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.

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.

The ‘Burbs

My favorite line from the old 1989 Tom Hanks movie, The ‘Burbs, is the one repeated by Corey Feldman’s character throughout the movie whenever something good or bad or crazy or unusual or hilarious happens in the neighborhood.

“God, I love this street! Of the

I think I have been waiting my whole life to feel that way. 

When I was young, we were always moving too much. I never really got too attached to any of the houses we lived in. Bird City was too small and claustrophobic. Holdrege was too cliquish and just never really felt like home. New York felt like home, but the apartments I lived in never did. Arizona was too hot and just never seemed to be the right fit. And the first house here in Lincoln was just too old (well, Stevie thought so anyway), and just seemed to be missing something.

And then we moved here, and I gotta say, it feels like home. It felt like home the minute we walked through the door and held the keys in our hand and, for me, that feeling only grew stronger the day we brought Henry home with us from the hospital. I love our house and our neighborhood and the little park that’s only a short walk away. I love the fact that we can actually go trick-or-treating through our own neighborhood , and that there is a little Par 3 golf course that we can join and play. I love that there are families that have grown up here, and a whole slew of new families like ours starting to move in. I love the fact that there is a steady stream of children chasing each other through the neighborhood every day after school and all summer long. I love the way the trees arch over the road like a canopy and that all of the houses are beautiful and unique.

Most of all, I love the fact that I have the opportunity to build a life here and raise my children here.

I guess I’ll just go ahead and say it…God, I love this street.

  

Home Computing

Some nights after I’ve finished feeding Henry and putting him to bed, I come downstairs into the living room and see this…

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My hubby takes the definition of portable computer to a whole new level.

I think it started once when I was out of town for work. Stevie wanted to pay some bills and surf the web but the Islander game was on and he was torn, so he just carried the Mac downstairs into the living room and parked himself in front of the TV for the game after Cadence went to bed.

Now, it’s become a thing.

Tonight, Stevie is balancing the checkbook and researching what mixer would be best for us to finally start the podcast he’s been plotting for several years now, watching the Islander game and the ridiculously censored version of The Usual Suspects they’ve got playing on the Ovation channel.

And even though it cracks me up to see him sitting there, almost completely hidden behind the giant screen, watching a game or a movie or an episode of one of our favorite shows on the giant television, I’m not complaining. I’d much rather have him sitting down here in the living room with me than sequestered up in the office. My favorite way to end the day once the kiddos are tucked into their beds is hanging out with my hubby and sharing some laughs while we relax in the living room and stay up too late.

It’s the little things, you know?

Feels Like Coming Home

To say that these first few weeks of 2015 have been difficult is a bit of an understatement. Allow me to give you the Reader’s Digest version…

Stevie and I started talking about expanding our family and buying a bigger house, then found out almost immediately we were expecting. We went into a bit of a panic mode trying to get the house ready and listed. We put it on the market just after Thanksgiving, and accepted an offer on Christmas Eve. We went into panic mode again searching for a new house, a place that could be our family’s forever home.

Somehow, we found one that immediately felt like home. We dove in, and crossed our fingers.

Stevie single-handedly moved almost every box in our entire house while I packed a bit between bouts of exhaustion and morning sickness.

Work was piling up and we were both so exhausted by the time we got home at night that we could barely function. But somehow we did—we packed boxes, went to parent/teacher conferences, celebrated Cadence’s 5th birthday and threw her a party with her school friends, stayed up late into the night, and woke most mornings feeling like we hadn’t slept at all.

Then the stress hit, and the sickness. For three whole weeks we passed around the flu, and then Cadence got hit with an ear infection and pneumonia.

We were hitting our bottom, and we began to wonder for the first time if we were doing the right thing.

And yet, in the midst of all the stress and the sickness and the worry and the waiting, it’s been an exhilarating ride. Somehow, in spite of the hardships, we have continued to be blessed beyond belief—by our amazing friends, our supportive family, our understanding co-workers, and four beautiful strangers who entered our lives quite unexpectedly and who will live in our hearts (and maybe even our new home) forever.

We learned during our negotiations that the house we wanted was being sold out of a trust, that the four grown children had lost their father, and were now burdened with the task of selling their childhood home. We knew how hard it must be for them, and yet throughout the entire process, they were fantastic to work with, and even gave us the green light to move our belongings in the day before the official closing so we didn’t have to store our things in a moving truck or storage unit and move every thing twice.

