Throwback Thursday: 10 Childhood Comfort Foods

I had a revelation the other day.

I was sitting at my desk, eating an overpriced kale salad and freshly pressed cucumber pineapple juice, when it hit me: somewhere, along the way, I became a healthy eater.

kidvegetables

 

This wasn’t always the case.  In fact, for the majority my life, my eating habits were less “disgustingly yuppie” and more “downright disgusting”. I spent my first 23 years  eating any junk I could get my hands on, and consequently, suffering the consequences. While I was never exactly “fat”, I was definitely what you’d consider “big-boned” as a kid.  There were times  I even tipped the scales towards “chubster” or “pleasantly plump”. Let’s just say I related a lot to the book Blubber by Judy Blume, and leave it at that.

In my defence, I grew up in the 1990’s – the golden age of convenience food. Back before zealots like Michael Pollan came along with their “Eat Mostly Plants” ideologies, we all remained blissfully unaware (or at least willfully blind) to the dangers of  trans fats, aspartame and preservatives. Yes, we were free to sprinkle splenda into our coffee and to squeeze packets of sugary icing onto our toasters strudels with abandon!

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M-hmmmm Poppin’ Fresh!

And boy, did I ever. While I’ve cleaned up my act a lot since then (save for Nutella and Pinot Grigio, the saucy temptresses), every so often I can’t help but crave the delicious, processed goodness of my youth. Here were just a few of my favourite childhood comfort foods:

Pop Tarts 

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For a blissful two years in junior high, I religiously ate two S’mores flavored pop tarts and a tall glass of 2% milk every morning. That’s what they call a “balanced breakfast”, right?

Pizza Pockets

pizzapock

Canadian readers will undoubtedly remember the epic pizza pocket rivalry: Pillsbury vs. McCain’s. While there has always been room in my heart for both, supporters of each were fervent in their camps. The battle culminated in a 1990’s ad campaign where each pocket was thrown against a wall and measured for maximum splatterability.

Gross? Yes. Effective? Also yes.

Lunchables 

When I was in grade 3, I  started  taking ukulele lessons at school. The best part about it (besides getting to play the ukulele… LIKE A BOSS) was staying at school for lunch. Usually this was just PB&J; but every so often, my mom would pack a Lunchable- the perfect trifecta of cheese, crackers, and some sort of mystery meat which I now know to be disgusting, but was like crack cocaine to me at the time.

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My love affair with Lunchables lasted right up until grade 11, when during a nutrition class, a guest speaker took out a Lunchable she had kept in the trunk of her car for over 3 years, and it was still in PRISTINE condition due to all the preservatives.

I wish I could say I swore off Lunchables forever after this, but alas- I will never fully resist the pull of their sodium-nitrate laden deliciousness.

Snack Cakes

The Canadian answer to Twinkies and Little Debbies, Vachon cakes were my jam as a kid. Passion flakies, Joe Louis. May Wests- so long as it was stuffed with delicious cream filling, I was on board.


Vachon cakes
Sugary Cereals

Ah cereal- my ultimate Achilles heel. I even wrote a whole post dedicated to my love for the sugary, carby goodness.

Homies

My go-to choices as a kid were Reese Peanut Butter Puffs and Lucky Charms. Sometimes, my mom would lay the smack down and force me to eat regular (non-frosted) corn flakes – to which I would respond by pouring sugar all over them to add sweetness.

Me at breakfast

I am crying into my bowl of organic quinoa muesli as we speak.

Dunkaroos

I mean, if there is a better mid-day snack for children than sugary, Kangaroo-shaped cookies dipped into pure sugar icing, then I certainly haven’t found it.

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Gushers

Unless it’s these guys.

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These hexagonal delights detonated a wonderful blast of high fructose corn syrup “fruit juice” with each bite. My only complaint? There were never enough in the package.

Hot Dogs

My love affair with hot dogs ran deep. I can’t even tell you the number of days I spent at my window, longing for the Oscar Meyer truck to make its way down my street.

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Alas- it never found its way to small town Nova Scotia, but that didn’t prevent me from eating hot dogs  nearly every day anyway. I would literally eat them any possible way- barbequed, boiled, MICROWAVED.

