Day 22 – Snow day

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.

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.

Happy Half-Birthday Henry

As a child, I always thought the adults in my life were lunatics when they talked about how fast time went by.

“This year is just flying,” they would say.

“Time goes so fast, I feel like I can’t keep up.”

“Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.”

And the infamous, “It will be here before you know it” any time I complained about having to wait for something I’d been looking forward to for what seemed like an eternity.

I’m not sure when it was that life started speeding up. I think maybe it began so subtly that I didn’t even detect a difference until it finally reached a speed where I actually started to get dizzy. Like a frog in a pot of heating water, I think maybe I just kept adjusting automatically to the momentum, not even realizing that the current carrying me along was reaching a frenzied pace.

And perhaps that is part of the magic of childhood—the days that last forever. It almost makes me sad that Cadence has begun learning how to tell time. I see her looking at the clock or checking her watch and it makes me wonder if this is where the rat race of adulthood begins.

Henry turned six months old today.

Six. Freakin’. Months.

I feel like I might be going mad, because I seriously can’t even comprehend how that is possible.

I can close my eyes and press my hands to my belly and it’s almost as if I can still feel him moving beneath my skin. I can still feel traces of that overwhelming anticipation, that intense longing as I waited to see him for the first time and finally feel his weight in my arms.

At the risk of sounding very cliché, it seems like I was just lying in that hospital bed yesterday, feeling my heart nearly burst with joy as I watched Cadence tiptoe slowly in to the room, her cheeks flushed and eyes glowing with excitement as she met her baby brother for the first time. I can still see her twisting her little hands in front of her, as if she didn’t quite know what to do with them. I can still hear her whispering, “He’s just so cute” over and over, her voice breaking beneath the weight of her love for him.

And now, here we are, six months later. We’re still climbing out from the deep pit of sleep-deprivation, gaining ground slowly as we continue to press forward after each slide back. We’re closing in on Cadence’s sixth birthday. We’re celebrating the loss of Cadence’s first tooth, and the arrival of Henry’s teeth. We’re cheering Cadence on as she moves up another level in swimming and plays her very first soccer game. We’re cheering Henry on as he tastes his first solid foods and shows off his first attempts at crawling.

And all I know is this year is just flying. Time is going so fast, I feel like I can’t keep up. Another year will be here and gone before I know it, and somehow I feel like I’m going to blink and miss it.

Happy Half-Birthday Henry Boy! We sure do love you little man!

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Bring on the Tooth Fairy

There are so many days when I have to catch myself, take a pause, back up, rewind, and remind myself that Cadence is still very little. She’s not so little in size. I swear the girl grew six inches when Stevie and I left her at Grandma and Papa’s to spend three days in the hospital having Henry. It’s like we came home and she was a completely different kid.

But in spite of the fact that the girl is growing like a freakin’ weed and is a really, really good kid (yeah, she really is, even her pain in the butt moments are few and far between), she’s still our 5-going-on-6-year-old baby girl.

One of the fun things about Facebook is that every now and then a blast from the past photo will pop up. This one hit my newsfeed today, taken four years ago when Miss C wasn’t even 2. I remember it vividly. It was the first day my baby let me put her hair in pigtails, and I couldn’t help but snap a few pictures of the cuteness as she played for hours in the new toy kitchen she’d gotten for Christmas, babbling to herself in her baby voice as she stirred together pretend soups and chatted on the phone to imaginary friends.

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I smiled when I saw the photo, and I was just about to hit the Share button, when my baby girl came bounding down the stairs in a tizzy of excitement to show me the gaping hole where one of her baby teeth had been. She’s been waiting for one of them to fall out for more than a year, working the wigglies with her tongue and sometimes rocking them back and forth or tugging on them with her fingers. She’s been watching all of her classmates sporting ever-gaping Jack-o-lantern grins, often wondering aloud if she was ever going to lose her teeth.

And then it happened. She was brushing her teeth tonight when suddenly she felt one of the baby bottoms break lose and slide into the space between her lip and gum. She fished it out and came running to show it off, flashing me her newly-landscaped grin and I felt time stop for a moment as I waited for the camera to focus on the face that was no longer my baby, but my big, growing girl.

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Yard Work, Romano-Style

Ah, I love the fall. Seriously, everything about the fall. I love football and stews and oversized sweatshirts. I love the fact that temperature has fallen below the “Holy Shit It’s Hot” level where it has been since Easter. I love the rich colors and the fact that I finally get to over-indulge in Halloween candy again since I’m now a parent (because let’s face it, if you’re single and childless and eating fun-size candy bars out of a plastic jack-o-lantern, you should probably seek some sort of counseling).

