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What’s in Store? Lots of Good Food

For many the concept of a diet involves cutting many beloved foods from regular consumption. I have found over the years that deprivation and being overly restrictive with what I eat leads to an “on” or “off” diet mentality that likely increases bingeing during “off”-mode and ultimately isn’t helpful in the long-run. I’ve had several people ask me about “cheat days” and personally that strikes me as thinking of making a bank withdrawal as being a “thief day”, ultimately you are impacted by either such day in the same way. The solution for both is to stay within a budget and if you do go on some sort of spree, making sure you quickly return to your regular habits. So if you buy an expensive pair of shoes on Tuesday don’t say to yourself “I blew the budget this week, so I’ll start again next week.” then proceed to buy three dresses, a winter coat and some jewelry. As consumers, we might like it all but that doesn’t mean we should “have it all” at once.

In my last blog ( https://nerpribyl.wordpress.com/2017/09/12/the-girl-i-lost chronicling my then 116# weight loss ) I promised that I would share what foods I typically have in my refrigerator, freezer and cupboards.

I eat a lot of protein, so you can always find eggs in my refrigerator (I baste, poach and hard boil them). When buying eggs I take the remaining ones at home and hard boil them, as the shells are more easily removed from older eggs than the fresh ones. I also use Better’n Eggs (regular and just egg whites) when making omelets (at least three days a week). I always have bacon and sometimes turkey bacon on hand as well. I buy steak when it is on sale and freeze it, I choose it based on a portion size I will consume in one sitting. Some days I eat it for breakfast, more often for lunch or dinner. I like Buddig lunch meat, chicken and turkey, usually bought in the individual serving size for ease of portion size. Chicken breast is another good protein source to purchase when the price is low and freeze. Starkist Tuna packets pack a lot of protein and though I will still buy canned tuna, I appreciate the convenience and portion-control of the pouches. Among my favorite discoveries over the last year is Boar’s Head London Broil. It’s honestly the best meat I have ever had from a deli.  Locally I get it at Fresh Thyme or Lunds. While I have tried other brands, theirs is the best. The one product that is consistently in my home is Jimmy Dean Turkey Sausage Crumbles, I use it in omelets, on pizza and in stir fry. My husband told me “You can quit buying other sausage for me.” he puts it in breakfast burritos and uses it in other ways as well. It comes fully cooked in a resealable pouch and when it’s on sale I purchase a fair amount as it can be stored in the freezer. As a final note on proteins, jerky is a decent option when traveling or going to a movie, available in a number of varieties at most gas stations which can save you from a desperation stop at a drive-thru when you are suddenly hungry. They also travel well in luggage, which make them a good in-room snack on vacation.

I love sauces and intense flavors! Inglehoffer Sweet Hot Mustard is among my favorite condiments. I am loyal to my A1 Steak Sauce, my husband (like my father) a Heinz 57 devotee. In an odd twist of fate, my husband enjoys many of the new A1 flavors (I believe a chipotle one is his recent favorite) while I remain a purist. I enjoy good quality horseradish (please see Boar’s Head London Broil above). Miracle Whip Light is a staple and I’ll add a tablespoon of it to a tuna pouch or chopped hardboiled egg and stuff it in a pita or toast some Village Hearth Bread (several varieties to choose from, typically I have one on the counter and one in the freezer) for a quick meal or snack. Kikkoman Less Sodium Soy Sauce is an ingredient in one of my favorite go-to meals (I will share a few recipes in a future blog). I also like hot sauces and have tubs of fresh salsa or pico which I like to put on my eggs. Kalamatra olives, jalapeno slices and a variety of pickles take up part of a shelf as well. There is always yellow mustard and restaurant size servings of Smuckers Grape Jelly in my refrigerator. Coffeemate sugar-free vanilla and a carton of heavy whipping cream are stored in the door.

I have always loved cheese and it may be the one food where portion-control had to be most reigned in. Since I eat less of it, that has allowed me to buy even better quality cheese than I had in the past. I use goat cheese in my omelets and have tubs of feta and mozzarella on hand.  Typically we have a small brick of something new we are trying, such as a Smoked Gouda. Then there is also a variety of slices and shredded options. I also have string cheese available as a quick snack. There is still American cheese in both the door and in bags in the freezer. My husband loves it but I no longer opt to eat it. Cream cheese is bought on sale, has a long shelf life and I use it to make an onion dip that is a family favorite.

On my counter-top there is always a pepper grinder loaded with peppercorns, several varieties of non-stick cooking sprays (Pam and store brands ranging from butter to olive oil) a couple of bottles of olive oil and balsamic glaze. There is a butter dish as well. Chinese five-spice is my most utilized new addition to the spice rack.

Flatout (flat bread) is a  product I use for broiled pizzas but they are another item that my husband really enjoys. Tortillas (I like the taco size) are always on the counter and usually English Muffins are in the freezer, as I don’t go through them as quickly as I used to.

For many, weight-loss is all about the veggies and occasional fruit. I often eat salads when in restaurants because there is a lot less waste then when I buy everything I need for them and end up throwing it out the following week. Most of my vegetables are honestly consumed while dining out. So here is the limited list of fruits and vegetables that are usually in my kitchen; bagged shredded cabbage, white onions, scallions, white mushrooms, portabella mushrooms, colored peppers. I will sometimes buy cucumber and during the summer tomatoes, radishes and corn on the cob (entire cob will cook in microwave in 4 minutes, cut off ends with bread knife and remove outer leaves and silk after cooking). Carrots are another vegetable that I like but honestly end up throwing a good portion of them out.  Fresh garlic is a personal favorite! My husband loves frozen broccoli, canned green beans and canned carrots. I have cans and jars of tomato based sauces that I use when making a chilli or as a topping for flat bread pizza’s.

When it comes to fruit the Granny Smith Apple is the one constant for me, my husband is a Honeycrisp loyalist. We both enjoy bananas, just not as many as we anticipate we will enjoy when purchasing them. During the summer strawberries and melons are something else I enjoy. When having breakfast out, I try to have fresh fruit as the substitution in my meal for either the toast or the hash browns. While I enjoy pineapple, multiple berries or melons, I would never be able to consume that great of variety before they spoiled. Diet Ocean Spray cranberry juice varieties may be the only thing besides sugar-free soda that uses the word “diet” in the name that I buy on a regular basis.

Finally there is the sweet tooth and snacking products, plus a few remaining foods that don’t fit other categories. If I won an award for weight loss and had to give an acceptance speech, instead of “Thanking the Academy” I would be giving a shout out to Jolly Time Healthy Pop Butter and Kettle Corn (two separate products that I usually pop and combine) for being a constant along the way. PB2 and PB2 Chocolate was a completely new product to me, if you are not familiar, PB2 is a dehydrated peanut butter powder that you rehydrate with water, it’s much lower in fat than traditional peanut butter and would be totally awesome on a camping trip or simply while traveling. Halo Top ice cream is good quality, with a variety of tasty flavors. Both of my (adult) children liked it too, so it’s something you could serve to guests that won’t taste “off”. Watch for coupons or sales, as this is a more expensive item. My husband takes an Oikos yogurt to work with him everyday, the key lime and cherry are the two most frequently found in our fridge. Blue Diamond Dark Chocolate Oven Roasted Almonds are in my purse or car at all times. They are a great source of protein and stave off hunger quickly. They are also something that can be put out when entertaining that don’t seem like a stingy “diet food”. These gems made the trip to Vegas and are a take along on girls weekends.

