childhood, Politics, Uncategorized

When Your Waste Management is Garbage

Bloomington Minnesota, the city that I call home took over managing the coordination of residential trash and recycling collection last year. For some in the community there was passion over who got to take away their empty yogurt containers and used tissues. There were the folks who hated to give any more power to their government and those who were concerned over the wear and tear on our roads caused by multiple providers covering the same routes and the inherent risk that goes with increased traffic. I was in a third group. I’m the fiscal conservative who had used three different services during our fifteen years in the community. I had most recently selected the newest and most affordable option, that allowed me to downsize my trash container after my kids had moved out and was the first service that could accommodate my desire to have recycling picked up on a weekly basis (my previous providers were on a biweekly cycle).

As a household that entertains often, we frequently called upon our guests to take a bag of recycling when they departed or utilized our neighbor’s bin when possible. I also had arranged with my last two providers to drop off waste and recycling bins for our annual block party and pick them up the following morning, free of charge. I enjoyed negotiating the deals and knew that the hauler’s incentive to provide good service resulted from the very real possibility that I could change services to a competitor were their performance not satisfactory. When local politicians insisted that “nothing would change” and offered reassurances that the price would be what I’d been paying and the service available equal as well, it sounded like an empty promise that someone makes when trying to sell you on something inferior.

As with most political offerings, some were pleased with the decision to standardize collection, while others were frustrated and angry that their service provider was being dictated to them. I took more of a “wait and see” approach, hopeful that the plan would work, yet skeptical that the promises made would be promises kept.

As a little kid I remember loving to see the Garbage Man come. At that time Minneapolis permitted residents to contract with haulers of their own choosing. My family had the Wellers. You knew a Weller truck because they could hardly stand to watch a stuffed animal go to a landfill, they were prominently displayed on their trucks, my earliest exposure to animal rescue. Their trucks looked like the cross between a gypsy caravan and a carnival game-of-chance booth. The Wellers were our haulers because at least one of the Weller men was a veteran my father knew through his membership at James Ballantine VFW post 246. A man fit to serve our country was certainly worthy of collecting our refuse.

My childhood was an era where  garbage haulers typically had a driver and two collectors who appeared choreographed like circus performers, swinging onto and off of the stuck, swooping up cans and gracefully dumping their contents into the rear of the truck. There were no automated arms that lifted and dumped the bins under the direction of a driver in a climate-controlled cab. These men worked. It was a physical labor. Cans were not uniform, though most were  galvanized steel, with lids kids often used as a shield during snowball fights or play military maneuvers. Those cans were noisy and easily dented. Ours were plain, my best friend’s family had cans that had been painted with various Peanuts cartoon characters by one of her sisters. Sometime during the 1970’s plastic cans became the vogue. The plastic barrels were much larger, not as heavy, more durable and less noisy, though lacking in charm.

Garbage was different back in the day. My brothers were in elementary school when they took charge of the “burner”. Most homes had a can that was allocated as a burn barrel, perforated to allow air in, often perched on a pair of cinder blocks. The burner was where cereal boxes, paper plates and Dixie cups were disposed of. Eventually the ashes from the burn barrel had to be disposed of and the Wellers would pull off a work glove and let the ashes fall through their fingers, feeling for any embers before dumping it into the truck. Their thick-skinned, nearly leather hands being somewhat immune to the heat, occasionally you’d see a Weller truck or one of their competitors with the back end smoldering. I don’t recall exactly when burn barrels went away or when giving kids matches was deemed a bad idea but perhaps it coincided with when trash cans grew larger.

Recycling for me as a child was carrying an 8-pack of soda bottles back to the store or returning a milk jug to get a deposit back. Newspapers were bundled and tied with twine and saved for youth events called “paper drives” or “paper sales” that schools or organizations sponsored to raise money. I was in college before I heard of people saving aluminum cans and recycling them for money. That whole process changed to a system where we now are required to collect the newspaper, plastic, glass and aluminum. Then we pay a service to take it from us, so they may be compensated for what we bought, collected, stored and wheeled out to the curb. It’s sort of like if we paid Goodwill, ARC or DAV to take our donations of clothing and household goods which they later sell. Difficult to determine which is more environmentally friendly; having trucks roll up and down the streets and transport the goods to facilities that had to be built and process the waste or letting a kid take it out back and incinerate it.

