Category Archives: nostalgia

Throwback Thursday: Black Friday shopping

When I was 14, my aunt took me Black Friday shopping for the first time. I had no idea what to expect, but I was excited. Back then, the deals were impressive and most of the stores opened early, but early was 7 am.

I stayed the night at my aunt’s house and we got up at 6 am so that we could be in front of our first store, which was Zayres. My cousin, who was 7 really wanted a Teddy Ruxpin doll for Christmas and Zayres had the best deal on it. Our aunt was bound and determined to get one. We stood outside the store, in the pitch black with about a hundred other people just waiting for the doors to open. Since I was smaller and quicker than a lot of the adults, my aunt told me where the toy aisles were and told me to sprint for one and that she’d catch up.

As we waited for the store to officially, open, I slowly started making my way closer to the front doors.

By the time they opened, I was one of the first people in the store and as soon as I was actually in the doors, I made a mad dash to the right and headed straight for the toys. I was one of the first people to lay my hands on a Teddy Ruxpin, and after I had it, I quickly moved out of the way, using a side aisle to avoid the chaos. My aunt, who took several minutes to find me, had a cart with her, so I deposited good ol’ Teddy and we went on our merry way, her pointing out items she wanted and me swooping in to get them.

When we finished at Zayres, we headed over to the mall. Our first stop there was L.S. Ayres, where they were giving out boxes of Cracker Jack with special shopping surprises. My aunt got a 25% discount on her entire order in her box. I got a $25 gift card in mine. Seeing as how I had limited funds, that gift card allowed me to buy two different Christmas presents: a stuffed sheep dog for one of my aunt’s (it looked just like the gianormous sheepdog named Muffin she’d had when I was a child) and toy for my cousin.

We spent a few hours at the mall scooping up deals at the big department stores, then we headed over to Burger King to have breakfast. It was about 10:30 am and we were done for the day.

Over the next decade and a half, my aunt and I made Black Friday shopping a tradition. We braved earlier start times, larger crowds, crazier deals and bitter, bitter cold, all for a few hours of togetherness and some pretty sweet deals. I never really bought that much as for the majority of our shopping trips I was either in high school, college, or just starting out as a teacher with a very, very small salary. But it wasn’t really about the shopping. It was about spending time with my aunt and sometimes my cousin or my step-mom. But mostly just me and my aunt.

The year I moved to Florida was the first time in 15 years I did not go Black Friday shopping with my aunt. Since the move only lasted for 6 months, I was right back at it the next year, but it felt like something had changed. The stores were opening on Thanksgiving day. The crowds were more hostile and the stuff on sale was either way too grandiose for me, or absolutely nothing I needed.

The following year I was pregnant with my son and there was no way I was getting up that early, getting jostled by crowds or standing in the cold while 6 months pregnant. I haven’t set foot in a store on Black Friday in 11 years.

I haven’t stopped Black Friday shopping though. I’ve just joined the thousands of people all across this country who have decided that o’dark thirty in 30 degree weather amidst angry hordes is not worth it. Instead, I jumped on my computer at 7 am and started ordering away. I still had a good portion of my shopping done by 10 am, but I got to do it in the comfort of my den while sipping my tea in my jammies.

Since it was never really about the shopping for me, I don’t really miss it. But I do get nostalgic for the talks my aunt and I used to have while standing in check out lines that stretched to the back of the store, during quick car rides between stores and over sausage croissants at Burger King.

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Wildcard Wednesday: A Panera letdown

When I first met my husband, the Panera around the corner from his apartment was one of our favorite places to go. I liked that it was fast-ish food where I could get fresher, healthier options without completely breaking the bank. Although I had a full time teaching job at the time, I was living on my own paying rent at an apartment that was probably a bit more than I should have afforded, but I was already in the complex when my roommate deserted me and I was just thrilled they technically let me break the lease to move to a significantly cheaper one bedroom place right across the hall, so I didn’t complain.

As time has passed, our lives have gotten more stable and we’ve added kids to the mix, I find myself at Panera less and less. Tonight, my daughter had a Girl Scout meeting and although I’d had time to get a quick dinner for her, there was not enough time for me to eat and get her to her meeting on time. Since I had a ton of grading to do, I thought I’d take advantage of Panera’s soup and free wifi.

From the moment I walked in the door it was a series of unfortunate events. First there was quite a long line and only one person behind the counter. Of course, the moment it was actually my turn to order, another cashier came up to take orders.

“Just my luck,” I thought. But, I was in a pretty good mood and had time to kill, so who cared, right?

