Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Good Book

Anyone who knows me well knows that I love to read. Not only do I spend a lot of my time writing books (200 to date) but I also love to read them. I buy them wayyyyyyyyy faster than I can possibly read them, mind you, but books are my only real vice. I mean, I don't smoke, drink or gamble. I don't cheat on my husband. I just love to buy books. That has, naturally, changed in recent months as my income has dropped . . . well no, the LOVE of books hasn't changed, just the PURCHASING of them.

Anyway, I have a friend online who writes a GREAT book review site (check out Worducopia) and it inspired me to share a few brief reviews of books I have read recently. If you're not a reader, then skip this post and tune in another day.

When I was younger, I kept a journal of all the books I read. This is no surprise--I am a list maker from way back. I had reached more than 400 on the list when I got married. Over the years, I have lost that journal which saddens me. Of course, this way the kids can't blackmail me with information like, "Can you believe Mom read 17 Partridge Family books?" either.

At the beginning of this year, I started keeping track of what books I read each month. Sure, a detailed review of each one would have been good but I stuck with title, author and a grade of A to F. So far, in the first half of the year, I have read 35 books. There are no D's and F's. Why? Because if I am reading a book that bad, I STOP. Time is toooooo precious to spend it on crappy literature.

So, I am going to share with you some books that earned A's with me. That way, in case you're headed to a bookstore or library or Goodwill and want to pick up a recommended title, you have a few of my suggestions.

The Messenger by Jan Burke
Typically Burke writes a series of mysteries with a main protagonist named . . . Irene, I believe. I have not read any of these. I picked this one up because the story line sounded like my type. It was. It had romance, intrigue, supernatural elements and a damn fine story. I really, really liked this one.

Dog on It by S. Quinn
This is such fun. It's a story of a mystery that is solved by a guy and his dog. Much of the story is from the dog's (I will not tell you how many times I typed god instead of dog . . . ) point of view. It's entertaining and cute and just plain fun. Another book I recommend for sheer laughter is The Yes Man by D. Wallace. It's the basis for the Jim Carey movie but wayyyyyyy different (and better). I laughed out loud so often at this one that I ended up reading entire pages to my family.

Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult
If you haven't read Picoult, you have missed an amazing experience. I have never in my life read books that made me THINK more than hers do. She has this incredible ability to put the reader right in a situation that requires you to figure out what you would do. Her book, My Sister's Keeper, is coming out as a movie any day now and I am sure there will be an upsurge in reading all of her titles. I recommend keeping tissues nearby (my family always knows when I am reading one of her books because I am sitting on the couch sniffling a lot) but don't let the emotionality dissuade you from trying one. Really, her topics are riveting. Try Nineteen Minutes for an exploration of school violence . . .A Perfect Match for child abuse . . . Vanished for child abduction or Change of Heart for organ donation. Honestly, if I could only recommend one author to people, it would be Picoult.

One Second After by W. Forstchen
What happens to the U.S. when it is hit by an EMP blast? This book explores that topic from the perspective of a father trying to take care of his family in a mysterious national crisis. Not for the faint-hearted--no supernatural stuff here--no zombies or alien forces--but researched, accurate and sometimes horrifying focus on how people cope in a disaster like this one. I was completely fascinated from beginning to end, even when what was happening in the story was not what I wanted at all.

The Spellman File books by Lisa Lutz
Please, please pick these up--there are three to date and the first two are in paperback already. I guarantee you will laugh out loud at each one and be sooooo sad when you're finished. These are the types of books that I loan to my friends the minute I am done because I want them to have as much as I did. They are truly delightful--and I hope Lutz keeps writing them for my entire lifetime. The characters are so real you miss them when the books are over and the side notes written at the bottom of the page, plus the many appendices at the end are hysterical. Don't miss these.

