When It’s Hard to be Thankful

I stared at my writing calendar in disbelief.

How is it possible? I wondered. The Thanksgiving column, AGAIN!?

In 10-plus years of writing this twice-monthly column, I’m almost positive the Thanksgiving writing duty has mostly fallen in my lap.

Oh, I know colleague Stefanie Pettit has tackled it a time or two – but still, that’s a lot of gratitude, and frankly, I’ve been feeling less than grateful lately.

There’s no rule or commandment that says a column published on Thanksgiving Day must invoke that topic, yet I feel a certain obligation to at least acknowledge the holiday. Imagine having a column run on Christmas Day and writing about cats.

Never mind. I’ve probably done that.

Sighing, I pulled up my files and scanned my list of previous turkey day topics.

Thankful after windstorm? Check.

Eating at the kids’ table? Check.

Black Friday? Check.

Thankful for appliances? Check.

Empty chairs around the table? Check.

I poured another cup of coffee and pondered the problem. A slippery slope, because rumination opened a floodgate of negativity as I recalled the difficult past few weeks.

I’d rather write about the things I’m NOT thankful for, I thought.

And the column took shape in my mind.

I’m not thankful for a deeply personal betrayal and the resulting loss and grief.

I’m not thankful for a health scare that knocked me for a loop and made me miserable.

I’m not thankful for a change in finances that put upcoming travel plans in jeopardy.

I’m not thankful for another trip to the emergency room with my ailing mother.

I’m not thankful that the above issues resulted in me putting my Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer work on hold.

Typing this list made me feel worse.

Abandoning the column-in-progress, I did what I so often do when stymied by a project. I laced up my walking shoes and headed out the door into a dank, gray November drizzle that perfectly reflected my mood.

Here’s the deal: I’ve never thought of myself as an optimist or a pessimist; I’m solidly in the realist camp. What is is, and feelings don’t change facts.

Yet as I shuffled through soggy leaves, I kept finding bits of gold and copper that gleamed against the asphalt, despite the dreary day. The juxtaposition sparked a glint of joy.

My mood lifted, my thoughts cleared and I mentally reviewed and reframed my list of woes.

That hurtful betrayal opened a door to healing in other, far more important relationships.

Dealing with a miserable illness made me realize just how blessed I’ve been with good health, and how easily I take that for granted.

The financial changes allowed Derek and me to reconsider our long-range plans, and we decided to pay off our mortgage. It felt amazing to walk out of the bank debt-free.

This ER visit with Mom had a profound difference. Not only did she check out fine, but instead of returning to an empty house, she returned to a safe community filled with kind people who watch over her.

Letting go of my volunteer responsibilities for a while has freed me to focus on family, and on friendships that are essential to surviving hard times.

I trudged on. The clouds didn’t magically part. The rain didn’t lessen. Yet I was overcome with gratitude.

Like finding bits of gold in soggy November leaves, discovering joy in the midst of sadness changes perception and opens your heart to new possibilities.

And I have never been more thankful for the privilege of writing another Thanksgiving column.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

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Moving Mom

The For Sale sign swung wildly in the blustery October wind, and though I’d known it was coming, the sign startled me.

I pulled over in front of what used to be my house and let the memories wash over me.

Growing up in a military family, I moved a lot. Nine houses in 16 years, until we finally returned to Spokane to stay.

This house represented permanence to my parents, who’d grown weary of years of moving. It welcomed my best friends and high school sweethearts. My first day of college photo was taken on its front steps.

On my wedding day, I woke in my twin bed, in my blue bedroom with the switch plate that reads “Cindy’s Room.” The switch plate is still there, though it hasn’t been my room for 31 years.

A few years later, a photo taken in the entryway shows my dad proudly holding my firstborn son – his namesake, Ethan Thomas. It was Ethan’s first visit to what was now known as Grandma’s house.

Dad is wearing a sportcoat and tie, so he must be home for lunch. After he retired from the Air Force, he went to work for the Department of Social and Health Services, and his office was within walking distance – a huge selling point when they bought the house.

By the time our sons Alex and Zach were born, Dad had retired, and my husband and I had bought a home nearby. Dad delighted in dropping in to “check on the babies.” I always thought he meant my sons, but chances are he meant me, too.

When he died 22 years ago, my mom remained in their home – happy to know I was close. And when after several years of widowhood, our last son arrived, she was especially glad she’d stayed in the neighborhood.

