Day 10 – Like coming home

I spend a lot of time reflecting on my college days, partly because I spend my days working with college students and partly because I tend to start feeling a little sentimental every time Stevie and I have been away from New York too long and I start itching to spend time with the people I miss every moment of every single day since we left the east coast ten-and-a-half years ago.

It’s hard to explain the connection I feel to this place without sounding overly nostalgic, but I always feel the need to try. I guess that’s just the writer in me–unable to deny that urge to try and put the giant surge of emotions down on paper and arrange the words in a way that might explain the way this place calls to me and why I remain so firmly tethered to the people we met and the connections I made there.

Going to college was my first step (a giant 1,500-mile step) away from my family and out on my own, and with that heady rush of newfound freedom and adventure came an almost paralyzing sense of self-doubt and isolation. Yet the first time I ever stepped foot on Concordia’s campus, I got the distinct feeling that I was coming home.

The families we come from are our default. They teach us how to love, how to fight, how to forgive. They give us our first sense of the world–its beauty and its chaos. The families we leave when we set out on our own will always be with us. They will always be part of us. But it’s the families we create for ourselves that truly reflect who we are and give shape to who we will become. The people we connect with, the people we return to and invest our time in are the people who reflect the very best of who we are, the very best of who we hope to be.

People matter. Connections matter. Kindness matters. Honesty matters. Love matters.

Everything else is just noise.

Henry’s Jet-Set Baptism

I’ve come to believe that life is really about connection. All the working and the saving and the spending and the running from place to place on this little blue-green planet doesn’t matter, not really. The only thing that really matters is connecting with people, loving others, and being loved in return. I still have several close friends from childhood and my middle and high school days, but it wasn’t until those years in New York, until I had been completely broken down and began to build myself back up, that I learned how to open my heart and really let anyone in.

I was just 17 when I arrived to Concordia with just two suitcases and a backpack, both excited and anxious to begin this brand new chapter. I spent the next nine years in New York, and they were some of the best (and the worst) years of my life. I lost myself, and found myself on those crowded city streets. I fell in love there. I learned to love myself there. In so many ways, New York made me whole. And little did I know that the people I would meet there would forever change the course of my life.

I first set foot on the Concordia College New York campus for the first time in the spring of 1998. I was in the final stretch of narrowing down my college choices, and Mom and I decided to fly to New York to visit two schools I’d been accepted to–Sarah Lawrence College and Concordia. At that point, Sarah Lawrence was at the top of my list by mere reputation. I’d spent months poring over the admission materials I’d received, and marveling at how beautiful the campus was, and how much fun it would be to live in an old mansion that had been converted into a residence hall instead of a traditional dorm. For a writer like me, it was something of a dream school. I imagined myself ignited with a creative muse the moment I set foot on campus, and yet I found my heart sinking as Mom and I followed our tour guide, listening as she waxed poetically about the history of the grounds and the old stone buildings. I couldn’t imagine myself sitting in any of the lecture halls or casually strolling across the campus between classes or eating in the dining hall. Somehow, I just didn’t fit.

Just 2.5 miles away, on the other side of the little village of Bronxville, Concordia shone like a beacon. As our taxi driver pulled into the circle drive in front of Feth Hall, I was hit with a feeling of deja vu so strong I had to close my eyes for a moment to stop the world from spinning. We hadn’t even attended the Open House and I already knew I’d come home.

Mom and I spent the night on campus in a room in the lower level of Romoser Hall. With most of the students away on Spring Break, the campus was eerily quiet. We took a cab into the heart of Bronxville and ate dinner in at a little restaurant called Underhill Crossing, marveling at the enormous homes and the quaint main street that looked like something straight out of a movie.

The next morning, we made our way to Schoenfeld Hall where dozens of other prospective students and families were gathering for the Open House. We were greeted immediately by John Bahr, the Dean of Students, and Tom Weede, the Dean of Admissions. I spent a good half-hour talking to Dr. Mandana Nakhai in front of the English Department’s table, entranced by her exotic accent and the fact that she had not only read the portfolio of writing I’d submitted with my application, but that she actually seemed genuinely excited to have me join Concordia’s English program.

Mom and I returned home with our heads spinning, and I couldn’t help but feel like I’d left a very large piece of myself behind. Six months later, I was back. I left everyone and everything I’d ever known to start my new life in New York.

It was the best decision I ever made.