I know, I’m not proud of it either.

As an aside, does anyone else remember this unfortunate, coloured ketchup incident?

Ugh.

Kraft Dinner

Perhaps the most Canadian of comfort foods, I essentially survived my first two years of undergrad on this day-glo orange pasta alone (no ketchup, of course)

 

KD

uhhh. yeah.

Fun Dips

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This childhood snack was literally 100% pure sugar. Eaten with a stick made of hardened sugar. Beautiful.

Question of the Day: What were your favourite childhood comfort foods?

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Back In The Old Country…

When it comes to comfort food, you really can’t go wrong with good old-fashioned, cheesy, delicious pierogies.

These pierogi mascots should be the mascots of my life.

Which is why I was pumped to attend the annual Polish Festival a few weekends ago here in Toronto. Pierogies + beer tents + POLKA = a guaranteed good time. 

The festival took place along Roncesvalles avenue, a mostly commercial strip between College and Queen streets, and it was bumping. Food trucks, cotton candy, bouncy castles- you name it. Only thing was, it wasn’t very Polish…. at all.

I mean, don’t get me wrong there was one (Grammy nominated) Polka band busting out tunes… right next to the Fillipino adobo cart.

And there was one pierogi stand, but the lines were so long that we eventually gave up and hit up a nearby Cuban place.

The real fun for me anyway was checking out all of the permanent retailers along the strip. Roncesvalles is an up-and-coming Toronto hot spot, and a number of cool new boutiques and restaurants have opened up there over the past few years. The neighborhood still retains a lot of its old-school charm though, and there are still a number of Eastern-European small businesses holding it down amongst the hipster-fication.

Like the Old Country Gift Shop:

When I first walked by, I was struck by the vintage-looking sign, and the eccentric display in the front window – a veritable hodge podge of stuff. There was a mannequin modelling a pearl necklace, an array of various deodorants, a selection of power tools, and a large display of Ritter Sport chocolate bars.

Needless to say, I was intrigued

I walked inside, and with the sound of the jingling bell was transported back in time nearly 50 years. I felt like Marty McFly, only without the cool DeLoreon.

Along the yellowed, gondola shelving sat everything from specialty jams, to vintage cutlery, to a comprehensive collection of mint condition Ty beanie babies.

At the 1960’s style cash register stood two spunky older ladies with white bouffants, extolling the virtues of a blown-glass ash tray to what I assumed was a regular customer.

These foxy ladies I later learned, were Karin and Helga, German (again, not Polish) sisters who grew up in the store and have worked there for nearly 50 years. Turns out the Old Country Gift Shop is family-owned, and has been serving the customers of Roncesvalles with their random treasures since 1962.

Obviously, things haven’t changed much since then.  the walls are lined with what looks like the original wallpaper, and the floor is covered in a well-worn, checkerboard-patterned linoleum.

Sort of like this. She knows.

The nostalgia in the air is palpable- each shelf dusted with memories of days- and times- gone by. As I made my way to the back of the store, I spotted a wide assortment of Octoberfest aprons, and an entire section of unopened, pristine VHS tapes. I wondered who the audience for this collection might be, but then I got distracted by the large, menacing chunk of the Berlin wall.

And did I mention the chocolate? So much chocolate. One entire wall filled with bars of the good stuff from Germany, France, and Switzerland. Brands I had never heard of, and thought only existed in my dreams.

Sorry for doing this to you.

Obviously I couldn’t leave without a taste, so I picked up the Mozart Kugeln chocolate ball- a pistachio, nougat and marzipan sphere of Viennese deliciousness.

As I left the store and re-entered the world of 2014, I couldn’t get the gift shop out of my mind. Not only did I want to go back every day to revel in its weirdness, I also wanted to be best friends with Karin and Helga; to find out what inspires them, and makes them tick. While I may never fully understand the Old Country Gift shop, it’s still nice to know that places like it exist.

Question of the Day: Been to Any Cool Stores lately?

Address Unknown

One of the key benefits to living in a condo- at least in my opinion- is all of the incorrectly addressed mail I’ve received over the years. While some might consider this a nuisance, I consider it a welcome (albeit creepy) glimpse into other people’s lives.