Maybe there is something new I shared that you can incorporate into your routine. For those skeptics thinking a list of foods eaten by someone who has lost over one-hundred pounds in a year would simply include 5 varieties of Kale, I hope this was an eye opener.  I am not like many who plan their week or even their day in advance when it comes to food preparation. I could not tolerate the monotony of the same lunch everyday but know that for some a routine is helpful. My final food tip is that even if you are not a gardener, growing something makes it somehow more palatable. I am still using oregano I grew in my window box last year and this summer I grew basil, lemon basil and lemon mint. I encourage everyone to try something new. Feel free to follow my blog or share with others whom might find it useful. Comments and feedback are always welcome!

 

 

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The Girl I Lost

Last month I made a Facebook post consisting of a picture of my best friend and I attending an annual event a year ago (that started when we were 18 at my family cabin)beside it I posted a picture of us this year in the same pose. This year I weighed 110 pounds less than last year. In the black and white picture at the top of the blog is a photo of me after the first time I had ever dieted. I initially lost thirty pounds in thirty days and in this photo I weighed 105 pounds. In the past 11 months I have lost 116 pounds, meaning I have lost more than that entire eighth grade me. Before I fully explain how I have lost the weight, it’s best to start at the beginning and understand how I gained it.

 

Blog Cubs O's 16Blog Cubs O's 17

 

 

I came into this world at 2:32 a.m. on July 11th of 1963. As with most babies born in hospitals, the first thing they did was record my height (20 inches) and weight (7 pounds, 8 ounces). It’s not lost on me, the irony that from that first breath on, what one weighs is the cue for how others react to you. Weight determines whether or not you are deemed healthy, if feeding quantities and frequency need to be addressed. Quite literally, that’s the story of my life.

 

rose-family-1963

1963

I started out falling into a range that was considered “normal” but follow-up appointments at the pediatrician had me not gaining at the desired rate (Americans love their chubby babies) and at some point in my infancy I was given medication that was designed to help me gain weight and retain it. I’d love to read the label on whatever that potion was and know more about the potential side effects, as some days I imagine that on a cellular level I am still reaping the “benefits” of the magic elixir!

My childhood was pretty typical, when starting school I was always among the tallest in my class but otherwise pretty average in build. My mother weighed not much over two pounds when she was born (a twin) and had also been given some sort of growth-related remedy in infancy. She was thin growing up and for her era at five-foot and ten-inches tall with size 11 feet she stood out among her peers in the 1950’s. Her weight-related struggles began after having children and were owed much to her sweet-tooth; Butterfingers, Chuckles and Sara Lee cheesecake being among her favorites.

The 1970’s was a tragic decade for our family; the sudden deaths of my three remaining grandparents, compounded by a fall that resulted in the eventual loss of a beloved great-aunt (my father had grown up the floor below her and her mother in a duplex and she lived in the apartment complex adjacent to the South Minneapolis home I grew up in) and the shocking death of my uncle/Godfather at 44 during open-heart surgery made for a lot of loss for a child. My mother found comfort in alcohol and life in my childhood home grew more chaotic with my father’s first heart attack when I was in fifth grade and following a house fire a few years later.

It was during this era that food became a comfort to me. With a drugstore around the corner and a Tom Thumb Superette across from that I had easy access to candy, chips and the entire array of Hostess and Dolly Madison “baked goods”. For real baked goods I need go no further than my best friend’s house across the street where her mother baked daily; cookies, bars, cakes and caramel rolls that could be supplemented with her store-bought ice cream, pop and candy. My best friend was tiny by comparison to me, to the point where one Halloween when we were trick or treating a woman looked at her and said “aren’t you adorable?” and looked at me and said “aren’t you a little old for this?”. My best friend is four months older than I am.

By the time I began sixth grade I had hit puberty about four years earlier than my peers and had reached my adult height of five foot seven inches. There was one boy in my class who was taller than me. None of this bothered me until I started junior high at a school that spanned grades 7-12. In grade school all the neighborhood kids knew each other and other than a few boys making awkward comments, my early maturity was somewhat ignored. With a bunch of new kids, in a new setting my adult body attracted a lot of unwanted attention and the fact I weighed so much more than the others girls my age bothered me for the first time. As a twelve-year-old I had not taken into account that someone five inches shorter than me weighing 25 pounds less than me really wasn’t that big of deal. With age comes wisdom.

One night at the dinner table I chose not to eat something and suggested that it was because I needed to lose weight. My dad said “why don’t you ask the doctor about it at your next appointment?”. That’s exactly what I did and he pulled out a chart that showed me in the upper edge of the “normal” range and then he said “But, if you’re concerned about it, you could eat your hamburger without a bun.” As a twelve-year-old I somehow internalized that as him being too polite to tell me I was fat but was telling me to start cutting out foods. I cut out breakfast and lunch and began eating half of what I’d normally have eaten for dinner. I joined a spring sport and came home from practice where I jumped rope outside or hooked a contraption to the bathroom door knob and laid in the hallway with my feet and hands in straps that pulled my legs up and down. I was often light-headed, suffered from headaches but thirty days later and thirty pounds lighter I was sure I had solved any weight problem I had. Actually I had started an unhealthy relationship between me and my weight that would take over forty years to resolve.

Dinner for me growing up had consisted of meat, instant mashed potatoes and some mushy vegetable I detested from either a can or more often it was boiled in a bag. As a result I grew up hating vegetables. I did however like salads. Salads at our house were made of iceberg lettuce doused in dressing. My dressing of choice as a kid was Thousand Island and French, I eventually graduated to Blue Cheese and French together.  An unusual part of my childhood in retrospect is that when we stayed at the family cabin during the summer we could drink all of the pop we wanted. The cabin had no running water and we would bring a 5 gallon Igloo water dispenser that was to be rationed for cooking and brushing teeth. So when we were thirsty it was pop we were told to drink. My father would come to the cabin on weekends and either bring groceries with him or go into Cumberland, WI to shop. He would ask that we write a list of what we wanted. My friend and I would stay in either a small A-frame or tent at night and watch TV late into the early morning hours. Typically our list consisted of M&M’s (plain AND peanut because who can decide?), Oreo Double Stuff cookies, Stir & Frost Cake (a cake that came with a disposable pan and a packet of squeeze on frosting) and Sour Cream & Onion potato chips. By the time we hit our teens, we were asking for Tab and other early diet sodas to supplement our diets. We swam, we walked, we rowed in the boat and played basketball, our high calorie intake had little impact on our bodies but the Teen magazines we poured over made us self-conscious anyway.

 

Back to school

15 year-old sophomore &                     11 year-old sixth grader

High School came and went with boys dropping weight for wrestling and girls dropping weight for school dances. The first time I saw a Weight Watchers plan was when a girl was passing a pilfered one of her mothers around. It was like the female equivalent of a guy with a Playboy magazine. Everyone wanted to see it but it felt necessary to be discreet about it. Then there were DexaTrim, weight-loss pills that made girls shaky and crabby and left ones stomach growling from lack of food. Weight loss was a game and most diets were fine to break if a group was walking to Dairy Queen for lunch.

