Category Archives: Stories of my Life

Eight Years Cancer Free Today

Cancer Survivor imageThis visual says it all. The truth about being a cancer survivor. Breast cancer in my case and that of too many women. Women I love. Some are still here with us – with me. Some are not. I miss them. I weep for them. I celebrate their struggle.

We fought a giant though I prefer to call him a monster. A giant is sometimes benign. A monster is not. While I was in the maw of that monster a good friend of mine told me to personify him. My friend was a cartoonist so he’d made a strip of his monster. I’m a writer so I blogged about mine.

My friend was Rick Tuel. Rick is no longer with us – with me. I miss him. I weep for him. I celebrate his struggle. I embrace his wife Mary and rejoice she’s still here to embrace. She’s a survivor of another kind. A caretaker survivor. My husband Jonathan Orr is one of those too. They are everything to us – the diagnosed ones. I salute the caretaker survivors.

We were stronger because we had to be. Annie O’Flaherty was strong of heart because she knew how to love. She knew how to love me. She sent me a picture of an angel descending. The angel did descend and took Annie away. Annie is no longer with us – with me. I miss her. I weep for her. I celebrate her struggle. I embrace her caretaker survivor Jan Phillips and salute her too.

We were happier because we’d learned what matters. Susan Sullivan always knew what mattered and pursued those things of value with determination and vigor. I marveled at her stamina and at the lovely pieces she created for my writing workshop and read with courage there. Susan is no longer with us – with me. I miss her. I weep for her. I celebrate her struggle. Her caretaker survivor was her husband Pat Sullivan. I celebrate him too.

My brother Michael stood tall with a slight dip to one shoulder where he’d carried a heavy bag of newspapers to deliver when he was young. He stood tallest of all on many stages playing many roles and singing many songs always doing both so beautifully I could barely breathe watching him. Michael is no longer with us – with me. I miss him. I weep for him. I celebrate his struggle. He has many caretaker survivors. My son Ed Vesneske jr. is one of them. I embrace him in my heart every day.

I mark my eight-year survivor anniversary by celebrating these heroes and many more. I hope to follow their examples of battling bravely and staying strong and minding what matters and standing tall. Too often I don’t manage all of that. Occasionally I don’t manage any of it. But I manage some of it just about enough of the time to be worthy of my survival.

The problem is that they were worthy of survival too. Rick and Annie and Susan and Michael and legions of others. But they are no longer with us. We miss them. We weep for them. We celebrate their struggle. We vow to be caretakers of their memory. To emulate their example of grace and fortitude and to honor their lives by defeating the monster that took those lives too soon.

Alice Orrhttp://www.aliceorrbooks.com http://www.facebook.com/aliceorrwriter http://www.twitter.com/AliceOrrBooks 

Beloved Visitors or On Sodden Toweling

I don’t think of myself as a neat freak though I do feel a visceral attraction to this Julian's Mess 2-2016Mary McGarry Morris quote. “Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be wild and original in your work.”

I’d like to think of myself as wild and original but these days that sounds like it might be tiring. Is it possible to be wild and original in a sitting position – preferably with my feet up? If so I’m on it.

Meanwhile my grandchildren are visiting. My granddaughter has a plus-one girlfriend with her. They’re sharing the larger bedroom in our small urban apartment. The bedroom with the TV large enough to be viewed without super-heroine vision.

My grandson has the smaller bedroom ordinarily referred to as my office. The accompanying photo depicts his manner of clothing storage. From most recently worn on top leading downward from there toward his arrival day outfit.

In service of full disclosure I must admit to establishing the following housekeeping rule. “Please just keep the door closed.” What can I say? I’m an out-of-sight-out-of-mind type of grandma. With the following exception. Bath towels.

I maintained my original pledge to stay out of those rooms during their visits until one particularly humid summer. Point of info. Jonathan and I live in New York City where damp ratchets steadily upward toward dank from June through August.

At the end of the grandkid stay I have in mind we said goodbye with much hugging at the apartment door. After which I was feeling bereft until I ventured into what had been my granddaughter’s room. Different plus-one girlfriend share that time.