Our new trash collection for the city of Bloomington began on October 3rd. As predicted, the rate that I currently pay is substantially more than the rate I had negotiated with my last provider. I am sad to acknowledge that my service is in fact not the same quality that I previously had. My recycling is full on a weekly basis and in theory they pick it up biweekly, just like the plan I had dropped last go-round. I say “in theory” because in addition to paying more, I also do more work with our new provider. Today I had to call them (yet again) to tell them they had not picked up my recycling yesterday morning and they assured me it would be picked up by the end of the day tomorrow (they did manage to get it this afternoon). I have no real recourse, as they know they have my business whether they do a good job or not. My leverage and freedom to choose has been eliminated, as apparently so has their incentive to take pride in their work.

While I’m all in favor of measures that improve the environment, increase recycling and reduce what goes into landfills, there are times I grow a little nostalgic. I miss workers in a family business who don’t take my business for granted. I long for the simplicity of reuse efforts like attaching a giant purple bear to the grill of a garbage truck. Finally, there is a little piece of me that admired the bravery of men hanging onto the back of a slightly smoldering truck.

Despite the many changes in the industry over the years since my own childhood, there seems to be one thing that remains the same. Kids are fascinated and enamored with the big trucks that take our trash away and the men (and women too) who work on them.


21 Thoughts on My Son at 21

The first time I took him to a “Mom’s Morning Out” (six months old) I returned to be told that he was the only baby that didn’t cry when his mother left. The two women went on to say that they had never seen a baby appear so compassionate toward other babies, as though he wished to comfort them all. That innate quality continued as he took on positions in middle school with the District Wide Advisory Board, in high school when he served for a year on the Bloomington Human Rights Commission and in his work directing numerous blood drives. He has been a confidante to many friends through the years.

As a preschooler, he was loved by his daycare teachers who would comment that he noticed when they had a new hairstyle, outfit or piece of jewelry. He still notices.

Since the days of Monica Lewinsky, Eddie has always had a keen interest in pop-culture. He didn’t just keep up with the Kardashians, he surpassed them and kept up with Nicole Richie, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan too.

Eddie is a natural performer and was theatrical before he ever hit the stage. He started dance classes in elementary school, began theater in middle school and participated in show choir and theater throughout high school. Though his role as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray earned him the Outstanding Lead recognition from the Hennepin Theater District Trust, as his mother I most fondly recall his role as Conrad Birdie.

From his early fascination with Faberge eggs and the lives of the Romanovs,  Eddie has been interested in royal families and lineage.

His love for fashion began very young and by kindergarten he liked to wear suits and ties Monday – Thursday and a golf shirt and khakis on Friday.Eddie Daffodil

He remembers things and is thoughtful in unexpected ways. He gave me Calvin Klein mascara for Mother’s Day one year because he remembered a story I had told him about his grandma spending too much on a tube for me my senior year in high school, when all I needed was a drugstore tube but how much I loved it. Another time he texted me a brief video of the dance team at his college performing at halftime to a song I had choreographed a dance line routine to my sophomore year in high school.

He is creative in many ways and able to make something beautiful with paints and canvas, fabric and a sewing machine, hair and a curling iron.

Eddie doesn’t passively take interest in anything, if he is curious about something he will research the history and traditions of it. He could have a PhD in Show Choir or Greek Life for all the insight and knowledge he has.

He is a natural leader and enjoys the challenge and process of his leadership roles, he has a vision and is never afraid of the work it will take to achieve what he sets out to accomplish.

He is classic in a way that would make him comfortable with time-travel. He would be equally suited to a conversation with Jay Gatsby or attending a cocktail party at the Kennedy White House.

Halloweens are among favorite holiday memories of the Pribyl house. Eddie’s costumes included; Tin Man, Ghost, German Boy, Bat, Batman, Magician, Secret Service Agent, Zombie in a suit, Zombie in pajamas, Napoleon Dynamite, Alfalfa, King Arthur and Kevin Federline. Though when assigned in elementary school to write an essay on his favorite holiday he chose Arbor Day, thinking it would garner more attention.



OZninja batman

He has always made friends wherever he goes and has a large circle of contacts. That being said, he maintains relationships and is fiercely loyal to a tight inner circle of people who “get him”.Eddie Agitator

His desire for justice and fairness  is one of his most admirable traits. It has allowed him to stand up for himself and others, making him a champion of his peers and on occasion posing a challenge to adults who were not accustomed to needing to justify their actions or be held accountable.

Eddie is hilarious, whether he is mimicking someone, spontaneously dancing or making a witty observation. Many of my favorite memories of him growing up are of him making other people laugh.

He enjoys weddings and has since he was little. They incorporate his love of fashion, spectacle, organization, socializing and dance.

He loves to shop, for himself or for others. For clothing, toiletries, housewares or crafting materials. He’ll shop at Target, Macy’s, Goodwill or Burberry.