I graduated from high school weighing about what I started seventh grade six years earlier at. Then it was time for college; dining hall food, late night pizza, alcohol consumption, going out to eat after the bars closed and right before bed was a natural recipe for weight gain. My sophomore roommate and I would eat lunch, walk the stairs to our 11th floor dorm room, watch soap operas, smoke cigarettes and drink diet soda before doing the Jane Fonda workout. Then we’d shower up and go to happy hour. By my last year of college I was up about thirty pounds from my freshman weight and with a spring break in Mexico in the works I went back to my tool bag and rapidly lost thirty pounds.

SCSU Grad with Sue

Shortly after graduating and prior to moving out-of-state for my first job I shattered my elbow in a freak accident, in the following year I went through two surgeries and 17 casts, combined with hours and hours of physical therapy. That first job was on a campus in a small town with a DQ, local ice cream parlor and video store, a movie theater that showed movies twice a week and a bowling alley that was open by appointment, a single bar where I learned to drink “Root Beer Barrels”, the new business arrival that year was a Pizza Hut. In the evenings the student union had items like chips and cheese available. Driving a half hour into the next big town to shop and dine was considered a recreational activity.  I didn’t gain a lot of weight but I also wasn’t eating healthy. A year later  I was on a campus in Winona Minnesota, my coworker knew every happy hour in town and that’s where we went every night for dinner; mini pizzas, baked potato bar, bagels and cream cheese, fried egg and cheese sandwiches and of course you had to purchase a beer to get the food. After gaining some weight I did a “computer generated diet” with a coworker that claimed to create a reaction in your body that maximized weight loss. Though I don’t recall the sequence of consumption or many of the details I think the primary foods were cauliflower, hot dogs and vanilla ice cream. We did lose weight in the three days that we could tolerate doing it but the same could be said for a combination of any three foods in limited quantity.  I was learning there was no quick fix, I was twenty-four and had been manipulating my weight for over a decade.

I moved back to my folks home for the summer and started running or walking the area lakes with my friends on a regular basis. I was starting a new job in Wisconsin at the end of the summer and I was a bridesmaid in my brother’s wedding that coming fall. I was in such great shape by the wedding that fall that even in a bridesmaid’s dress I was able to snatch the bouquet when it was tossed. Turns out that I had met my husband the evening before at the rehearsal and seven months later we were married.

Blog wedding

Two months after my wedding my father died of complications of the heart disease he’d been battling since I was in fifth grade. My husband moved to the college-town where I was working but had no luck finding a job there. My mother (who had stopped drinking while I was in college) struggled over the death of my father and came to live with us for a period of time. I made a point to come home for lunch daily to break up the monotony of the days for my husband and takeout and delivery were easily accessible in a college community. By our first anniversary I had gained about forty pounds.

After our first year of marriage we moved back to Minnesota where we both could work. I worked multiple jobs in retail and temped for different businesses, it was during this time that I first attended a Weight Watchers meeting. At that time the program relied heavily on the government food pyramid and the plan basically required that you eat more of what was at the bottom of the pyramid and restricted the choices from the top. It was the early ’90s and there was a ton of no-fat and sugar-free foods lining the grocery store shelves. The concept involved eating a lot of “fake foods” with little nutritional value in lieu of their higher calorie counterparts. You could lose weight doing this but it was not terribly sustainable as a long-term solution. The meetings took place in a dreary basement storefront in the mall one of my jobs was at.  A friend from college came with me sometimes. I remember that my leader loved Hershey’s Kisses and often talked about savoring one alone each night after putting her kids to bed. She also brought in a horrible looking yellow negligee that she related in someway to being about her goal. I found her unrelatable and didn’t feel much connection with the other attendees, the meetings somehow felt like being sent to the principals office. I lost my weight quickly as a means of getting it over and done with. Shortly after I was done I was planning a happy hour for college friends while an out-of-state friend was in town. I was working three jobs, had been focused on losing weight and was feeling tired as I prepared for this social gathering. I took a pregnancy test the morning of the party and found out I was in fact pregnant.

I was sick my first trimester of pregnancy but from my reading knew the importance of folic acid. I discovered that Cap ‘n Crunch and Pop Tarts both contained folic acid and I made a point to eat them regularly throughout my pregnancy. I gained a lot of weight during my pregnancy! I began a nanny job when my daughter was three weeks old and accepted a live-in position with an apartment complex for college students when she was nine months old. The following year I got pregnant again and gave birth to my son. I weighed exactly the same on my delivery day with both babies. When my son was ten days old we got a babysitter for two hours so we could stop by a surprise 30th birthday party for my brother in-law. On our way back we stopped by a bar where my husband knew his coworkers would be and we bought some pull tabs. I won a few hundred dollars and decided I would put it toward Weight Watchers. I used a nursing plan and I successfully lost all that I had wanted within six months.

I took care of the kids by day, worked my job at night, invested time volunteering and was the primary driver for my mother to get to medical appointments and do errands such as birthday shopping and Christmas shopping. Our mother/daughter outings typically included a meal and the meal always included dessert. My weight fluctuated but I was a happily married wife and mother and it simply was not a priority.

After a couple of years we bought our first house. Our neighborhood was very social with every weekend being a party. My weight continued to creep up and I eventually returned to Weight Watchers. When my kids were in first and third grade we moved to our current home. I had an ankle situation that was diagnosed as requiring surgery, the procedure meant that I would be laid-up for six weeks. Being sedentary, I lost muscle tone and gained weight, I weighed more than I ever had when I was not pregnant. As I approached 40 I decided I needed to take the weight off. Again. The program had changed and was an early version of the “Point” system, I liked it better than the previous plans and stuck with it, losing 76 pounds and achieving “lifetime” status.

As happens with most people, life continued to throw curve balls. My brother in-law was battling cancer and planned a cruise he wanted the entire family to go on that Fall after his treatment was complete. While everyone suggested trip insurance I told my husband that I thought it would be unfair to our kids to tell them they were going to see a rainforest and then take that away. The school year began before Labor Day that year and my daughter began middle school. I did not work on Fridays, so that Friday I took my mother to the mall to get outfits for her 50th class reunion the following weekend. She bought the first dress she had purchased in the fifteen years since my father had died. She selected another outfit for the all-classmate social to take place the evening before the reunion. She had arthritis which combined with her weight made getting around the mall a slow process and we stopped for lunch before I took her home. As I dropped her off after lunch I told her that I would pick up several pairs of shoes for her that next week and bring them to her to select from. She turned and said “I like something with a little patent leather”. At the time I had no idea that those would be the last words she said to me. My mother died on Labor Day, she was 68. Following the funeral we learned that my brother in-laws prognosis would not allow for him to take the planned cruise. That cruise kicked off a twelve year period of unrestrained consumption. That spring, the week he turned 40 my brother in-law succumbed to his cancer, leaving a wife and three kids. We spent that final week (our kids spring break) in hotels near the Mayo Clinic. When we returned home it was obvious that our 5-year-old lab had struggled with our absence. Despite our neighbors always caring for our dogs while we were away it seemed he had lost weight. After a few trips to the vet we realized that our beloved dog had brain cancer and had to be put down. It was oddly the harshest blow of all, perhaps because it felt personal. It brought back a lot of memories of what felt like the never-ending cycle of death from my own childhood and was a trauma I could not protect my kids from. Weight seemed like a trivial and shallow issue, which allowed me to slip back into poor eating habits I previously had and likely even to develop new ones.