Grandma’s house became a rite of passage. When boys anxious for independence wanted to venture from my nest, unsupervised – it was to her house they went. Sometime after the magic age of 10, I’d let them walk the six blocks to her house. This was long before every kid had a cellphone, so the kid had to first call Grandma to let her know he was on the way, then immediately call me when he arrived, and then call me again when he left.

Freedom had a laborious cost back in the day.

As Mom aged, the split-level design of the house proved daunting, and one spring she took a tumble down the stairs, breaking her ankle.

Still she wouldn’t move. Wouldn’t hear of it. This was her home – the place she and Dad ceased their wanderings, and besides, I lived just a few blocks away.

We worried that when the time finally came for her to move, she wouldn’t be able to help us choose her new home. And that’s just what happened.

This summer her mental and physical health failed at an alarming rate. Suddenly, my siblings and I had to make major decisions with no input from Mom.

Thankfully, my brother David and his wife, Becky, had retired to Spokane several years ago. They were able to find Mom a nice apartment in an assisted living facility, arrange for movers and an estate sale, and last week they sold the house.

Mom is 86, and doing better than she was this summer, but she’s still confused about what happened to her home, to her things.

Her new residence is just two blocks from her old one, so the landscape of her neighborhood is familiar. Her grandsons visit more frequently, now that she doesn’t have to come down any stairs to open the door. And when they visit they talk about the happiness and love they always found at Grandma’s house. The location may have changed, but the love hasn’t.

I pull away from the house, and I don’t think I’ll drive by again for a while.

It’s someone else’s turn to make memories on Standard Street. My own are locked safely in my heart, and there isn’t a house anywhere big enough to contain them.


Who Needs Prince Charming?

I didn’t really think he’d show up on a white horse. I’ve never been a great rider and city streets aren’t welcoming to skittish steeds.

Instead, my Prince Charming borrowed his father’s Ford Tempo for our first date. “I’m in the middle of restoring a ’67 Mustang,” he explained.

Thirty-one years later, he’s still in the middle of restoring that same ’67 Mustang. I no longer sing “Someday My Prince Will Come;” instead I mutter, “Someday my prince will be done – with something. Anything!”

After three decades of marriage I’ve had ample time to rethink my original dreams of Prince Charming.

My prince has never waltzed me around glittering ballrooms, and I’m not in the habit of losing any shoes. But sometimes he sneaks into the kitchen while I’m cooking, takes my hand, and spins me into a slow dance across the dining room floor.

“There they go again,” one of our sons will say, groaning with embarrassment.

As if dining room dancing wasn’t enough, several years ago, Derek decided to add guitar-playing to his romantic resume.

“I’m going to learn to play ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love With You’ for your birthday,” he announced.

My birthday came and went. As did Valentine’s Day, our anniversary and Christmas.

Finally, I schlepped the two guitars and the amp he’d purchased downstairs, and shoved them in a closet. His musical ardor may have dimmed, but his passion for me has yet to wane.

I know this, because several times a month he’ll text me: Date night?

He makes reservations at one of our favorite restaurants. And we don’t stare at our phones over dinner – we talk about anything and everything. We’ve yet to run out of words.

It turns out my prince didn’t have a castle to offer me, but that’s OK . I’ve heard the upkeep on palaces is brutal. And I’ve never been a damsel in distress in need of rescue.

In fact, the demur, soft-spoken girl in white satin he married, grew up into a confident woman with opinions that often differ from his, and a newspaper column in which to express them.

Instead of being threatened, Derek applauded and encouraged my evolution. Willingly, he picked up the slack at home when my work took me out of town – or more often inside my head.

Writers are rarely easy to live with, especially when a new project swallows every waking thought and even haunts our dreams. But he is uncomplaining, knowing that my glazed eyes will eventually light on him, recognition will dawn, and I will invariably smile.

He hasn’t ruled a kingdom. His birthright is more plastic spork than silver spoon, but for over 20 years he’s run a successful small business. His reputation for integrity remains sterling, even in tough economic times.

When our children grew, and rebellion brewed with teens eager to topple the home regime, he handled those painful transitions with grace, dignity and infinite patience. Watching him parent our sons made me fall in love with him all over again.

Time has changed us. My prince has lost some hair, gained some weight, lost that weight and gained some wrinkles. And I’ve done the same, except my hair has grayed instead of thinned.