His organizational skills allow him to balance an impressive calendar filled with work, academics, organizations and social functions.

He loves shoes.

His taste in music is eclectic but country music in a moving vehicle makes him nauseous.

It is hard for me to believe that my sweet, compassionate, funny and creative little boy has grown into the handsome and accomplished young man that he is so quickly. I could not be prouder of him nor could I have imagined that raising him would have brought me so much joy. I am looking forward to all that his future holds. Happy Birthday!Eddie with Abe


Almond Joys (Trick or Treat?) and Other Random Thoughts About Halloween

ninja batman

Candy with coconut in it is not a treat to me. I hate the texture and dislike the taste. “Peter Paul’s Almond Joys got nuts, Peter Paul Mounds don’t.” were the words to their catchy jingle when I was growing up but that didn’t make them taste any better. Those were the candy bars that languished in my bag until it was time to throw them away. Not since the raisin had a less appealing food been dipped in chocolate pretending to be a treat. They are among the most horrifying memories I have of Halloween.

Halloween is the one holiday that holds great memories for me from childhood, college, early married life and right on thru parenthood. While other holidays hold fabulous memories from different eras, there would at times be pressure, disappointment or unrealistic expectations. Even now, with “the kids” grown up, Halloween is the  holiday that best exemplifies the “It’s more fun to give than it is to receive.” mentality that has me slip a glow-stick in my beer bottle and welcome the toddling Disney Princesses and ghoulish tween crowd with distributions from my black cauldron.

I love the crunching of leaves under feet and even enjoy the slightly burnt pumpkin smell when real candles are used in outdoor jack-o-lanterns. I loved the well planned costumes of my youth; a witch, a skeleton, a tree, a cowgirl, an old man. My brother Robert painted eyes on my eyelids for my “trick” when I was a witch and camouflaged my face when I was a tree. My best friend Melanie made an adorable old lady the year I was an old man, though despite her being a few months older than me, her diminutive size had one actual old lady scowl at me with “Aren’t you a little old for this?” and refused to give me any candy. It was my first exposure to ageism, I was probably nine.

I recall that on my eighth grade Halloween I arrived home from the family cabin on a Sunday night after trick or treating time was over. For whatever reason, my brother who was a senior in high school had drove us home and my parents stayed on in Wisconsin until Monday. A neighbor’s friend, a year older than me, was just heading down the street toward home dressed in a Devil costume. She asked if I wanted to go out. I confirmed with my brother it was okay to go out on a rainy Halloween night at 9 pm (a “school night”). Permission granted. That is the wisdom of a 17-year-old, authorizing a 13-year-old to go raise a little hell with a 14-year-old. That was the first of many TP’ing adventures with my friend Heidi, the Devil who is now attending seminary. Next year will be the 40th anniversary of that epic Halloween that launched an amazing friendship. I believe that it was ninth grade that while on our way to a party my lifelong friend Melanie and I took a toy head that was designed for hair styling and makeup applications. We stopped at a house and Melanie pulled her jacket over her head and I pulled the collar up around the neck of the makeup head. When the homeowner arrived at the door with their bowl of candy I said “trick or treat” and then turned and angrily commanded “say something” and smacked the head off into the shrubs next to the front steps. We ran off thinking we had pulled off a spectacular stunt.

I remember going to a radio-station sponsored haunted house in elementary school and not being scared, because I knew that Camp Fire Girls wouldn’t take you someplace you could get hurt. It was my sophomore year in high school that the movie Halloween came out and some of the classmates I went with were so frightened by it that I walked them to their doors that night. Over the years while working with college students I attended Poe readings at the James J. Hill House, took “Haunted bus tours” and attended various haunted houses and barns. I love not so much the “scariness” associated with the holiday but rather the playfulness and childlike fun that it conjures. Perhaps my love for it comes from my brother Bob who let me do his makeup the year he was Alice Cooper. During college he went as Pete Townsend from The Who and even bought a used guitar to smash. This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of “Rambob” a prize-winning likeness of Sly Stalone. It’s a holiday where adults can be kids and kids can be whatever they want!

Freshman year in college I was Winnie the Pooh, no there is no “slutty Pooh Bear” costume, it was a gold hoodie sweatshirt with pony tail holders making the ears out of the hood fabric, gold sweatpants and an inside out red T-shirt with “Pooh” in white paint on it. The next year I went as an electrician (my father’s trade) with a pillow in my shirt for a beer belly, a tool belt, hard hat and work boots. I wore Brut aftershave and used an old mascara wand to make a uni-brow and give myself a 5 o’clock shadow. Again, I had missed the memo on slutty costumes. The next year I attended a party wearing tag board camouflaged with markers and covered in leaves, a few additional leaves clipped in my hair. I wore a “Hello My Name is____” adhesive name tag with “George” penned in. Clearly I was George Bush, it was the Reagan years and my political costume was too cerebral for most. Yes, many of the party goers had no idea who our vice president was.