Fast-forward to where I am today. This is the part that made you want to read this blog in the first place. My kids graduated from high school, went on to college, somewhere in the midst of that the job that I had loved and was devoted to for 20 years was eliminated without warning and a year ago last weekend my son was preparing to begin his senior year of college. As student body president he gave the convocation speech to the incoming freshmen and their parents and we were provided with front row VIP seats next to the University President’s wife. While there are great pictures of my son giving his speech that day, there are no pictures of the family. On the drive home I thought about wanting to get a picture with him during his commencement in the spring. Then I thought about what I wanted that picture to look like. I began Weight Watchers for the last time on September 30th, 2016 and by his commencement I had lost 80 pounds.

Blog with Eddie at Graduation

The current points system has been modified from the original in a way that encourages you to eat more protein and fiber. I have to say that the biggest struggle I have had is going from eating once or twice a day to making sure I eat something when I get up in the morning and three to five more times during the day. Quantity-wise I consume a lot more food today than I ate a year ago. My metabolism is back to working the way it was designed too after years of abuse.

I am often asked “What can you eat?” and my response is honestly “Anything you like.” and that is why this is the last time I needed to join, I figured it out. In the past it seemed I was hardwired to set a weight or an event as the goal I wanted to get to and then because the plan was too rigid or restrictive I needed to step away from it. I refuse to eat anything I do not like. “I’m too old for that.” I often find myself saying. I have eliminated most fat-free and sugar-free items, even changing my sugar-free coffee creamer to actual cream. I still drink diet soda but know many who opt not to. I drink a lot more water than I used to. Despite being raised on margarine after my father’s heart attack, our home only has butter in it. I do use Pam cooking spray but also use olive oil and other unsaturated oils when cooking.

I had looked at gastric bypass a number of years ago after my doctor suggested it but my insurance had recently stopped coverage of it. My current WW leader had done that and upon gaining a large portion of her weight back returned to WW. While I know people who have had great success with it, I also know of others who have lost and then gained back all or more of what they lost. I had tried a plan with bars and powdered mixes which I found unpalatable and not compatible with attending functions and socializing. That’s why a meal delivery system would not work well for me either. I simply needed to learn how to eat what I wanted, wherever I was. During my initial stages of unemployment I was miserable staying home all day conducting a job search, as an extrovert it was draining not having the interaction with people. My introvert husband understood this and we would often go for half prices appetizers as dinner, simply to get me out of the house. As I am currently over four and a half years of being un(der)employed (working multiple seasonal positions to generate income while looking for the next position I love) I really enjoy the consistency of attending a weekly meeting. After my initial sign-up and first weigh-in I consciously selected a 6:30 a.m. Saturday meeting to prevent any excuses for not going. To date, I’ve only missed three meetings, while either traveling, being parked-in by overnight guests or prepping on the eve of a holiday. I have had four different leaders and each one has brought something new to the table. I find encouragement from the “regulars” who attend and each new member who chooses to share their story. My meeting consists of several lifetime members who stay on track via their weekly accountability and a desire to stay the course. When my brother connected with a high school classmate who complained that her year of daily treadmill walking had not achieved the results she was aiming for he connected her with me and she is now down twenty pounds. College friends have reached out asking what I have done, as have high school classmates.

My blood pressure is normal, my cholesterol is down, my joints no longer ache, my bad ankle seldom swells, my skin is clearer, I haven’t had a Rolaid in ten months and I sleep great. I gave up my gym membership (that was going unused) to cover the nominal cost.

People often frame weight-loss as something to do down the road at a time that will be easier. Over the last year I have hosted Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas breakfast, our 24th-annual New Year’s Eve party, a graduation reception and family reunion. I have gone to Las Vegas with a girlfriend, attended an All-Class reunion, gone to wedding receptions, funeral luncheons and open houses and consumed numerous beers and cocktails during three cabin getaways and continued to lose weight.

I dine out regularly and have eaten Mexican, Italian, Greek and seafood. I have lost 116 pounds eating at Subway, McDonalds, LeeAnn Chin’s, Perkins, Chili’s, Applebee’s, Red Lobster, Cracker Barrel, Baker’s Square and numerous other places. I am going to eat every day for the rest of my life, so it only made sense to me to continue to eat presently in places I desired to eat in the future. I have done this eating a Chorizo bowl weekly from Chipotle.

Those who have not seen me in a long time congratulate me and sympathetically comment “I know what hard work that is.” but honestly it hasn’t been. Sure it doesn’t come off in a day but it didn’t go on in a day either.

For anyone looking to get started, I have posted a link for a current promotion in bold below. I will help anyone who wants to get started (whether I know you already or not). Feel free to follow my blog and share the link with others you think might find a spark of inspiration in my story. While writing this I have come up with 20 other topics to cover in future blogs. In my next one I intend to share what is consistently in my refrigerator, freezer, cupboards and what specific products I have found over the last year that have helped make this process so easy.

If you sign up by 10/31/17, we’ll both get a $20 credit to spend in the Weight Watchers online shop. Use my unique referral link http://zenreferrals.com/5171093 to sign up for a subscription plan. Check out the offer terms for more details!

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You Don’t Have to Know Your History to Celebrate July Fourth -but it’s interesting

Flag Fireworks

Sparklers are typically the “gateway drug” to children’s fascination with fireworks. Diamond Sparklers in Ohio is the sole manufacturer of sparklers remaining in the United States. Every year we celebrate our nation’s birthday with both public and private fireworks celebrations that feature displays that primarily are manufactured in China.

When I was in elementary school I recall that often our lessen plans followed the calendar, which meant that we annually learned about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln around their birthdays, near Valentine’s day. The classroom bulletin boards would reflect this trifecta with profiles of the presidents stapled to white doilies onto the corrugated paper and surrounded by hearts. To an inattentive student like me this left me with the idea that George Washington (despite chopping down the cherry tree) maybe had a big heart and maybe Abe Lincoln (though honest) appearing pretty dour was a great lover?

My point being, we were not in school over July 4th and therefore Independence Day was never part of the school curriculum. Sure, I grew up knowing it was our nation’s birthday and fondly recall the Bicentennial in 1976. The Bicentennial coincided with a presidential election and the summer Olympiad. Everything from pancake mix to ketchup bottles were emblazoned with some sort of Red White and Blue label or commemorative design. Commercialism being as patriotic as a John Philip Sousa march!

The thing about being a kid is that time is a difficult concept. By the time I got out of elementary school, if you had asked me for a history of the United States, I may have told you that the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth Rock, George Washington got off and after planting a plantation at Mount Vernon invited some Indians (yep, didn’t start using the term Native American until I was in high school) over for some corn on the cob and turkey with mashed potatoes after the harvest. Everyone loved him, so he became our first president. This is likely no reflection on my teachers, more of my own mind that tended to wander and as noted earlier a lack of concept of time.