His unfinished projects still drive me crazy. The Mustang rusts in our driveway; the guitars gather dust in the closet, and the long-promised home office remains elusive. I never know what he’ll start next, but I’m confident it probably won’t be completed.

And just when my frustration reaches its zenith, I catch his eye across a crowded room (all of our rooms are crowded, now) and my heart skips a beat.

He holds out his hand to me. I take it and he pulls me into an embrace that still takes my breath away.

We sway together, and he hums in my ear. “Wise men say, only fools rush in, but I can’t help falling in love with you.”

I don’t need Prince Charming. Or a ballroom. I don’t really even need the tiara he bought me.

I just need this man.

And I’m profoundly grateful that our marriage is still an unfinished project.

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Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

Keep the Orange in Halloween!

Sometimes you just have to take a stand – a produce stand.

After two back-to-back zucchini columns, I really thought I was done writing about squash.

I thought wrong.

You see, autumn is my favorite time of year. There’s nothing better than taking a stroll around the neighborhood under a crisp blue sky. Leaves crunch underfoot and trees show their best colors; a riot of russet, red and gold.

Halloween and fall decor comes out with bats, witches, spider webs and jack-o’-lanterns appearing on porches and lawns.

But the past few years I’ve noticed a rather alarming trend – ghostly white pumpkins. At first I thought folks were painting them, but then I saw the pale imitations popping up in grocery stores.

Turns out farmers are growing varieties of albino squash with names like Lumina, Cotton Candy, Full Moon, Polar Bear and miniature Baby Boos. They’re planting them mostly to keep up with decorating demands.

That’s right. Pinterest is ruining pumpkins!

An article on a travel website about the new crops, stated, “Orange is so yesterday.”

Have they even noticed who’s in the White House?

Speaking of, I don’t mean to be divisive, but unlike the Lorax, I didn’t speak for the trees, the Christmas trees, that is, and look what happened.

White flocked trees meant to simulate a dusting of snow, quickly devolved into madness when the new generation of artificial trees arrived. You can now purchase Christmas trees in most any hue; silver, pink, blue and even rainbow.

Taking the green out of holiday trees is an abomination. We might as well jettison Santa’s red velvet suit and put him a tux. While we’re at it, we could color his snowy white hair, trim that fluffy beard and give him a man bun and a soul patch.

Obviously, I’m a holiday purist.

Pumpkins have been orange since the Garden of Eden and I see no reason to adulterate them. Honestly, I find the albino variety ugly. Our landscape is soon going to be buried in white; can’t we enjoy a bright splash of tangerine before winter dulls our vistas?

As expected, when posting a potentially controversial opinion on social media, the haters came out in force. I was called “squashist,” “gourdist” and even “orange supremacist.”

I accept the charge of pumpkin profiling and am not ashamed.

This slope has already proved treacherously slippery. One Facebook friend admitted to owning a pink pumpkin. PINK! For the love of gourd!

My sister told me she’s even seen a teal squash. That’s something you can’t unsee.

It’s enough to put me off my Chocolate Chip Pumpkin bread and my Spicy Pumpkin muffins. Well, almost.

Another friend posted a meme of a field of albino squash captioned, “White pumpkins drained of their spice by illegal poachers. Please demand ethically sourced Pumpkin Spice lattes.”

Someone else replied, “#allpumpkinsmatter.”

I admit that gave me pause, and I briefly considered aborting my “Keep the Orange in Pumpkin” campaign, but I’d already gone to the trouble of creating a #pumpkinpurist hashtag, and feel it could be trending soon. It would be a shame to lose momentum.

When a friend wrote, “I judge a pumpkin by the content of its character,” I had to admire the sentiment. To be fair, if you slice into an albino pumpkin, you’ll find orange flesh, and supposedly these pale imitations have thinner skins, making them easier to carve.

Nevertheless I must persist.

And while I’m at it, pumpkins are fruit, so don’t go saying you got your vegetable servings in for the day, after three slices of pie.

As I wrapped up my research, I read this headline, “There’s no rule that pumpkins have to be orange.”

To that I can only say, well, there should be.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval


Squirrels Gone Bad

In the annals of feuding you may recall the Hatfields and McCoys or the Capulets and Montagues. Soon historic records may include the tale of the Hvals and the Squirrels.

The long-simmering conflict between Norwegians and rodents shows signs of heating up again.