Halloween '87

After college I remember a friend showing up in the college town where I worked, Halloween again fell on a weekend. Twins were in the World Series and my friend (despite being a Wisconsin native) wore my Twins sweatshirt and loads of my grandmother’s sparkly costume jewelry. She was a “Twins Wife”. I wore a ton of makeup, and a black coat dress and carried a basket. When people asked who or what I was, I squirted them with perfume and told them I worked in fragrances at the mall. Horrible costumes but a fun night! My friend went on to have some fabulous Halloween parties of her own! Early in my marriage, arriving from out of town with no costumes my husband ended up wearing my Martha Washington night-cap (that my eldest brother had brought home from his sophomore DC trip) some furry slippers of my mothers and a woman’s house coat. I can still picture his hairy calves walking beneath the glow of the street lights, almost a masculine version of Carol Burnett with the mop. Another year he went with a child’s Bart Simpson costume (one of those one piece step-in type with a tie at the back) attached over coordinating shirt and shorts and a smashed Bart mask worn cock-eyed, so as not to obstruct his actual vision or prevent him from having a beverage. He carried a plastic pumpkin to collect treats in. I kept explaining to people that he was “big for his age”.  Our first Halloween party with Betsy she was 13 months old and a Red Crayon, Jeff went as a Shriner in a meticulously made miniature car that he wore with suspenders over his white shirt and black bow tie. My grandfather’s fez completed the costume and he “motored” about like the Shriners do in parades in their mini cars. It was perfection and sadly I have no photographs of it, just good memories.

Halloween Wizard of Oz

Letting the kids pick what they wanted to be was fun, sometimes costumes were purchased (Harry Potter, a magician, a ninja) but more often than not either Jeff or I made them. Eddie’s first Halloween, he was the Tin Man, while Betsy was Scarecrow to their cousin’s Cowardly Lion and Dorothy. During our years living near campus, the kids typically trick-or-treated among the college students on the 30th. During our years in St. Paul the streets were full of packs of kids, inspiring Eddie to give away the candy he’d received one year when our supply ran out. At our house in Bloomington, we receive few kids because of our street being only an unlit single block. We had three houses in a row of kids who with additional friends went out together, the tradition being to start at former Twin’s player Kent Hrbek’s house, where in addition to Kent being in costume at his fire pit, distributing full-sized candy bars, autographed baseball cards also found their way into treat bags. Eddie got an extra treat one year when Kent asked him to sing when he was dressed as Alfalfa from Our Gang.

When Eddie got invited to a high school party with Betsy while still in middle school we whipped together a Kevin Federline costume quickly, adhering a huge rhinestone to his ear with Super-glue (which seemed like a good idea at the time) he carried a “Bitty Baby” around and referred to it as Jaden James all night. My favorite costume ever for the kids was the year they went as King Arthur and Patsy from Spamalot. It was a family effort and perhaps the last time they trick-or-treated together with a whole band of neighborhood kids, followed by swapping treats in our basement.



The kids eventually went off to college and Betsy spent the final three years there outfitting her room to look like Hogwarts and distributing candy to community kids with her roommate, dressed in the robes of their respective houses. So far this year Instagram tells me that Eddie has been costumed as both a kitty and a puppy. Betsy is back at home this fall and just carved a pumpkin tonight. I look forward to the kids who will stop by on Saturday night and am hopeful that the weather cooperates.

Pumpkin '15

Best wishes for a safe and happy Halloween and may none of your treats contain coconut!


How Did Growing Up Change So Much in a Generation?

Nancy on phoneI came across a Washington Post article yesterday about a set of parents who are under investigation. With kids being raised in meth-houses and horror stories of children abused at the hands of their care givers I was braced for something different from what I got. These parents allowed (actually encouraged) their six and ten year-old children to walk a mile. I know! Outrageous, right? When I was a child, that was called going to school.

I saw a recent proposal regarding not allowing children under ten to be in community parks on their own. Not going to a park by myself before age ten would have eliminated T-ball entirely, some softball, flag football and a whole lot of ice skating during my youth. By age ten I was taking other people’s kids to the park. I’m pleased to say that I never lost one.