Relentless by Dean Koontz
Okay, yes, I am prejudiced. I read EVERYTHING this man writes. Most of the time, I love it. Sometimes I am a little disappointed. But Relentless confirms why I adore his books. No one on the planet can nail a happy man/woman relationship and its dialogue better than Koontz. Despite the fear and tension and thriller parts of the book which I enjoy, I laugh out loud all the time at the conversations characters have. I can tell this man must be happily married because he NAILS relationships. In this book, the happy couple have a fabulously intirguing young son and an equally fascinating dog (a hallmark of Koontz's books), all pursued by one of the nastiest villians I have encountered in a long time.

All right, that is enough for now. If you do happen to pick any of these up and read them, I'd love to hear about it. It's even okay if you don't love them as much as I did. Let me know if you'd like to see more reviews or possibly a list of the Don't Bother titles as well. I love feedback.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Orrs Survived! Film at 11!

It was a weekend only somewhat jokingly fraught with peril . . . . but we not only survived, we enjoyed! I hope to add some pics to my next post as illustration of our weekend. Joseph took more than 200 of them. . . most of them of the exterior and interior of 70 various buses and no, I won't make you look at those. Frankly, they are only interesting to him and his other VW aficinados (yes, I had to stop and bring up Microsoft Word to make sure how to spell that one).

To encompass four days into the highlights. . . hmmmm. . . .let's go with my semi-traditional best and worst moments. In my dad's tradition, I will do worst first so as to end on a high note.

Worst: The WIND. The weather was warm, although WAY cooler than last year (70s instead of 90s) but the wind picked up each afternoon about 1:00 and stayed around all day until about 10:00. It blew away chairs, it made hot food impossible, it made you put on a jacket when it blew, take it off when it stopped and then repeat the process every few minutes all day. (On the other hand, it made the people who brought kites very, very happy.)

The PORT A POTTIES. We parked near them because I hate having to trek to the bathroom on a repeated basis. We were there last year and no problem. This year, thanks to that wind, we were treated to "Eau d'outhouse" constantly. (At first we tried to blame it all on the dog.) When I got home last night, I took a shower just to make sure I couldn't smell that smell on me anymore. Shudder, shudder.

The MECHANICS. We traveled to the resort with three others, Hal (and his wife), Barry and Adam. Hal is a VW master--just always know these tricks and tips for getting a VW to run. His bus was having issues and he actually spent the entire weekend working on trying to repair a major engine issue. When we left on Sunday, we barely made it to the gas station before his bus was in trouble again. Joseph and I then made the supreme error . . . we spoke out loud about how well our bus was running and the fates just had to screw with that smugness. So, as we pulled into the gas station, our bus died. Then, Barry yelled, "I see smoke, Joseph! Smoke in the engine!" J. jumped out and grabbed a fire entinguisher. I got out too, but without a sense of panic. Then, Barry yelled, "Flames! Fire!" That was when I wrenched the side door open in a nanosecond and got the kids out and away from the bus. Fortunately, it turned out to be a fried auxillary battery cable that was pulled out and the bus was fine. It ran perfectly from that moment on, which we were smart enough NOT to mention out loud. Hal's bus, however, was not as fortunate. By the time we had been on the road for about 30 minutes, he was pulling over. After working on it, with three other VW drivers standing around trying to look helpful, he gave up and went back into town to order a tow truck. All in all, we sat on the side of the road for 2 hours. At one point, I pulled out the cooler and we all snacked, plus I turned on the portable speakers for music. As waits went, it was actually not too bad.

J. GETTING SICK. The first night there, Joseph had just a few beers from the Pony Keg we brought and for some reason, they hit him wrong. He felt awful for most of the night and into the morning. That was lousy because if my guy isn't having fun, neither am I.

OKAY . . . . now . . . . THE BEST.

