Wedding bells are in the air

1950s bride and groom
A photo from my mom and dad’s wedding in the 1950s.

We are driving six hours to a wedding this weekend. I’m a little concerned because I think it’s outside at a winery and it will be around 100 degrees. Hopefully only the ceremony is outside and the reception will be inside. We will see.

During COVID shutdowns, weddings were postponed. Now we are getting a plethora of wedding invitations.

The last wedding we went to was in February 2020 — right before the shutdown. We learned after the wedding that the father of the groom was hospitalized and put on a ventilator with COVID. That was scary but thankfully he recovered. I felt sick a week later, but that was before tests were available. I may have had it — or not.

My daughter was a bridesmaid in Montana recently. The next weekend she was at a wedding in Utah. The third weekend was a bridal shower in Los Angeles. I thought that was a bit much, because the three brides were all on the college swim team together and friends. Many of their guests overlapped. That’s quite the wedding gauntlet.

My kids are at that age. Their friends are getting married. Their friends’ parents are our friends — so we are getting invitations, too.

According to Forbes Magazine “The U.S. Expects a Wedding Boom in 2022.” No kidding. Written by Tanya Klich, she shares the data on the boom:

There will be more weddings in the United States in 2022 than any other year since 1984, according to a new survey by The Knot. The wedding planning site estimates that some 2.6 million weddings will take place this year, a boom that follows a record number of cancellations, postponements, elopements–and lots of Zoom nuptials–during the past two years. 

“Weddings are, without a doubt, back to pre-pandemic levels,” says Hannah Nowack, Real Weddings editor at The Knot.

While some couples will certainly continue to host small, intimate micro-weddings and minimonies, wedding vendors, venues and planners note a return to traditional ceremonies with larger guest lists. In the second half of 2021, The Knot saw the average guest count climb up to 110. In 2022, the average number of guests is projected to be 129, which is in line with pre-pandemic numbers, when the average was 131. “After so many months of planning, and time spent away from loved ones, these couples are eager to reunite and celebrate with a blowout bash,” says Nowack.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/tanyaklich/2022/02/14/a-wedding-boom-is-expected-in-2022/?sh=68d0ec3b117c

I can’t imagine what a wedding would cost today with the increased prices of food, flowers, and supply chain issues. There’s something else I noticed….more and more wedding invitations are online with links to bridal registries. I haven’t received any thank you notes, either. Maybe it’s too soon.

Are you getting more wedding invitations lately? How many of your friends postponed weddings due to COVID?

Me and my hubby on our wedding day next to Aunt Ann and Uncle Luciano.

What odd foods did you grow up with?

oxtail soup on the stove
My mom cooked oxtail soup. Now it’s one of my specialties. I cooked these two pots of soup for Christmas week when we had our son’s girlfriend’s family stay with us.

My mother had a few recipes that I couldn’t stomach. Mom loved the odd cuts of meat (like organs) and learned how to cook them from her mother and grandmother. I don’t remember many of our neighborhood moms cooking the same things.

I liked her chicken hearts that were dusted in flour and fried. But I passed on gizzards.

Beef tongue was a hard pass.

Mom’s beef heart I could handle. She’d stuff the heart and bake it in the oven. Then she sliced it and I’d have a thin ring of heart around delicious stuffing.

The oxtail soup I shied away from until I hit junior high. Then I discovered oxtails were the most tender delicious meat I’d ever eaten and the broth was rich but so flavorful. Years later, I made oxtail soup for my “at the time boyfriend.” I overheard him telling a friend that he had to marry me because of my oxtail soup.

“How can she make something so amazing out of !!#!??”

I discovered this recipe in one of my great-grandmother’s cookbooks that she published in the early 1900s and sold to Ladies’ church auxiliaries across the country. It’s my dream to bring the little cookbooks back to life. Great-grandmother Nellie’s recipe is not how I cook oxtail soup, but it’s the same general principle.

My dad’s side of the family had some oddball dishes too. Christmas meant Lutefisk and fish head stew. I could not get myself to stop staring at the eyeballs staring up at me from the stew. It definitely killed my appetite.