First there was the mail belonging to the previous tenant; some dude named Tom who really loved J.Crew and had a serious beef with Rogers telecom. Then, there was the crisp, new yearbook, addressed to Mike, a recent University of Toronto grad. Looked like a fun year, Mike!

My favourite of all, however, was the random postcard I received from the Edinburgh Zoo addressed to Julie Choi. Adorned with two impossibly cute pandas, the postcard filled Julie in on the sender’s travel so far, and signed off with “let’s meet up in October!”

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While I loved the pandas fiercely, I felt a sense of obligation to return this postcard to its rightful recipient.  So I slipped it into the “Incorrectly Addressed Mail” box in my mail room and hoped for the best.

A couple of weeks later, I checked my mail again, and like an incredibly cute boomerang, the pandas had made their way back to me.

And that’s when I really started to wonder, just who was this  Julie Choi? I assumed from the mix-up that her address must be very similar to mine, which meant she either lived in the next building, or was my immediate next door neighbor. From then on, I found myself listening extra intently to the muffled sounds of the adjacent apartment. Is that you, Julie? I wondered.

But then another thought occurred to me. What if Julie did live in my unit – but in a parallel universe?

In my deluded brain, rendered porous by prolonged isolation and loneliness, I was convinced it was highly probable that Julie and I were actually occupying the same apartment in different tracts of space or time. This letter must have slipped through some sort of wormhole temporarily opened up by an inexplicable force-  like on that TV show Sliders. I took a deep breath, fully expecting Jerry O’Connell to burst into my apartment and stun me with a neutralyzer, erasing all memory of this event.

No dice. I guess he and Rebecca Romijn must have been busy or something.

Anyway I started wondering what this parallel universe might be like. Obviously somewhat similar to ours in the sense that its inhabitants lived in condos and sent novelty postcards. Other than that, it was anyone’s guess. Maybe they weren’t people at all, but some sort of panda-loving cro-magnon species who subsisted on a diet of Fro-yo, fear, and carbon monoxide. I don’t know.

It’s been over a year since I received that postcard, and October has long come and gone.  I have no way of knowing, but I hope that Julie did meet up with her cro-magnon friends in Edinburgh, because otherwise I’d  feel sort of responsible.

As for me? I’m still trying to figure out the significance of this whole event.

Psychologist Albert Bandura has said that chance encounters have a prominent impact on shaping human lives. Some  touch only lightly, others leave more lasting effects, and some  lead people into new life trajectories altogether.

While I think this encounter is likely more of the “light touch variety”,  I’ve kept the postcard anyway. It sits in my memory box, along with my concert tickets, letters and movie stubs-  it’s jovial black and white pandas a reminder of how wonderfully random life can sometimes be.

Question of the Day: Have you ever received interesting mail that was not intended for you?

Life Is A Mixtape

As the great Rob Gordon said in High Fidelity:

“We all experience music autobiographically. I think a lot of people do. So I’ll have certain songs that mark certain times in our life and I think we’re not rare that way. Like I’ll use music as fuel, you know? Not like as inspiration but as fuel like if I need to get into a certain mindset I know there’s certain songs that I can turn on that’ll just… that’s the gas and that’ll get me right where I need to go.  Or if I need to get out of a certain state put on this song or that song and it just propels you.”

Like our consummate indie hero, I too have certain songs that bring me back to a particular time or place, or evoke a familiar feeling no matter where I am or what I’m doing.  And although I haven’t gone so far as to organize my music collection autobiographically quite yet,  that doesn’t mean certain songs haven’t been compartmentalized in my mind that way.

So in response to today’s Writing 101 prompt, Here are the three most important songs  in my life to date.

1. Lauryn Hill – Doo-Wop (That Thing)

Along with the Spice Girls’ Spice Up Your Life and Much Dance ’97, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was one of three CDs I received for Christmas in 1998. Initially ambivalent, it only took one listen for me to forget about the other two, and immerse myself completely in the world of Lauryn: her amazing vocals, dynamite lyrics, and unbelievable swagger. I had never heard anything quite like it, and I became certifiably obsessed. I played the CD constantly and brought it everywhere I went, scratching the surface so badly that barely a rhyme could be delivered without a skip. Through Lauryn, I learned about other great hip hop acts like The Fugees, The Roots, and what would soon become an even bigger obsession: Missy Elliot.

