having a bucketload of pennies from my parent's house that I wanted to turn in at the bank. Finding out that most banks won't take them if you don't roll them or have an account. Finding out that Coinstars are often broken. Finally, in grand irony, donating them to a disaster relief fund that sends cleaning products to those who have gone through a flood, quake, etc. Nothing could have been more appropriate for my parents' money than to give it in for cleaning supplies.

The person I went to visit in PA is in prison. To get in to visit takes a lot of paperwork, all of which I had done already. However, I didn't get a list of all of the rules. . including that you cannot wear tank tops in to visit. Yes, I wore a tank top. You can wear one if you have a jacket. I had a jacket. It had a hood. You cannot wear hooded jackets. Now what? My luggage was 40 miles away at the hotel. Gallantly, Joseph took off his shirt and gave it to me to wear (a Volkswagen t-shirt, what else?) This left him without a shirt so I gave him my hoodie. Sadly, it was BRIGHT pink. Since I couldn't take my purse in either, J got to hold it also. Let me tell you, it was a sight!!! The friend I visited said that Joseph made such an impression on the other guys that he is collecting fan letters from them (600 plus to date) and they are all hoping J has pink leotards to go with the hoodie and that he will send pics. :)


In between Pendleton and Hermiston, Oregon, we met a couple who live in Goshen, Indiana (a city between where I was born and raised and where I lived with Joseph). Small world! Days and miles later, we ran into them again in a gas station. Eerie. More days and miles later and we ran into them at a rest stop. Cue "Twilight Zone" music. This is just bizarre. They are lovely, very religious couple, and I am wondering if they were helping us adjust mentally to returning to conservative Indiana.

Eating in Pine Bluffs, Wyoming a/k/a Zombieville. All of the stores were closed and boarded up. There were hardly any people on the street. We ate at a restaurant and the people barely spoke plus had been born oddly enough without any personality. It led us to making up great storylines for horror books. "The Orrs Come to Pine Bluff . .. and Never Return"; "The Orrs for Dinner in Zombieville" and "Welcome to Pine Bluffs . . Leave your Personality and Life Force at the City Limits". It became quite a joke for all of us.

Sleeping in your mother in laws' bed.

Having your mother in law wash and fold your underwear.