Stevie and I like to tease each other about the way we first met and how long it took us to actually start dating. These days, it’s getting hard to remember what my life was like without him in it. One of the few things that we have ever really disagreed on are the details of our bizarre courtship. We became friends almost instantly since we hung out with the same social circles, yet it took more than five years for us to actually start dating. My mom likes to remind me of the phone conversation just before Christmas break my freshman year, when I told her that I’d met the nicest guy, Steven Romano, and how if he asked me to marry him tomorrow, I’d say yes.

It all reads a bit like a cheap TV sitcom script. Whenever Stevie was single, I was dating someone. When I was single, Stevie was in a relationship. We just couldn’t seem to get the timing right.

There is a photo of me in the yearbook (or rather, a photo of the back of my head), as I turned all the way around in my seat to watch Stevie harass Josh Reiker, a fellow freshman, who was seated behind me in the crowd. I think that photo accurately sums up the five years I knew Stevie before we officially started dating–we were always right there, dancing around each other and having a blast, but we were just a few too many steps apart.

Looking back, I can see that it all happened exactly as it was supposed to. Both of us had a lot of growing up and a lot of healing to do before we could actually be a good fit for one another. We had those five years to stroll around campus discussing everything from movies and music to philosophy and religion. We had five years to have dinner together with our group of friends, five years to spend together at parties and campus events. We had five years to see each other at our best and our worst, to celebrate each other’s highs and offer support during our lows.

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Shortly after I graduated in May 2003, Steven finally asked what I thought about us officially dating. My response was the same as everyone else’s when we announced that were were finally a couple:

“Well, it’s about damn time.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

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Stevie and I left New York in July 2007. We were young (and probably stupid) and looking for a little adventure to start our married life together. We always said we could move anywhere as long as we were near family, and that basically gave us four options–New York, Nebraska, Colorado, and Arizona.

When I was offered a teaching job in Arizona, we thought it might be fun to try something new for awhile, so we packed all of our worldly belongings in a POD and set off on a roadtrip to our new desert home. The Arizona Experiment (as we call it now) lasted just three-and-a-half years. And while a life in the desert wasn’t necessarily a great fit for us, it made us homeowners, dog owners, and parents. And we even got lucky enough to make some really great friends along the way.

In December 2010, Stevie was offered a job at the University of Nebraska and we packed up again (this time with a whole lot more stuff), and transitioned to a new life in Lincoln, where we have been ever since.

It has been eight years since we left, and not a day goes by that we don’t desperately miss New York. For both of us, it still feels like home. And who knows, maybe we’ll even find ourselves settling back East one day permanently. But until then, we will have to settle for whirlwind vacations to visit our family and friends–trips that are too infrequent and rushed and always leave us feeling a strange mix of happy and homesick.

After losing Steven’s mom, Diane, in 2012, and then losing our dear friend John Bahr this August, Stevie and I decided that getting back to visit New York just once every year or two just wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Come hell or high water, even if it meant stretching our budget to the max, we are determined to find ways to reconnect with our loved ones out East more often.

We’d been discussing a jet-set baptism for Henry since before he was even born. Back in 2010, we had a “destination baptism” for Cadence in Glenwood Springs, Colorado where our good friend Money (aka Pastor Scott Geminn) had been called to serve at Holy Cross Lutheran Church. Ater Money was called to serve as Associate Pastor at Village Lutheran Church, directly across the street from the Concordia campus, Steven and I joked that if we had another baby, it would be awesome to have Money baptize the child back at Concordia.

After Henry was born, our first thought was to wait until the summer of 2016 to have him baptized, when I would be traveling to New Jersey for work, and then stay for a vacation and have the little guy christened. But somehow, losing John hit us both harder than we expected. Stevie came home from work one day and asked me what I thought about trying to get to New York for a visit and a baptism before Christmas. I still had a few weeks left on my maternity leave, so we looked at the calendar, called Money to see what he thought and if he had time in his schedule, and I reached out to Concordia’s President, Viji George, to see if it might be possible for us to have Henry baptized in the chapel.

Almost immediately, everything began falling into place, and we took that as a very clear sign that we were supposed to make this trip. We reached out to Chris Foerth and Betty Geiling to ask if they would be Henry’s godparents. And then, in just a week’s time, we booked the chapel, designed/printed/sent out the invitations, booked Burke’s Bar & Restaurant for the after-party, bought plane tickets, and set the wheels in motion for what would be our very first trip as a family of four.