If any others have this warped sense of history, let me share with you that the Mayflower set sail in September of 1620, it was the autumn of 1621 that is denoted as the origin of Thanksgiving to celebrate the first  harvest. George Washington’s great grandfather was not born until ten years later and it was 1656 before he crossed the ocean and settled in Colonial Virginia, he had a son Lawrence, who had a son Augustine who sired George. This makes George third generation living in what would be known as the United States of America, on my mother’s side I myself am just second generation, my grandfather having arrived from Ireland ninety years ago this year. My daughter is currently deciphering a small leather bound calendar he carried as a journal that year. He has noted dancing as a popular activity and when he wrote letters to a particular young lady (not my grandmother) a family he dined with regularly and then hopeful thoughts that another young lady would be at dancing (my eventual grandmother). Not much of his crossing is documented and one gap is explained with his good fortune at having found his diary along the roadside. Police raids and other notations remind us that teenagers around the world aren’t always doing what they are supposed to be up to. So my own maternal side of the family arrived over 300 years after the Mayflower and more than 250 years after Washington’s descendants. To a child, that seems like around perhaps dinosaurs and Moses era which were close, right?

So July Fourth, a time for social gatherings, boating, picnics, parades and mattress sales commemorates what? Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence in June of 1776. July 2nd of that year Congress voted to declare our independence. It was not signed until August 2nd of that year. It was delivered to Great Britain in November of 1776. You may have noticed that none of these events occurred on the fourth day of the seventh month. Well politicians then, much like now, did not always agree on everything. As the result, it took a couple of days for the Continental Congress to approve the final wording. July 4th commemorates the day that the changes and edits were finally approved.

You may be imagining that this led immediately to annual celebrations, backyard badminton and pool parties. It wasn’t until 1870 that July 4th was commemorated as a National Holiday. You also might be thinking that George Washington was president when all of this occurred. George Washington was not elected president until February 4th of 1789. He was twice unanimously elected by the electoral college to serve four years. If you wonder what his wife Martha wore to the inauguration that took place in New York, you might be surprised to know she did not attend but stayed home to manage Mount Vernon. George was reluctant to accept this newly created position because of how the young nation was divided among partisan lines. A lot has changed, yet much remains the same.

Whether you fly the flag, light fireworks or simply take the day to relax, it’s important to remember that since its inception this country has been a nation of people that come from different places, different belief systems and differing opinions. Yet we all can contribute and it’s a relatively safe place to share ones opinion, even when you don’t agree with your neighbor or perhaps the actions of your government. When hosting an immigrant family for Thanksgiving a number of years ago, the father commented how much he enjoyed our table conversation, as even in a private home gathering with family in his homeland, one could not speak freely for fear of government retribution. He makes his home here now with his wife and son and when his parents come to visit their government holds all of their assets as an assurance they will return. A former employee who went through the naturalization process after graduating from college and whose parents remain as college professors in his native land told me “Despite other countries criticism of the United States, most parents around the world wish that their children could live here.”.

I heard a young man the other day comment “I’m an American but I’m not proud of it.” and I thought about all of the people who had made sacrifices, simply so he could say that. I thought about what might result if he were to publicly utter such a thought in another country. While no place on earth will ever be perfect, the vision of those who took a risk and came and the others who shouldered the work of trying to lay out a plan for how to incorporate and tolerate the desires of such a wide array of opinions is something worth celebrating.

So raise a Coke or grab a beer and celebrate our nations birthday! Make a new tradition with family and friends. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the United States remains in the growing pains of a young country. A tradition for many is a pound cake and Cool Whip  cake decorated with blueberries and strawberries to look like an American Flag. To the young, that’s ALWAYS been a part of July 4th. You can wait until July 5th to let them know that Cool Whip was not invented until 1966. Why spoil a good party?

Cousins July 4th

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My Dad Was the Best. Hope Yours Was Too!

Father’s Day is fast approaching, an annual celebration of the paternal and the sad anniversary of my own father passing. While memories of him cross my mind several times a day, at this time of year I find myself digging in my mind for some forgotten memory, thinking perhaps I have some tucked away like a forgotten sweater in a cedar chest, an old favorite that simply has not seen the light of day for many years.

I have used my father as the topic of previous blogs (https://nerpribyl.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/dad-gone-a-quarter-century & https://nerpribyl.wordpress.com/2016/11/04/my-roots-lead-back-to-november-fifth) and his humor and life lessens dot the landscape of other musings in my posts as well. While my mind is percolating on him as a subject, I will share some more.

My dad (just like my best friend’s father, another amazing man) was an electrician by trade, as was my grandfather. Though he worked on many job sites through the years, some of the more memorable ones included the construction of the Thunderbird Hotel, The IDS Tower, The Registry Hotel and the story I’m about to embark on  from his work on the MSP Airport.

My dad started work early each morning, usually packing a lunch and carrying a thermos of coffee. As a union man he also had “coffee breaks” during the day and while working on the airport runways a silver truck would stop out to his work site that offered hot coffee, sandwiches and pastries for sale. I imagine his first break took place about 8 am. An affable man, my father built a rapport with the truck driver during his daily rounds. When dad became aware that his work at the airport was winding down and his company was preparing to assign him to a new job he hatched a plan.

When the silver truck headed out to my dad’s location, on what was scheduled to be his last day, there sat my dad at a card table (with two chairs) covered with a white table cloth, an electric frying pan had been used to prepare bacon and eggs, he pushed the button down on the toaster and invited the driver to join him for breakfast, right there on the airport runway. Juice was poured and there the two sat and enjoyed a final conversation, the table complete with a milk-glass vase with two red plastic roses (that had come free with a bottle of dish soap). It was a funny and kind gesture of his appreciation. “Memorable”, that is a word that aptly describes my father. I imagine the driver never forgot that special breakfast or the man who prepared it for him.

My dad loved animals and they loved him. Unfortunately, his allergies could make his being around them a less than pleasant experience for him. While growing up we had rabbits, I had a parakeet, we had tropical fish, my brother acquired the rat from his elementary classroom “Milk vs. Soda” nutrition lessen.  We also had the cutest dalmatian puppy who in reality was the worst dog I have ever known. At some point in the late ’70s (sometime after a divorce) my aunt was moving with her youngest from her house to an apartment, a pet-free destination. For many years the family had had a beautiful long haired calico cat that they all loved, named Mama. Despite his allergies (and the fact he was not that fond of cats) my dad was very fond of his high-school classmate and the mother of his nieces and nephews. That is how Mama came to live out her final years with my parents. Meanwhile my uncle moved on, got a new wife, got a new puppy and eventually got another divorce. The Whippet/Collie mix was not going to work with either of their new housing arrangements, so Tara came to live with my folks (and Mama) where she slept on the floor next to my father’s side of the bed. My father loved that dog but when my uncle retired, my dad insisted that Tara move with him to the cabin. My dad was accommodating, compassionate and fair. In both instances it was not that he “wanted” a new responsibility at his house but that he didn’t want to see someone he cared about suffer any more than they already were due to their present circumstances. He gracefully made these situations appear to be nothing and just used his ever-present handkerchief with greater frequency. I bet you’d already forgotten about his allergies, that’s exactly how he wanted it.

My dad wasn’t into gender stereotypes, he grocery shopped, did the laundry, gave his kids baths, read bedtime stories and even took on the role of “room mother” one year when I was in junior high. In many cases, if something needed to be done, he would just do it. He could work a full day, come home and make dinner and still remain engaged in what you were learning in school. When he went to bed we assumed he snored so loudly simply because he was tired, not because Sleep Apnea was just another medical malady stealing time from him. In other cases, if something needed to be done, it simply waited. Taxes were something he loathed doing and I think at some point he delayed filing for five years. Red Owl Grocery sacks filled with receipts and medical bills all waiting to be collated and submitted. He wasn’t avoiding paying taxes, he was delinquent in filing for money owed to him by the IRS. In retrospect I think he knew his time was precious and he would rather spend it occupied with people than with paper.