This song, though, was my ultimate brass ring. I practiced it daily until I had every lyric down pat- and if you twist my arm (ok, you might not even have to twist my arm) I can still recite them all to this day.  

2. Death Cab For Cutie- Transatlanticism

I had this friend in high school, let’s just call her Mary. Mary was way cooler than me in every sense of the word- she played the drums, wore a pocket chain, and had that total “IDGAF” attitude I always tried, but failed to emulate. Mary and I didn’t typically hang in the same circles, but somehow we managed to form this one-off, insular friendship, and the glue that held it together was music. While I knew I loved music, I really didn’t know much about it at that point- save for my extensive Missy Elliot collection and hand-me-down Dave Matthews CDs from my older brothers. Mary, graciously turned a blind eye to my ignorance, and took it upon herself to be my musical spirit guide. We were sitting together on the bus one morning, when in a move resembling the famous scene from Garden State, she took her massive headphones off and bestowed them upon me, saying “Listen to this song, it will change your world”.

The song was Transatlanticism by Death Cab for Cutie, and it really did rock my 17-year-old world. It was moving, powerful and deep and I couldn’t get enough of it. I went out and bought the whole album that day, and listened to it on repeat for weeks. This one recommendation opened up a whole new world of indie music to me – bands like Metric, Stars, and The Shins that I never would have heard of if it wasn’t for her. So thank you, Mary, for making me the annoying indie music snob I am today.

3. Feist- Brandy Alexander

Sometimes a song isn’t so much tied to a specific memory as a feeling. That’s the case with this song. I’ve loved it since the first moment I heard it in 2007, on Feist’s third album, The Reminder. Even with its depth and powerful production, it instantly put me in a calm, reflective state. To this day, I go back to it when I need a moment of stillness or clarity; often with a glass of wine- my own, personal Brandy Alexander.

Question of the Day: What are the three most important songs in your life?

 

Soccer Field Reveries

I felt it last night on my walk home from work- that first, crisp chill in the air that marks the inevitable transition from summer to fall.

Maybe it’s the season, or maybe it’s Phillip Roth’s American Pastoral which I’ve been reading lately, but I find myself waxing nostalgic about my days on the high school soccer field, and wishing I could be transported back there- even just for a day. 

I never felt as at home, as secure, as I did at our local soccer complex. I loved everything about it-the smell of the freshly cut grass; the crisp fall air; the gentle clouds of smoke that wafted above from neighbors burning leaves in their backyards.

My memories of this place all seem to coagulate around the fall of 2002. I was 16, “going on 25” as my mom would say (a colorful way of describing my “attitude problem”), and a starting midfielder on my high school soccer team , The Warriors. Like most high school athletes, I derived a huge part of my identity from this. Soccer- my team- was everything. I lived, breathed and slept the sport, spending countless hours at the field at games and practices. When I wasn’t playing, I was cheering on the boys’ team, snacking on watery hot chocolate and 50 cent Cheetos from the clubhouse and huddling under blankets with my teammates to stay warm.

The new soccer complex in our town had been completed the previous summer, and I couldn’t wait to get out there and tear up the freshly lain sod. My newly laundered socks were begging to be covered in grass stains, and I craved the telltale “swoosh” of the ball hitting the back of the still-taught net.

Coming into our sophomore year, my teammates and I were hungry. We had narrowly missed a provincial championship the year before (to a team who wore skirts for uniforms, no less) and vowed not to let the title escape our grasp again. On our vibrant purple and gold jerseys, we had pinned badges with the name of a fellow teammate we had lost to cancer the year before.  Her name became our pre-game rally cry, and she was forever in the back of our minds- “Forever a Warrior” as our jerseys proclaimed- motivating us even further to win each game.

As if this weren’t inspiration enough, it was also the final year we, or anyone for that matter, would wear those jerseys. The next fall, our school would be merging with two others to form a brand new “super school”.  With our futures, both in soccer and friendship, uncertain, we clung to those moments on the field like the clumps of packed mud between the spikes on our cleats.