The SCENERY. Man, oh man, oh man, this place just takes the prize for gorgeous. It is surrounded by mountains, which are speckled with multi million dollar homes that make all of us ponder what the owners do to earn that much money and how hard it must have been to get construction equipment way up there. . . .The Deschutes River is right there and it rushes quickly past inviting white water rafters to explore. The sound of it is like white noise coming from another room. I adore it. The grass is so green it seems unreal. We are down in a valley and I even saw a deer roaming the edge of the field at one time.

The SOUNDS. Beside the rush of the river and the wind in the pines, this place is full of the most amazing sounds. There are bird calls of all kinds. There are children laughing and people talking and endless dogs barking. One woman brought an accordion and played it wonderfully. Another guy brought a tuba and entertained at random moments. Both nights had musical concerts with all types. . . one guy played a bongo drum and sang the King Louie song from "Jungle Book". Others played mandolins, guitars, saxaphones . . . it was so fabulous. Children from babes in arms through my own teens talked and wandered about. I cannot tell you how I loved crawling into the tent at night and just listening to the sounds around me as I went to sleep.

The PEOPLE. There are more than 70 buses this year--the biggest gathering to date. There were more than 200 people. It was amazing. Everyone there is friendly and chatty. It's like you belong to a club you didn't even knew you joined.

The TIME with my kids. While J. wandered around taking yet another picture of a bus interior or talking parts with drivers, I spent most of my time at the camp site with the kids. I realize that this is really our last year with it just being us. Either someone will join us next time or, more likely, one or more of the kids will not want to come back. They are, after all, becoming full fledged adults with their own agendas. So, I relished these moments. We all read copious amounts. We laughed A LOT. We made meals out of the cooler together. We took walks. For 4 days, no computers got in the way. No business or work for mom. No friends over. Just us. I loved it too. I have amazing children and I am lucky to get the chance to spend time with them. Actually, the TIME alone in the tent with my hubby was nice too. Usually, when we camp, we have a child close by . . . very close by . . . . and this time had the tent to ourselves while the kids slept in the bus. Even after 27 years together, we can still giggle in the dark and appreciate our togetherness.

So, that is the trip in a nutshell. It was a marvelous time and I loved it. Even the worst parts were so tempered by the good ones, that I know we will all look back with fond memories to all of it. We are already filling out the paperwork for next year's gathering and making lists of all the things we want to either do to the bus or buy before then . . . . a trailer, camping chairs, better cook stove, etc.

Film at 11, nah. But pictures will follow as soon as I download them to the computer. So stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Peace, Baby

About 6 weeks ago, our family van's "rear main seal" went out (whatever that means) and to drive the van again, without putting a quart of oil in it every single day, means $550 in repairs. So, our van has been sitting in the driveway on temporary retirement. Instead, we have been only using our '77 VW bus, affectionately referred to as the Avocado Crib. (pictured here)

Although Portland is a mecca for old VWs of all kinds, people still respond to the sight of a bus making its way down the street. Since we have been using it as our daily driver, we have lost count of the number of people who stop, smile and flash us the "peace" sign as we go by. Grizzled Harley drivers, homeless guys with carts of their belongings, young teens on skateboards--all of them have waved and flashed their fingers (and not the not so nice one). We have had people pull up next to us in their modern and expensive vehicles and look at us wistfully, recalling a bus they had once in their youths. The other day, two young girls, about 13, stopped by the bus and asked permission to take a picture of the front wheel cover (which has an orange duct tape peace sign on it). They giggled throughout the whole thing.

When we park in a parking lot somewhere, chances are someone will walk over and start talking to us about the bus. (Joseph loves every minute of it too.) We parked next to another VW bus the other day and went into the bookstore. We were sitting in the cafe reading when a guy came up to us and said, Hey do you own that bus out there? I was trying to figure out HOW he knew it was US, out of all the other people in the store. Then I looked at Joseph's ponytail and my tie dye dress and grinned. Yea, I guess we really are just a couple of hippies at heart.

Yestrday we parked and when we came back out there was another bus exactly like ours parked next to us. We left a note on the window and of course, the owner called us last night and we chatted for a half an hour. There's something about bus owners . . . .