My dad was strict but you knew what was expected. I vividly remember arriving home five minutes late one summer evening and after listening to what my excuse was he simply said “I didn’t tell you that you couldn’t be early.” So I credit him with the fact that I am slightly early or prompt at nearly every appointment I have, as a general courtesy.

Growing up, my brothers and I didn’t get an allowance but Dad gave us our lunch money weekly and we were allowed to pack our own lunches and use the allotted money however we chose. That taught responsibility, decision making and flexibility. He also allowed me to pack a lunch for my brother and have him pay me a portion of his own lunch money.

My father had more interests than could be explored in a lifetime, he loved concepts, new ideas and possibilities. He was fascinated with black holes and could wrap his mind around things I never could. While his mind was sharp he was not impressed with phonies and would make time to chat with a loner or buy a guy a beer. I remember that he joked loudly to my mother as they were leaving one of her class reunions (perhaps her 20th) “Hurry Dorothy, we have to get the rental car back.” to mock some of the blowhards who had spent the evening trying to one-up each other.  He both literally and figuratively just didn’t have time for that.

Though this blog comes to an end and he is no longer among us, his story is far from over. I like to think that I have fostered in my own children some of his curiosity, his ability to learn something from everyone, his sense of fairness coupled with compassion and an ample dose of his humor. His greatest teachings were never in the form of lectures, they were in his actions, small gestures, mundane tasks that were eventually completed, behind the scenes maneuvers that brightened someones day, lightened someones load or simply made somebody laugh. His legacy lives on in that laughter.

 

 

 

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Lakers & Indians: A Gathering

Southwest High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota is celebrating the commencement of a 76th graduating class this month. As a finale to a 75th year of celebrations there will be an All-Class Reunion taking place on June 17th with tours of the newly renovated school from 1:00 – 4:00 and a party with cake and refreshments taking place at the William’s Pub Peanut Bar in Uptown to follow from 4:00 to 7:00. Spread the word and gather your friends and classmates. The Southwest Foundation is sponsoring the event and as a nonprofit fundraising organization has a limited budget for such festivities and relies upon the good work of our parents and alumni to share information.

A successful kick-off was hosted last fall, marked with an Open House for the community and alumni and featured the induction of the first seven members into the Southwest Distinguished Alumni. If you are unable to attend the events this June, mark your calendar for September 8th, when our second induction of five Distinguished Alumni will take place in a Saturday afternoon ceremony (the day after Friday night’s Homecoming game). Numerous other events; dedication of the renovated gymnasium and recognition of basketball alumni, a wrestling reunion, performance of anniversary compositions (commissioned by the SW Foundation, created by alumni composers) at the Lake Harriet band shell and a Theater Alumni gathering, as well as the publication of the first Alumni Directory in 20 years (copies available in the SW library courtesy of the Foundation for use in organizing reunions). We are a small but dedicated group of parents, teachers and alumni who receive excellent support from the school’s administration, including current principal Dr. Smith.

High School is/was such an interesting part of one’s development, a place to create lifelong friends, a location to build a foundation for the future, a locale to challenge both oneself and even authority when warranted. It was a place of frustration, fun and fitting in. We made friends, made mistakes and many made bad hair choices.

When I started at Southwest, it was a dual high school and junior high that I attended from 7th  through 12th grades. It was a neighborhood school where one only saw school buses when there was a field trip. By the time I graduated it was the first Minneapolis high school to house an English as a Second Language program (ESL) and a good portion of my classmates are Hmong, Laotian and Iranian. Unfortunately, as a new program the integration of these populations was poorly executed, with little explanation of who these new students were, where they had come from or the challenges they had faced that brought them to Minneapolis in the first place. The ESL students participated in  classes that were mostly segregated and bathrooms, the lunchroom and Media Center were our primary shared spaces. Southwest now provides education to students from literally every corner of the earth, in addition to providing Special Education opportunities to a student population with an array of educational challenges.

Once a Hockey powerhouse led by coach Dave Peterson (who went on to coach Team USA) the Minneapolis Public Schools currently field just one boys hockey team from the entire district. Soccer became a club sport during my time at Southwest and now produces quality competitive Varsity and JV teams in that area. Nordic ski is another athletic program that has seen success and our athletes access to the “chain of lakes” coupled with dedicated coaching staffs has helped produce many successful Cross Country teams over the school’s history.

The Rouser remains the school song, though it seems that sometime after my departure the band continued to play it but the students were no longer taught the lyrics. We dusted it off and included the words on the Distinguished Alumni program and sang it with accompaniment of current band members last fall. Making the event more memorable, was a ’82 Cheerleader who led the audience, resplendent with her original-issue pom-poms! Title IX has provided more athletic opportunities to girls than simply cheering on their male classmates and thus the once coveted roles are limited and perhaps viewed as old-fashioned.

While the majority of the alumni attended the school when the mascot was the Indians (a carefully chosen symbol selected by the original student body to acknowledge those who had settled the shores of the neighboring lakes) the Lakers have been the mascot since the mid-eighties when social conscience deemed that the former mascot was offensive. Like the world, Southwest has evolved and things have changed. The common denominators seem to be the Convention Grill, the Edina theater and the beloved lakes which I hope will always foster good memories and budding youth romance.

Hopefully I have triggered some memories for you of your time at Southwest, the friends you made and even a realization of how much things have changed. I encourage you to reach out to your siblings, friends and others you know who attended Southwest and make them aware of this opportunity to share some memories and make some new ones!

“When from these halls we leave the, loyal we will be. True to the purple and white.” Hope to see you a week from Saturday!

RSVP to: ellen@southwestfoundation.org

SW Reunion

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Purple Indians, Red Cow, Golden Friends

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Despite truly meaning it, when we say “we should get together” somehow life gets in the way and the weeks turn into years and the years turn to decades and it just doesn’t happen naturally to fall into place. There has to be some effort. Social media has been both a blessing and a curse to relationships. Some feel there isn’t really a need to gather physically because they “know” what is going on with someone based on occasional posts and photographs. Others feeling that perhaps when their own life somehow measures up to the vacations, grandchildren and celebrations of others, then the time will be right and they will feel worthy. Perhaps when they drop some weight, have a better hairstyle or update their wardrobe, that will be a good time to get together. If we wait until our lives are perfect, it simply will never occur.

Facebook has allowed my generation to locate people from our past in addition to seeing what our own kids, family members and social circle did over the weekend or are having for dinner tonight. One can get lost looking at friend lists of other friends and trying to decipher if that thin red-head was once the chubby brunet cheerleader who was hilarious in your English class; same first name, married, living on the west coast. Could be her, maybe not. It’s like winning the lottery when you locate someone from your past and reconnect, catch up and find yourselves much the same. There are the other scenarios when Facebook suggests that you “might know” someone and “Yes, you do” and you have been avoiding them at all costs because they are toxic and don’t need to know you “might” meet at Bunny’s for Wing Night next week.

