Sometimes I get the urge to shout, “I’m not Josie Grossie anymore!”
Sometimes I get the urge to shout, “I’m not Josie Grossie anymore!”
It’s hard to believe that I wrote my last Huffington Post piece Giving Trees & Why We’re So Obsessed With The 90’s last summer after I visited my childhood home on a trip back to the Twin Cities.
One reader wasn’t a fan. He tagged me in a tweet accusing me of longing for a naive, Lisa Frank version of the 90’s, when, in fact, it should have been the “sleazy and politically incorrect” one. The reality is that I turned six in 1990. How sleazy should my 90’s experience have been? For many girls between the ages of six and 15, the 90’s actually was a cloudy haze of technicolor Lisa Frank school supplies and Little Mermaid songs.
In the 90’s I was six and now I find myself thirty, which feels strange. I’m vainly comforted by the fact that I still haven’t found a gray hair. There’s one near my forehead that’s gone translucent. It may be devoid of color, but I guess it’s still not technically gray.
Thirty feels like we should start a family. I assumed it would just happen and so far it hasn’t, or at least, not as easily as I had assumed. Every once in a while I dream about a little, browned haired girl and wake up knowing she’s mine. We struggle with the whole feeling of urgency to start a family and the reality that we’d probably freak out if it actually happened.
Thirty means I keep starting sentences with “Back in my day. . .” and feeling grumpy about things that never bothered me before. For example, I watched the American Music Awards and couldn’t stop staring at One Direction. The tween girls swooned while I felt maternal concern. Does the guy in the shiny jacket need a comb and why do they look like they’re from the future? Why am I still thinking about this?
Yesterday, I wandered into a Bath & Body Works for the first time in a decade and couldn’t find the Freesia. What the hell is this scent Mad About You and why should I care if it’s not the television show with Helen Hunt? I don’t understand why I want to smell like a Wasabi Apple and why is everything on clearance? This is not the store I remember.
Our kids will never meet friends at Snoopy’s water bowl at the Mall of America and eat Knott’s Berry Farm chicken there. At the rate things are going, they’ll hear Adam Levine on the radio more often than we heard Robyn. I don’t want to live in a world where Adam Levine’s song “Animals” continues to appear on national top ten lists. Bringing back Robyn is how you can show me love.
Over Christmas I went through my old photos and noticed a curious thing. We always sat around a big, rectangular Bigfoot Pizza from Pizza Hut. We looked pretty happy so it must have tasted good and so it should probably come back.
I hope real love letters never die. Most of my handwritten love letters went unrequited and I regret nothing. Before email and before texts, we actually wrote love letters on real paper.
Do you love me, do you wanna be my friend?
And if you do
Well then don’t be afraid to take me by the hand
If you want to
I think this is how love goes, check yes or no
We wrote notes like this with check boxes and everything and then we stuffed them into locker slots or asked a friend to deliver them.
I hope young people keep writing letters. One of my favorite memories from the 90’s includes scouring The Kid’s Address Book with a friend. We didn’t try to catch celebrities in phone selfies; we hand-wrote them letters for autographed photos and sent giant construction paper cards to Hanson. Tony the Tiger was the only one who wrote back. He wasn’t JTT or Rider Strong, but he sent an autographed photo and we so thought he was pretty greeeeat.
Amazon.com drones sound neat, but I hope malls can still be a thing. As kids we spent most of our free time outdoors, but sometimes we wanted to wander the mall. Some malls still hum, but many fade. I enjoyed the magical 90’s mall less as a place to buy things and more as a venue to stroll with people. We took family trips to the mall that ended with dinner at the food court. When my grandma and mom became ill, we’d pack up their wheelchairs and stroll the halls like old times. No matter how old I get, I never want to become too cool for the mall food court experience.
I hope our kids experience the glee that was the 90’s kid’s trip to the video store. A trip to the video store usually preceded special occasions like a family movie night or sleepover with friends. When we grew older, solo trips to the video store were rights of passages. It was the first place to which we could ride our bike without adult supervision and drive our car when we received our licenses. My folks enforced a strict “No Rated R” policy, so we watched movies like Scream and at someone else’s house (sorry parents!).
