Saturday, August 16, 2008

Back at Blue Ridge...

Blue Ridge Summit. A breathtakingly beautiful place right on the PA/MD border. The site of where exactly ten years ago, this week, I began the volume of what I like to call my adult life.

This was where Orientation for JVC:East '98 took place. It was where I met my incredible housemates--Katie, Mary, Megan, Julie & Scott--that I spent a year with in Jersey City. It was where a lot of things I thought I knew were completely turned upside down. It was where I really started to learn about spirituality (as opposed to just going through the motions at Church), simple living (beyond just getting dollar drafts), community (learning to live with and support each other, but not having to be best friends), and social justice (a term that, embarassingly, had only recently entered my lexicon.) It was where I experienced some great moments of revelation, as well as overpowering feelings of self-doubt.

And of course, it was where I met the man I would someday marry.

NR and I were invited back to Blue Ridge last week, to speak to the JVs who were finishing up their year of service. It was quite a trip to see Teege running around the oregano fields where we first met, and to wax nostalgic with NR's old housemate (who's now on staff)--whining about endless rice & bean dinners, crazy students/clients/co-workers/housemates, but realizing what a truly amazing and transformative period it was for all of us.

We decided to make a mini-vacation out of it (hey, when you have a kid, you're not going to pass up free lodgings and food!), so we drove down Wednesday, had dinner with the current JVs (who seemed alarmingly young...which means I'm alarmingly old!), put Teege to bed, and chilled on the porch of a cottage with some Coronas and lots of memories. We watched the sun set and the moon come up over the horizon above, talking for hours. It's a rare gift to just sit and talk--especially in the silence of nature--when you're new parents, so we cherished the moment.

So as I reflect on the 10th anniversary of JVC '98-'99, I am full of thanks. Grateful for my hilarious and talented students at St. Mary's High School that year, who made my first year of teaching such a joyous one. Grateful for my housemates--who challenged and humbled me in the best ways possible, but also lifted me up on my darkest days. Grateful for a city which I would eventually call home for nine years. Grateful for learning to think beyond myself, step outside the spotlight, and discover how to be a supporting player rather than a drama queen.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Summer in the 'burbs...

So, it works like this. Someone will tell me that they enjoy reading my blogs, and it has an adverse affect--I get slightly embarassed and sheepish and then don't blog for months on end. Or I'll replay every silly navel-gazing posting I've ever spewed, and wonder if I should delete the whole damn thing.
But maybe I'm thinking just a bit too much. It's a goofy little blog, not The Huffington Post, for gosh sakes.
So, a brief update: summertime is here, which is a simply blissful time for teachers. (See the pic of our garden, the labor of NR's love, as proof of said bliss!)
We've joined the Y in an attempt to be active--we no longer walk hither and yon like we did in NYC. I have no desire to get buff, but I would like to walk up a flight of stairs without wheezing like Patty & Selma!
I'm teaching storytelling and improv in the mornings at Summer Stage, to children who've just finished 5th grade. A really sweet age--they still have that wonderful optimism that has yet to be crushed by junior high. :( It's very strange to be back at UDPAC (the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center), a place that was my holy temple as a child, after such a long hiatus. Strange, but comforting.
The Teege is doing GREAT, of course. We're really enjoying taking him to the playground, doing little art projects, going swimming, etc. I am so thankful that our schedules allow us to spend this time with him--it's extremely precious. He's such a funny kid. I actually miss him when he goes to of course I have to check on him every hour until Mommy's bedtime. :)
I'm still writing for Philadelphia Maven, which is a terrific creative outlet. I absolutely love meeting and writing about these rockstar women--I always leave my interviews on an inspirational high. It's such an honor to give them the recognition they've earned.
I had the chance to audition for a play, but decided against it. One of the performances falls on Halloween, and I'm just not going to miss dragging my child around in an embarassing costume! But I also didn't feel the NEED to do it. It's funny--people always said that everything changes once you have a child, but I never believed it. I was always determined that I would keep as much of my old life as I could once I entered mommyhood. But now if I have to choose between sitting in a theater with a bunch of pretentious actors (okay, they're not ALL bad!) or watching Teege stuff Legos in his mouth...I'm gonna choose the latter. Besides, I have plenty of other ways to keep my synapses crackling--teaching, writing, yoga--that keep me quite busy these days.
I had this same attitude towards acting back in college. I felt like it was great fun, but not productive enough. I found a lot more satisfaction in teaching it or directing. I remember writing this very pompous piece for Fr. Burch's class called "The Player Queen," about my issues with the actor-audience relationship.
I'm sure at some point the "roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd" (yes, that's actually the phrase I meant to write!) will lure me back. But for now, I'm very content co-starring in "The Chronicles of Teege." :D