If you haven’t heard of Lutefisk this is from Wikipedia:

Lutefisk is prepared as a seafood dish of several Nordic countries. It is traditionally part of the Christmas feast; Norwegian julebord and Swedish julbord, as well as the similar Finnish joulupöytä.

 Finnishlipeäkala [ˈlipeæˌkɑlɑ]; literally “lye fish”) is dried whitefish (normally cod, but ling and burbot are also used). It is made from aged stockfish (air-dried whitefish), or dried and salted cod, pickled in lye. It is gelatinous in texture after being rehydrated for days prior to eating.

Besides the recipes I mentioned, my mom also served us canned Chef Boyardee ravioli, Swanson’s TV dinners, Space Food Sticks and Tang.

What are some of the foods you grew up with? Did your family cook anything odd?

When you wake up happy

Looking out the sliding glass door to the back yard.

For some unknown reason, I woke up feeling very happy. It’s not unusual for me to be in a good mood, but today I feel exceptionally hopeful. I can’t stop smiling.

I’m trying to figure out what makes today different.

• I checked the temperature on my phone and it was in the low 70s. A perfect day for a walk.

• It’s bright and sunny after a few days of dark gray clouds.

• I went to sleep early and slept through the night.

• I have an entire day without a “to do list.”

• I’ve recently spent time with friends and had visits with my kids.

• I’m backing up my files on my new laptop — which by the way — doesn’t mysteriously delete my work.

• I had my home-baked banana nut bread with coffee for breakfast. Maybe it’s the sugar in the banana bread. The recipe is from my mom’s old orange Betty Crocker cookbook. It reminds me of my childhood.

• My rewrite of my manuscript is going well. I’ve decided to tell the story from the four main characters’ points of view rather than from one.

• I’m reading an enjoyable book called “The Optimist’s Daughter” by Eudora Welty.

What little things make you feel positive and encouraged for the day?

One of my favorite spots in the house. I love to sit at the table and look outside. We moved the table and chairs from Palm Springs. It was our kitchen/dining room table for 28 years and continues on in Arizona.

The things we believed — at first

masking with fabric
When we first were wearing masks, I used quilting fabric, which we now know isn’t that helpful. Here I am at the park in Palm Springs by my old home.

We spent Father’s Day at our friends who moved unbeknownst to us from Palm Springs to a mile from our new Arizona home. We played bocce ball, cooled off in their pool and ate a delicious dinner of bbq’d pork ribs.

At some point in the conversation I mentioned that we took Vitamin D3 every day because it’s supposed to help protect us from COVID.

My girlfriend’s husband who is a newly retired doctor said, “Where did you hear that? That makes zero sense. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. How do strong bones help with COVID?”

I humbly replied that I had read it everywhere. I couldn’t point to a specific source, but it was a common theme I heard repeatedly from people I knew and news sources.

When I got home, I googled it. Early on during the pandemic, researchers believed that Vitamin D helped. Now there are extensive studies that show there’s no evidence or correlation that Vitamin D protects people from the SARS virus.

I thought about other things that have changed through the last two years as scientists learned more about the dreaded disease.

First, we were told that it could last on objects for hours or even days. This resulted in our city pool being shut down, playground equipment and the tennis courts closed to the public. A few skate parks in Southern California were filled with sand to encourage social distancing.

playground equipment with yellow tape
This was the playground equipment at our park during the shut down.

Now we know that the virus doesn’t sit for hours on inanimate objects and it would have been healthier for kids to play on the playground — rather than being isolated in their homes.

A friend of mine would unpack her groceries from the cart and wipe them all down with bleach or alcohol before she loaded them into her car.

I know a lot of people who told me they’d strip off their clothes inside their front door when they returned, jumped into the shower and washed their clothes. That was especially true for people who were “essential workers” and had to work with the public.

I wore cloth masks such as the quilting fabric in the photo above — and my husband wore a bandana.

What are some of the things you did when the pandemic first hit that you later found out weren’t effective?

bungee swimming in pool
My daughter using the bungee in our backyard pool since the city pool was closed.

Sights at sunrise

Sun behind the clouds at sunrise
It’s so hot I’m taking my walks at dawn to beat the heat. The clouds are blocking the sunrise.

We’ve had a hot week and I’ve been swimming rather than walking each day. Our pool in the backyard is a nice temperature so I jump in and kick or swim. I swim laps at the Y a couple times a week too.