The error of my permissive housekeeping approach was obvious as I opened the door and the reek of mildew assaulted me full force. It was apparent I should have practiced towel control. I’d wondered why our supply of bath sheets had depleted over the past few days. Now I knew why.

Sodden toweling decorated the floor – and most disturbingly for me the bed as well – in odoriferous lumps located what seemed to my suddenly disordered psyche like everywhere.

“Accept. Adjust. Adapt.” Three A-words I largely credit with my personal survival in general. In this specific case. Accept that sodden toweling is a given of grandkid visits. Adjust my policy of non-intrusion. Adapt by inspecting their rooms immediately after they leave for whichever sector of Gotham I’ve counseled them to avoid.

Since Adopting – another good A as in advice word – this practice I no longer have to… #1. Fumigate the bedroom carpeting quite as often. #2. Badger Jonathan to flip the mattress quite as often. #3. Convert terminally mold stained bath sheets to cleaning rags quite as often.

We are now entering Day 4 of the current grand-progeny visit. Granddaughter plus plus-one has left for what she promises will be solely a campus visit. They’re both in college search mode. Grandson is in the shower I demanded he take before hand-off to a blessed relative while I prepare for this evening’s family gathering and feast.

Jonathan and I are experiencing increased difficulty with cranking our bodies upright after sleeping on the foldout couch in the living room. Two visit days remain at the end of which we will both be bereft. But right now I believe I may scent eau de mildew in the air.

Alice Orr – http://www.aliceorrbooks.com.

RR

A Wrong Way Home – Book 1 of my Riverton Road Romantic Suspense series – is a FREE eBook at Amazon and other online retailers. All of my books are available at my Amazon Author Page http://www.amazon.com/Alice-Orr/e/B000APC22E/. I can’t guarantee that the non-digital versions will be free of mildew.

 

Life is a Blizzard Where I Come From

Me in My SnowsuitWhen I was a little girl I thought everybody lived in blizzard country like I did. I thought every child wore a snowsuit for nearly half of the year. This is me in my snowsuit in a few old photographs.

That was life growing up in the North Country. Blizzards and snowsuits. Sleds and ice skates. Double-knit mittens and hats created on Grandma’s needles. The memories of those years are sharp and reside in all of my senses.

I see the snowbank so high in front of our house that there was a photo of me standing on top of it grasping a power line. We’d had a power outage of course. Wires were down somewhere nearby – snapped by heavy ice.

Outages happened often in winter but we were cozy at 439 East Avenue because we had a coal furnace fed by my father from a bin in the basement. I feel the rush of heat when he opened the cast iron door and threw coal into the fiery center.

I hear the chuck of his shovel pushing into the bin and the whoosh of release when he let the load fly into the flames. I smell it too – the not unpleasant char that scratched my throat just a little until the furnace door was closed and latched again.

The most vivid flavor of my blizzard season memories comes from outside the house – the snow I ate despite my mother’s claim I’d contract a terrible disease with a long name I’ve forgotten. I taste the strangely satisfying hint of brackishness as snow crystals melted on my tongue.

Memories urge me to give them life on the page. Tire chains clanging down a quiet street at night. Young ears pressed to morning radios for school closure bulletins after a four-foot overnight snowfall – as a white wonderland waits to be explored and enjoyed.

I offer a glimpse of North Country winter in  A Vacancy at the Inn – Book 4 of my Riverton Road Romantic Suspense series. There’s a blizzard near the end but this is a novella and an intense personal situation. Not much page space remains for weather in detail.

Or maybe I held back. Cherishing the magic of my private memory winters in a silence as deep as the silence of a snowscape after a storm. Still I sense a Riverton Road story in my future – and I hope in yours as its reader – where life is a blizzard big time.

Alice Orr – http://www.aliceorrbooks.com.

RR

A Wrong Way Home – Book 1 of my Riverton Road Romantic Suspense series – is a FREE eBook at Amazon and other online retailers. All of my books are available at my Amazon Author Page http://www.amazon.com/Alice-Orr/e/B000APC22E/.