 

Facebook has replaced Hallmark as the way to send a birthday greeting and makes a better source than a local paper for birth announcements, engagements and marriages, as well as obituaries. The arc of life, all happening in real-time and available via phone or computer. Though one is never truly alone anymore, the constant connectivity seemingly causes people to interact less with those around them. Lack of eye contact when checking out with a cashier, tapping on a desired menu item while simultaneously talking on the phone with someone not present or being part of an entire table updating their statuses but not really “experiencing” the company of those present or engaging in the event they are attending.

Yesterday I experienced what is the best of what social media can do, gather people for real social interaction. The only thing that could have made the gathering more like the childhoods we’d all shared would have been convening in the rocket at Linden Hills Park or all arriving by bike and leaving them pedals down on their sides on a grassy spot outside the restaurant (Red Cow) we chose to meet at. My use of technology was having this single picture taken before we ordered, others used their phones as photo albums and one table-mate ignored an incoming call but showed her phone because she was filling someone in on her brother and it happened to be him calling. The two-year age gap meant a couple of the older girls couldn’t place the youngest one, so she pulled up a picture from thirty years ago and got “Oh, I know that girl.” to which she responded “That’s me.” Beyond that, everyone present was truly present!

An initial Facebook invitation to neighborhood girls swelled into an unmanageable number of invitees and then settled back into a table-sized gathering that allowed for multiple simultaneous conversations but conveniently allowed for shared laughter as well. To an outsider (or our waitress for that matter) I imagine we looked like a group of ladies who meet monthly for lunch. The reality being that with six of the eight having been 1980 graduates from nearby Minneapolis Southwest (Purple Indians) we had not all been under the same roof since the Carter administration. We used to bike over to each others house and ring the doorbell to see if someone could play or call their house and hope the line wasn’t busy when we wanted to extend an invitation. With a Facebook invite our friend who has lived in Hawaii for three decades received the same information in real time.

As I pulled up, I saw Laurie arriving. I parked down the street and walked up, giving her time to put our name in for a table. The weather being nice we stood outside as the remaining five arrived and a sixth slid in once we were seated. Laurie and I had played on the badminton team together and she had played volleyball in high school as well as in college. Badminton was a spring sport and we often found ourselves walking home together in weather thirty degrees warmer than the temps of our morning walk. Wet sidewalks and muddy ally-ways, our route included a couple of blocks that had formerly been the path of the streetcar line, a mode of transportation abandoned before our births and replaced with MTC buses that shuttled us to Southdale, our suburban mall or downtown which was a grittier urban destination for us to find everything from magazines at Shinders to department stores, restaurants and where all sorts of options for teenage girls to make bad choices were available. Laurie stood in her overalls and dreadlocks and lamented the fact that she had not seen me since she’d graduated and then she simply said it “We’re old!” and we laughed about it, me realizing only later that I had only been sixteen the last time we had seen each other. When a neighbor girl arrived that I had more recently encountered at funerals over the last several years she hugged me, commented that I’d lost weight and looked great and I glanced over at Laurie and laughed again, “Lost weight, gained weight. All depends when you saw me last.” and the two of them laughed harder having seen each other a few years earlier and a few pounds lighter. Same struggles, different decade.

The majority of us had attended Lake Harriet Elementary school, most starting kindergarten in 1967, I started in 1968 and Doreen, the youngest attendee being a 1969 kindergartner who looked exactly like the little girl Buffy from the show Family Affair (with ringlet pigtails) when she started school. Though the school was physically gone by the time we entered high school, one of our lunch friends currently resides in the home she was raised in, located across the street from the massive brick structure my own grandmother had attended. Her renovated childhood home located diagonally from my block, the other two corners being where responsible sixth-graders stood as school safety patrols and lowered their flags to grant me safe passage on a daily basis.

There we were; infants of the sixties, school kids of the seventies and all having graduated on the cusp of the eighties. High school graduates before most of us had heard the word “aerobic” and at a time when Ayds was a dietary candy to be taken with a hot beverage, a half hour before meals and AIDS was not yet coined as the name for a sexually transmitted plague. We were a new generation of women with Title IX rights. In addition to Typing (later useful for keyboarding), Clothing (sewing) and Foods (cooking) classes we could take Metals, Woods and Electricity classes, once considered the trades classes for boys. Thirty-five years later all of these basic skills classes that provided one with the capacity to sew on a button and press a shirt before a job interview or prepare a nutritional meal on a budget, even classes that taught one how to simply follow directions to complete a basic task in an office or factory setting are gone. A multi-million-dollar renovation and addition to our 75 year-old Alma mater has added dance studios, put a greater emphasis on the arts and offers computer coding, now considered the skill that one might learn while a high school student that could lead to employment beyond graduation. Most of us did not touch a computer before we graduated, ditto for the majority of our teachers.

Teachers; we reminisced about the ones we loved, the ones we feared and the ones that reminded us that we were in fact skipping class when they encountered us in the hallway. There were the ones whose children were our classmates, the ones who coached us, the ones that encouraged us, the ones who prepared us for college, believed in us and were well suited to their careers. There were the ones who seemed miserable, hated their jobs, likely hated us and took pleasure in tormenting our classmates who really didn’t want to be there in the first place. My childhood neighbor shared an amusing anecdote about being a server at a country club and being invited to a coworkers home for drinks after work, only to realize that her coworkers “boyfriend” was actually a despised teacher.

We were a  mixed-bag of women, many of us the youngest (read “least supervised”) of our families. Some of us were involved in student activities, while others cut class frequently, hung out with older kids, pushed the envelope and took part in risky behavior. None of it mattered, then or now to us, we were kids with friendships forged in youth that treated each other kindly. One girl mentioned that she quit ordering yearbooks because of the unkind remarks other classmates wrote in them. When another asked for an example she tossed out “Titless Wonder” as one of the more repeatable torments, when asked who said that I realized he was the same guy that thought it appropriate to opine on my breast size (too big apparently) like some perverse male Goldilocks looking for “just right”. Neither of us realizing his Napoleon complex, his insecurity that he lost four inches whenever  he took off his Hockey Skates. I’m sad to say that he likely continues to take out his “shortcomings” as a Minneapolis Police Officer.

We discussed relationships; long marriages, divorces, remarriages, children, grandchildren, even Godchildren. We discussed death; former classmates, siblings, parents and God forbid those who had endured the loss of children. We inquired about our friends siblings and learned that not only relationships of choice sometimes end but even those of blood are sometimes severed when maintaining the bond is no longer healthy and amputation of a limb  of the family tree is the best option.  We talked about work, travel, moving, pets, concerts, camping and the ache that comes when children grow up, gain their independence, lead their own exciting lives and leave us with an empty space that we might lack the collagen to have close quickly and naturally and the choices we have about how to manually fill those open spaces. Nothing we said was shocking or judged or remotely evaluated. It simply was. We learned of those battling illness, those who we lost due to lifestyle choices, those who regained their footing after epic challenges, the wild youth who embraced sobriety as adults. We championed the triumphs of our peers and used each other to connect the dots and locate where some of our other lost childhood friends had landed. We confused names, described physical attributes and referenced addresses based on the family names of others who lived nearby. When I mentioned Kennesaw Drug and then said “It became Butler Drug” one of the women nodded “Where I got caught shoplifting.” I laughed recalling that my own dalmatian had entered the store one hot summer day and exited with an 8-pak of Snickers that had been on display in baskets along the lower shelves in the candy aisle. Kids and canines of the neighborhood all had some experience linked to the store. I remember my brother’s friend getting caught for stealing Hot Wheels it’s where shampoos and cosmetics we learned about from Teen magazine could be procured or you could sample perfumes. There was a pharmacy in the back and their delivery car was a Volkswagen beetle with a cartoon image of pharmacist “Herbie” on the side, it was across from the Tom Thumb “superette” where you could purchase milk in returnable jugs or purchase cigarettes with a note from your parents. Hell, it was an era where you pretty much could do anything with a note from your parents. One of the attendees took her little sister to Canada (while in high school) on a Greyhound bus and was reminded to “bring a note from your parents next time.” Hell, we could do nearly anything, including leave the country without a note from our parents.

