Day 26 – Time marches on

One of the interesting side effects of all the writing and the letter writing I’ve been doing the last few weeks is a clearer realization of just how easy it is to fall out of touch, how quickly time is passing. It hit me this week that Henry is just about the same age my youngest brothers Beau and Collin were when I reunited with my birthfamily and met them for the first time.

Blows my mind to think those little boys are in college now, that’s been more than 17 years since I stepped into their lives.

How things have changed! There have been a lot of twists and turns in the 17 years since, but the best part of the reunion has been building new relationships and watching my three different families slowly melt into one. I was having a conversation with some folks at work a few weeks ago, and they were intrigued by my very unique definition of “family,” as I explained that my family doesn’t just include my husband and kids and my closest biological and adoptive relatives, but all of the close friends and people in my life that I feel a deep, emotional, and somewhat inexplicable connection to. My family is the people I was born to, the people I was raised with, and all the people that I invest my time in and love deeply.

And it strikes me sometimes, as time keeps marching on, that I have been unimaginably blessed.

Day 18 – My unfinished story

In 2008, I sat down and started writing a story. My story. Bits and pieces of my childhood, my struggle through adolescence and my college years, my adoption and reunion. It’s one those projects that nags at me. It bothers me that I haven’t finished it. But it’s also one of those projects that I can only handle in small chunks.

There’s something about delving back into some of the worst moments of your life that really drains you. And even now, this far removed, with a whole lot more perspective and distance and wisdom, I prefer to take it slowly, wading back into the memories like a tepid pool.

But the reality is, it’s been 11 years since this project started, and it just might be time to kick it into a higher gear and actually try to finish it.

Plus, I’ve apparently got some readers who are finishing their edits. Nothing like a little accountability to light a fire under you, am I right?

Day 14 – It’s here and it’s home

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.

Life in pieces

As I try to get back into the writing groove with my memoir, I’m finding that the hardest thing is figuring out where to start. I have a pretty decent draft, but there are a lot of holes, a lot of moments and details that need to be fleshed out and incorporated into the story.

Each time I sit down and try to begin, I get overwhelmed and have a hard time figuring out where to start. Bits and pieces of my life begin flashing and get all jumbled, making it hard to pull them apart and hone in on one moment.

So, I made a list–I condensed all of the moments I wanted to capture and stories I wanted to tell into short one or two-word descriptions, and then jotted each of them into little slips of paper that I folded up and set aside.

And I gotta say, it’s a little strange to look at your life in pieces–all those big, powerful, defining, unforgettable moments reduced to little bits of paper strewn across a tabletop.

Once I had my little pile of topics, I put them all in a little bag and resigned to draw one each day to use as my starting point.

So far, so good, but there is still a long way to go.

Wish me luck.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Nonna & Poppa Visit Nebraska

If there is any drawback to me having a very, very large family, it’s that we don’t ever really feel like we get to spend enough time with any of them. Since leaving Arizona in December 2010, I’ve been lucky enough to take Cadence back with me for a few visits, some work trips and some just to spend a little time with Momma Dawn and Mark. But somehow the trips always seem rushed (especially when I’m working) and always end too soon. Planning visits is always challenging with work schedules and my youngest siblings’ school and activities to consider. And now that Cadence has started Kindergarten just as my two youngest brothers are finishing their senior years in high school, finding ways to visit all the grandparents in New York and Colorado and Arizona is going to get even harder.

But if there’s anything we’ve learned being so spread out from so much family, it’s to take whatever visits we get and try to make the most of them. So when Nonna and Poppa said they might be able to come for a quick visit after Christmas, we jumped at the opportunity. We hung out, watched a little football, and just enjoyed the time together. I was lucky enough to get an extra day off work with Snowmageddon threatening to bury us (which amounted to little more than a few inches and some slick roads). And the only regret I have  is that I wasn’t better about getting out the camera while Nonna and Poppa were here. Next time, I’m gonna go all paparazzi, but for now, this will have to do…

LR365_Day2_IMGP1938

LR365_Day2_IMGP1939

LR365_Day2_IMGP1943

LR365_Day2_IMGP1942

LR365_Day2_IMGP1940

And I have to say, for being a desert rat, born and raised in sunny Arizona, Poppa Mark sure can shovel a mean driveway!

LR365_Day2_IMGP1946

LR365_Day2_IMGP1948

LR365_Day2_IMGP1950

LR365_Day2_IMGP1952

LR365_Day2_IMGP1955

LR365_Day2_IMGP1956

LR365_Day2_IMGP1959

LR365_Day2_IMGP1962

Elf on the Shelf 2015 – Day 20

Even if I didn’t get a chance to meet my paternal grandfather until I was 22, after my reunion with my birthparents, there was no absence of love from him. Poppa D wrapped his big arms around me that very first time we met and somehow it felt like he never really let go.

1911678_10152220483952710_248187769_n

In the years that followed we traded letters and chatted occasionally on the phone, and he was always sending me little care packages filled with his homemade jerky or wood carvings. And he signed each and every card and letter with his name and his signature drawing, one that made me smile every time I saw it.

1487266_10203648338669385_692166473_n

When I announced my pregnancy with Cadence, one of the first gifts we received came all the way from Ainsworth, Nebraska, lovingly designed and built piece by piece by Poppa D. Cadence has already put a lot of miles on her old rocking horse, and still occasionally mounts up when she’s off on some random adventure.

68198_513539341998432_1983245805_n

I’m sure it won’t take Henry long to join in the fun, but until then, Cadence and Cosette and Leo will keep the saddle warm.

IMGP1691

IMGP1697

IMGP1699

IMGP1693

IMGP1702

IMGP1694

IMGP1695

IMGP1691