Video stores only carried a limited number of each new release. When your first was gone, it was gone and you just had to wait. I can now find answers and directions and distractions on my smart phone at all times. We scroll through movie options on Netflix and binge-watch entire series of television shows in the span of a weekend. I can skip commercials all together by DVRing cooking shows and sometimes I fear that I forgot how to wait.
Buzzfeed publishes lots of great 90’s lists that hit me right in the gut, but it’s also a photo-stealing monster. And no, I do not “weep for the children of today” even though the closest they might ever get to our 90’s is a 90’s-themed school dance or our tattered copies of Goosebumps books. Frankly, that’s OK because life is change and change is life.
Nevertheless, may our children have lots of reasons to laugh and people who love them. May they still play outside, build forts in the woods, and find glee in whatever replaces the 90’s trip to the video store. Don’t get me wrong, I love being thirty, translucent hairs and all, but there’s a short window to dwell in that Lisa Frank haze and all of the time in the world to be an adult.
On Thursday I toasted my mom with a Burnsville Center food court Philly.
We grew up roaming the Burnsville Center, long before the advent of online shopping and Amazon Prime.
The mall wasn’t just a place we shopped. We wandered it in packs of friends as we searched for products that would bring us peer acceptance and spaghetti strap tank tops. Of course, I had to wear my tanks over a white tee-shirt (at least, when my parents weren’t looking)
Things meant more back when I was growing up in the 90’s. I’d blow my babysitting money on a plain white shirt because it said Guess. Now, I’m happiest rotating between my two favorite t-shirts. We 90’s kids smelled like a Country Apples, Cucumber Melons, Freesia or Sweet Peas at any given time. These gateway scents led to Victoria’s Secret, to our parent’s dismay, and eventually Clinique Happy. And we probably always glittered.
We prowled for boys at the mall and met them for movies back when a theater was inside the mall. We asked each other out through friends and broke up by handwritten notes. “Going out” meant going wherever our parents were willing to drop us off and pick us up. It involved making a show of awkwardly hugging each other in the school hallways and pairing up for the square dance unit in gym class. And God forbid, if you mixed up a meeting time or place, you had to call your friend’s home phone from a mall pay phone.
90’s kids also liked froyo, but we didn’t have fancy, self-serve yogurt bars like Cherryberry. We got ours from Dayton’s, long before it became Marshall Fields and before it became a Macy’s.
Strolling through the Burnsville Mall brought back memories of my family: Mother-daughter shopping trips, back to school shopping and Christmas and birthday present shopping. We used to pick up my grandma up from Ebeneezer Ridges and stroll around the mall, always treating ourselves to soft pretzels. When my mom was in the last stages of hospice, we were known to spontaneously forgo a casserole and eat together in the food court.
Mom always chose a cheesesteak from that place near the corner. I was tickled to find that it’s still there last week when I stopped for lunch on the way to an appointment. The Philly Steak Grill’s name and ownership may have changed since 2008, but the sandwich tasted the same and it’s still called a “Philly Bomb.”
The bread’s a little squishy and I wouldn’t know how it compares to a real Philly cheesesteak. Nevertheless, it sure tasted like I remembered, which is not to say “authentic’ or “perfect.” That’s not what I was looking for, anyway.
These days, the Burnsville Center seems a little quieter. Kay Bee Toys is long gone, along with Mervyn’s California and the Chinese buffet. I’m not longer interested in collecting cheap jewelry in a mesh basket at Claire’s and there ain’t nobody to lecture me about avoiding the back aisles of Spencer’s Gifts anymore.
It’s funny how places and food can awaken so many memories. I enjoyed a quiet moment of reflection with my cheesesteak in the mall’s food court. For my mom’s sake, I hope there are mall cheesesteaks in heaven.
I started feeling nostalgic for the old places that held significance throughout my childhood on a drive back to the Twin Cities last week. They beckoned me, which was strange, because ever since my mom passed away I’ve avoided them like the plague.
Days before, I had attended a work training in which the facilitator read Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree out loud. I remember hearing this story many times before, but I don’t remember it making me feel so sad.
