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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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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