It all seemed just a little surreal, and before we knew it, we were waking up to catch a sunrise flight out of Omaha to bring our children back to the place where it all began…

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Cadence has traveled so much, she’s an old pro when it comes to airplanes, but I have to admit, we were a little nervous about flying with a 9-week-old. Our sweet little Henry was an absolute angel on the plane, sleeping through half the flight, then waking up cheerful and smiling at all the folks seated around us. He fussed for just a few minutes when we began our descent into La Guardia, then fell back asleep before we even landed.

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We arrived to typical fall weather–warm, humid, and rainy. Cadence had high hopes of being able to swim in Pop-Pop’s pool, and our determined little girl even donned her bathing suit and hopped right in as soon as we arrived. She lasted a full two minutes before she finally gave into the cold and admitted defeat, giving us strict instructions that our next visit needed to take place in the summer when it would definitely be warm enough to swim.

We spent the next two days soaking up quality time with Pop-Pop, Keith, John, Michele, TJ, and Tyler, and gorging ourselves on all the NY pizza, egg bagels, and deli sandwiches we could find.

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My parents flew in Thursday night and Stevie picked them up at the airport, and then the six of us were up early Friday morning to head to Westchester.

Stevie, Cadence, Henry, and I dropped our things off at the hotel (Dude, they built a Hyatt in the parking lot of the Cross County Mall!), and then we headed to Concordia to try and catch up with as many people as we could. We dropped in the Admssion Office to visit with Evie Cea nd Tina Osso and Jen Jules. We headed over to the library to harass Gary Gollenberg and Aaron Meyer. We caught up with Amy Heath and Ken Fick and Neil Tarangioli in the lower level of Feth.

We walked around our old campus with our children in the cold and drizzling rain, and everything just felt right with the world. Once again, it felt like we had come home.

We took a short dinner break with my parents and then they settled in for a relaxing evening at the hotel while Stevie and the kiddos and I headed over to Money and Becca’s house to hang out and spend some much needed time with some of our favorite people in the world.

Looking around the room at one point in the evening, I had to pinch myself to make sure it wasn’t all just a beautiful dream.

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Baptism day dawned cool and clear. Hurricane Joaquin, which had been threatening to put a serious damper on our trip, finally made a sharp turn and began to head out to sea. We got a chance to sleep in a bit and have a little breakfast before it was time to check out of the hotel and head to the campus.

Shortly before 1:00, our guests started trickling in. Cadence set herself up in the lobby as the official greeter, welcoming family and friends and culling all the children away to play before the service began. Stevie and I were so afraid that most people might not be able to make it to the  baptism on such short notice, but with the exception of just one or two, almost everyone we invited was able to join  us. We hugged and kissed family we had not seen in years, and marveled at how many of our friends walked through the doors to fill the chapel.

Looking around that room at all the beautiful, smiling faces of the people we love most in the world, I was afraid my heart just might burst.

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After the the ceremony and dozens of photos, we all headed to Burke’s to relax, eat, and enjoy each other’s company. I don’t know how many times I stopped to look around the room and smile as my heart swelled with joy within my chest. And yet, with the joy came a pang of sadness, knowing how much Diane would have loved being there in that room with us and welcoming her youngest grandchild to the world, the sweet little boy we named Henry in honor of Diane’s Uncle Henny whom we all loved and miss so dearly.

Yet even if they couldn’t physically be there in that room, there is not a doubt in our minds that they are with us every day.

All too soon, the party was over and our guests began to say their goodbyes, and all I kept thinking as I hugged everyone was that I wished there was a way I could press pause and make those moments together last forever.


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Stevie and I woke Sunday feeling like we’d been run over by a truck. All the prepping and the planning and the running around and squeezing every last moment of our time together with our friends and family had taken quite a toll. Both our bodies and our hearts were hurting. We spent the rest of our trip close to home, soaking up as much time together with the family as we could and missing everyone we’d already said goodbye to.

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And then, as quickly as it began, it was over. Time to head back home (and back to reality). We arrived early at the airport and made it through La Guardia’s security in record time. We settled in at the gate with our snacks and a new deck of cards to help pass the time. We watched the sun sink below the city skyline as we waited to board.

The plane was half-empty and Henry was already asleep as we found our seats and settled in for the flight home.

As the plane lifted into the air, we craned our necks to see the lights of the city sparkling in the darkness below us. I still remembered the first time I ever marveled at those city lights. It seemed like both yesterday and a lifetime ago. I hugged my sleeping baby to my chest and smiled across the aisle at Stevie and Cadence thinking that this weekend proved once again that I just might be the luckiest girl in the whole world.

