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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Musings 4-10-15

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 5th 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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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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Note: This is a recollection that comes to mind on cold, cloudy January days. I’ll be devoting a number of columns to this journey which was new territory for me. Please join me on this journey.

If they’d had Hamburger Helper back then, maybe all this wouldn’t have happened.

But that was a long time ago…

That afternoon I had just an hour before I picked up our school aged daughters from school.

Earlier that day, I tried making stuffed cabbage leaves.

Remnants of tomatoes, onion, hamburger and cabbage splattered the kitchen counter.

Since texting was not an option in 1969, I called a girlfriend.

“Shirley,” I moaned. “I give up.”

“Give up what?”

“Cabbage leaves. I can’t spend the rest of my life stuffing cabbage leaves.”

“Who said you have to do that for the rest of your life? Shirley asked softly, sensing the tension in my voice.

“No one,” I said tearfully. “But since I’m home all day, I feel like I should put a good meal on the table.”

“What would you rather be doing?” Shirley asked

“Well, I’ve been toying with the idea of going to grad school.”

“What’s holding you back?”

“I’m not sure…lots of things…the whole thing seems sort of scary.”

“Well, look. I need update my teaching credential. Let’s go part time and take classes together. “

With ten children between us—Shirley had six and I had four—we were rarities on campus in l969.

“We’re the oldest students on campus,” Shirley noted after the first day.

I nodded in agreement.

We preceded TV’s Laverne and Shirley. And Geena Davis of Thelma and Louise was in grade school when Shirley and I began our ventures on campus.

These first steps on campus were challenging. Along the way I stumbled over self-doubt, panic attacks and insomnia.

These many years later, I found myself in the kitchen trying to figure out what to do with a head of cabbage and a pound of hamburger.

Now I see the cabbage through different eyes.

Please join me as I reflect on my journey. Please tell me what journeys you have taken. What did you learn? How did it change you?

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We had a lot to be thankful for on our first Thanksgiving in Loveland 50 years ago.

We had each other, three young daughters—Claire, Sharon, and Eileen—and Bill’s job at HP. Our youngest daughter, Kathy, was a mere twinkle in Bill’s eyes.

New-found friends in Loveland were another blessing.

But one thing was missing. We had no relatives nearby.

“How will we celebrate holidays?” I wondered.

On our first Thanksgiving in 1964, the answer was easy. Another newly arrived HP couple hosted a Thanksgiving Open House and we were grateful to be invited.

And so started many years of considering friends as family.

Especially when our family was young, I yearned for celebration—the festive boost that comes from the gift of friends in a home.

It’s been said that guests are the best Holiday decoration a home can have.

The question was never “Who shall we invite?”

The question was “Who would be willing to spend time with us on an important Holiday?”

The question was “Which guests have the stomach to digest all the idiosyncrasies and dysfunctions of our young family?”

At first I worried about hosting Holiday Dinners.

What if all our kids were up all night with fevers and I couldn’t pull Thanksgiving together? What if I forgot to defrost the turkey?

Maybe I’d have to say, “We’re so glad you could come for Thanksgiving Dinner. Make yourself at home. Things were a little hectic here today, so our main course will be bologna sandwiches with a little cranberry on the side.”

Like most worries, these never came to pass.

As I looked back on past Thanksgivings, I’m grateful for all the guests over the years who accepted us—flaws, faults and all.

It’s fun to look back on 50 Thanksgivings in Loveland. And I wish all my readers a Happy Thanksgiving.

And I have one more wish for readers. If you don’t have time, energy or resources for a big dinner, remember there are many ways to celebrate and give thanks.

Enjoy a leisurely day off from work, watch good movie, or catch up on rest. Or you might invite a neighbor over for a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, a mug of hot chocolate.

Or even a give thanks over a shared bologna sandwich.

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Wave goodbye to the handshake.

The handshake is history.

It’s tough to say goodbye to this common form of greeting—a greeting that conveys warmth and welcome in our culture.

We love the genuineness of a handshake.

More than just a greeting, the handshake is also a part of our commercial discourse.

We pride ourselves on sealing a deal with a handshake. “Let’s shake on it,” we say.

But with the spread of Ebola, it’s time to find a stand-in for the handshake.

We’ve all heard the mantra from health professionals: “Avoid touching your nose, mouth or eyes during cold and flu season.”

But not much has been said about the dangers inherent in the everyday handshake.

It turns out that bacteria can be spread through the tiny cracks and breaks that most of us have on our hands.

Ebola can be transmitted to the blood stream through these miniscule openings.

According to the American Journal of Infection Control, the popular fist bump may be an alternative to the handshake since only a small amount of sweat is available for transmission.

But like it or not, the fist bump can still spread a small amount of germs—about a tenth of what’s involved in handshake.

A small risk may not seem like much unless you’re unlucky enough to fall ill.

So, while better than the handshake, the fist bump may not be the perfect solution.

So what’s a person to do?

How about raising the lowly elbow to the status of a greeting gesture?

Could we adopt the elbow bump to greet someone?

Readers, let’s hear from you.

What will you do to avoid spreading germs?

Depending on how well you know the other person, how about a hip bump?

Let’s shake it up a little as we say goodbye to the handshake.

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It’s hard to believe it was 70 years ago.

It was 1944. WWII was in full swing, but battle fronts were far from U.S. shores.

Along with my parents and younger brother Walter, I lived in the safety and tranquility of suburban Long Island.

But tranquility is not the stuff of nine-year-old play.

Without TVs, computer games or smart phones, we amused ourselves outdoors—seeking adventure in fields, woods, ponds and treetops—coming home mainly for lunch and dinner.

Our serenity was interrupted from time to time by the Civil Defense air raid drills and blackouts which began in 1942 and continued until the War’s end.

We nine-year-olds considered ourselves pros in the arena of Civil Defense.

The morning after a nighttime air raid drill, details of the drill were recounted—or, more often, made up—by our group of friends.

One-upsmanship was a vital ingredient during these morning debriefings.

Because I was a worry wart, my parents assured me that these were simply drills—not the real thing—so I soaked in details as though I were investigating a crime scene in a Nancy Drew novel.

I love the stealthy look of the wartime dark shades that hung in our upstairs windows—just waiting to be yanked down in case of enemy attack.

I carefully inspected the half-moons of black paint on our car’s headlights—meant to minimize car headlights during an attack.

One air raid drill stands out in my mind. My younger brother had used the bathroom in the middle of the night and left the light on.

Being sound sleepers, none of us heard the 3 a.m. knock on the door by the local Air Raid Warden.

The next morning my parents received a stern scolding from the Warden who pointed out that ours was the only house in his ward with light glowing from a window.

We felt we’d shirked our duty in the war effort.

As I look back on the innocence of my life in 1944 and the horror of what was going on in the rest of the world, I am humbled.

Now, 70 years later, news on TV brings scenes of bloodshed, suffering and destruction into our living rooms.

Air raid drills have become the real thing—no longer an exercise to be talked over the next morning.

When will we ever make the world a safe place for children?

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