Speaking of which, this weekend we will be surrounded by them. It's time for our third annual VW bus drive in in Maupin, Oregon. 50 plus buses of all shapes and vintages gathered in a breath takingly beautiful green meadow . . . . Deschutes River roaring on one side and mountain tops soaring upward on the other. No wonder the place is called the Oasis! We will camp there for four days with a potluck, a catered BBQ, a talent show, countless dogs, many children and kick off our official start to summer. Joseph lives for this trip--he can talk VW nonstop for four days (in between beers). I just enjoy hanging out with kids, reading and NOT working. I suspect this is our last year with all of us going, so I plan to cherish each moment.

So peace out baby. The Orr hippies are off on an adventure. No summer vacation this year, sadly, so this will have to do. I will take lots of pics and be back to report on it all soon. Remember, make love, not war.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

This Too Shall Pass

My father was known for saying, "This too shall pass" whenever I was bummed about something as a kid. If I got a rotten grade, got into an argument with a friend, got dumped--everything earned a hug, a kiss on the top of the head and a familiar motto that whatever I was experiencing was temporary and things would get better.

His motto has become my mantra in recent weeks.

This will pass, Tami.

Better times are ahead, Tami.

You have weathered worse, Tami.

The verdict is still out on when . . . and if I can stay patient until then . . .

I have been paid ONCE in almost a month. The down time I had in March is coming back now to haunt me. A family of five cannot live on $1400 for very long. It has been a lean time and I am working as hard as I possibly can to remind myself to treat this like an ADVENTURE. Learn what I can from it. Be humbled so as to appreciate the better times more instead of taking them for granted. Be patient. Remember that THIS TOO WILLLLLLLLL PASS, damn it.

So, share with me my "lessons".

We have learned to have fun without doing many of the same things we used to do. No lingering at bookstores. No trips to Goodwll. No late night trips to Denny's for a fun meal. No trips to the movie store to get the latest movie for that night's viewing.

We have learned that while some people give blood to get money, we give books. We have been to Powell's store six times to sell books . . . . often it is the money that pays for that week's groceries. At first finding the books was easy--we DO have an inordinately large supply. Now, however, we are all dipping into books we either haven't read yet or want to keep. It's starting to hurt a bit.

We have learned that the Dollar Store is a remarkable place. We had never really gone there before and now I think they may know us by name. . . We have learned that we can make an entire meal for all 5 of us for $5. Healthy? Not particularly. Filling? Not usually. But it works.

We have learned that our children are very generous spirited. Each has found a way to offer their money or time or work to help us. That is a gift in itself to us.

We have learned that banks do not care at all if you are struggling . . . and have no second thoughts about piling on additonal charges when you don't have the money to pay them in the first place.

We have learned that people simply do not mail out checks when they say they will.

We have learned that staying home at night and watching a movie together and/or reading is one of the best types of evenings you can have.

We have learned that being flat broke seems to be an invitation to the universe to send bad karma so that, naturally, our washer is making weird sounds, the tags on our bus are expired and the rear main seal on our family van is ruined and thus pretty undriveable.

We have learned that we have friends who truly love us and show up with a bowl of strawberries and a heart of gold that allowed me to buy the medications I was supposed to get, gas for the van and food for my family. (You know who you are too, darlin!)

We have learned that being broke is hard, but not impossible. It is depressing (at least for me) but it is also humbling and a reminder to appreciate what we do have. It is also a call to be creative in ways I don't think we would have thought of otherwise.

So yes, Dad, I know this too shall pass. I know that I have been hired for more work, that my assignment list is filling up more and more, that my free time is shrinking by the day. I know that better times are ahead. In the meantime, I will do my utmost best to absorb the lessons and gain from them.