“Gosh-dang, flippin’ dangin’ squirrels!” my husband recently hollered from the Delightful Deck. “Leave my garden alone!”

I’m not censoring his language. That’s an exact quote.

It seems the squirrels that run along our fence line, taunting our indoor kitties, have gotten bolder and are tiptoeing through the garden, leaving a trail of holes in their wake. They don’t even have the courtesy to take a zucchini or two with them when they scamper off.

When a freshly picked cucumber tasted bitter, Derek blamed the squirrels.

“I bet they’re peeing on my plants,” he said.

He’s not the only Hval engaged in rodent warfare. Several years ago his brother bought a lake cabin. His wife thought the squirrels that skittered and chattered among the pines near the deck were adorable.

“We fed them,” she recalled. “Then they started eating our beach towels.”

Well, that wasn’t cute.

They stopped feeding them, but the squirrels called squatter’s rights to their deck. And their roof. And their beach towels.

So, my brother-in-law got some humane traps, and they launched the Hval Catch and Release Rodent Relocation program.

It turned out to be a full-time job, which wasn’t ideal since they are part-time lake dwellers.

“The squirrels came back with their cousins and their friends and screamed at us for trapping them,” my sister-in-law said.

Things escalated the year they returned to open the cabin for the summer and found squirrels had gnawed their way through the bathroom ceiling.

The pesky varmints had chewed up the drywall – and the bath towels.

“They destroyed the bathroom,” my sister-in-law said. “Thank God we’d shut the door, and they couldn’t get into the rest of the house!”

That was the last straw.

Armed with BB guns, my brother-in-law and his sons declared war on squirrel. I won’t go into the gory details, but let’s just say squirrel hunting became something of a family hobby.

You’d think the message would have been clear, yet each year the squirrels spend several days berating and taunting my in-laws when they return to the cabin.

Property damage is one thing, but personal damage is quite another.

Recently, a Facebook friend related a terrifying tale of a squirrel gone bad at Manito Park.

Heather Rose Clarke was taking an early morning Sunday stroll through the park on a paved path when she saw a squirrel off to the side. She stopped to take a picture and the squirrel approached her.

“I thought it was really cute! It went behind me and grabbed my ankle, so I turned with my upper body to take a pic,” she wrote. “That’s when it locked its claws and started biting me! I was so surprised. I tried to shake it off, but it was really attached. I reached to grab it off and that’s when it clamped onto my right arm and wouldn’t let go.”

In a few terrifying minutes the squirrel left her a bitten, bloody and scratched-up mess. A friend took her to minor emergency, where the doctor allayed her fears about rabies, cleaned up her wounds and gave her a prescription for an antibiotic. He told her he sees this a couple times a year.

“The one thing I want to stress is that I did not antagonize the squirrel to make it attack me. It literally came up to me, and at no time did I move toward it or threaten it,” Clarke said. “It totally took me off guard. I have walked in Manito hundreds of times and never had an incident.”

According to Fianna Dickson, a spokeswoman for the parks department, Clarke is not alone.

“We’ve received reports of two squirrel attacks recently, and have called out a wildlife management contractor to provide advice,” Dickson wrote in an email. “As I’m sure you’ve read, some wildlife experts speculate the squirrel who attacks may have been hand-fed by someone, and then seeks food again from humans and is frantic when it doesn’t receive food. We continue to ask the public to please refrain from feeding wildlife in parks.”

So, no matter how photogenic you think those furry, brown-eyed rodents are – don’t be lured into offering them a snack, unless you don’t mind being an appetizer on their menu, or having your beach towels served up as the main course.

I, for one, agree with Carrie Bradshaw, a character in the television show “Sex and the City,” who said: “A squirrel is just a rat with a cuter outfit.”

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

The Unhappy Camper

You think you know someone.

You think you can really trust them.

You think they’d never do anything to harm you.

And then they drive you out into the wilderness and dump you. They peel out of the gravel parking lot, leaving you and your small blue suitcase behind – abandoned like a box of unwanted kittens.

At the tender age of 9, I had to confront the harsh reality that my parents no longer loved me. Frantically, I wracked my brain, trying to remember what I’d said or done that resulted in my banishment to the godforsaken wilderness of Silver Lake Bible Camp.

It didn’t matter. It was too late.

“Bye! Have fun!” Mom yelled out the window of the rapidly disappearing car.