Monday, April 28, 2008

Fear & Friendship in 48 Hours

Just got back from 48 hours in NYC, where I presented at NYU's Shakespeare Conference. I felt oh-so-academic as I milled around with fellow teachers, performers, directors, and professors, discussing all things related to the Bard. What I found was this:
1) Truly smart people don't have to use big words. In fact, it's a lot more effective (and cuter) when you use words like "fanny."
2) Just because you have a British accent doesn't mean you're brilliant.
Seriously, the weekend was fabulous, and I was just so honored to be presenting alongside some truly remarkable people. I attended four workshops, a paper panel, and a production of Twelfth Night. That was a trip--the actress playing Viola was a girl I'd coached for Romeo & Juliet four years ago. Back then, she was this mousy little thing--albeit incredibly brilliant--whom I actually wound up writing a paper on (the phrase I used to describe her was "refreshingly age-appropriate.") Now, she is this very composed and lovely young woman about to graduate high school. I praised her in the talkback afterward, and her face just lit up when she recognized me. It was a very cool moment. As a teacher, you just get used to letting students crawl into your heart, set up shop for a while, and then they vacate. You're left with memories and funny anecdotes and just pray that they'll turn out okay. So this was such a gift--to see a kid you've really loved just thriving as a young adult.
My workshop was entitled "The Play's The Thing: Teaching Hamlet in the Secondary Classroom." I got some great feedback, and although I barely ate all day due to insane nerves, it was well worth the trip. (If you'd like a copy of the workshop, do let me know--I'm all about sharing!)
I also got to meet up with some of my favorite people while I was in the city--people whom I admire, respect, and love wholeheartedly, and who always affirm me in the best ways possible. On the infuriating ride home (they oversold the train, so I was stuck with my 50-pound suitcase balanced on my lap for the whole trip--oh, and then they had to replace the motor, so we were trapped in a dark, airless car for 40 minutes), I distracted myself by focusing on how grateful I am for the gift of these people in my life. God truly does send you people for a reason.
And now I'm back in da 'Hill...and so, so grateful to be back with my boys. :)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

"Gin" & Juice

So...what's up with "gin up" these days?

I like to consider myself up on the parlance of the times. And I am, to quote my dear friend Chris, "a lover of language." But this is a new one for me.

Not only that, ever since Obama gave his "groundbreaking" (really? more on that later) speech on race in America last week, the term has been popping up everywhere. I counted at least three usages in the Inquirer this week.

Am I an old fart? Or just dumb? ("Honey...we're both," I can already hear my hubby sighing.) Obama just too trendy and relevant for me?

Okay, so back to good ol' Barry. I tend to stay away from politics in my blogs, because there's nothing I hate worse than a half-informed person on a self-indulgent rant. So I'll say this. I REALLY, really like him. I think he's genuinely positive, kind, optimistic, fair-minded. I really enjoy the fact that he's steered clear of the mudslinging. So he had a crazy pastor. (As a Catholic, all I can do is wryly sympathize.) I'm sure he's a good senator. I'm sure someday he could make a terrific president. His daughters are adorable. Michelle is class personified. But I'm a wee wary of how blindly people are jumping on his lil' choo-choo of "change". I've asked several devoted followers (in a completely innocent, "I really honestly want to know, I'm not baiting you" way) what exactly they like about him, and all I get are blissful sighs and glassy-eyed stares off to the distance and lots of talk about "change" and "future." Okay, sweet. Sign me up. But when pressed to name his acconplishments as senator, no one can give a straight-up list. So...what IS he all about, really?

There's a radio ad down here right now, targeted directly to the young 'uns, about how "he gets what our generation is all about." Okay, cool! Um...what is it that he gets? I've watched the debates, I read "Dreams of My Father" (okay, well, most of it), I read his speech (which was really beautiful, and timely, and necessary...but was there a new school of thought voiced that I missed? I've been having the same conversation with people for years.)

Fret not. I finally registered as a Democrat this year (after 12 happy but frustrating years an Independent). I voted for Kerry, whose name I still can't say without shrugging indifferently. And come April 22, I will most definitely be voting for Obama and his mission of change. I just want to be assured of what that change will be.

Friday, February 29, 2008

"Dreams are like fish..."

" gots to keep on reelin'."

So goes one of my favorite songs by Philly boy G. Love.

Dreams have been the subject of note these days. I just finished teaching Death of a Salesman and A Raisin in the Sun to my seniors, so we have beat the subject of the "American Dream" to death over the past few months. (Side note: I really didn't think P. Diddy was THAT horrible in the film version Monday night on ABC. He's definitely not picking up any Emmys, but he wasn't the train wreck I was expecting. And Phylicia Rashad is a freaking goddess.)

