Dear Readers: This is the 10th episode of the series: HELP, I WANT TO GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN. If you are new to this series, you may want to start with Chapter One–IF THEY’D HAD HAMBURGER HELPER BACK THEN. Thanks for reading.
When you carpool with a friend, you’re enriched by the details of their lives.

So it was with Shirley and me. We talked about everything.

The pot-roast Cleon had fixed for dinner. The 5th Grade Science Fair which was as much work for parents as it was for kids. The Johnny Carson Show. Our kids’ bouts with colds, ear infections, stomach flu. Mini-skirts. Maxi-skirts. Why did husbands always take the last dollar from our purse or cigarette from the pack? Yes, we smoked back in those days. It was 1969.

The friendship Shirley and I forged on the way to classes spanned the years.

I’m not sure when the subject of holidays came up in our conversations. Perhaps it was on a Wednesday before Thanksgiving while we were trying to juggle term papers and turkeys.

Or was it a decade later when—settled in our work lives—we spoke by phone before holidays?

“What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” I must have asked.

“We rent out the basement at St. John’s Church. There’s so many of us that Thanksgiving works out best if we all get together in a large place.”

I knew Shirley and her husband Cleon had six children, but I didn’t know a host of their relatives and family friends lived along Colorado’s Front Range. If I remember right, their family gatherings always hosted more than 50 folks. Although both Shirley and Cleon are gone now, this tradition continues.

The idea of celebrating Thanksgiving in a larger setting—with space to invite a host of family and friends—has remained in my mind over the years. What a great idea!

That way there’s always room at the table.

Next year, I’m going to copy this idea.

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Dear Readers: This is the 9th episode of the series: HELP, I WANT TO GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN. If you are new to this series, you may want to start with Chapter One–IF THEY’D HAD HAMBURGER HELPER BACK THEN. Thanks for reading.


In this series, I haven’t said much about the two important men that held down the fort while Shirley and I took classes at UNC.

Shirley and Cleon met as third graders in Hettinger, North Dakota. Cleon was smitten—fell head over heels in love with Shirley—from the first day of class.

Much to Cleon’s dismay, Shirley, one of the prettiest and most popular girls in her class, dated other guys during high school.

But Cleon didn’t give up. When Shirley was in her early twenties she said “yes” to Cleon’s marriage proposal.

The young couple moved to Colorado, where Cleon graduated from DU and then opened several bakeries, including the Batter Bowl Bakery on 4th Street in Loveland.

In talking to Shirley, I learned that bakers’ hours are not bankers’ hours. Cleon arrived at the Batter Bowl at 2a.m. to create the breads, pies and coffee cakes for the day.

He and Shirley tag-teamed at the Batter Bowl throughout the day so Cleon could get some rest after his pre-dawn start.

Though babies came along in rapid succession, there was no time off for this busy couple. No time off for the young parents of a growing family of four tow-headed boys and two blond girls.

Morning sickness was often a companion during Shirley’s pregnancies. “If someone else was minding the store, I’d often take a half-hour nap further down 4th Street at W and T pharmacy—where there was a cot in the back room.”

But as I came to know Shirley and Cleon, there was no complaining about being overworked or overtired. Just a family with an abundance of love and laughter—no matter how the cookie crumbled.

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Dear Readers: This is the 8th episode of the series: HELP, I WANT TO GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN. If you are new to this series, you may want to start with Chapter One–IF THEY’D HAD HAMBURGER HELPER BACK THEN. Thanks for reading.


Shirley and I found a parking space on the brightly lit McKee Building on the UNC campus.

The building was buzzing with students—many of them older students—taking night classes which ran from 7pm to 10pm on Wednesday nights.

I don’t remember what class Shirley took. I’d been admitted to the Department of Special Education and my class—The Psychology of Exceptional Children—drew a number of teachers getting their Master’s in Special Education.

I’d chosen Special Ed as my focus because I felt a deep empathy for parents of children who faced challenges in their lives.

