Mary Clista Dahl: ‘Out to lunch’ has many meanings - The Buffalo News

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Mary Clista Dahl: ‘Out to lunch’ has many meanings

Lunch is defined as a meal eaten in the middle of the day. It is a chance to take a break from our daily work routine. Accumulated, my lunch experiences throughout time have proven to be much more.

Early lunches were served in a metal “Lost in Space” lunch box with a little red handle and filled with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, snacks and fruit. Sometimes I was treated to the cafeteria specials consisting of delicious, soggy pizza squares and sculpted brownies on trays with mini milk cartons and elbow straws.

Through the years, the themed metal boxes evolved into the paper bags that held my teenage lunches. Eating them in the high school cafeteria, I witnessed some of the best straw wrapper, salt and pepper and silverware tricks that are still with me today. The entertainment was unparalleled (watching that kid collecting a fortune for tossing his cookies at will) as was the urgent news (so and so broke up with so and so).

During my career so far, I calculate that I have taken roughly 7,800 lunch breaks. When I first started working, I would deliberately sit down and eat a meal that I had prepared before I left the house. It was eaten in a quiet place, or outside on a park bench when the weather cooperated.

As I grew older and inherited more responsibilities, I used this time to schedule appointments or make phone calls, munching on a piece of celery while waiting for a customer service representative.

When doctor’s orders instructed me to exercise every day during my pregnancy, I developed a lunchtime routine and walking addiction that remains my exercise 20 years later.

I soon found that busy, working moms have a different concept of the lunch hour. They cram in gift shopping, doctor visits and trying on clothes. And since these back-to-back minutes are the only unscheduled time they may have during the day, they maximize it. Grocery shopping, which previously took a couple of hours, is strategically accomplished by sweeping the store quickly.

This stage was especially busy because it also meant thinking about how the children would be spending their lunch hours. Each morning was filled with packing nutritious food and water bottles into canvas bags. When it came time to get my own lunch together, I usually had one minute for the grab and go – picking the first portable food item I could find before rushing out the door. Definitely out to lunch.

Thankfully, my children are now self-sufficient and this daily block of 60 minutes is mine. The phrase “let’s do lunch” has become less flippant, more purposeful and created an unexpected opportunity to grow. I attend seminars for fun, meet interesting people and learn new things. With old friends, I share reminiscent laughter, solve the world’s problems and compare ailments and grandchildren in locations often determined by whether or not the restaurant accepts coupons.

The older we get, the less it seems that our lives are dictated by calendar and clock. The need for the dedicated lunch hour disappears. Change is inevitable. If I live long enough, it is possible that my meal eaten in the middle of the day will be pureed and offered to me sparingly on the tip of a spoon by a stranger. I will take it slowly and gently. My mind will be free to express my own thoughts at last, and the first one will probably be, “Wish I had held on to that ‘Lost in Space’ lunch box.”

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