So...what is the American Dream? Damned if I know. I really don't think there is a cookie-cutter dream assigned to us today. It's no longer the house, 2 cars, 2.5 kids and a dog. It seems (and so my students agreed) that the American Dream of the new millenium is simply to find true happiness through success (whether it be personal, financial, what have you.)

We had an in-service day on the topic of time management. (Funny that it took about 4 hours to learn about how to manage your time...when all I could think about was everything I needed to take care of as soon as the meeting was done! By the end of the day, I had doodled a frighteningly long "to-do" list on the back of my very thick training manual...)

Anyway, one section was devoted to prioritizing goals and deciding whether they were to "prevent pain" or "achieve gain." (Don't you love the precious little catchphrases that corporate trainers whip up? "Fight back the fear!" "Management is measurement!") At one point, we had to turn to a colleague and share something we wanted to do in life that we have not yet done. She shared that she wanted to do the Inca Trail and learn the guitar. Completely cool.

I'm happy to report that it took me a REALLY long time to respond.

Not to say I don't have dreams. But so many things that the speaker offered as possibilities...I had done. And there are so many experiences--really, ever since college--that have exceeded my wildest dreams. I'm still kind of in awe that I've lived them.

And life continues to bless me with happy surprises: how much I've enjoyed being a mom this year, buying our first house, being invited to present at NYU this spring, snagging a writing gig for a local women's magazine. I'm really not trying to brag; I'm just shocked and honored by the good fortune that my family has been blessed with.

Both of the plays my students read had to do with dreams being stifled, or just too big for the dreamer in the first place. My girls were completely fed up with the protagonists by the last pages. "Ugh, why is Willy so obsessed with his own funeral?" "Why can't Walter appreciate what a nice family he has?" The consensus seemed to be that a healthy dose of realism was sorely needed by these guys.

I'm definitely a realist, but certainly not a pessimist. I simply try--and don't always succeed--to seek peace and balance in my life. It seems that more often than not, when you make good choices for good reasons (i.e. beside yourself), you wind up reaping the benefits. As my dear friend Jen said during her toast at our wedding: "When you give glory to God, the glory comes back to you."

In closing...two wonderful friends have achieved incredible dreams over the past month. I just have to give them a big ol' shout-out because they have WORKED THEIR BUTTS OFF to make this happen--while remaining just plain good peoples. So here's to DOCTOR Christina McMahon, newly appointed professor of theatre at Santa Barbara, and Diva Julia Spanja Hoffert, who made her MET DEBUT!!! I am deeply awed and insanely proud of you both. :)

Thursday, February 07, 2008

R.I.P., Janam Tea

Janam Tea, an adorable little tea shop in downtown Jersey City, is closing.

Well, actually relocating--the owner is packing up and heading out to Portland, OR. (And really, can you blame her?)

This shouldn't bum me out--I don't even live in JC anymore--but this little shop has a special place in my heart.

The day we found out we were expecting, we were on cloud nine, but definitely in shock. That night, we stopped by Janam for a cup of tea and some shortbread. We curled up on a couch in the window, gazing at the neighborhood we'd lived in for years, basking in the glow of our news and talking excitedly about the future.

This part of JC (known oh-so-quaintly as "Harsimus Cove") has definitely seen some changes. Run-down parking lots have given way to luxury condos; an abandoned old community center is now a day spa. It's where I had my first apartment, my first teaching job, and where Nick and I first started our marriage. I know this particular strip pretty well, as I used to walk down it to the PATH every morning. I know the dry cleaners (who always spelled my name "Dana" on the receipt), the bagel shop, La Conguita where you could get insanely huge servings of pernil for about $5, the camera shop with the fat old cat chilling on the counter, the apartment with crazy brick sculptures in the front yard...Janam was a perfectly weird and wonderful addition to the corner of Newark & Grove. And now it's leaving.

Well, JC's loss is Portland's gain. Maybe some other dorky couple, scared to death but drunk with joy over their bun in the oven, will have a similar "Janam moment" out west. :)

Monday, January 28, 2008

Green Cleaning!

You know that dizzying yet satisfying feeling you get from the smell of Pine-Sol or Tilex? That nostril-burning, nauseating, eye-reddening sensation?

Thing of the past in the Romero household these days.

No, we're not on a cleaning strike...although that's awfully tempting. :) I've taken on the mission of greening our cleaning. Yes, it sounds awfully crunchy; but you know what, I'm starting to embrace my innate crunchiness. (After all, I did live in a vegetarian household for a year.)

When I was home on maternity leave, I became addicted to "The View" (I can proudly say that I witnessed, live, the infamous Rosie/Elisabeth fight--and damn, was it great!) One day, Deirdre Imus was on to plug her new book, Green This (see above), singing the praises of "green cleaning." And you know what, it made a lot of sense.

