SO MUCH GOODNESS OUT THERE

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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A TOTAL OF TEN KIDS

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

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BEYOND HAMBURGER HELPER

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.
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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.

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

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HELP, I NEED TO GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN!

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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A BOLONGA SANDWICH ON THANKSGIVING

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

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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AIR RAID DRILL

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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THE 1976 BIG THOMPSON FLOOD

I don’t usually post articles in this blog that have appeared in the print edition of the Reporter Herald. But I’ve had so many comments about this article that thought I’d run it for readers who might otherwise have missed it.

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It’s July again and memories of the 1976 Big Thompson flood resurface as they do every year at this time.

Back then, I was a therapist at the Larimer County Mental Health Clinic. The day after the flood, I was asked to help at the temporary morgue at Loveland Memorial Hospital.

My job was to ask survivors for physical descriptions of missing family or friends so bodies could be identified. “I don’t know how to do this, but I’ll give it my best shot,” I said to myself.

One story in particular stays in my mine—that of the first gentleman to come to the morgue—Bob Graham

Bob told me his two-year-old daughter Lisa was missing in the flood. “I’d just bathed and dressed her in her night clothes when the flood hit,” he said.

As Bob described his daughter I could almost smell the sweetness of a freshly bathed two-year- old. I thought to myself, “A toddler wrapped in a bath towel is Heaven itself.

I started to tell Bob that someone would contact him when we have more information when he said, “But there’s more.”

Bob went on to tell me his wife, Beverly, his nine-year-old daughter, Teresa, and his mother, Clara, were also missing.

“This can’t be happening,” I thought as Bob told me about his family—taken away in a split second.

Looking back, I wonder, “Why didn’t I wrap my arms around him when he told me his story? Why didn’t I wrap my arms around every person who came looking for missing family or friends?”

Over the years I’ve wondered how Bob was doing. I reached him by telephone last month. After re-introducing myself, I blurted out something about hoping I’d been compassionate when I interviewed him 38 years ago.

It’s clear this phone call was about my own healing as much as it was to get in touch with Bob.

Since the flood, Bob remarried and has children and grandchildren from his second marriage. He is now retired and living in Greeley.

It takes courage and trust to embrace life after a loss of such magnitude—but that’s what Bob has done.

Since our initial phone call a month ago, Bob and I talked several times. Bob recounted the horror of the 1976 Flood. “We had no warning—but I knew we had to get to higher ground,” he said.

“Beverly and the children only about 50 to 60 feet from the house when I started back to get some jeans.”

“As I approached the house, the first surge pf debris—parts of a brick building, cars, rocks—came down a narrow gorge.”

“Somehow—with the strength you have in emergencies– I hoisted myself onto the roof of our house—barely escaping the deluge.”

It was this surge that took his young family.

Bob spent the night on the roof of the house, as mud, parts of pick-up trucks and propane tanks roared down the gorge. “Boulders bounced like giant bowling balls as they came down.”

“The propane tanks made an eerie noise, whistling and bubbling as they submerged and emerged in the water,” he recalls.

In one of my recent phone conversations with Bob, we talked about day-to-day things. Bob told me that he and his wife Michele were remodeling their kitchen.

What is more renewing than a new kitchen—with all the life giving meals, love and laughter it will hold?

Yes, in spite of the losses he endured, Bob went on to build a love-filled life. It’s what we do with our pain that is transforming.

One way we can all honor those lost in the 1976 flood and those who survived is by attending the annual Big Thompson Flood Memorial Service held every year on July 31st.

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GETTING READY FOR WORK

If my Dad were still alive, today would be birthday.

While I no longer imagine that I can pick up the phone and call him, I still see him clearly in my mind’s eye. But it is the face of his waning years that I see.

And I can hear his voice. But it is his weakened voice that I hear.

I want to remember the face and voice of my young father—the father who was only about 30 when I first recall watching his early morning ritual.

I was about three when I began watching Dad get ready for work.

I followed him from room to room during this process. I watched him lather his face with a shaving brush and shear paths in the snowy field on his face.

Next I’d look on in awe as he put on his shirt and tie—as he took a necktie from his closet, folded it in loops and turns until it was just right.

After a leisurely start, Dad generally realized he was running late and might miss the train to work

He and Mom had set the clock 15 minutes fast to see if that would hasten things along, but that didn’t help.

On days when Dad was running later than usual, Mom poured his coffee into a saucer, stood by the door—and Dad sipped a bit of coffee as he ran to catch the train.

When I was able to read the comic strips, I remember Dagwood Bumstead memorializing this coffee in a saucer routine.

A child’s sense of pride came over me. I was proud to have a dad who had something in common with a beloved comic strip character.

As ordinary as these rituals seemed, they gave me a grounding, a sense of security—a good way to start the day.

Watching my Dad prepare for work—the same simple ritual five days a week—gave me a grounding in a world in which I—as a small child—had very little control.

Dad’s ritual was a security blanket I could carry in my head.

What rituals do you remember from your childhood? I’d like to hear from you.

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THE MOTHER’S DAY NECKLACE

I’ve been wearing my Mother’s Day necklace for a couple of months.

My white plastic pendant is more of a device than a dazzling bit of bling bought at Zales.

But if I should trip over my own two feet and fall unconscious, this device will bring help—even without my pushing a button. Diamonds can’t do that!

Yup, I’m wearing the “HELP, I’VE FALLEN AND CAN’T GET UP” MEDICAL ALERT DEVICE.

I’ve spent a good part of my life tripping over sidewalks and walking into walls so it make sense for me to wear the device.

But even surefooted folks can fall.

I became painfully aware of this sad truth when my hubby fell in the garage this past Jan 31st. Bill lost his balance while giving his chainsaw a vigorous yank to get it started. This momentum landed him flat on his back on a cold garage floor.

With one leg totally immobile, he was unable to move. He shouted and called to no avail. From his prone position, he finally grabbed a shovel and began banging.

Happily settled in the house, with all the doors and windows shut to keep out the cold, I was oblivious to Bill’s travail.

At about noon, I peeked into the garage, to see what Bill wanted for lunch. I found him lying on the floor.

“Didn’t you hear me yelling? Call 911,” he said.

Bill had already been on the floor for 30 minutes before I found him.

What if I hadn’t been home?

What if I’d hadn’t found him for another couple of hours?

Would he still be alive—given the cold temperatures and the dehydration that can occur cold weather?

The next few hours featured an ambulance ride, surgery, a hospitalization. Next came 16 days in Northern Colorado Rehab Center.

“I can’t let this happen again,” I said to myself.
While Bill was hospitalized at McKee, I picked up a pamphlet about Banner’s LifeLine medical alert system.

Within days, the system was installed in our home—with one pendant for me and one for Bill.

And I will enjoy a Mother’s Day with peace of mind—for me and Bill.

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