Then I tried to place my order. My squash soup was no problem, but the flatbread I wanted to accompany it was nixed. Apparently the panini press was broken, so no hot sandwiches were available. I tried not to be snarky when I asked, “so are there any sandwiches you can make?” It was a legit question as the only sandwiches I ever eat at Panera are always warm. I know there was an edge to my voice and I tried to push it down. The manager listed a few off and I picked the chicken salad.

When I went to pick up my order, the next snafu occurred. They were also out of baguettes to go with my soup. One of my favorite things about Panera is the ability to dip bread into my soup. It’s way better than crackers! I sighed and took my chips with a heavy heart. I tried to joke with the woman handing me my food, “it’s not a good day to order at Panera, is it?” She gave me a half-hearted smile and moved on.

I shrugged, resolved to still enjoy my meal and get some grading done. I went to fill my cup with diet Pepsi (blast!) and although soda filled my cup, my entire hand got sprayed with water that appeared to be leaking from the front of the diet Pepsi button. Try as I might to maneuver my hand so I could get soda in the cup and not ice water all over my hand, it was no dice. I calmly mentioned it to the manager (who’d heard all of my woes to this point) and he told me he knew of the problem and that he’d called Pepsi to get it fixed.

I tried to joke with him, “it seems like it’s a day where 5 million things go wrong, huh?”

In what I think was an attempt to make something go right, he came over and tinkered with the machine. He got it to stop spraying water, but not before my cup was full and my hand was drenched. He finally joked back, “what was that you said, 5 million problems? Well, I have one less now, so what does that make it?”

We jokingly did the math together, laughed a bit and then he went back behind the counter as I headed to my table.

The soup was good, the sandwich ok. My husband will like the chips. The meal was saved by the Kitchen Sink cookie, which I probably should not have eaten by myself, but I went to Zumba today. And damn…it was good!

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Throwback Thursday: Thanksgiving

Seasons 52 dessertLast week my family celebrated Thanksgiving in a way that was a bit of a shock for everyone. Well, everyone except me: we went out to a restaurant to have Thanksgiving dinner.

This was not my idea. I have been dutifully cooking Thanksgiving dinner for my family as well as 8 of my in-laws for the past decade–ever since my son was born. Every year we have pulled out my grandmother’s ancient, but still very useful, portable electric roaster to cook our turkey in. Every year I have pulled out my recipe book, filled with my husband’s family Thanksgiving recipes for stuffing, sweet potato casserole, orange cranberry sauce and hollandaise sauce. Every year I have stood with my mother-in-law as she gives me tips and suggests about how to cook her Thanksgiving feast (while she helps, of course).

And every year when I talk about making the stuffing, my mother-in-law and I have the exact same conversation about it.

Me: I’m going to start on the stuffing
MiL: Oh honey, you’re not going to stuff it in the bird are you?
Me: No MiL, I’m not. It’s your recipe and I’m going to cook it exactly like you do. I just call it stuffing because my family has always called it stuffing.
MiL: Oh good! Here’s the cornbread you’ll need to make that dressing (heavy emphasis on the word dressing). 

And every year, after having this conversation, I bite back my tongue and keep myself from screaming: Good GOD woman! You know what I mean! I will never call it dressing so let’s just move on with life!

But as usual, I digress.

Back in August, my father-in-law suggested that instead of having me spend hours in the kitchen and have everyone try to squeeze into our not very big living room and dining room, that we go out to eat, their treat. Since it was going to be the same group of about 11 of us, I immediately said YES! My husband was far more reluctant. He emailed his dad back about his disappointment over breaking tradition and how important it was to me and the kids. He CC’d me on the email of course, so I could immediately write him back and say, “As the person who is going to spend hours and hours in the kitchen cooking with your mother, I fully endorse this restaurant idea…now you email your dad back and fix this mess you’ve made!”

After an actual discussion between us, my husband completely saw it from my POV and agreed that a meal out might be fun. For him it was a big step out of his comfort zone, which is not something he’s used to. For me, not only did it mean NOT having to cook for a cast of way too many and still having leftovers for days and days, but it was actually a throw back to my childhood.

Even though my mom is a perfectly good cook, she has never actually enjoyed cooking. Whenever we could eat out, we did. And since I grew up in California, thousands of miles away from any family members who did not live in my actual house, my mom thought it was a waste of her time to make a huge Thanksgiving meal for four people. Especially when two of those people were kids who didn’t eat much. Plus, we lived in apartments with fairly small kitchens most of my life, so it’s not like it was easy to have tons of dishes going at the same time.

