Day after the snow day after the holiday after the weekend got me like…
Anybody else find it hard to get going today?
When you’re an adult, winter snows are more hassle than magic. You find yourself thinking about things like shoveling the sidewalks and how much of a pain it’s going to be to put on your boots and coat to drag the garbage cans out to the curb. You dread driving, knowing that if school and work aren’t canceled, you’re probably going to count on your commute being doubled if you want to navigate the partially-plowed streets and get where you need to go safely.
Today, we got a rare snow day here in Lincoln, and without the usual pressure of actually having to go out and try to drive on the freshly-zambonied streets, I had a moment to look outside and appreciate the stark beauty of the freshly falling snow.
What always strikes me about a good snowfall is the silence–how the whole world seems to pause and hold its breath for those few hours, fat white flakes drifting down lazily from gray skies.
As kids, we lived for snow days. I remember how intently we used to watch the accumulation, how many nights we used to go to sleep quietly praying for classes to be canceled so we could spend the day out in it doing what kids do. The best years were when we still lived in Bird City, Kansas. The town was small enough that a healthy level of shenanigans were often tolerated. Packs of errant children traveled from house to house, building snowmen and forts, hurling snowballs at each other, and leaving snow angels in our wake.
The streets in Bird City were so wide that the snow was often plowed and piled high in the middle of the streets. Those looming piles served as sledding hills. They also became launching pads when we rounded up sleds and inner tubes and tied ski ropes to the back of someone’s pickup truck. One year, our babysitter Kaylee and some of her friends pulled us all the way out the Thresher Show grounds. The kids piled in the cab of the truck to thaw while some high school boy took his turn on the inner tube. I remember us all laughing as the driver spun doughnuts in the big empty field, the boy on the tube holding on for dear life as the tube slid and bounced and occasionally took flight.
I remember one year, when my family was still living in a small bungalow on Bird Avenue, the snow fell and blew and drifted so high that it reached the eaves of the house and garage. Lindy and I had finally reached the age where Mom was letting us stay home alone without a babysitter. My friend Mandy came over mid-morning, and we were having a blast trying to build a snow fort when I noticed a few of the drifts had gotten so high against an old outbuilding behind our garage that you couldn’t even tell where the tin roof ended and the snowdrift began. We could reach the edge of the roof by climbing the the gate of the dog pen and hoisting ourselves up over the edge. We spent an hour or so carving out a winding track from the peak of the roof to the edge, where we piled and packed a large wall of snow which we thought would keep us from flying off the edge.
I climbed to the peak of the roof, set my inner tube in the track, and launched myself down, screaming in delight as I picked up speed. It was the closest to an Olympic luge I will likely ever get and I loved every second of it, even when I hit the wall of snow at the roof’s edge and flew, inner tube and all, into the air. The snow below was so deep and powdery that it absorbed the shock from my less-than-graceful landing. I emerged from the snowdrift howling with laughter and scrambling, fast as I could, back up onto the roof to try it again.
We had a good hour or two of uninterrupted fun until my parents showed up to put a stop to it. Of course one of the neighbors had called them at work to give a full report of what we were up to. Typical small town for ya–doesn’t matter what you’re doing, good or bad, your parents are bound to find out about it within the hour.
And that was the end of it. I was banished to the house for the rest of the day and lectured on how I better just stay away from that old building from now on. It was bad enough that we’d spent the better part of the morning climbing up to the peak of what was probably a 20-foot roof. But worse was the fact that the building belonged to a gentleman named Edgar, who just happened to manage the bank where my mom and Mandy’s dad worked. like to think Edgar was amused by our ingenuity. He never came out and said anything to us, but he would always smile and wave a finger at us when we stopped by the bank after school to beg our parents for snack money. And he let us spend a lot of afternoons there, pounding away on the old typewriters in empty offices or sorting loose change in the old hand cranked coin counter.
Even now, that was probably my favorite snow day ever. Staring out the window today, I still smile just thinking about it. And you know what? I have zero regrets.
The first live show I ever saw (outside the occasional play put on by the high school’s drama department) was Footloose on Broadway. It was still early my freshman year, and I hadn’t really established a strong group of friends. I heard there were some free tickets available through Concordia’s Student Activities, and a van heading to the city for the show. Manhattan was intoxicating. Any excuse to hop a train or claim a seat in one of the school vans and I was there.
I had no idea what to expect, no idea how the next few hours sitting in the dark theatre would change me forever, alter my perception at the very core. I’ve always appreciated music and visual artistry and storytelling, but live musical theatre? It’s the closest I may ever get to seeing the face of God while I’m still alive and breathing on this earth.
There’s something about the costumes, the way the sets come alive, moving and changing as if they suddenly started breathing on their own. There’s something about the way the actors melt into the scenes, crossing the threshold of reality and pulling you right along with them. There’s something catching a glimpse of the orchestra in the pit, feeling the crescendo hit you right in the chest. At times, just being in the same room with such immense talent is almost more than I can handle.