The parents in the article were actively practicing what they call “Free Range Parenting” which is simply allowing children to do what they as parents believe is an age appropriate activity which allows them to mature, develop responsibilities and in some cases make mistakes. It is a backlash to “Helicopter Parenting” which has resulted in twenty year old adults who are unable to make a hair appointment for themselves. I admire their willingness to permit their children some freedom and only regret that there has to be a name for what my generation just accepted as childhood and feel horribly that resources are going into questioning their actions.

I find it more ironic that I grew up with a stay at home mother, who like most of her peers were less engaged in their children’s activities than their working counterparts of today. Sure moms participated in the PTA and some helped out as “den mothers” or home room helpers, others prepared food for funeral luncheons at the church and engaged in other ways but the adults tended to do adult things and the kids were left to the activities of childhood. Some of us made good choices, others of us did not. With more parents around the community after school and during breaks, it was not unusual for some neighbor to step out the door and address a situation or behavior when warranted. Most of the time we were permitted to figure things out for ourselves.

Families tended to be larger and parents were not nearly as fixated on the accomplishments of their children. Even when you were on a winning team, I don’t recall much other than bragging rights, there were certainly no participation medals for the losers. Yep I said “losers”, we were allowed to keep score and be excited when we won and disappointed when we lost. It was all part of growth and learning and helped us be humble in our accomplishments later in life or know that we would survive when we were faced with future disappointments.

Like the kids in the article, we walked places. If it was a further destination, we biked and we learned how to navigate the bus system at a young age. I lived in Minneapolis, City of Lakes and did not drown. We didn’t have cell phones, we didn’t wear helmets. We often traveled with a dime in our shoe or pocket, to make a phone call in case of “an emergency”. We didn’t even have 911 and yet of the children in my community lost growing up there was a single horrific accident at a location with many adults present and there was disease.

As our world becomes what people describe as more progressive, I challenge the idea and think that we have grown more cautious and all at the potential of raising weaker adults. I remember my father dropping my brother and cousin off with a canoe when they were teenagers. Gear for a week and no method of communication, just a promise to pick them up at the end of the week at another location down river. That required a faith that few parents demonstrate today and I would love to know how a DNR officer might deal with a canoe of young unescorted teens currently.

My brothers had bus tokens and YMCA memberships in elementary school and spent their Saturday mornings swimming, doing crafts and learning various skills. My cousin came home with them once with a perfect black eye. Their reenactment of a Man from U.N.C.L.E. scene had gotten a little rough. No calls to my parents, they just took the bus home like usual. It would likely be considered irresponsible today to send your children off for open swim at a location with adults during a time where swim trunks were optional. My father had grown up taking the street car to the same Y to likely swim with some of the same men. During the 1970’s a letter came to the house explaining that swimwear was becoming mandatory. The end of an era.

I learned to write my name at age four, because it was necessary to obtain a library card. There was a wooden box on a desk that had belonged to my grandparents, if you were not at the library, that is where your library card went. Library books had due dates and it was an early responsibility to make sure that your books were returned on time. Other than Story Hour as a preschooler, I do not recall spending time with a parent at the library. It was a place I went if I needed or wanted something and it was a place my father would go to research something. I remember venturing into the adult section by about the fifth grade and writing book reports on Marilyn Monroe and discovering novels that discussed adult topics. I wonder how unsupervised children are dealt with at libraries today.

As a parent with two young adults, I understand the desire to want things to always be ideal for them but I doubt that sheltering and over-parenting is the key to achieving it. Growing up in the suburbs required that they have more parent involvement for transportation to youth activities and appointments. I recently told them that while they had never been to an orthodontist appointment without me, I had gone through braces with never having a parent at an appointment, I took the bus. I walked to my own dentist appointments after school too. Even in the suburbs though, they were allowed to play outside in the neighborhood for hours in the summer, walk a half mile to a sledding hill in the winter and explore the local trails along Nine-Mile-Creek. Their ability to feel comfortable on a college campus without a parent to guide them is the result of being given an opportunity to explore while at home or on vacation.

It is not always easy to let go and trust that things will turn out fine. We live in a society so connected through media that it seems like more horrible things happen now than ever before. I believe that it only seems that way because we know when a child is abducted in California, we hear when a high school teacher is arrested in Texas, we see the images of a school bus crash. We can’t question issues that are unique to this generation without exploring the dramatic change in parenting and the systematic coddling of our youth. We can’t velcro our children to a sofa and question why childhood obesity is on the rise, all while watching my own childhood school district (just this week) cut physical education credits necessary for graduation in half.  Honestly, when parents allowing their children to walk a mile becomes criminal, it is truly time to reevaluate. Who exactly is in charge of raising our children?