So every year my mom and step-dad found someplace that was not our own dining room for us to eat. I have very vivid memories of Thanksgiving dinners eaten at Sizzler, which up until I wrote this post, I thought was defunct since all the ones in Indiana had shut down. Turns out they still exist! Just on the West coast. This made me blissfully happy as my dream to once again eat their Malibu chicken, which was the stuff my childhood dreams were made of, is still a reality! Thank the Lord for mediocre steak houses and our love of them!

I also remember having Thanksgiving at church sponsored events where each family would contribute something to the meal. My mom would pick stuffing, but several boxes of Stove Top stuffing, make it quickly before we left the house and then we’d get to sit down to a full Thanksgiving meal at a huge table in some sort of cafetorium and eat with people we sort of knew from church. Those meals were a bit dicier as aside from my favorite, the stuffing, you never knew what strange ingredients people would add to their version of mashed potatoes or cranberry sauce.

One year we went to some super fancy place near Disneyland that was rather darkly lit and had some sort of ocean theme to it. I swear it was called something like Pirate’s Cove or something oddly similar…probably without the word pirate since I do remember it being nice. I was like 8 though, so really anything that wasn’t Bob’s Big Boy or Del Taco was pretty nice to me.

I do have to say that despite years of eating Thanksgiving dinner in restaurants, today’s trip to Season’s 52 for our family celebration was probably the nicest, tastiest one I’ve had at a restaurant. I do have to admit that the one we had aboard the family cruise we took two years ago comes a close second, but that was more for the whole being on a cruise bit than anything else.

To me where we ate wasn’t nearly as important as family being together. Although the fact that I spent no time in the kitchen and currently only have one bowl in my sink (from last night’s popcorn and movie watching), is the real holiday blessing!

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Throwback Thursday: Cabbage Patch Kids

CPKI was a child of the Cabbage Patch generation. I still actually remember getting my very first one when I was 8, only months after they started appearing in stores. For those of you not alive during this time, they were nearly impossible to get. Stores sold out within minutes. My step-dad heard a rumor that a local department store was getting a shipment in and my mom made him drive immediately over. I don’t remember how long he was there for, but he came home with two dolls, one for me and one for my little sister (who was not even two at the time). Apparently when he went in to buy the dolls, he was directed to the back of the store in the layaway department. They hadn’t even bothered to put the dolls on the shelves in the aisle. Everyone got in a line and when you got to the front, you could get two dolls. The only choice the employees allowed customers to make was skin color, which at the time was either Caucasian or African American. No choice of gender, hair color, eye color…nothing.

Not that my sister or I really cared. She was too little and I was just thrilled to have the doll. Jennifer Lynn (as I would rename her) was the first in a rather long line of CPKs. I actually didn’t end up keeping her, but gave her to my best friend when my grandmother sent me another CPK for Easter. However, counting her (and the one that I accidentally left in the courtyard of our apartment building that was stolen), I had 15 Cabbage Patch Kids. Yes, that’s right, 15. I also had a CPK horse,a  Koosa (a “pet” of sorts for CPKs–mine was a cat) and an original Furskin bear (Boone).

Not only that, I had 6 different CPK pin ups. And I don’t even know how many small, posable figures I had.

My collection included a preemie, a cornsilk, an astronaut, two circus, a World Traveler from Holland, a set of twins, a baby,  and one with a pacifier. Any variation of CPK they made from about 1983-1988, I had. I loved those dolls.

I wasn’t the only one in my family to get in on the craze. My aunt bought a few too. I’d like to say they were for my cousin and I to play with, but in truth, she just liked collecting valuable toys. She also had about a million Beanie Babies at the height of their craze. My step-mom also bought a few and kept them in boxes. Not long after I stopped playing with dolls, my step-mom took them out of their boxes and let my younger cousin play with them a bit. When I went off for college, her CPKs went into a box and were stored in my old bedroom closet.

When my daughter was born, my step-mom pulled her dolls out of storage and gave them to her darling granddaughter. She also bought her her very first CPK, which was designed specifically for toddlers as the only part of the doll that is plastic is her face. She doesn’t even have a full plastic CPK head, just a face. My mom later bought her a regular CPK with only a tuft of blond hair on her head.

So, by the time my daughter was 2, she had 5 Cabbage Patch Kids, which definitely broke my record. She still loves all 5 of them and plays with them. However, I can see a big difference in her dolls, which are pretty darn ratty, and the ones I got when I was a bit older. Mine were in pristine condition because while I played with them, I mothered them as if they were real children. I was never one to take their hair down or take their clothes off. My daughter currently has one of the 1980’s dolls on her bed. The poor thing is completely naked AND her red hair, which used to be in pig tails, is one giant mess.

Not that I care. I’m just happy to see her loving the same toy that brought me so much joy when I was a child.

