Tornado sirens: a new appreciation

For most of the six years we lived in Cincinnati, we dutifully ran to the basement whenever the tornado sirens sounded.
But toward the end, in that final year, we took the warnings less and less seriously.
Every thunderstorm seemed to set the sirens off during tornado season and rarely had there been actual danger. Did we really want to wake all four kids and drag them down two flights of stairs in the middle of the night because of a little thunder and lightning?
So on a few of those nights, we remained snug in our beds, listening for changes in the storms and honestly believing that if one hit, we’d have plenty of time to react. Friends and some of our neighbors did the same. Those sirens became “wolf” cries to our ears.
We were stupid.
At about 2 in the morning on Memorial Day, my husband and I were sleeping in an upstairs bedroom in our new community of Knoxville, PA, when a storm came out of nowhere. Violent thunder and lightning rocked the house. The twins and our daughter climbed into our bed.
Our oldest remained in his room.
I stood and reached to close our bedroom window and was shocked to find that my arms were being tugged outward by the wind. I slammed it shut, knowing at that moment that this was no ordinary storm, that we should be in the basement and that our oldest son should not be alone.
But it was too late.
The tornado was already upon us and very quickly made its exit.
The winds quieted.
I was reassured by the fact that I heard no ambulances, no fire signals or sirens.
Then the buzzing of chain saws began.
We awoke to find a community in ruin. The majestic trees that once lined Main Street lie across the road or rested in the middle of houses. The community center that serves this borough of about 700 people had lost its roof. Several homes were damaged or destroyed.
No one had power.
Amazingly, no one was hurt.
Our house was undamaged.
A few days later, the National Weather Service confirmed we’d been hit by an F1 tornado.
No sirens had sounded to rouse us from our beds. No tornado watches or warnings had been issued. A severe storm warning from earlier that night had already expired. We had no way of knowing that it was coming.
The tornado passed too quickly for true terror or panic to set in. In fact, I was oddly calm in the hours that followed. Instead, the panic comes in bits and pieces when I realize what could have happened, what we should have done, how we should have reacted.
I’ve been hearing the same sentiments from others.
I never thought I’d feel this way.
But I miss those Cincinnati sirens and I promise that if ever I hear one again, I will heed it fully.
The kids will always fall back to sleep and if they don’t, so what?
I lose a little sleep.
For one day.
A minor inconvenience.

Good-bye Cincinnati

When my husband and I moved to Arizona almost 11 years ago, it was supposed to be a temporary thing. An adventure.
Our ticket to the life we had always dreamed about.
My husband, a former journalist, had been working from home as a programmer for a media software company based in Scottsdale. His bosses wanted him to move into management to help the company go public. That required a physical move as well.
Two years, they said.
That was all.
The company would pay for our relocation to Arizona and then move us back east when our time was up. We would earn enough from stock options to build a house on his parents’ farm in Pennsylvania, something we’d talked about since we started dating.
I had to give up my newspaper job, but I was sure I would find work in Phoenix.
And, when all this was over, he and I would both be able to work from home while we raised a family.
We weren’t counting on me getting pregnant before we even got there.
We weren’t counting on the company going under.
We weren’t counting on living in Arizona for five years, or in Cincinnati for six years.
But we went where life took us, always believing that things would work out in the end.
And they have.
In seven weeks, we will move to Pennsylvania with our four young children. We bought a house to live in while we build our final home. The house is in a burough of about 700 people, where the nearest mall is 50 miles away and the convenience store has hitching posts for the Amish.
And we can’t wait.
For the first time, we will be near family and that’s far more important than the convenience of 24-hour grocery stores, multiple fast-food restaurants and a selection of wi-fi coffee houses (Okay, so maybe I will miss Starbucks and Panera).
We will be able to help care for his mother as she ages and we will be free to travel to my parents’ house when we have vacation time. My husband’s sister and niece live within walking distance, and two of my sisters and my stepdaughter are only a short drive away.
My husband will keep his job.
His company has been gracious enough to let him work from home.
We will miss all the people we have come to know in Cincinnati, just as we miss those who we left behind in Arizona. Our older children have roots here. This is where they attended preschool, kindergarten and most of elementary school.
But both kids value family tremendously.
They are as excited as we are.
The twins will have few memories of their birthplace, but we will bring them back. We will remind them that  Cincinnati has been good to us. We have plenty of good friends here and lots wonderful memories. Best of all, Cincinnati gave us two healthy young boys.
Arizona was equally good. We left there with a healthy son and daughter; a greater understanding for Mexican/western culture; and an appreciation for a different kind of nature than we were accustomed to. We plan to spend many weeks each year of our retirement there.
And so it is that, with a sense of contentment and fulfillment, that we say this:
Good-bye, Cincinnati.
Good-bye and thank you.

I am a coffee addict, or am I?

Winds are gusting at about 50 miles-an-hour so far today and the weather folks are warning us to prepare for power outages. The last time we had gusts this strong–the effects of Hurricane Ike—we lost power for four days.
My first thought?
I’d better brew fresh coffee.
Four kids, and that was my first thought.
I’m an addict.
It’s time I admitted it.
In my defense, we do have gas heat and a gas stove. Even without power we will be warm and I can cook. So really, all I can do to prepare is to stock up on batteries and candles and maybe get some ice to keep the milk cold. I could do that now. The twins are at the sitters’ house for another half hour.
But I don’t want to.
I just keep thinking about that coffee that will done brewing any minute.
Coffee with milk and one Splenda.
Drinking it at the kitchen table with today’s newspaper spread out before me.
Maybe it’s not so much a caffeine addiction as it is an addiction to what that cup of coffee stands for. I rarely wrote on deadline without coffee beside me in my full-time journalism days. I walked to the cafeteria for coffee whenever I needed to think.
I met my friends in coffee shops.
I wrote good chunks of my novel in an Arizona Starbucks.
My husband and I often end date nights in coffee shops.
So maybe that’s it.
Maybe coffee stands for an identity that started to fade when I had my first two kids and that sometimes seems forever lost now that I have the twins.
But I don’t have time to think about that now.
The coffee is done.
The clock in ticking.
The newspaper is waiting.