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Project Life 365 – Day 29 – Red

There’s no denying my hubby is a sports fiend. Name a sport, and he’ll watch it–anything from football and baseball to golf and bull riding. Now, I’m not saying he’s a huge Nascar or PBR fan by any means, but Steven is the kind of guy who can appreciate just about any sport.

The guy can spend an entire afternoon watching Olympic curling. End of story.

Now, the sports he gets crazy over? Those would be football, baseball, and hockey, with basketball following closely behind. He is a diehard Mets, Jets, Islanders and Knicks fan. He’s a yelling, screaming, jumping, hat-throwing maniac when the big games are on the line, and he admits he always thought he was a crazy sports fanatic…

…until he met me.

Growing up, Steven never paid much attention to college football. Born and raised in New York and an abundance of professional sports teams, college football just never seemed very interesting. He might catch a bowl game now and then, but other than hearing the occasional Notre Dame score, few people in Steven’s little corner of the east coast really care about college football.

I’m pretty sure my football obsession is one of the things that sold Steven on marrying me…well a combination of that, and the fact that I love video games, Twin Peaks, The and the X-Files as much as he does. The first time he ever sat down to watch an entire Husker game with me, listened to my Dad and I analyzing the game on the phone during halftime, and watched me shout at the TV and leap up off the couch to scream and clap and cheer for my team, he couldn’t believe it. Then, when my family flew him to Lincoln to attend a Homecoming game against Missouri, he finally began to understand why we Nebraskans always say that we bleed Husker red.

He also says that marrying a Nebraskan girl is like marrying into the Mafia, so be prepared fellas. If you can’t handle a girl who dresses in red, flies her Husker flag, and can curse worse than a sailor on any given Saturday during college football season, you better just keep lookin’.

And since I couldn’t decide which pic I liked best–Smartassy Steve, Serious Steve, or Smiley Steve–I just used all three. My blog, my rules. 🙂

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Excavation 2012 – Day 51 – School’s Out Forever

So, you may have noticed that I took a serious hiatus from the Excavation Project. I couldn’t help it. Temperatures have been in the mid-sixties and climbing since February and the world here is abloom. Between trying to clear away last fall’s debris from our yard and just trying to soak up some of the beautiful sunshine, I haven’t had much time (or motivation) to descend to the basement and empty more boxes.

But they’re still sitting there.

Silent.

Waiting.

Ugh.

Time to stop making excuses and get back to it. Well, maybe a post a week or something, and only when it’s crappy or raining. Otherwise, all bets are off and Cadence, Electra and I will be exploring the great outdoors.

So, to jump back into the Excavation today, I thought I’d get a huge weight (in books) off my shoulders.

Yes, more books. I’m on a roll people.

But first, a little backstory…

I’m not one of those people who always wanted to be a teacher. Let’s face it, teaching is just in some people’s blood. And the best teachers are a complex mixture of counselor, humanitarian, and performer. For someone like me, who is a bit of an introvert and hates being the center of attention, a teaching career was never really something I imagined for myself. In fact, other than a writer and photographer, I only ever had a short stint wanting to be a marine biologist and dophin trainer, none of which involved an overabundance of social interaction.

If you want the truth, I sort of fell into teaching, not really by accident, but definitely by a strange set of circumstances. After graduating college with a degree in English and creative writing and spending two years working as a college Admission Counselor, I was ready for a change.

I actually seriously considered joining the NYPD and becoming a police officer. After passing the initial exams, all that stood between me and the academy was scheduling and passing the physical exam and completing the final pre-hire interview. Instead, I decided to join the NYC Teaching Fellows program and start teaching high school English in the Bronx while completing my Masters degree. In the end, I think I made the right decision.

That being said, I have a pretty volitile love/hate relationship with being a teacher. I love opening students’ eyes to new concepts and ideas, and seeing them get excited when they learn something new, but I hate the apathy and the laziness and the laundry list of excuses they come up with when they just don’t feel like completing an assignment. I love analyzing texts with a class full of eager student. I love hearing their ideas and helping them unleash the writer they never imagined was cooped up inside them.  I love watching my students smile with pride when they finally see a big A at the top of the paper that they spent hours and days and weeks writing and rewriting and editing and revising until they got it just right. But I hate dealing with adminstrative red tape and lazy parents and kids who have a seriously overdeveloped sense of entitlement that is in no way reflective of their work ethic.

And did I mention I hate being in the spotlight?