It’s weird not to walk every morning after not missing a day since I recovered from knee surgery.

The other morning I woke up at 4:45 a.m. and got out the door for a walk at 5:15 a.m. It was beautiful with birds singing, but I felt a little unnerved with coyotes howling nearby. It sounded like a large pack. I almost turned back to the house, but courageously kept moving on. I actually turned back momentarily only to discover the coyotes howling sounded near my home. Onward and forward seemed like the prudent choice.

Here are the photos I took during my early morning walk.

purple mountains and desert plans.
I love the colors of the mountains and desert in the early morning.

bird on saguaro
A saguaro topped by a bird.
Century plant fallen over
I had been watching this century plant waiting for it to bloom. This was a sad sight.
Century plant standing
This was the century plant two weeks ago.
The oldest quail babies hanging out with their mom and dad in our pool bar. We have three families from wee babies to these teenagers.

If I wake up early enough to beat the heat, I go for my walks at sunrise. If I wake up later and it’s too hot — I jump into the water. Thankfully our pool gets a lot of shade during the day, so the water temperature is still cool.

What is your favorite way to start the day? How are you getting exercise?

Talk about a Coup!

US Swimmers with Ambassador from Chile 1973
The US Ambassador to Chile (center) with Jim Montrella and Jill Griese (seated) and swimmers (standing.)

“We saw people’s heads blown off, were shot at, and saw bombs planted on bridges.” Part of a group of young swimmers representing the United States, Nancy Kirkpatrick-Reno travelled to Chile in September 1973. Of her travel trip, Kirkpatrick-Reno said, “We all came home with PTSD.”

  The swimmers were led by a young coach from Lakewood Aquatics in Southern California named Jim Montrella. They found themselves in the thick of the coup led by Augusto Pinochet that ousted Chilean President Salvador Allende. 

“The trip to Peru and then Chile during a coup was a stand-alone event 47 years ago,” Montrella said. “The team was selected from the National Swimming Championships held in Louisville, Ky. Three teams were selected to travel to South America while the first and second-place finishers went on to the World Championships in Belgrade.”

Montrella’s group included eight swimmers, plus chaperone and assistant coach Jill Griese from Ohio. The swimmers were Nancy Kirkpatrick, Michelle Mercer, Anne Brodell, Sandi Johnson, Tom Szuba, Tim McDonnell, Steve Tallman and future Olympic gold medalist Mike Bruner.

birthday party for a swimmer
A birthday celebration for one of the swimmers prior to the Chilean coup d’état .

Kirkpatrick-Reno was a promising 16-year-old swimmer from the Santa Clara Swim Club who trained with George Haines. “It was a post-Olympic year and a lot of us were hopefuls for the 1976 Olympic Team,” Kirkpatrick-Reno said. “We were coming in third and fourth places and moving up to the top of the ladder. It was before Title IX and we were a lot younger then.” 

 “The trip was sponsored by the United States Information Services; it went through the State Department,” Montrella said. “It was a People to People-type program to expose U.S. swimmers and athletes to different areas in Latin America.” Other sponsors were the Amateur Athletic Union and Phillips 66. 

The trip began without incident in Lima, Peru. Over the first few days, the coaches and swimmers were treated like royalty. Prelims were held in the morning with the Peruvian swimmers. Then Montrella gave coaches’ clinics with his swimmers demonstrating. In the evenings they held finals.

“During the time in Lima, we had someone from the State Department taking us from the hotel to the pool. There was a female TV reporter who was with us and acted as an interpreter,” explained Montrella. “When we told the people in Lima we were headed to Santiago, they encouraged us not to go to because in their own words, they knew there was going to be a coup d’etat and we’d be at risk.”  

Montrella said he talked to the ambassador or an assistant to the ambassador in Lima. He was told that it would be fine and that it was under control.

swimmers relaxing in Peru
Swimmers relaxing in Peru. The fun part of the trip.

“From Lima we went to Santiago. There was a gentleman there from Washington D.C. who was in the Peace Corps and was coaching the Chilean National Team, Mark Lautman. We were supposed to do the same thing we did in Peru, competition and clinics.”