And so we showed up for practice, every day after school- taking endless penalty shots and running drills against the backdrop of the quickly setting sun. Our coach, notoriously tough but fair, was armed with an intensity rivaling both Harbaugh brothers put together . He worked us to the bone; devoting entire practices to suicide drills, and having us lie on the darkened school library floor the night before important games, where he led us through a series of “visualization exercises”.

All of this hard work paid off though, and after an undefeated regular season, we won the right to host the regional championships at our home field. There was a giant pep rally in our school foyer, and the entire school was let out early to watch our first game. One of the girls on our team had gone to the dollar store and bought purple and gold ribbons, and we took turns braiding them through each other’s hair as we warmed up. It was a freezing October day; and despite the fact that we had sweaters layered under our jerseys, and leggings under our shorts, we couldn’t have felt more like Queens.

We won that game. And every game thereafter that weekend to take home the regional title.  

After that, my memory grows a little foggy. I remember making it to provincials, and facing off against the skirt-clad mafia once again, but I can’t, for the life of me, remember how we did. What I do remember are the bus rides spent laughing uncontrollably with my teammates; the hotel hijinks; and the fresh orange slices someone’s mom brought out at half time. More than anything though, I remember our field- the smell, the sound, the camaraderie unlike anything I’ve experienced since- and the way it all made me feel. And that, I think, is enough. 

 

Question of the Day:

(and today’s Writing101 Theme)

If you could zoom through space (and time) in the speed of light, what place would you go to right now?

C’est L’Halloween

I don’t know about you guys, but today really kicked my ass. I had lofty goals of coming home from work and finishing an awesomely hilarious post about zombies I started this weekend, but instead I just lay on  the couch, ate pizza and watched 3+ hours of entertainment news programming. (Side notes: how is Chris Brown still a free man? Julianne Hough is an idiot, and I cannot wait for baby WildKis.)

wildkis

Anyway, since I stupidly vowed to write a blog post every day this month, here is an awesome link that’s been making the rounds on Facebook today-

‘C’est l’Halloween’: the story behind the greatest French Halloween song ever

Those who know, know. And if you don’t know, now you know.

I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore.

Read the post, watch the vid, feel nostalgic, get in the Halloween spirit.. and maybe sing and dance a little. Or don’t- and say you did. That’s cool too.

Question of the Day: Did you take french classes in school?

A Climb To Remember

Looking back, the summer of 1990 was a rough time for everyone involved. The Gulf War was in full swing, a sharp recession swept the global economy, and MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” was a number one single.

hamm

As if these atrocities weren’t enough, it was also the year my mom went back to work part-time, leaving my dad with five wily rug rats to contend with during one of the hottest summers on record in Nova Scotia.

My sisters, teenagers at the time, could mostly fend for themselves; however my brothers (10 and 12) and I (only four) required constant entertainment to keep from tearing each other’s heads off.

Dad tried taking us to the playground; but the monkey bars proved too perilous. Our trips to the beach resulted only in jellyfish stings and heartache. Eventually, he gave up, bought a bucket of KFC and took us to Greenhill Provincial Park. A picnic in the park, he (undoubedtly) thought, what  could possibly go wrong?

The park offered panoramic views of the entire county, and in those days there was a tower several stories high you could climb to get a better look.

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Immediately upon arrival my brothers rushed to the tower, with me following right behind them.

“Where do you think you’re going?” asked my brother Kristin, “This isn’t for babies!”

“I’m not a baby!” I protested, “I’m four and a half!”

“You’re not allowed!” contested my brother Stephen.

“Can I dad?” I pleaded

“Go ahead,” he sighed, lifting a drumstick defeatedly, “but be careful.”

With a satisfied grin, I began climbing the ladder, taking the first few rungs with vigor. I was feeling quite smug- until I looked down. The ground appeared miles away; my dad and his bucket of chicken nothing but a red and white dot on the horizon. Above me, the ladder seemed to extend infinitely.

My lip began to quiver.

“Hurry up!” shouted Stephen, a few rungs ahead.

“She’s scared,” chimed in Kristin. “I told you she was a baby!”