 

I Think I’ll Go Indie

Indie Spirit 1Sometimes I remember that title as my decision process. Think it. Do it. Done. But of course it wasn’t. The seeds were planted – the deep planting anyway – at the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention. I was there to present a workshop called The Art of Agent Stalking. Nothing Independent Publishing about it. Traditional Pub all the way.

I was watching the Indie movement for sure but from a poolside seat without as much as a toenail near the water. I was a curious onlooker. Nothing more. However before I even reached the convention hotel my toes and my attitude had begun to shift.

The airport shuttle van was packed with authors and guess what they were talking about. Indie Publishing. Some wanted to know more about making the leap. Some were thinking of making the leap. Some had made the leap and spoke of what had happened to them.

I mostly listened. Especially to the story of an author who’d long written for the same imprint I’d published with in the past. It didn’t take long for someone to ask her about money. She answered that her Indie earnings were approaching her Trad earnings and others said the same.

Those stories got everyone’s attention including mine. But they weren’t what impressed me most about the author themselves. What impressed me most was their enthusiasm. I’d been in writing and publishing for years by then as editor/agent/published author attending many writers’ events.

But I had never heard published authors – who were beyond the first euphoric blush of their careers – positively excited as these authors were about being Indie Pubbed. By the time we reached the conference hotel I understood why.

They had retrieved their writer selfhood from the control and manipulation of others. They owned their work. They owned their decision-making. They owned their careers. And they not only felt empowered – they were overjoyed.

During the next several days in one extraordinary session after another I learned the downside of the Indie life as well as the up. With total control comes total responsibility. The buck stops with the Indie writer and often the other kind of buck – the green one – doesn’t stop with her anywhere often enough.

I heard that. I comprehended it. Most of all I appreciated it. Whatever choice I made would be an informed choice not an emotional one. Or so I thought.

The truth on the other hand was that by the time I took the hotel van back to the airport I’d made a decision that was very much about emotion. I longed to experience the enthusiasm and – I barely dared imagine it – the happiness of those authors in that earlier van.

I wanted to be a full adult fully in charge of my own work life. I’d had that experience as a literary agent. I wanted it again as an author. One Indie memoir and three Indie fiction books later I very occasionally second guess my choice and only when the money issue arises.

I do not make as many of the green bucks as I did in my Trad Pub years. Not yet anyway. But I’m more content with what I do and how I go about doing it than I ever was back then. So – for now and I hope for a long time to come – I think I’ll stay Indie.

Alice Orr – http://www.aliceorrbooks.com.

RR

A Wrong Way Home – Book 1 of my Riverton Road Romantic Suspense series – is a FREE eBook at Amazon and other online retailers. All of my books are available at my Amazon Author Page http://www.amazon.com/Alice-Orr/e/B000APC22E/.

Going to Ground

Question: Where have you been Alice?

Answer: There are times we cannot – and should not – work or write.

Animal in burrow imageWith animals we call it going to ground. They burrow in somewhere out of the flow of their usual lives to rest and heal because rest and healing are required. People go to ground too. We also experience times when recuperation – physical and mental and spiritual – is more crucial than work. Even more crucial than our precious writing work.

This has happened recently to two writer friends and myself for different reasons. I’ll begin with the stories of my writer friends.

In Elizabeth Meyette’s Blog she recently wrote. “I have abandoned the manuscript I’ve been working on for over a year. Making the decision to abandon my draft came after much soul-searching and feedback…” Loss takes us to ground. Elizabeth’s words are a gracious understatement of what she’s lost.

All of us who write understand this. We live with our stories as close companions that preoccupy our hearts and minds and reside in our souls. For a writer the loss of a story is almost as deeply felt as the death of a friend. Mourning is required when we’re forced to set aside such a relationship.

The places within Elizabeth – or any of us – once occupied by that story must refill and come back to life. Until then healing and loving self-care are needed. My hope is that one day her story will return more rich and full than ever and more rewarding too.

My other friend is also a talented writer. Irene Peterson has interrupted her work while she devotes her efforts to someone else. My favorite book by Irene is Glory Days. My favorite aspect of Irene is her giving heart.