One show, and I was hooked.
The best thing though, is sharing the experience. I’ve dragged Stevie along to shows, my Mom, Momma Dawn, my friend Erin and her daughters, my siblings. I’ve taken Cadence to see Cinderella, and my all-time favorite Wicked this past year. And no matter how many shows I see or see again and again, it’s always magic.
For Christmas, Momma Dawn and Mark got tickets for us to take the kids to The Very Hungry Caterpillar at the Lied Center. Cadence has inherited my fascination with theatre, so the moment we told her we were going to a show, she was all in. I had my fingers crossed that Henry would make it. After being so sick this past week and the show not starting until 7:00 pm, I knew we were playing with fire whether he would even have the energy to make it. But, the little dude has been OBSESSED with The Very Hungry Caterpillar ever since the butterfly unit they studied at school.
H-man was nearly bursting with excitement from the moment we arrived at the Lied. The FamFest before the show was perfect. We had a chance to make some fun caterpillar crafts and eat a little dinner. The kids scored some tattoos and face paint. And then it was time to go find out seats and enjoy the show.
And even something as simple as some children’s stories, acted out with puppets and glow in the dark props against a blacked out stage, turned into an hour of absolute wonder and magic. As soon as it was over, Henry was asking to go again. And I smiled and promised him that there would definitely be more.
In all the writing I’ve done, I’m often given the most positive feedback on my ability to set a scene. I’m obsessed with settings, with painting a clear picture of my characters’ surroundings and establishing a vivid and concrete sense of place.
Dig deep into my psyche and there’s likely a link to my adoption. Adoptees often struggle establishing a firm sense of belonging. But my obsession also stems from the fact that my family moved around…a lot. From the time I was born to the time I graduated high school, my family moved to five different towns in two different states and lived in ten different houses, including a three-week stretch where my parents, sister, and I lived in my grandparents’ motorhome. My dad had a new job managing the Four Circle Co-op in Bird City, Kansas and we’d moved before he and Mom had a chance to find a house to rent, so we parked in a vacant lot across the street from the town’s only gas station.
We arrived in Bird City in the summer of 1986. I was five, and living in Grandma and Grandpa Luethje’s motorhome for a few weeks seemed sort of exciting at first, like an extended camping trip. Lindy and I fought over who got to sleep on the bunk bed that perched above the driver’s seat (an argument she won because my tendency to sleepwalk proved hazardous when the bed was more than three feet from the ground). It was a bit strange to be camping next to a grocery store on the main drag of a tiny town with one stoplight instead of some ironically-named campground out in the woods near a lake, but it didn’t much faze me at the time. It was just another pit stop on the parade of homes that dotted the landscape of my youth.
I can close my eyes and still see each house we ever lived in in detail. I can see the little bungalow on Norris Avenue in McCook where our dog Tu-tu had her puppies. The concrete floor in the unfinished basement was always cold, but Dad built a makeshift pen with some blankets and spare pieces of plywood to keep the squirming black pups contained and comfortable. There was a little steel safe built into one of the concrete walls, and I sometimes imagined we were a family of spies locking away our collection of stolen secrets.
The kitchen was painted bright yellow, and Mom used to watch One Life to Live and General Hospital on the little black-and-white television that sat on the counter. Lindy and I shared the little bedroom at the front of the house (of course she got the top bunk), and Mom and Dad’s room was through the Jack-and-Jill bath. Sometimes when both bathroom doors were left open, Dad’s snoring would jolt me awake in the middle of the night, amplified by the bathroom tile.
I can see the first rental house in Bird City where we moved after the excitement of living in the motorhome officially wore off. The two-story house sat on the corner of Burr Avenue and West 3rd Street, just a block from where my best friend Mandy lived, which gave us license to spend just about every moment together when we weren’t in school or sleeping. There was a chainlink fence around the backyard, and in the winter the tumbleweeds would catch there and take over until Dad would eventually light a small fire to burn them, scolding us when we got too close or threw too many tumbleweeds on the crackling pile, sending orange sparks spiraling into the crisp autumn air.
There were two bedrooms and a large playroom with a 3/4 adjoining bathroom on the second floor, which meant Lindy and I finally had our own separate spaces. Our rooms were far enough away from Mom and Dad’s bedroom on the main floor that, for the first time, I could wake up and not hear Dad snoring. The entire second story floor was covered with mismatched scraps of brightly colored carpet. It gave the space a psychedelic circus vibe that started to hurt your eyes if you looked at it too long.