Tears burned the backs of my eyes, but resolve stirred deep within me. I was Jack, and this was my proverbial Beanstalk. I would climb this tower if it was the last thing I did.

Somehow, through sheer adrenaline, blind faith and four-year-old will, I made it to the top. Ready to bask in my accomplishment, I stepped onto the platform, took a long gaze around, and…… immediately began to bawl like a baby.

“DADDY!!” I wailed, “IT”S TOO HIGH!!!”

Inconsolable and paralyzed by fear, my father was forced to abandon his chicken and momentary peace to climb up the tower and rescue me.

“It’s ok,” he said later, wiping away my tears with a half soiled wet-nap. “You can try again next year.”

But I didn’t. Not that year, or any year after. Instead, I developed a life long fear of heights (and, vaguely, wet-naps). However, I did learn one important lesson that day which continues to guide my decision-making process: when given the choice between taking a risk and staying firmly on the ground with a bucket of fried chicken- always, always ,choose the chicken.

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Question of the Day: What Is Your First Memory?

Throwback Thursday: High School Style

Aah High school: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

……..But mostly the worst of times. At least when it came to my fashion sense.

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What I WISH I looked like in high school

Looking back on the years 2001- 2004, there are many outfits of which I’m not proud… and by that I mean all of them. But who wants to peak in high school anyway? As Ashley Cardiff puts it in her book “Night Terrors: Sex, Dating, Puberty, and other Alarming Things“:

“As soon as anyone ever says that high school years are the best of your life, you should just X them permanently. They’re done; they don’t have anything to offer you”.

True dat. Here are just a few of the things I wore in high school that make me never want to relive those years:

1. All Puma Errthang

So back in high school I had a slight (ok, huge) obsession with Missy Elliot.

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My love for the irreverent female rapper manifested itself in several different ways – all of which equally unfortunate. Like my desire to, despite being a white girl from small-town Nova Scotia, collect and wear as much Puma gear as humanly possible.

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I had at least half a dozen puma handbags and several track jackets; all of which I saved up for and bought with the money I made working as a cashier at a Sobeys grocery store (which mostly involved taking extra-long breaks and flirting with the tattooed parcel pick-up guy). I would get decked out in all my Puma and drive to school in my parents huge Dodge Ram truck, blasting Under Construction at eardrum-shattering decibels.

….uh, yeah. I was THAT cool.

2. Sk8Er Shoes

My fashion identity as a teen (if you could even call it that) was schizophrenic at best. Despite being a hip-hopapotamuswanna be, I also fancied myself as a bit of a skater girl. (What can I say, Avril Lavigne was big at the time).

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Luckily, I kept it skater-light, so this mostly involved wearing skater shoes and the occasional pocket chain. I had a pair of baby blue suede Vans with maroon V’s that were my prized possession. I used to clean them every night meticulously with a toothbrush. I also had a pair of black Etnies with bubblegum pink accents.

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I told you I am not proud of this.

3. Hawaiian Ginger Body Spray

If there’s one thing every 16-year-old girl needs, it’s more self-esteem a signature scent- and Calgon Hawaiian Ginger body spray was mine.

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Though I dabbled in both Satsuma from the Body Shop and Gap Dream, Hawaiian ginger was my tried, tested and true.

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A pungent mix of exotic fruit, white orchids and broken adolescent dreams, the stench was enough to put hair on your chest.

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 I can’t even smell this sickeningly sweet concoction without being transported back to a time of secret parties, bottles clinking in backpacks (sorry mom & dad) and Pony by Ginuwine.

4. Low-Rise Jeans

If there is one thing I have learned in my old age, it’s that low-rise jeans flatter no one. Except for maybe pre-2007 Britney Spears.

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Now, if I just had that DeLorean I’ve been asking for, then I could go back in time and tell my high-school self this and save us all a lot of embarassment.

Dear 17-year-old BreezyK: Hip Hugger flares have never been, nor will they ever be, your friend. Love: 27-year-old BreezyK.

5. American Eagle

I grew up in a small town where, aside from a sad Sears department store and a Northern Reflections, there was no clothing shopping whatsoever.