The story was fresh on my mind and so I visited the tree just beyond the fence at Diamond Path Elementary School before heading back to Iowa. I felt so much joy upon our reunion.
We used to sneak back to this tree during recess. My friends and I would lean against its trunk and dream about what we wanted to become when we grew up.
I made one last detour so I could drive past my old house and follow our most traveled walking path. We had built our house before the path existed, back when this pond was dead and murky and the trees were young. Over nearly two decades, my family walked this path a thousand times. We followed it to school and around the parks, and we rollerbladed its hills forwards and backwards.
My mother loved to walk and so we followed the path together, usually with our beloved family dogs.
Losing loved ones is strange.
I paused here, half expecting them to march around the corner at any moment.
People my age are so obsessed with the 90’s because, for the first time, we feel our childhoods slipping away. The toys that we liked, the clothes that we wore, the foods that we ate are all becoming relics and the mere sight of them makes us wax poetically like they were the greatest things ever.
We feel unsettled when we see Friends and Full House have replaced Mork & Mindy and I Dream of Jeannie on Nick at Night. And how could we have known that we’d speak of Shark Bites with so much enthusiasm or that an empty bottle of OK Soda might sell for $75 on eBay?
Many of us are starting our own families and feeling anxious as we notice our parents aging. Some of them are downsizing and selling our childhood homes now that we’ve moved out. When we drive by our old homes for nostalgia’s sake, we find ourselves holding our breath in anticipation to see if the new owners have sustained our giving trees.
Some of us have lost loved ones and we no longer believe we’re invincible. We can see that there’s an end in sight and that it’s inevitable and totally real. We’ve moved past our quarter life crises and are on to the next.
It’s not that we’re the first generation to feel these things; it’s just we’re starting to feel these things for the first time. Or at least, I am.
I never did see my mom and two dogs turn that corner and the denim jacket waiting in the back of my closet still hasn’t cycled back into style, but the magnolia tree beneath my old bedroom window still grows, and so, for now, everything still feels all right.
I missed throw-back Thursday, but I want to take a moment to talk about those 90’s foods we ate as kids and revisit an old favorite.
Just the mere sight of a box brought the flavor of Munch ’ems Sour Cream & Onion and cheese powders back into my mouth, two decades later where I am unhappy to say they are still lingering. My lunches were accompanied by so many Munch ’ems.
WOW! chips were supposedly a revolutionary fat-free potato chips fried in a magical substance called Olestra. People gobbled WOW! potato chips and Doritos like crazy until they learned that eating them in large quantities caused diarrhea and gas, and that Olestra prevents the body from absorbing vitamins.
WOW! we’re fat-free chips became WOW! you have diarrhea which is probably why I haven’t seen or heard the word Olestra since the 90’s. My parents were very strict about portion control, so Wow!-induced intestinal distress was never an issue for us (that I can remember). I hope America learned to eat real chips. Just not too many.
Snackwells Fat Free Cookies
My folks were really into the fat-free and sugar-free food movement that surged (no pun intended) during the 90’s.
Our cupboards were always filled with these green boxes of Snackwell’s diet cookies. I ate them, but did not especially like them. As an adult, I’d rather eat no cookie than a fat and sugar-free cookie. I am morally opposed to diet desserts which is why I won’t bring myself to purchase Snackwell’s products for research purposes.
If you are feeling nostalgic, view this compilation of Snackwell’s advertisements that aired between 1993-1998. As the video’s poster aptly states, click only if you are willing to sacrifice 13-minutes of your life you will never get back.
Damn, I actually miss this stuff.
My parents might have bought many of these processed food in the 90’s, but they made sure we ate a serving of fruit and vegetables with each meal and limited our soft drink consumption. Jake is always amused to find I attempt to enforce similar rules as an adult, most especially the “two-cookie” rule. We were brought up to believe one should never eat more than two cookies at a time.
We could drink Clearly Canadian as a treat. The company branded these sodas as a healthier option than regular soda and offered fruit flavors that were less common at the time. Whether or not they were healthier, I am not sure, but they sure were clear. My personal favorite was Mountain Blackberry.