Kirkpatrick-Reno recalled her first days in Santiago: 

“When we first arrived, we had a formal dinner with the Ambassador to Chile. We were told, ‘We’ve been having strikes, unrest and protests. We don’t want you to stay in the Presidential Hotel in downtown Santiago [which was next to La Moneda, the presidential palace.] We’re going to put you with families instead. Don’t wear USA sweats or uniforms because you would make good political prisoners.’”

swimmers arriving at the airport
Arriving at the airport in Santiago. Jim Montrella, far left, and and Nancy Kirkpatrick, third from left.

Kirkpatrick-Reno stayed with the president of the Chilean Swimming Federation. She said the family was welcoming but poor. The mother had to wait in line for hours for food. Kirkpatrick-Reno needed to get to the pool and the family didn’t have a car. Since the kids in the family were swimmers, she rode on the public bus with them and arrived late at the pool. “Jim was upset I was on the bus,” she said.

“My family didn’t have food and I felt really bad for them. They gave me a small loaf of bread, a couple cold cuts and a hard boiled egg. They had nothing to eat. They took me to my room and there was a portable heater. They didn’t have heat in the rest of the house. I tried to dry my wet towel with it. September in Chile is freezing cold.”

Kirkpatrick-Reno said that another swimmer on the trip, Tom Szuba, lived with a family whose parents worked as dentists. Unlike the family she stayed with, they had plenty of money and food. Szuba told her that he and the swimmer he was staying with would be able to use an extra family car to drive her to and from the pool. “They gave me a bag of food without letting my family know,” she said.

She explained that after a couple days of competition, the team was supposed to leave their host families and gather together and travel to a seaside resort town.

Kirkpatrick's host family
The Chilean swimmers and hosts. The swimmer Tom Szuba stayed with is on the far left.

“The Chilean coach Lautman picked up me and I think Tom, Tim, Michelle and Jim. We were heading to meet the rest of the team, but on the way there, military trucks were coming toward us. We watched as people opened their car doors and ran for cover. The coach told us to get down. I fell on the floor in the second seat. Tom fell on top of me to protect me. We heard bullets and saw charges being planted on a bridge. Lautman was driving like crazy against the traffic. Swimmers were all lying on the floor of the car. Lautman was trying to get us out of the area. He didn’t know where to go so he took us back to his apartment.

“On our way to meet up with everyone, the revolution had begun. Lautman had packed to go on the trip with us so he had almost no food in his apartment. He filled up bathtubs and sinks in his apartment with water so at least we’d have that. He had a bowl of fruit that we shared. We were stuck in his apartment for around three days.”

Montrella remembers that time, “We were staying in an apartment building on the 6th or 7th floor and we heard tanks in the street. Next door was the headquarters of a political faction. It was a two or three-story structure. I heard shooting.They absolutely shot up the political headquarters right next to us. It didn’t look like the same building after the tank got through with it.

“People in our building were shooting down at the tank. Right away I moved the kids into the interior of the apartment. We had a bullet come through one of our windows. It ricocheted off the ceiling and down into the interior. Then I got them out of the interior walls and I moved them closer to the windows and made sure all the blinds were closed. That way they didn’t get shot at through the walls or ricocheted off the stone ceilings to the interior.”

Kirkpatrick-Reno remembers them staying on the floor for most of the time and putting mattresses against the walls to protect from stray bullets. According to Montrella, she saved Mercer’s life by pulling her off a bunk bed where bullets came through moments later.

“We were in a 21-story apartment building. We watched them bomb the presidential palace. There were two bomber planes that swooped between the towers and dropped bombs on it. We saw 10 passes,” Kirkpatrick-Reno said.

“The building shook every time a bomb was dropped. There was a a 24-hour curfew and we couldn’t go outside. Jim kept us in shape by having us run up and down the flights of stairs. But that made us hungry and we had hardly any food. It did get our mind off what was going on, though.” 

She said that she and Mercer had candy bars hidden in their swim bags and they’d sneak bites once in a while. Then the boys found out and ate them all. “All we talked about was eating steak,” Kirkpatrick-Reno said.

After three days, the government lifted the curfew during the day to allow people to buy food and other essentials. At that time the State Department had the swimmers moved further out of town to stay with embassy employees. 