 

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Throwback Thursday: Pour over butter popcorn

My first job (aside from babysitting) was at a movie theater. The summer after I turned 16, I was stuck in a tedious babysitting gig that paid $15 a day for two kids. Considering those days were about 9 hours, I was making $1.66 an hour. Sure, there were no taxes coming out of my check, I could watch whatever I wanted on TV and since one of the kids was in summer school for the first 4 hours of the day, there wasn’t a lot of “work.” But when the oldest boy decided to shut himself in his room and choke himself because I told him his mom said he was not allowed to play video games, I realized that I was working way above my pay grade.

So, I told the mom I was done and papered every business in town with job applications. The first, and oddly only, business to call was General Cinema. Thankfully, it was the job I most wanted to get. I interviewed with the manager and was hired on the spot. It seemed like a dream come true! Not only would I be paid nearly 4 times my previous salary, but I got unlimited free movies for me and two friends. Wanna know what makes you decently popular in high school? Free movies.

Despite having to wear a polyester uniform that made my butt look horrendous and smelling like rancid oil at the end of every shift, I LOVED my job. My co-workers, none of whom went to my school, were fantastic. Since my theater only had 6 screens, there was lots of down time in between movies, so we goofed off almost more than we worked. Plus, there was one unwritten benefit of my new job: all the popcorn I could eat.

I say unwritten because we weren’t supposed to eat any of that popcorn. We got free movies, but no discount at the concession stand. If we wanted a popcorn, we were supposed to buy it. However, like every other teenage employee in any sort of food industry, we found ways around the rule. Our theater gave out courtesy cups for people who wanted water (or to split up larger bags/buckets of popcorn or, as ushers quickly found out, to spit tobacco in and leave in the theater). When the managers were in the office, we’d just fill up courtesy cups, douse them with butter and snack, snack snack.

Plus any time the popcorn was being popped upstairs (this happened several times a week, but not every day), we could go in and fill up ticket bags full of as much as we wanted. I cannot count the meals I made of movie theater popcorn.

Ever since those wonderful days at the County Seat Cinema, I have adored all things movie popcorn. However, since I have two young kids, we don’t get out to the theater that often. My cravings for popcorn have not abated though. Instead, I’ve found my favorite substitute: Orville Redenbacher’s Pour Over Butter Movie Popcorn.

Good ol’ Orville first started making popcorn in my hometown, which every year has a Popcorn Festival in his honor. For the entirety of my teenage years, both Orville and his grandson Gary officiated at the yearly parade, so I may be a little biased in my love for his particular brand of popcorn.

While I definitely prefer all varieties of his microwave popcorn to any others I’ve tried, the pour over butter variety comes so close to that strange, not quite butter concoction we had at the movie theater, that it immediately sends me back in time. I even have fine popcorn salt just in case I need to make it even better…I mean worse…no, definitely better.

Tonight as I ran to the store to pick up a few essentials we needed at home, I saw the Redbox container and Baby Driver, which I’ve been wanting to see. So I grabbed it and made sure to pick up not one, but two boxes of my pour over buttery favorite. It won’t be quite the same as a true theater experience, but with our projector TV in the basement, my fake butter popcorn and surround sound, it’ll be pretty darn close!

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Throwback Thursday: Rubik’s Cube

Yesterday I found a Rubik’s Cube in my daughter’s backpack. At first I thought she’d nicked it from her brother, but it turns out my husband got one for each of them and it was hers. I wasn’t really shocked to find it in her backpack as she has a bad habit of taking toys to school even though I’ve told her time and time again that she’s not allowed to. One of her other bad habits is “trading” toys with her friends at school. Of course, once she’s traded, one of the kids has trader’s remorse and wants the original toy back which just leads to way more headaches than it’s worth. Plus, she has been known to take the toy out and try to play with it in class.

Usually I’m pretty vigilant about checking her backpack, but every now and then she slips one by me. Like the Rubik’s Cube.

When I pulled it from her backpack, it was a jumbled mess. After staring at it for a few minutes, I decided to try to solve it. I don’t know what possessed me to do this. It’s not like I’ve ever been able to solve one before.

Being a child of the 80’s, I had my share of Rubik’s Cubes. Well, I actually only had one official Rubik’s Cube and about a dozen knock off versions my mom would buy me at the local flea market. My favorite one was the Rubik’s Snake, or at least it’s generic counterpart that a random flea market vendor sold. I liked it not because it was easier to “solve,” but rather, unlike it’s cousin the Cube, I could play with this one a bit more like a toy and actually accomplish something, even if it was just turning it into a snake to shake at my sister.