She has slowed her writing roll to become caretaker to her husband who suffered a serious injury. How many of us have been halted by similar commitments to help others in our lives? Whether it is for partners or children or aging parents or friends. We recognize the need and sacrifice our time and our energy and our work as Irene has done.

My personal work obstacle is more mundane than Elizabeth’s or Irene’s. I caught a cold that progressed to laryngitis and a wracking cough which won’t let me sleep at night. Medications fog my brain. For days turning to weeks I’ve gone to ground. My comeback is on its way but in the meantime healing is my priority.

Whether the healing is our own or someone else’s we must make room for it to happen until our bodies and our lives return to us the capacity for working and writing again. Until we’re able to emerge into the light of the page once more. I wish us all Godspeed with that.

Alice Orr – http://www.aliceorrbooks.com.

RR

A Wrong Way Home – Book 1 of my Riverton Road Romantic Suspense series – is a FREE eBook at Amazon and other online retailers. All of my books are available at My Amazon Author Page.

A Greeting on the Eve

Christmas in Astoria - 2016Dear Friends.:

Tomorrow is Christ’s birthday. The day after is mine. Talk about going from the sublime to the far less so. All the same today I’m feeling grateful for the grace and kindness that have carried me through this past sometimes challenging year to my present moment of comfort and contentment.

We remain in our New York City home. This is our city apartment tree. Tall and narrow to nestle in a corner and double its light effects in the window. The branches are crowded with ornaments handmade by our grandchildren. You can read more about them at Homemade Ornaments

Jonathan continues to work as Project Manager of our contracting company – a career demanding field that keeps him always alert and growing. More about that at Orr & Orr Contracting Facebook Page which I really need to update once in a while.

I continue to write with two novels and a novella published this past year. Many generous hands and hearts opened to me along the fascinating road of this new adventure. I cherish the warmth of those well wishes and shall never forget them.

Our family remains our abiding joy. Daughter Kathleen and son in law Luis live only five blocks from us and that is most gratifying. Son Ed and daughter in law Deborah and our amazing grandchildren Maya and Julian continue to live in Brookline MA just a ride over the Massachusetts Turnpike or Amtrak’s Northeast Regional line. We see them all often but of course never as often as we’d like.

Our friends are a beloved sustenance. Though we do need to work a little harder to keep those bonds close and caring instead of letting perpetual busyness take precedence. That sounds like a New Year’s Resolution to me. Meanwhile we create delightful fresh connections wherever we go. Especially among our newly discovered church family at Church of the Redeemer in Astoria .

A lovely woman who has been very supportive of me this past year sent me a birthday card. What she wrote inside touched me with the perfection of its sentiments. I hope she won’t mind me sharing them with you. May your next trip around the sun be filled with everything you need and the best of what you want. Enjoy the ride!

Love and Blessings. Alice – December 24, 2015

Ways to Stay in Touch. I’d love to hear from you.

Alice’s Email Address – aliceorrbooks@gmail.com

Website – www.aliceorrbooks.com

Facebook – www.facebook.com/aliceorrwriter

Twitter – www.twitter.com/AliceOrrBooks

 

The Best Pageant Ever

Christmas Pageant imageWhen I was growing up the church Christmas pageant was a serious event. There were auditions – musical auditions – and even though I sang in the choir and thought I had a lovely voice I never made the cut.

There were rehearsals too. Lots of them as I recall stretching through Advent month with anticipation rising as the weeks passed. The strange thing is I don’t remember a single one of those most likely impressive performances.

Decades later – way past my Northern New York girlhood – my husband Jonathan and I moved to an island in Puget Sound a twenty-minute ferry ride from Seattle. Many things were different in our new home place. Including the Christmas pageant at our small island church.

First of all nobody said anything about auditions. A pageant was listed among the planned holiday events. I waited for an audition schedule to be listed as well but none appeared. I hadn’t even told Jonathan of my intention to try out but eventually I had ask somebody.

“We don’t audition. Everyone participates.”

I had no idea what that answer meant but I didn’t want to appear too eager so I kept quiet on the subject until Christmas Eve. The pageant was at seven in the evening because that was a better time for the children of the parish than the later service near midnight.