Our public school did not sell soda pop in the lunch line, but they did sell lots of Clearly Canadians and slushies (because those are so much healthier). All the cool kids nursed bottles of Clearly Canadian and we felt peer-pressured to pass them down our long lunch tables so everyone could have a sip. This makes me gag, now.
This mysterious Coca Cola soda only reached test markets between 1993-1995 and Minneapolis-St. Paul was fortunate enough to be included. The only place I ever bought this soda was from the vending machine at church before Wednesday night youth group or choir.
I was drawn to the strange designs on the cans. It was very moody and kind of depressing which probably matched my adolescent frame of mind.
I remember the soda was clear, but can’t even remember what it tasted like. Only, that tasted was less exciting than I assumed based upon the marketing and packaging. According to urban legend, OK Soda tasted like every soda mixed together. I feel like that combination should have had more flavor . Actually, I think I just liked the moody can.
Just as Greek yogurt is all the rage these days, colorful, sugar-laden yogurts were popular in the 90’s.
We stocked cartons of these fat-free and sugar-free yogurts sweetened with aspartame which I always found to have a nasty, distinguishable flavor.
We ate Dannon Sprinkl’ins yogurt packaged with sprinkles that left colorful residue swirled throughout the product. I also remember eating a yogurt that came with a pouch of powder that you’d pour into the yogurt to transform its color and flavor.
Try not to gawk at the questionable bannanastrawberry in this Dannon commercial from 1994.
Worst of all was flourescent Trix yogurt of which I begged my parents to purchase. I think they still make it, but this is another item I can’t bring myself to indulge in, even for the sake of research.
Plantars Cheez Balls
We bought these by the tin. I can’t remember if my parents declared a certain number of cheese balls per serving, but the fact that they tore up the roof of my mouth if I ate too many may have been enough incentive to eat in moderation. I ate so many Cheez Balls throughout the 90’s that similar products are no longer appealing and this is very uncharacteristic of my junk food tastes.
How could you forget this commercial?
I seem to remember my mom included them in our lunch boxes for special treats and bought bags for my brother and I to eat on the way home from piano lessons.They were highly coveted sweets had one been lucky enough to find a bag in his or her Halloween stash.
I’m not sure what made Shark Bites fruit snacks more special than any other fruit snacks, except that they were shaped like a shark and are discontinued, making us all go “awwww,” out of nostalgia.
They made frequent appearances in my lunch bags (along with String Things that tasted like cherry cough syrup) and I liked the white ones the best.
Make your own pizza Lunchables.
Cold pizza is ok. But cold, assemble-your-own cold pizza? This was my favorite lunch to take to school.
We also ate other Lunchables as treats. Eventually, slimy rounds of lunch meat laden with gristle lost their appeal, no matter how pretty the packaging. As an adult, I revisited the Lunchables section for kicks and giggles which quickly transformed into horror. The Lunchables “without drink” are one thing. The combo packs are another.
Lunchable’s packages their meat, cracker and cheese combination with a Kit Kat and Capri Sun. The Luchables Uploaded line is another monster. One kit includes make your own cold chicken tacos + Cheez-Its, Oreos, a bottle of water and a packet of Kool-Aid tropical punch flavoring because God forbid our kids grow up to drink water that tastes like water, right?
The company notes each product’s nutritional “highlights.” This pizza variety is an “Excellent source of calcium and protein.”
Pizza Lunchables Revisited:
I bought a pepperoni pizza Lunchable without drink at Target for $1.60 and invited Jake to join me on my revisit. I haven’t eaten a pizza Lunchable since middle school while Jake has never eaten one.
The little pizza crust discs are much smaller than I remember, which might not be such a bad thing. You get three.
We assembled our first pizza.
I watched Jake take his first bite. He likened the product to biting into a frozen pizza that was left to thaw.
I found the product to taste exactly like I remembered. I actually didn’t hate it and may or may not have helped myself to a second round.
“This is gross and you’re gross if you like it,” exclaims Jake. I guess that means I’m partially gross. I can live with that.
Obviously, I won’t be purchasing these again, but I must confess I did not find this trip down memory lane as revolting as Jake.
What foods defined your 90’s? What do you miss and what are you glad is discontinued?