“It was kind of shocking once we moved outside of Santiago,” Kirkpatrick-Reno said. “It was a tale of two economies. The local people living there, like the family I stayed with, were poor and had nothing. They moved us to stay with an American woman in a big estate, who worked in the embassy. She had any kind of food you wanted in her freezers. It was sad to see the differences between the locals and Americans working for the State Department.”

Nancy Kirkpatrick and Tom Szubaa
Kirkpatrick and Szuba hanging with other swimmers out during the trip of a lifetime.

“We were told that Kissinger got us a flight out of Santiago,” Montrella said. “We thought the U.S. was going to supply a plane. What happened was we went to location A at the airport, dressed in our uniforms, and sat and sat and sat. Then we went to location B and we sat some more. Finally, we were walked out to a turbo prop plane.”

Montrella said he and Jill tried to stay positive for the swimmers, but when he saw the other passengers, he felt concerned. The plane was filled with passengers who were not Americans–perhaps Eastern Europeans or Soviets. Then the plane took off in the wrong direction.

“I didn’t know if it was by plan or chance, but we were literally flying through the Andes down deep mountain ravines and canyons. We weren’t flying over the Andes. Mountains were on either side of us,” Montrella said. “We landed in Buenos Aires. They offloaded everybody and we were in the furthest concourse away from everyone. All the Eastern Europeans walked away and they kept us at the end of the concourse.”

When the team was at the airport, Montrella spotted men in uniform 30 yards away. He told Jill to stay with the swimmers and he’d try to find out what was happening. The uniformed men told him, “You know why you were going through the Andes? Fighter pilots out of Argentina wanted to kill the Russians.” To this day, Montrella doesn’t know if this was fact or rumor.

“Theoretically we could have been shot out of the sky. So we were hiding in the mountains rather than going over them,” Montrella said. 

Montrella, Jill and the swimmers were eventually flown to Miami where everyone went their separate ways. Montrella said he remembers being debriefed before heading to an ASCA clinic in Chicago. It wasn’t until the team landed in the U.S. that the kids were able to call their parents.

Kirkpatrick-Reno said her parents had gone to the San Francisco airport on the day she was supposed to return. That was the first time they learned something was wrong. They were told by the airline employees that no planes were leaving Chile, that the airport had been bombed along with the communication towers.

Her dad called the State Department, congressmen, assemblymen as well as the press. When she arrived home after 50 hours of travel, she was met by a crowd of press. She said she was surprised that nobody from the government or AAU ever reached out to them with a letter or phone call.

“I don’t remember who told us to stay with families, rather than the hotel by the Presidential Palace, and not to wear our uniforms. But they must have known something was going on. In hindsight they must have thought it would look funny if we didn’t come,” Kirkpatrick-Reno said.

Montrella wasn’t sure if the U.S. government thought they’d be okay, or if they were considered expendable. He was very upset and angry at having been put in the middle of a coup if the government was aware. “My total concern was for the kids’ safety. I felt responsible for the kids and also I knew their coaches personally and professionally,” he added. 

In a lighter tone Montrella said, “We had t-shirts made up later and mailed them to the swimmers that said Chilean Coup Crew 1973. I still have my shirt.”

Nancy Kirkpatrick with newspapers
Nancy Kirkpatrick back home with newspapers she smuggled out of Chile.
Time Magazine cover of Coup in Chile
1973 Time Magazine cover of the Coup
Newsweek cover from 1973 coup
A Newsweek cover from 1973.

A version of this story first appeared in SwimSwam Magazine’s Spring 2021 Issue. To subscribe to SwimSwam, order back issues or access them digitally, click HERE.

Jim Montrella’s legendary coaching career includes becoming an NCAA-winning Ohio State Women’s Swimming and US Olympic coach. Montrella also produced the first commercially sold hand paddles.

Nancy Kirkpatrick-Reno was one of the first female swimmers to be awarded a college scholarship under Title IX. She is the head coach of Conejo Valley Multisport Masters and was USMS Coach of the Year in 2009.

Photos courtesy of Nancy Kirkpatrick-Reno.

Abbey Weitzeil cover of Spring 2021 SwimSwam magazine.
The cover of the Spring 2021 issue.
layout from SwimSwam magazine.
Layout of article in SwimSwam Magazine.

