Cookies and conversation: Nursing educators' annual baking day a long tradition
Diane Flabeland placed spoonfuls of raspberry jam into dough to make thumbprint cookies. She had been using strawberry jam but ran out close to the end.
“It’s still red,” she said to her two friends, as she scooped out the last of the raspberry jam from a glass jar.
The annual cookie day for five friends started about 35 years ago and brings the women together from the West Coast and Midwest.
“I don’t know what we would do without cookie day,” said Flabeland, who drove in from Bismarck to be with her friends in Jamestown over the weekend. “When you do something for 35 years there is a lot of life, the parents getting sick, the parents dying, the children getting married. There is all the stories.”
Friends since their undergraduate days at Jamestown College in the 1970s, all subsequently worked at the college and earned their doctorates. All nurses, they went on to become professors and administrators at colleges.
So for one day each holiday season they bake, and during the summer they all meet at a lake cabin in Minnesota.
Geneal Hall, retired director of nursing at the University of Jamestown, welcomed two of the friends to her kitchen on Friday: Teree Rittenbach, a professor of nursing and director of the RN to BSN (Bachelor of Science) in nursing program at UJ, and Flabeland, academic vice president of the University of Mary in Bismarck.
“Our friendship for 40 years has been a phenomenal gift,” Flabeland said. “There is just a little bit of cookies around the outside of all of that.”
Two other friends, Helen Melland, dean of the College of Nursing at Montana State University in Bozeman, and Diane Gilman in Davis, Calif., couldn’t attend the weekend event.
This year the women teamed up to make candy bar cookies, baklava pastries, pecan pie bars, peanut butter cup cookies and thumb prints to name a few.
“We sort of stick to the same things but it’s not necessarily always the same,” Hall said.
Tricks to baking have been mastered, from the timing and temperature of the fudge caramel bars, to the damp towels and wax sheets for the baklava bars, to rolling the candy canes. Other treats were dropped for their difficulty, or fell out of fashion but may be resurrected another year, they said.
Dozens of plastic holiday containers are filled with cookies for the women to bring home. Some wind up in churches or are given to groups but most of it is for the families, they said.
But the baking is just a part of the activity.
“It’s more than about the cookies,” Rittenbach said. “This is home and it’s a chance to catch up.”
The women started at Jamestown College in the mid-1970s and then went on to the University of Portland in Oregon to earn their master’s degrees. By 1980 they were earning doctorates in education at the University of Minnesota.
Nursing students become close, Rittenbach said. The bond begins during the comprehensive undergraduate general nursing education and even more so as it becomes more challenging with the testing and certifications.
“They (nursing students) become a family,” she said.
“We call ourselves cohorts,” Flabeland said.
It was not that typical for married women with children to go on to graduate school in the late 1970s, Flabeland said. She said it would not have been possible for her to succeed without the support of her cohorts and her family.
“My husband was proud of me and is still proud of me,” she said.
Fighting the stereotypes was easier with that support, she said. Some people viewed their professional pursuits as unhealthy to their families, or worse, that they were abandoning them, she said.
It was not that rare for women to reach those levels at that time, she said, but it was rare for women who were married and with small children. They were commuting three days a week from North Dakota to the Twin Cities and then going back to work the other four days, she said.
The families remained close over the years and the miles, they said. Their kids grew and became successful and got to know each other at the summer cabin events.
The holiday cookie baking remains a day for themselves, the women said. It is a day to recapture the closeness of old friends and catch each other up on weddings, grandchildren and the things that only old friends can share in the spirit of the holidays.
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