But, what I think I love most about fall is the turning of the leaves. There’s just something about all the rich, warm colors that makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. And as a kid, I always loved raking the leaves, because that meant spending the better part of the afternoon jumping in them, throwing them, piling them up at the bottom of the swing set so my friends and I could run through our very own Funhouse-style gauntlet and dive into the ginormous leaf pile at the finish line.

At some point in adulthood, yard work tends to lose a little bit of its luster. Instead of wasting away an entire day building obstacle courses and then raking and re-raking piles of leaves with Energizer Bunny-like energy, the only race is really just the race to get it done as quickly and efficiently as possible so you can tackle some of the other chores on the weekend To Do List–do the laundry, grocery shop, watch some football. I think spending a couple years living in the Arizona desert made us forget just how many leaves actually fall in the Fall.

Thousands.

Seriously, several thousand have already fallen in our backyard alone. We just might reach a million by the end of the weekend. Oh, and a thunderstorm is supposed to blow through, so we’re likely to get most of our own leaves and a large share of our neighbors’. Thank goodness we managed to get quite a bit of the clean up done already.

I gotta say, working with Cadence made it fun again. I mean, seriously, how can yard work be a chore with this kid around? And yeah, it helps that her Daddy was having just as much fun as she was. So, this is how we do some yard work, Romano-style…

First, you need some bubbles and some swordplay. Cadence was trying out some of her Jedi Mind Tricks…

Then, you better run, because Daddy’s got the leaf blower…

Ahahahahahahahahaha!!!

Time to get a little serious…

And a little dramatic…

And then dive right back in…

Now that’s what I call a good day of work…

Excavation 2012 – Day #47 – The Great Photo Organizing Extravaganza (part 2)

Today, my dining room exploded…

Hey, I warned you didn’t I? No one said this photo organization business was going to be a clean, streamlined adventure. Quite the contrary. With so many boxes and bins (and even boxes inside of bins) full of photos and cards and letters and programs and ticket stubs and about a dozen other categories of miscellaneous stuff collected over the years, it was bound to get worse before it got better. But, boy oh boy did I find some fun stuff today. Here are just a few of my favorites…

I found my Mom’s first Valentine card…

A bunch of leftover Thank You’s and RSVP cards from our wedding. You can’t go wrong with lampshades…

An old Kit Kat wrapper that I saved from my study tour to Turkiye in 2000. Because nothing says great souvenir like an American candy bar with Turkish writing on it…

A photo of my crazy husband from our college days, which reminded me of just how I fell in love with him in the first place…

And some of the notes I wrote him when we were dating, that apparently he saved…

Photos of me and Lindy growing up, celebrating our birthdays at Grandma and Grandpa Luethje’s cabin at Johnson Lake (and yeah, I am rockin’ that headband and legwarmers). And, of course, the first of many awkward “First Day of School” photos…

Photos from my elementary school years, carrying flowers for the Queen of Courts Ceremony (think Homecoming King and Queen, but during basketball season). And a photo from my one (and only) dance recital. I wonder if my waning interest in dance had anything do to with the outfit or the amount of makeup I had to wear…

Photos of Steven and I both apparently going through a denim phase (and my sweet dog Angel aka “Stinky”)…

Followed shortly by the purple hair phase…

I smiled when I saw photos of some of my dearest college friends–Above: my purple-haired compadre Anette and favorite Roomie ever Miss Katie. Below: the one and only Aaron, who managed to get himself kicked out of the men’s volleyball game shortly after this photo was taken for yelling a little too overzealously into a 4-foot tall traffic cone. “Aw Ref! C’mon Ref! That call was hoooorible! YOU’RE HOOOOOORIBLE!!!”

Then, there were photos of my favorite cat, the sweet Baby Gray (Look away from the perm. Look away!)…

My favorite car, the Peacock…

And a random moment captured on International Cheese Day in Mr. Uribe’s freshman Geography class…

There were stacks of old family photos…

And lots of new family photos…

I even found a box full of playbills and ticket stubs from all the shows I saw while living in New York…

But as much as I loved the Broadway and Off-Broadway productions I saw over the years, my favorite shows were always those when I got to watch my favorite Roomie strut her stuff and sing. I heard she she sang the National Anthem at a women’s basketball game in Ohio tonight, and I wish I could have been there to hear it. Girl’s got a voice that I could never get tired listening to, and just opening this old program and seeing her name, I can close my eyes and almost hear it. 🙂

So, in spite of the mess, and in spite of the boxes and piles that are still littering my dining room, today’s decluttering was definitely a success. I already have four photo boxes sorted and filled, and have a pile of miscellaneous items (like the old wedding RSVP’s and Turkish Kit Kat wrapper) headed for the garbage bin.

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.