I wrote this story about the Chilean Coup Crew of 1973 for the Spring 2021 Issue of SwimSwam Magazine. I had never heard of this event until a swim coach mentioned it to me and said I should talk to legendary swim coach Jim Montrella. I had interviewed Montrella several times before, so that was an easy call. He’s the type of person who is approachable and happy to help in spite of his iconic reputation. You can read another story I wrote about him HERE. After hearing the word coup daily in the news the past few weeks, I felt this story was worth another look.

After speaking to Montrella, he referred me to one of the teen swimmers at the time, Nancy Kirkpatrick-Reno, who is now a swim coach.

Why boredom is good for kids

randk 6

My son came up with bug headbands for a birthday party made from pipe cleaners, styrofoam balls and lots of glue and glitter. The kids looked adorable. He also got to wear a birthday crown.

Thanks to a post yesterday by LA called Boredom, I remembered I had written about the subject years before. I dusted it off and updated my thoughts on being bored and how boredom boosts creativity.

Do you remember being bored as a kid? I do. But it didn’t last. I could go outside when we lived in town and ask a neighbor to play. Or, I’d jump on my bike and ride around the block. I run to the lot where a brown quarter horse lived. I’d climb on the fence to pet the white strip that ran down his nose. Most of the time I’d read, or play library and create library cards for all my books and arrange them by author on my bookshelves. Boredom just wasn’t a thing. Our mom was strict about TV. She allowed two half-hour shows daily that she circled in the TV Guide — and they were usually on PBS.

When we moved out to the country and we didn’t have close neighbors to play with, I would lay on the grass and watch the clouds.

These days, many kids never experience boredom because they lose themselves in their screens. They don’t know what it’s like to have to use their imaginations and find something creative to do. I don’t think it’s helping them to be entertained externally all the time. I wrote about promoting a creative spirit in kids last week, here and here.

Without creativity and an imagination, our kids won’t be problem solvers or discover new ways of doing things. If your kids are bored, so what? It’s okay. Ignore the whining and let them figure it out.

 In the Sarasota Herald Tribune, parenting experts Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman wrote Allow your kids to embrace boredom

 Have you noticed that our generation of parents is terrified of letting our kids become bored? Their anxiety is what drives them to pack a boatload of amusement options when they leave the house.

A few years ago, a waiter at a restaurant in North Dakota told us about a trend in his community. One local mom had created a custom quilted bag for holding multiple tablets so that every member of the family could be distracted and amused while they waited for their meal. It was wildly popular, he said.

Not only is our society’s pervasive reliance on amusement killing conversation and opportunities to connect and build relationships, it’s also preempting opportunities for boredom. Boredom is important for building imagination, creativity and innovation in our kids. Of course we can’t force these things into our children but we can set up an environment that will support the journey.

When we allow our kids to grapple with boredom on their own, rather than providing for them structured activities or distractions and amusements, imagination and creativity may come to their rescue!

“It is possible for boredom to deliver us to our best selves,” said author Nancy Blakey. “If we sit still long enough, we may hear the call behind boredom. With practice, we may have the imagination to rise up from the emptiness and answer.”

If we provide our kids with a constant stream of amusement options, which includes a plethora of extracurricular activities, we rob them of the opportunity to explore the open space in their own minds where the imagination hides.

They make a good point about having a structured schedule. With piano, swimming and homework, there wasn’t a lot of time for my kids to get bored during the school year. The summers gave them more hours for imaginative play. Swim meets also gave them time for creativity. They would sit under a pop-up tent for hours with their teammates. We’d be at a meet for five or six hours and they’d race for only a few minutes here and there. I remember observing some very creative verbal word games.

According to the article, the authors suggest having bins and jars filled with all sorts of things in easy reach for your kids like popsicle sticks, fabric, string, paints, googly eyes, papers of different colors and textures, glues, etc. Their suggestion:

Then let your kids get good and bored. Don’t offer many suggestions. Simply say, “Oh, there are lots of things you could do. I’m sure you’ll figure it out.” It may take time but eventually their imaginations will awaken and lead them to new horizons.

randk 9

The bug headbands made an appearance at several birthdays.

What are your thoughts about boredom?