The kitchen had a set of ugly swinging doors, the kind you might see in an old-timey saloon–a wooden frame around a piece of orangish-brown opaque plastic. Mom nearly lost her voice hollering at us to “Stop running in the house!” as we chased each other down the stairs through the den and the kitchen and into the dining room, laughing each time we burst through those doors and heard the satisfying THWAP! as they slapped against walls and swung back into place.
Moving—to a new house or apartment, town or state—was always a nauseating mix of excitement and anxiety. I fancied myself an explorer, and I tried to imagine the fun new adventures I’d have when I arrived at each new place. But the unpleasant byproduct of the recurring upheavals was that it made it nearly impossible for me to ever feel truly grounded. I never really belonged anywhere. Thus, it became an exercise in survival for me to burn all the details into my brain so they wouldn’t get lost each time we packed up our lives and left another place behind.
When I graduated high school and decided to move to New York to attend college, everyone told me I was crazy. They couldn’t imagine a small-town midwestern girl like me fitting in in the big city. But this was the move I desperately needed. It was a chance to throw myself far outside my comfort zone and headlong into the depths of independence. It was a chance to figure out who I really was and who I was going to be.
And for more than 15 years now, Stevie and I have been doing a lot of moving of our own—from New York to Arizona to Nebraska, from apartments and rental houses to our very own homes, packing and unpacking boxes, trying like hell to find the place that fits.
Here we are now, living in a quiet neighborhood in the heart of the Heartland. We’ve got two sweet kids, one crazy hound dog, and a house filled with books and memories and mismatched furniture collected from our families and our childhood homes—a table that came across the country in a covered wagon, framed family photos whispering stories from days gone by, the faded floral couch and matching swivel chairs where Richie and Diane sat drinking coffee each morning in their living room on Long Island. Our walls are covered with movie posters, our children’s scrawling artwork, and photos of the people and the places that we love most.
We are a collection of the people we meet, the places we’ve been, and all of our lived experiences. Our genetics and our childhoods give us a starting point—where we’ve gone from there is a hodgepodge, mishmash, shaken not stirred blend of all we learned and loved and left behind along the way. It’s messy and it’s beautiful. It’s ours and it’s everything.
It’s here, and it’s home.
Okay, so I set some goals for myself at the beginning of this year. Nothing too crazy (at least I didn’t think so at the time), but nothing ever goes according to plan now does it? After these whirlwind first two weeks of the year, I figured I better do a little check-in with myself and see how things are going.
Goal #1 – Write every day. Surprisingly, so far so good here. Now, I’m not writing the great American novel, or even a whole lot worth reading, but at least there has been time set aside and words being put to paper every single day. Gotta say, I’m proud of myself on this one.
Goal #2 – Write one letter every week. Two weeks down. Two letters written. Boom! Onto the next.
Goal #3 – Read one book a week. First up, Radical Candor by Kim Scott. To be fair, I started reading this just before Christmas, but it was slow going and got set aside with the holiday craziness. I didn’t want to try and start another book until I finished this one, so I decided to count it. (Hey! My blog. My rules.) Great read. Stepping into a new leadership role in my career and hearing about this book from some of the leaders I look up to made me want to read it. A lot of the advice and suggestions should be obvious–things like caring deeply about other people, giving the time and space needed to look at things from multiple perspectives before making big decisions, and the importance of being honest and direct without letting emotion take over. Leadership has become something of a buzzword, and I think a lot of people spend a lot of time talking about leadership without really being able to clearly define what good leadership actually looks like. The book is well-written, and it definitely prompted me to reflect on the people in my life who showed me what a leader should be.
My second book of the new year is Five Plots by Erica Trabold. I found out about this book when I was catching up on some of my writing magazines over the holiday break. Erica Trabold is originally from Nebraska, and the book is a collection of her lyrical essays that explore how her life story was shaped by the Nebraska landscape, just as the Nebraska landscape was shaped by the people who lived and settled there. The writing stunning. Trabold was the winner of the inaugural Deborah Tall Lyric Essay Book Prize, and if you take the time to read her debut collection, you’ll see why. Anyone who was born, raised, or feels a connection to Nebraska should pick up a copy immediately. I already ordered one extra copy to send to some family who have moved away and still miss “home,” and I’m sure there will be more orders coming soon. The book is way good good not to share.
Goal #4 – Exercise 30 minutes every day. Well, if I’ve fallen off the wagon anywhere, it’s here. Now, I will say, I was good right up until this weekend when Henry got sick. Some mornings I was waking up at 5:00 to do 30 minutes of rowing and 30 minutes of writing (how’s that for two birds with one stone?). Other days, I was making sure I took a break during the day to get my steps in around campus during lunch, or simply counting the amount of walking I was doing in between meetings and from my car to my office and back toward my daily amount. As busy as last week turned out to be, I’m giving myself a little grace here and saying that I earned two full days of being lazy with my sick kiddo snuggled in on the couch.
Tomorrow’s a new day. Back at it. Let’s go.