One of my knock off cubes actually had little stickers with colorful fruits on each side. Instead of yellow squares, there were lemons, cherries instead of red, blueberries for blue, watermelons for green, oranges for oranges and…well, I’m not sure what white was. Again, not that it mattered, I just liked the stickers. I also liked the fact that unlike the official Rubik’s Cube, the generic fruit one was so much easier for me to “solve” because when I got it all mixed up, I could carefully peel off the stickers and put them back on the appropriate sides. Sure, that only worked a few times until the stickers lost all actual stickiness, but at least I briefly felt a sense of accomplishment.

Recently I’d watched as someone (and I cannot for the life of me recall who) took hold of my son’s Rubik’s cube and started twisting the crazy mess he made until it came out perfect and solidly colored again. It seemed simply enough, so for some foolish reason, I thought I’d try it with my daughter’s Cube, which she’d left sitting next to the computer.

After about 10 minutes of painstakingly slow twisting and turning, I was no closer to solving the puzzle. In fact, I think I managed to destroy what little progress my daughter had made. Not that I could really tell. I may have picked cautiously at the corner of a colored block, but those are not stickers. They are definitely little colored plastic pieces and short of trying to break it open, I see no way to cheat this puzzle.

Clearly I was just not meant to unravel all of life’s mysteries.

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Chocolate Monday: Reese’s Crunchy cups

Reese's crunchy tower.jpgLast weekend when I was at Kroger doing my weekly grocery shopping, I happened down the candy aisle. This is nothing new. I always go down each and every aisle in the grocery store, in part to make sure I don’t forget anything, but also because I kind of enjoy grocery shopping. I pop in my headphones, listen to an audiobook and slowly meander down the aisles, taking time to ensure that I not only get everything off my list, but that I check out all the new items that might turn into great finds.

My most recent great find was in the candy aisle, which I usually just skim over. Sure, as I’m making my way through the aisle I am always careful to scan the fancy chocolate bar section to see if there is anything new and exciting I want to try (there always is), but I very rarely actually grab anything and put it in my cart. I usually have a chocolate backlog, so grabbing something off the Kroger shelf is never a priority. However, as my eyes were glancing over some of my childhood favorites, a bright yellow wrapper caught my eye.

I have always loved all things peanuty. As a kid, whenever my mom would take me to the grocery store, I would beg her for peanuts. If I was really lucky, she’s let me get a huge scoop of peanuts ,still in the shell, from the giant barrel in the produce department. As soon as we’d get home, I’d dump some in a bowl and hurry to my room to devour them as I read a book or played with my dolls. I would slowly suck all the salt off of the shell, then crack it open to reveal those two (or sometimes three) glorious little nubs of heaven!

It is no wonder that I have always preferred crunchy peanut butter. To this day, one of my absolute favorite treats is a spoonful of crunchy peanut butter. I don’t want bread mucking up the flavor. All I need is a spoon and a jar to make me happy.

About the only way to improve the taste of crunchy peanut butter is to combine it with chocolate. Which is exactly what my beloved Reese’s used to do. When I was a kid, I remember finding Reese’s Crunchy Cups everywhere. Then, all of a sudden, they disappeared.

Last Thanksgiving, when my husband and I were visiting the Hershey’s Chocolate World in Vegas, I was amazed to find my crunchy cups again…at least in miniatures. Not that it mattered to me. I grabbed a gift bag and filled it full of the precious golden nuggets. Sadly, even though I did my utmost to eat them slowly, they were quickly gone.

Reese's crunchy bag.jpgThen on Sunday, like some bit of Halloween magic, I looked on the shelf at Kroger, and there they were: an entire bag full of Reese’s miniature crunchy cups. I snatched those off the shelf.

The miniature cups are not as good as the full-sized cups. I feel this way about the regular Reese’s cups too. As much as I love chocolate, when it comes to peanut butter and chocolate, I always want more peanut butter flavor than chocolate flavor. Unfortunately in the mini cups, the chocolate is a bit overpowering. However, the added crunch of the bits of real peanuts in the cups, does help compensate for the extra chocolate. If you love crunchy peanut butter and you haven’t tried these, they are a must.

When I found these, I took a gander at the Reese’s website and it does appear they are bringing back the regular sized crunchy cups, so next time I go to the grocery store, my hope is I will find them at the check out line. My fear is that this will be like the honey peanut butter cups they brought back over the summer…here for a very limited engagement. I am not yet holding my breath, but as they are listed on the first page of the product website, I hope this means a permanent slot on the Reese’s main line up. They are certainly better than the dark or white chocolate varieties.

Overall:

Taste: 8/10
Appearance: 6/10
Value: 8/10

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