After 16 years of wearing nothing but Point Zero jeans and sweaters with loons on them,

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I was stoked when an American Eagle Jeans store opened up about two hours away in Halifax.

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For the rest of high school, I wore nothing but graphic tees and pre-distressed jeans.

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I remember once while shopping, another customer asked me if I worked there. It was hands down the best moment of my life.

6. Chunky Highlights

Why, pray tell, did anyone ever think THIS was a good idea?

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I could go on- but I think we’ve all suffered enough. Oh, and don’t even get me STARTED on my prom dress. That’s a whole other post right there.

Question of the Day: What embarrassing things did you wear in high school?

Love Lessons From My Childhood Pen Pal

I got a letter in the mail the other day. It was a bit of an unexpected thrill, considering my mailbox is usually filled with nothing but Domino’s pizza flyers. (Which, don’t get me wrong, I still appreciate.) 

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While reading it, I was reminded of a time in my life when letters weren’t quite so infrequent.

………. Cue the flashback (you knew it was coming)

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The year was 1995: I was 9 years old, bookish, and heavy into Blossom Hats and The Babysitter’s Club. I was teetering on the verge of what would soon become my five-year “awkward phase”, but didn’t know it yet. Life was good.

It was also the year I made my first Pen Pal.

*Not me or my dog.
*Not me or my dog.

I acquired my Pen Pal through somewhat unusual circumstances. My father, the son of Croatian immigrants, liked to keep ties with his Eastern European heritage. This manifested itself mostly in three ways: cooking obscene amounts of cabbage, hoarding things, and subscribing to a Croatian newsletter called  Zajedničar. 

Zajedničar, as I recall it, was a bizarre publication filled with ads for life insurance, way too many consonants, and people in weird costumes playing Tamburitzas.

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 I never paid much attention to it until one day, my dad showed me an ad offering a PenPal service connecting Croatian children across North America.  

Now this was something I could get down with. The opportunity to correspond with a real live girl in another country? Sign me up!

I immediately submitted my information to the magazine, and a few weeks later, received my first letter.  It was from a girl named Jessica in Erie, Pennsylvania. She was 10 years old, and loved Barbies, gymnastics and stickers- in that order.  She even sent me her school photo, in which she was wearing one of those Western bolo shirts that were popular at the time.

This was the best I could do on Google images. In reality, she looked nothing like this.
This was the best I could do on Google images. She actually looked nothing like this.

Her long, sandy blond hair was tied into a side braid with a fluffy white scrunchie on the end, and she accessorized with dangly troll earrings, gummy bracelets and a toothpaste-commercial smile.

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To me, she was impossibly cool.

I immediately began crafting my response. Besides just telling her my entire life story, I also spent hours researching her hobbies and interests in order to prove what a thoughtful and conscientious Pen Pal I could be. I even had my dad pull out the atlas to show me where Erie was on the map. 

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I was certain she would be impressed by such informational gems as:

Did you know your town is named after a lake??!”; and 

I heard toothpaste is great for removing sticker residue!” 

We corresponded for the next few months, sending letters as well as other totems of our respective 90’s childhoods: stickers, colorful erasers, POGS, temporary tattoos.We never spoke a single word about Croatia, but that was OK. 

Eventually, things kind of fizzled out. Ok, I’m lying. Jessica just straight-up stopped writing to me. I don’t really know what happened. I mean, maybe I was a little overzealous in my pursuits- spending hours drafting elaborate letters, consulting atlases and whatnot. And maybe I should’ve seen this one coming when my 10-page anthologies met with only a few measly paragraphs in response. “Maybe she’s busy practicing her tumbling,” my mother would say. But deep down, I knew the score. 

While being blown-off so coldly hurt at the time, in a way I’m thankful, because it probably prevented me from becoming a full-on stage 5 clinger in future romantic relationships.  

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Now I’m just incredibly closed-off and distant. I think it’s working out pretty well for me.

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So thank you, Jessica, for teaching me that there is such a thing as coming on way too strong. I  hope you finally found that Sailor Moon sticker sheet you were looking for, and that somewhere, out there, you and your side braid are tumbling off into the sunset.

Question of the Day: Did You Have A Pen Pal Growing Up?

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