We wanted to thank them somehow. As the closing date drew nearer, it became important to let them know how grateful we were that they were entrusting their home to us, the very place where all of their memories began.

I started writing, and then I blinked and it was time to load the truck and haul the boxes and sign the papers.

And suddenly it was real, and the house was ours. And then the seller’s agent was handing us a giant basket packed with everything we love, gifts to welcome us home, and a letter that touched us so deeply that it now hangs in a frame in our entryway.

And I hope they won’t mind that I share it here, because it has already become an important part of our own family story…

Dear Romano Family,

Since were are the only family who has lived at 2010 Devonshire Drive until today, we thought about sharing some of the wonderful experiences our family had since we moved in on Labor Day 1972. However, the more we thought about it, we decided our specific memories aren’t as important as the new memories you will be making here.

Still, what is important for you to know is this that the house has always contained much love and laughter. Four children grew up here. We played raucously in the yard, held spirited debates at the family dinner table, hung our Christmas stockings on the mantel with joyful anticipation, cheered loudly at the TV watching our father’s favorite football team lose more often than win, and whispered our prayers to our mom and dad before kissing them goodnight. When we grew up and moved away, some near and some far, the one thing we all knew with certainty was that this house was always home.

When our father died and we decided it was time to sell the house, it was our fervent wish that another family would buy it and it would be filled with children again. We think somehow you felt that wish when you decided this was the house you wanted. We confess we’ve read a bit about your family on the Internet, and we’re grateful Cadence and her new sister or brother will do some, if not all, of their growing up here.

We’ve left a few tangible things to welcome you, but more than that, know that all of our best wishes for happiness and prosperity go to you. We hope you will come to love this house as much as we have and that this will be a place where you spend many wonderful years together.

Welcome Home,

The Four Wood Children

There is no doubt, we’ve come home, and to you, the Wood children, who spent an evening together this past week saying goodbye to your childhood home, thank you.

Thank you.

You may never know how much your beautiful letter means to us, or how much we loved your home, our new home, the moment we first drove onto the street and walked through the front door. We are so excited to begin our new life together here, and we just wanted you to know that we will love it and care for it as much as you and your family have. We imagined that you made a lot of great memories there, and we know now for sure that you did.

We’ve already begun to do the same.

Thank you so much for giving us this opportunity to begin writing a brand new chapter in our lives. We can’t wait to see where it takes us, and we wish you all the best writing yours.

Love,

Steven, Lori, Cadence, Henry, and Electra Romano

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Project Life 365 – Day 58 – Nook

One of the things Steven and I love most about the home we purchased just over a year ago is the big sunroom that one of the previous owners built onto the original house. It’s bright, spacious, and the moment we saw it, we knew it would be the perfect space for Miss Cadence to have a playroom all her own.

See, here’s the thing…I may not be the tidiest girl on the planet (just ask my hubby, he’ll attest to that), but even I get to the point when the clutter starts making me crazy. And nothing makes me crazier than dozens of toys strewn haphazardly through the house.

Seriously, I can’t even handle it, folks. If you’ve ever been trotting down the stairs carrying a basket full of laundry and stepped square on a Matchbox ice cream truck with your bare foot, you know where I’m coming from. That shit huuuuuuuurrrrrrrrrts!!!

So, one of the items at the very top of my list when we were looking at homes was ample space for Cadence to play and keep her toys organized enough so they couldn’t cause the grownups in the house any bodily damage. And it wasn’t enough for her to just have a room, because let’s face it, sending a kid to Time Out in his/her room when it’s filled with toys? Hell, you may as well just give them a tub full of ice cream and candy to go along with it. No, Cadence’s room would be a place to relax and sleep, a place to keep her clothes and books and maybe a few stuffed animals, and that would be about it. The playroom, which would see most of the action, would be the place for all the toys, games, art supplies, and everything else.

Best decision ever.

Sure Cadence often drags some of her toys to other parts of the house in the midst of her imaginative play, but each day we get to see our little girl’s imagination stretching beyong it’s limits as she soaks up the sunshine in her own little nook of our home. And each night as we’re winding down the day, she makes a clean sweep and puts everything back where it belongs and earns another quarter to put in her piggy bank.

And sometimes she even lets me catch of a glimpse of her on camera as she plays…

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