Jonathan may have thought midnight was the more adult choice but he’d detected my eagerness as he often detects my secrets. At my insistence we arrived early with home-baked cookies in hand as suggested.

“Are you an angel or a shepherd?”

The question was so unexpected I answered without thinking.

“An angel of course.”

I’d intended that as a rather nervous joke. It was honored all the same and soon a pair of wings was pinned to my back and a halo of silver tinsel garland circled my head.

“This will tell you what to do.”

My dresser thrust the bulletin that was our script into my hand. The line of people behind me was pressing forward so I moved on without asking more. Meanwhile Jonathan was carrying a wooden staff and had a blanket draped over his shoulders. He’d become a shepherd.

Everyone was in a festive mood – much more jolly than reverent – and the following hour was just as joyful. We went forward to the altar when our scripts directed us to do so. We sang carols in unrehearsed voices – “Angels We Have Heard on High” from my contingent.

Wings were askew. Shepherds’ blankets slipped off shoulders. Children giggled and the baby Jesus slept through it all. Eventually most of the congregation was on the altar singing and listening to the familiar nativity story being told by the priest whose halo bobbed over one eye.

A few timid souls still in the pews were our only audience. I was especially glad not to be among them this time because it was the best Christmas pageant ever. And afterward we ate cookies.

Alice Orr – www.aliceorrbooks.com.

RR

A Vacancy at the Inn is Alice’s Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Christmas Novella. Just 95 cents. The Best Price Ever at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B017RZFGWC.

 

Homemade Ornaments

Christmas 2013 -- Tree without lights onThe tradition began with my daughter in law back when our granddaughter was too young to handle anything more dangerous than scissors and glitter. Her mom took over where a hot glue gun was required. The gold and purple stocking at the top of the tree in the photo is an example of one such project.

I don’t honestly know if the stocking was made by our granddaughter or our grandson who joined the glue gun posse a few years later. What I do know is that I dearly love every one of those homemade ornaments.

I’m kind of a nut about Christmas. Maybe because my own birthday is December 26th and somewhere in my soul I imagine the Christ child is sharing a tiny bit of his thunder with me.

Friends and family are aware of this yuletide obsession of mine and the tendency to over-decorate that goes with it. Tree ornaments have been a favorite gift choice for years. The Bloomingdales taxi was also my daughter in law’s inspired bit of glitz in reference to another of my holiday obsessions.

In fact each of the ornaments on that tree is a gift from someone I love. But the homemade ones are all from our grandchildren. Eventually they graduated from scissors and hot glue to dough and paint and the era of the home-baked tree began.

We were living in the Pacific Northwest by then and every year new home-baked ornaments arrived. Carefully crafted and even more carefully wrapped they nestled under the tree they would soon adorn – waiting for Grandma to unswaddle them with a full heart and glistening eyes.

The Santa face and the red flower on a blue background and the brightly colored sun – all in the branches of the photo tree – plus many more. They accumulated as the boughs hung heavier and more precious to me with each passing year. Until it was time to move back home from the northwest to the northeast.

A great deal of packing was involved but none more crucial to me than the packing of the homemade ornaments. Yards of bubble wrap and heavy duty tape were employed. I didn’t care how many boxes it took. And I insisted they were not to travel in the moving van with the rest of our belongings.

My red Jeep Wrangler was being shipped east too. Under my vigilant supervision the cartons of homemade ornaments were stacked inside. Still I was anxious about their fate. Jonathan promised to call me the moment he saw the Jeep at the east coast pickup point.

“The ornament boxes are fine,” he said before I could even ask the question. “Thank you,” I answered. My heart was more articulate as it whispered, “God bless us every one.”

Alice Orr – www.aliceorrbooks.com.

RR

A Vacancy at the Inn – Alice Orr’s Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Christmas Novella – A holiday bargain for 99 cents at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B017RZFGWC. Enjoy!

 

The Santa Suit

Grandpa SantaThere’s been more than one Santa suit in the history of this particular tradition in our family. The first suit appeared long ago – even before our grandchildren. Santa visited our grown children in those days and always according to the same ritual.