I loved the excitement of learning and meeting new people in class. I found that a couple of my classmates were teachers from Loveland. We exchanged phone numbers and made arrangements to include them in our car pool.

On the drive home from class, Shirley and I both concluded that we liked our professors and the small size of our classes.

Only recently did I give away my first textbook—The Psychology of Exceptional Children–with its avocado green cover—which I poured over during the next week.

The page of the book are covered with crayon scribbles as our daughter Kathy—about 18 months old—enjoyed sitting on my lap while I studied and she crayoned.

The textbook represented my first step out of the kitchen.

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Dear Readers: This is the 7th episode of the series: HELP, I WANT TO GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN. If you are new to this series, you may want to start with Chapter One–IF THEY’D HAD HAMBURGER HELPER BACK THEN. Thanks for reading.

When Shirley and I arrived on campus—I drank in the elixir of nighttime lights. You’d have thought I’d gone to a Broadway show.

Years of being a housewife left me more than a little mentally unstable, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

Night school was a breath of fresh air, a taste of freedom.

If I could have bottled this sweet potent, I might have invented the first 5 Hour Energy Drink.

The lights and bustle on campus left me feeling alive again.

Don’t get me wrong, I was crazy about my kids and husband, but I didn’t have a fond place in my heart for defrosting the refrigerator and waxing floors.

I still have nightmares of lunging at my frost-filled refrigerator with a sledge hammer.

And I never felt as happy as the 1950’s ads depicting women happily waxing their floors.

And don’t even ask me about cleaning the toilet.

What would become of me—a housekeeping misfit—a slacker—a disaster?

I had no idea where further education would take me. I was already out of my mind. Where would I go next?

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As Shirley and I journeyed back and forth to school, I realized Shirley had the confidence I lacked.

At some level I hoped her courage would rub off on me.

Shirley planted her roots of courage early in life. As a seven-year-old, she made a key decision about her life.

The year was 1937 and Shirley’s father, a rancher in the area, tipped the bottle once too often and this didn’t sit well with the straight laced citizens of Hettinger, North Dakota.

Rather than be a burden to his family, Shirley’s father left Hettinger—but not before small town gossip threatened to shed a dark cloud over Shirley, her mother Alice and brother Don.

But seven-year-old Shirley decided not to be weighed down by the criticism of her father. She recalls sitting on the steps of her school saying to herself “I’m not my father. I’m me. And I’m going to be the best that I can be.”

And Shirley went on to be the Valedictorian of her class—as well as Homecoming queen.

When Shirley and I started our venture, I knew nothing of her early life. Nor did I know that I would learn as much from Shirley as I did from some of my classes.

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Dear Readers: This is the 5th episode of the series: HELP, I WANT TO GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN. If you are new to this series, you may want to start with Chapter One–IF THEY’D HAD HAMBURGER HELPER BACK THEN published in January 2015. Thanks for reading.

Change bolted through the atmosphere in the late 1960’s—as Shirley and I headed back to college.

The world hummed along with the Beatles as they sang Hey Jude. At the Rialto Theatre in downtown Loveland, The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde were box office hits.

In living rooms all across America, Rowan and Martin tickled our funny bones as we watched their TV show Laugh-In.

The first Big Mac was served under the Golden Arches and color TV’s made their way into some homes.

The average home cost about $14,900 and gas cost 39 cents a gallon.

Mini-skirts inched their way onto the fashion scene and Nehru jackets became a popular choice for men. Bell bottoms were popular for both men and women.

The world had changed a lot in the dozen or so years that Shirley and I began our lives as homemakers in the 1950’s.

At 33 I felt old, matronly and I actually ordered a housedresses from the Montgomery Ward Catalog.

Surely, I had to make some changes.

I knew housework would drive me to the brink—if not to drink—and that was before I even came face to face with a panic attack.

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Dear Readers: This is the 4th Episode in the series HELP! I WANT TO GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN. If you are new to this series, you may want to start at the 1st episode.