But Dad . . . . . couldn't it pass just a little faster? Please?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Not so Lazy Days of Summer

Hey everyone. Let's just skip the apologies for my taking so long to post and pretend I said them, you accepted them and I am properly chastised and motivated to do better. (I am sure that is how my kids would prefer I scold them as well.)

It has been summertime around here and I glory in each sunny, hot day because I love this time of year. More than anything, I love sitting out on my swing and soaking up the rays and listening to music. Perfect peace.

So, here is a peek into what has been going on around the Orr household. As usual, some good, some bad . . . in other words, LIFE.

On Memorial Day, we had a big party that went very well. We had about 30 people here and while having large parties is not all that unusual for us, this one was different because it was a very eclectic mixture of people. We had homeschooling friends, Jon's family, a good friend from Texas who fortunately happened to be visiting that weekend, my computer guy and family, my massage therapist and wife--a really eclectic mix. And you know? It worked. I think a good time was had by all. Food was delicious, weather was perfect and conversations were fascinating.

We are, however, being TORMENTED by a demon with wings at our house . . . no, you don't need to send us a referral for an exorcist . . . this winged devil is a bird. A "scrub jay" as they are known out here. This BIRD (not what I want to call it) apparently has a nest nearby and believes that somehow our cat is going to catapult herself 15 feet in the air into the arbor vitae hedge and grab eggs/babies. Now I completey agree that our cat should not do that . . . she is fed every day and hunting for helpless baby birds is unnecessary. HOWEVER, this bird is sooooooo paranoid that staring at FOUR IN THE MORNING, it perches on our decks (up and down) and proceeds to squawk. Over and over and over again. At three second intervals. As an auditory person, this sound drives me insane. In fact, it is driving us all a little nuts. It wakes up everyone in the entire household. A friend suggested we get a water gun and blast it . . . which we are giving serious thought to. Okay, okay. I admit to occasional delusions of just blasting it with something more permanent but really, I don't want to HURT it, I just want it to GO AWAY, especially since we are attempting to sleep out on our deck again and I don't want to be wakened at 4 a.m. (I say attempted because every single time we have tried it so far, the air mattress--and we have several we are rotating--gets a leak and by sunrise we are flat on the hard, hard, hard boards. At one time, I wouldn't have noticed. Now, OUCH.)

This morning, I thought to myself . . . wow, that bird is almost echoing itself or something. Listen to how often it is squawking. To my never ending delight I discovered that now there are TWO of them in the yard.



Health issues are jumping up a bit. My vertigo is gone (celebrate!) but I found out last weekend that my BP is way up again. I have been on several different meds for this. Don't add salt to anything. I don't get it. But have an appointment with the doc tomorrow. BP is a pain because there really aren't any symptoms and if you don't check it, you don't know it's up. My biggest clue is my ankles swell while I work at the computer.

Speaking of feet (a smooth segue, wouldn't you admit?), last night Joseph stumbled and ran his foot into the base of the bed. I believe he broke at least one toe. Would he sit down? No. Would he put ice on it ? No. Is he a stubborn man that makes me wanna pull out my hair? You can guess that one. Today the foot is swollen and it hurts to walk. When I suggested perhaps, you know, sitting down and putting some ice on it, he ROLLED his eyes at me. Yes, he did, the dickens. I said, Fine.........suffer. Argh. Men.

On the work front, things continue to improve ever, ever, ever so slowly. I have been picking up some new jobs and already have 6 books on the schedule for 2010 which is reassuring in these troubled economic times . My biggest headache has been projects where I am not given all of the info I need until I have struggled, angsted, wept, screamed and vented and THEN they say OOPS, this bit of instruction might help. Oh well, I like my gray hair, I guess.

So that is about it on this end. Kids are good. Restless. Always hungry. Nicole and Jon are going strong at 4 1/2 months now.

Going to ATTEMPT to add a couple of pics to this post. If they are there, enjoy them. If they are not, I tried, and gave up. Let's just pretend you saw them and say, wow, what an amazingly beautiful woman writes these posts . . .