We’d be in the midst of gift giving on Christmas morning when he arrived. “Ho Ho Ho” he’d boom in a jolly voice from the doorway. “Hello Santa” we’d respond with grins plastered across our faces.

“Isn’t that little Eddie?” Santa would ask eldest son who hadn’t been little in quite some time. Santa would then visit each of us with packages he pulled from a bag like the one that hung in our laundry closet.

The first time the Santa suit went public was at the Schenectady, New York YWCA holiday party. Rumor had it that Santa was hesitant about taking his show on the road on a Saturday morning being more accustomed to Christmas midnight creeps and solitary chimneys – until the children were let loose.

They barreled out of a room adjoining the one with the brightly decorated tree. Shouts of “It’s Santa!” filled the air and his mustache twitched into smiling position – swiftly followed by a hearty “Ho Ho Ho.”

At some point Mrs. Santa invested in a second Santa suit made of more substantial material. Velvet in fact with soft white trim. Santa’s beard had grown more curly and lengthy also and the peak of his red hat no longer drooped.

His former suit found a new home with another cash-strapped organization much like the YWCA. Mr. and Mrs. Santa were pleased to know that the long-beloved garment would be gleefully enjoyed by many children for years to come.

Meanwhile our own grandchildren had joined the family and they loved Santa’s Christmas morning visits too. Maybe even more than their parents and aunts and uncles had. Santa’s “Ho Ho Ho” was more enthusiastic than ever.

Nonetheless last year he asked Mrs. Santa a question that troubled her very much. “Do you think the Santa suit is getting a little silly? Maybe they’re too old for it.” The grandkids are twelve and seventeen now.

“Absolutely not” was Mrs. Santa’s vehement answer. “The children would miss it. We all would.”

That was especially true for her and she was quite relieved when he didn’t argue further. Because there are few things as lovable and dear as the Christmas gift of a good man in a Santa suit.

Alice Orr – www.aliceorrbooks.com.

RR

A Vacancy at the Inn – Alice Orr’s Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Christmas Novella – a Holiday bargain for 99 cents at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B017RZFGWC .

 

All About Family

family diversity imageJonathan and I just returned from our family Thanksgiving gathering. We’re dragging ourselves around this morning but we are smiling. Filled with memories as much as with turkey and my daughter’s divine stuffing.

I remember Thanksgivings that weren’t as idyllic as this one. Fraught Thursdays of problems and grievances lowering over the feast table. Thank heaven the psyche performs a blessed erasure of all that when better times arrive.

I also remember less traditional holidays than this one where everybody at the table was related by blood or marriage. When Jon and I personally hosted Thanksgiving we evolved a tradition of inviting folks with nowhere else to go. Nobody in our acquaintance was allowed to avoid being overfed. That day they were our family and we were theirs.

When I was a single mom finances were perpetually strained. Communal Thanksgiving was a must and a joyful good time. I’d roast the turkey and make the stuffing. Never as from-scratch as my daughter’s but Pepperidge Farm mix plus my own additions turned out tasty anyway.

My single mom friends came with their assorted offspring and everybody brought her best side dish. Plastic glasses of inexpensive wine were raised in toast to everything – including having made it through the previous year – but especially in gratitude for each other.

Each of these assorted configurations was a family in the most important sense. We held each other up. We carried each other when necessary. We were there. We still are.

This history is big among my reasons for writing about families. Not idealized family. Realistic family with problems and personality flaws and screw-ups all at the table – keeping on keeping together through thick and sometimes desperately thin. Plus I write romantic suspense so there’s a murder in their midst to complicate the menu even further.

They prevail as family whatever their configuration or their challenges may be. The Kalli family and their habit of adopting stray souls. The Miller family with trials and tensions galore. And a third family yet to come of – guess what – a single mom and her single mom friends. All in Riverton. All in the family. All eager to welcome you to the feast.

Alice Orr – http://www.aliceorrbooks.com.

RR

A Vacancy at the Inn is the first Christmas novella of my Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series featuring the Kalli family – and now the Miller family too – in stories of Romance and Danger. A holiday deal for 99 cents at http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B000APC22E.