One Wednesday night in March of 1969, Shirley and I headed eastward on a 20 mile ribbon of highway across the plains to begin taking classes in Greeley, Colorado.

I couldn’t wait to start this new venture.

I’d been a wife, mother and homemaker for 11 years—sheltered in a cocoon of domesticity.

Bill and I had four lovely daughters, a much-longed-for new house and good friends.

Like most children, ours had their share of illnesses—strep throats, chicken pox, ear infections, roseola, croup—along with the usual colds, stomach upsets, scrapes and bruises.

The hot forehead of a toddler with a temperature of 103 or 104 degrees sent me running to the phone to call a doctor. And always—it seemed—a remedy—either medication or reassurance—was at hand

Somehow, I wanted to repay these kindnesses and support.

But how? This is what I needed to find out.

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Dear Readers: This is the 3rd “Chapter” in the series “HELP, I WANT TO GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN.  If you’d like to read this series from the beginning, please start with the January 2015 entry.  Thanks for reading.


I lit a cigarette as Shirley pulled her car out of our driveway, and we began the 30 minute trip from Loveland to the University of Northern Colorado.

Actually, back in 1969, I think the college in Greeley, Colorado was known as Colorado State College.

“You thought I was going back to school to become an obstetrician?”

“I wasn’t sure.”

“Good Lord, no! I get queasy just going into a hospital to visit someone. I don’t want to be an OB.”

“That’s a relief. At 33 you’d have a long stint ahead of you.”

I still felt misty eyed but tried to keep my composure. “It’s just the OB’s were so kind and reassuring during all those pregnancies. I didn’t realizes how much goodness there was out there.”

Shirley was driving and I hoped she didn’t notice my tears, “How many pregnancies did you have?”

“Seven. Three miscarriages and four babies.”

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Dear Readers: This article is the third in a series called “HELP, I WANT TO GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN!” You may want to read the initial columns for background. Thanks for reading.

In my last column, I wrote about conversations with my friend Shirley, who had six children and helped her husband run a “The Batter Bowl” a top notch bakery right on 4th Street in Loveland.

Shirley was upbeat, optimistic and had a great sense of humor which I hoped would rub off on me.

On the other hand, I had four young children. I loved these kiddos so much that I’d throw myself in front of a train to save them.

And I loved my husband, Bill, even more than Rocky Road Ice Cream—which is saying a lot.

Despite being an electronics engineer—Bill is an amazingly good guy—except that he thinks margarine and butter should be put in the allocated spot in the refrigerator.

I think the margarine thing is is more than a little unusual.

And did I mention that I was more than a little unstable during this period of my life?

In my last column I mentioned how I wanted to get out of the kitchen so I could pay back all the people who had helped me. Moreover I wanted to be like them.

Shirley: “Who are these people who’ve helped you?” asked.

Val: “Well, some of the doctors who helped me through all those miscarriages and pregnancies.”

Shirley: “So now you want to become an obstetrician?”

Stay tuned for the next episode of HELP, I WANT TO GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN.

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Dear Readers: This article is the second in a series called “HELP, I WANT TO GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN!” You may want to read this initial column for background to this new series of articles. Thanks for reading.

So, in March of 1969, Shirley and I got ready to become the oldest students on campus at the University of Northern Colorado.

We sat at our typewriters—no computers back then—filling out admission forms to get ready for Wednesday night classes.

One day Shirley prompted the beginning of what would be a long friendship conversation stretching over the years.

It started something like this.

Shirley: “There’s something I don’t understand.”

Me: “What?”

Shirley: “On days you’re tired of cooking, why don’t you just pick up hamburgers at the A&W drive-in for dinner?”

Me: “You’re right. That would be easier. And cheaper. But there’s something else.”

Shirley: “What?”

Me: “Well, I’ve had so many people help me over the past 10 or 12 years. There’s something in me that wants to give back.”

I was glad we were talking on the phone because I didn’t want Shirley to see the tears welling up in my eyes.


Dear readers. Stay tuned for the continuation of my journey which will appear this coming weekend.

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