So, I'm starting out small. Being that the bathroom is my domain (see "The Stepford Husband," below), I focused on that first. With vinegar (to disinfect), lemon juice (to deodorize), and baking soda (to scour), I scrubbed away and was shocked by the result. My bathroom was sparkling, and I didn't feel sick afterwards like I usually do! We're so conditioned to think that the smell of bleach = clean, but that's not necessarily the case.

I also made a few other changes...using non-toxic glass cleaner, freshening up our bedroom with an essential oil diffuser, and adopting some plants (which, so far, I haven't killed yet). Maybe it's psychological, but I really do feel a little healthier.

Something about moving to the 'burbs has made us want to live a more intentional lifestyle--making small but important choices to better our family, our community, and the world. Just a few minor changes can make a big difference. (I mean, we're not about to blow all our money on organic cotton sheets!)

Another thing we're trying is to become "localvores" (buying food from local farmers as much as possible.) We'd toyed with the idea of joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), but you're never quite sure what you'll end up with--and the next thing you know, you have a crisper full of rotting broccoli rabe and three sad little radishes.
But we did find a great little place: Farm Fresh Express ( Based out of Lansdowne, they carry products from local and/or organic farms. Either way, you feel good--buying local, you're supporting a local farmer and cutting down on fuel used to transport produce from all over the world; buying organic, you know it's just a little healthier for you and the environment. Monday, they send you a list of their choices for the week, you place an order, and then you can pick it up or have it delivered. We stopped by on Saturday, and they are so friendly and just EXCITED about their business. (You don't really get that at Acme!) Plus, they offer free, YUMMY fair-trade coffee from Mexico and Ethiopia. (Caveat: It IS a little more expensive, so we're only going to do it once a month or so at first. We are teachers, after all!)
Sure, we still drive a SUV. Let me expiate my guilt by cleaning my bathtub with vinegar and eating my organic peanut butter. :)

Saturday, January 12, 2008


Quite possibly the best movie I've seen in a LONG time.

Go see it. See it again. Then download the soundtrack. Guaranteed happiness. :D

The Stepford Husband

As I write this, my husband is happily strolling through the aisles of Acme, carefully composed grocery list in hand, dutifully bypassing any product for which he hasn’t clipped a coupon.

No, I’m not home sick on the couch. Nor did we have a wicked fight for which he’s atoning. Rather, I’m married to a singularly unique yet no longer rare creature—The Evolved Husband.

When we first started dating, I smiled bemusedly when he first offered to cook for me. “Aw,” I thought as he whipped up a delicious chicken parm, “this must be the ‘special occasion’ dish his mom taught him to impress girls with.”

Yet that chicken parm gave way to roast chicken with homemade gravy, sausage lasagna, salsa and guacamole from scratch, gourmet Saturday morning breakfasts (with my choice of fluffy blueberry pancakes or omelets with spicy home fries)…as I slowly realized that I’d hit the culinary jackpot with this guy, my burgeoning cooking skills took a backseat. (After all, I’m Irish, and we’re not exactly known for our prowess in the kitchen!)

Not only does he cook and do the grocery shopping, but he also vacuums, sweeps, mops, cleans out my car, takes the dog out, and does the dishes. He also takes equal care of the Teege—feeding, changing, bathing, and playing. This is on top of the typical “male” chores he carries out—yard work, painting, killing spiders, etc.

So what, you may ask, do I do, exactly?

Well, laundry. And boy, is there a lot of it. My biggest shock after getting married was how much laundry there suddenly was. Nick has never been a “wear and air” kind of guy—a sweatshirt worn for two hours, over an undershirt, is promptly deposited into the hamper. Throw a baby’s endless dirty clothes into the mix, and laundry is suddenly a Sisyphean task.

Cleaning the bathroom is another chore falling squarely on my shoulders. Early in our marriage, Nick remarked how glad he was that I “loved to do the bathroom.” Feeling guilty that this was not nearly as taxing as making dinner every night and dealing with the supermarket every weekend, I smiled sweetly and answered, “Oh honey, I don’t mind at all!” Thus, I sentenced myself to a lifetime of rubber gloves and Soft Scrub.

Oh, and I did go through nine months of pregnancy and a little event called childbirth.

Sure, I’m spoiled rotten. But I know that each task Nick does is out of love for us and the home we’ve created. A few days after our son was born, he braved the blizzard to shovel the car out of the snow so he could make yet another run to Target for diapers. As I watched him from the warmth of our living room, I thought to myself, “This man was born to be a husband and father.” He finds such joy in completing these seemingly mundane chores. It has certainly made my decision to return to work an easy one, knowing that he will happily shoulder the burden of homemaking with me.

Some prefer diamonds; some prefer pearls. I’ll take chicken parm any day.