Being a teacher means being in the spotlight from the minute the first bell rings until long after the last student has gone home for the day. You’re up on the “stage” performing your educational routine for eight hours a day. Then, there’s the planning and the grading and the researching and the mentoring. After that, there’s professional development and the meetings and paperwork and catching up on correspondence with parents, so you can explain for the thousandth time that the reason young Tommy isn’t passing your class is because he spends his time etching his initials into the desktop and pressing his chewing gum into the pages of his texbook instead of reading or studying or actually completing any of his assignments. And that’s a good day when he actually shows up for class.

So, even though there are things I loved about being a teacher, and even though I can’t say for certain that I will never find myself back in the classroom again, it’s time to get rid of some of the books that have been collecting dust on my shelf for too long.

First, there are a few teaching guides, everything from Shakespeare to writing to creating your own classroom newspaper.

Then, there are several vocabulary and literacy books.

I have a stack of teacher resource books, and several books on classroom management. And I gotta admit, I never even opened most of the classroom management books, because there was nothing in those books that was going to teach me how to handle it when two boys started fighting and throwing desks at each other across the room or what to do when a kid who has gotten kicked out of half-a-dozen schools finds his way into your classroom and starts threatening to stab his fellow students and “snuff that bitch teacher”. Nope, at that point, it’s better to just let the adrenaline take over and trust your gut instincts to shield the rest of the students from the danger and call security.

I’ll leave the classroom managment books to someone else.

And last but not least, a few of the college “textbooks” from my English 101 and 102 classes. I gotta admit, I think I opened these books a total of twice in the 2 1/2 years I taught at CAC. They are, quite possibly, the worst college-level books I have ever seen. Luckily, the adminstration didn’t force professors to actually use the books. Intead they just provided a list of skills that students would be expected to master before passing the class, and allowed the professors to create a curriculum to get them there. Thank God. Otherwise, I may not have been able to handle it. I mean, since when does a college-level textbook have more pictures than words? Enough said.

Take Me Out To The Ballgame!

Technically, Cadence has been to a baseball game before. Back in July, her Pawpoo, Granny, Aunt Whitney and Uncle Collin took her to a Colorado Rockies baseball game. At just under 1 1/2 years, she was a little less inclined to actually sit still and be content through a whole 9 innings, but she did really well. Steven even claims that Cadence is a lucky baseball charm because he caught a foul ball off the bat of Melky Cabrera in the 7th inning. But, now that Cadence is over 2 and has watched a whoooooooooooole lot of baseball with her Daddy (Let’s Go Mets!), it’s safe to say that baseball is her favorite sport.

Cadence’s Papa Duane and Grandma Jayne came to visit for the weekend, and we all headed out to the Husker baseball game on a beautiful March afternoon. The minute we walked into Haymarket Park and Cadence got her first glimpse of the boys on the field, she started hollering, “Oooh baseball! Baseball!” With the exception of a couple innings where we headed over to the kids’ playground and took a walk to eat a funnel cake, Cadence spent the entire afternoon clapping, dancing, hollering, laughing, and cheering for the Huskers.

Yeah, that’s our girl! 🙂

Here are a few of my favorite photos from our day at the game…

Excavation 2012 – Day 50 – A Scrapbooker I Am Not

There are things that I am really good at–writing, photography, listening, cooking, drawing, editing/proofreading, cutting my husband’s hair, fantasy sports and first-person shooter video games. And then, there are things that I am not so good at–math, balancing the checkbook, running (or at least motivating myself to run), returning phone calls, getting my blog done and getting to bed before midnight, and scrapbooking.

Of all the things on my Things I Suck At list, the only one that really bothers me is the scrapbooking. I’d like to be good at it, and as much as I love photos and photography, you’d figure it would be sort of a natural way to showcase some of my work. Believe me, I love a well-made scrapbook, and I am totally jealous of people like my friend Susan who create beautiful scrapbooks and make it seem so effortless.

Not for me.

Sit me down with a pile of photos, a blank scrapbook, and a big supply of scrapbooking materials and I freeze up faster than a nerdy kid getting asked to the prom.

I bought this particular magazine back in 2002, along with a small starter kit of scrapbooking materials. The plan was to make myself a couple of books full of photos from my high school and college years.

Guess what, the photos are still in boxes and most of the scrapbooking materials (with the exception of this how-to magazine) have disappeared over the years and the many moves.

So, I think I’ll go ahead and let this one go, and leave the scrapbooking to the real artists like my friend Susan. Me? I’ll stick to taking the photos.