Long before a TV show made a zip code synonymous with Beverly Hills, we were the women of Minneapolis 55410, we walked the same lake paths that Mary Tyler Moore immortalized during the opening credits of her TV show. We attended Story Hour in the iconic Carnegie-era Linden Hills Library, resplendent with leaded glass windows, built-in  benches and story-book tiled fireplace. We played SWAC sports at Linden Hills or Pershing Park and went to the Tastee Treet for cones afterwards  or the DQ (which we could see from our table) which closed in just the past couple of months, close enough to the high school to grab lunch at during the allotted half an hour, IF you were willing to eat while walking.

For over two hours, there was no lull in conversation, not even when the food came. We were noisy! We spoke loudly, we interrupted, interjected but mostly we laughed. We misheard, asked for clarifications, jumped conversations. We heard about wedding plans, impending grandchildren and retirement ideas. We agreed to not wait so long to get together again.

We were girls of the transistor radio era, we had listened to American Top 40 together while swatting mosquitoes. Later we tanned at Lake Harriet or skated to those same songs at the Roller Gardens in St. Louis Park, a suburb which provided many of my friends with their boyfriends. Sometimes they were older boys whose tastes in alcohol, music and muscle cars made them an appealing option.

We started our school careers as girls who wore dresses and being Minnesotans we wore pants under them to and from school during the coldest months. Our teachers were the edgy women  who marshaled in the revolutionary pantsuit which in the 1970’s did not consist of a jacket and pants at all but rather a dress that came with coordinating pants of the same fabric. Basically, these fashion monstrosities were the grown women rebelling by wearing pants under their dresses, just like the girls did on the the playground. We were exposed to lots of rebellion during our youth, with older siblings returning from Vietnam; boys grew their hair out, marijuana smoke wafted in public venues, music lyrics grew more graphic and the girls of Linden Hills mimicked the culture of our youth. Some of us followed the rules and some of us rebelled against rules, teachers, parents and laws.

We sat and talked about nearly everything but politics. A refreshing change of pace from a year of divisiveness. Some joked about their therapy. One is a full-time seminary student, having raised her kids and having finally found time for herself. While talking about the pro’s and cons of getting another dog, another joked that she hated to be cliche but she (a lesbian) owns two cats. While a divorcee with two adult children talked about her and her partner of three years going out for a birthday celebration another woman inquired “did you know in high school?” and before she could respond I jumped in “I don’t think that was really considered an option then.” to which she agreed. They talked about the other girls we grew up with whom they thought were likely lesbians as well. I marveled a bit that the last time I’d encountered these women the word “partner” had the singular connotation of being the person you were paired with for badminton or tennis.

We are no longer the little girls who went to school together, were antagonized by the same boys, who hung out at the same parks and venues.  We are all grown up and became the women we wanted to become. Not the ones that others had supposed us to be or shamed us into pretending we were. We’re the women who not only don’t wear pants under our dresses, we’re the women who don’t have to wear dresses if we don’t choose to, the women who could choose not to comb our hair if we don’t want to. We grew into the best versions of those sassy, silly, sneaky and snarky little girls and regardless of how different we are, we all have each others backs and appreciate each other for our shared beginnings. We have moved, we have traveled but we have in our DNA the water of Lake Harriet, the appreciation of the Indians who settled on the shores of Lake Calhoun and whom the original students of Southwest selected as their mascot and an abiding thankfulness that our parents opted to raise us in Minneapolis 55410. Hope to see you ladies all again soon (Golden Friends)!

 

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The Letters

Recently I came upon some letters while looking for the right sized box to mail a package to my son at college in. The letters were not written to me, most of them were addressed to my mother. Quite a few of them were “Aerogrammes” received from Ireland in the early ’70s after my grandparents had suddenly passed away within hours of each other. There are also some from South Africa where her cousin has lived for most of his life. I must have tucked it in the basement cabinet after my mother died, with the intention of looking at them “some day”. My mother passed when my eldest was in her first week of middle-school and my senior in college was still an elementary student. “Some day” ended up being last week.

The box not only contained letters to my mother from friends, there was a copy of my father’s autopsy and a thank you letter regarding him being an organ and tissue donor. There was a letter on camp Ihduhapi letterhead postmarked from the summer of ’43 that my father had written to his parents. A letter that pretty much was a template for “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh. Here I am at Camp Granada.”  a song that was not released until twenty years later. There was a very formal letter from my grandfather, clearly in grief over the death of his own father that thanked my mother for her kind words to him in a previous letter. There was also a telegram telling her that her grandmother had passed and instructing her to share the news with family. I discovered a war bond book with carefully placed stamps from my mother’s youth.

The biggest gem in the box was physically the smallest. A tiny leather bound journal, a calendar from 1924, with space for a couple of lines to be recorded each day. A Belfast Ireland address is in the front cover, and also a Minneapolis address. I passed the treasure along to my daughter, who intends to write out the contents of it. It appears to chronicle the year my Grandfather immigrated, with details of dancing and “police raids” and a notation that reads “lost this book for a while – Found on road”. My grandfather lived in over thirty homes in his less than 70-year lifespan. How this small book survived the multiple moves around the US and back and forth across the ocean is somewhat miraculous.

Taking the time to look at these items caused me to do some reflection. How will a great grand-child “know” their deceased family members from this era some day, down the road? So little it actually recorded in a manner that will be preserved. Social media has taken on the role of a journal to document the highlights of life and Tweets, posts, text messages and rare emails are the efficient method of sharing our thoughts with others.

I feel like there is something different and introspective that occurs when a person takes the time to write a letter or compose a journal entry. There is a sense of permanence and thoughtfulness that is used when choosing the words or attempting to convey a sentiment. A person is required to stop, think and actually feel the emotions that a situation, event or person evokes in them. Without that catalyst, are people unintentionally less thoughtful as the result of those muscles not being flexed?

In my garage is a box that contains correspondence from friends and letters written on graph paper by my brother, that closed with stick figure drawings and “fill in the blank” lines for me to solve with a phrase reminiscent of our childhood. There are also letters from my husband chronicling our seven-month courtship. Reading them takes me back to that time where it seemed positively illogical that we get married but also captured the struggle it was for us to be apart. Receiving mail once meant more than bills and advertisements and the occasional greeting card.

I’m thankful for this box of insights from the past and I also appreciate that my children learned to read and write cursive. If the letters I have written and received last another generation or two, I wonder if they will simply look like scraps of paper with scribbles on them or if anyone will be able to decipher the messages we had taken the time to share.

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