Fun? FUN? Who was that woman and what had she done with my real mom?

I’d been dropped off somewhere near Medical Lake with no trail of breadcrumbs to follow to find my way home. Since we lived in Ritzville at the time, it would have taken a lot of bread. But still.

“You’ll love it,” my mother said. “It’s on Silver Lake, just like your favorite book!”

I was a passionate Laura Ingalls Wilder devotee, but this was nothing like “By the Shores of Silver Lake.”

There was no Ma. No Pa. And no one was calling me Half-Pint. Instead, the camp director swept me along with a group of similarly abandoned children and began calling out cabin numbers.

I trudged to the small, wood-framed cabin without air conditioning, my suitcase bumping the gravel as I dragged it along behind me.

Rows of bunk beds lined the walls. This was it. The Big House. The Hoosegow. The Home for Unwanted Children.

The other kids didn’t seem to grasp the desperateness of our situation. Giddy, giggling girls vied for bunks. Most of them seemed to know each other. I didn’t know a soul. Finally, just two of us loners remained.

“Hey, girls! Here’s your bunk!” camp counselor Candy said, encircling our drooping shoulders in her tanned, toned arms. “Who wants the top?”

I shrugged. My bunkmate stared at the floor and then threw herself onto the bottom bunk, sobbing.

“Okay!” said perpetually perky Candy. “Cindy gets top bunk!”

It was all downhill from there.

I hated camp. I loathed it with every fiber of my small-for-my-age 9-year-old body.

Recently, I wrote an article about two friends who met at Camp Sweyolakan 60 years ago. They loved camp so much, they are still volunteering there. I enjoyed meeting them and sharing their story, but, honestly, it was like interviewing people from an alien planet. Everything I despised about camp life – these gals adored!

When I shared the story on social media and confessed I was an unhappy camper, I was relieved to find out I wasn’t alone. Response was fairly evenly split between those who thrived at camp and those who wilted.

I definitely languished.

Things I hated most in no particular order: arts and crafts, group activities, lake swimming and pig-kissing. Things I liked: the Snack Shack and chapel.

Let me break it down for you. I am not and never have been an artsy-craftsy person. I rarely colored between the lines. I was incapable of deciphering the correct amount of glue for any given project, and really, who the heck needs a macrame wallet?

Though I loved the water and could swim like a fish, my comfort zone included chlorine and concrete, not murky water through which tonight’s dinner might swim.

And softball, volleyball and obstacle courses? Listen. I was a reader. Not a doer.

Which brings me to the pig. The messiest cabin in camp was designated the Pig Pen, and the inhabitants thereof had to kiss a pig at evening chapel.

Did you know “cleanliness is next to godliness” is not actually anywhere in the Bible? Well, apparently the camp directors did not know this, and one day our cabin wasn’t up to snuff. Each resident had to kiss a pinkish, snorting, whiskery, slobbery pig.

Eventually, I kissed a lot of pigs before finding my Pork, er, Prince Charming, so I guess this was good practice.

I did, however, enjoy the singing at chapel.

“It only takes a spark to get a fire going. And soon all those around can warm up to its glowing.”

It was beautiful. The harmonies were lovely. But then the warm glow of communal worship was traded for the clammy confines of my mom’s sleeping bag on the top bunk, where I cried myself to sleep every single night.

My bunkmate’s parents loved her. She was reclaimed on Day Two of the five-day journey to Hades, leaving me to weep alone, while Candy patted my shoulder, her Close-Up, whiter-than-white teeth gleaming in the dark while she whispered, “Cindy, sweetie, your parents didn’t move while you were here. Of course they’ll come to get you Friday.”

Shows how much Candy knew. My parents did, in fact, take advantage of my absence to move to a new house.

The one remaining joy of Silver Lake Bible Camp was the Snack Shack. Well, it was until Day Two, when the three whole dollars my Depression-era parents gave me ran out.

Giddy with sugar lust and seduced by the name, I sunk my final 25 cents into a Big Hunk – the worst confection known to man.

Which meant when “free time” finally occurred, I had no money for the pay phone and couldn’t call home. I finally resorted to begging for a quarter, but my parents were moving and the phone had been disconnected.

So for every “Camp was the best experience of my life and shaped me into the confident, successful woman I am today,” there’s a tale like mine.

One full of grief, pig-kissing, macrame wallets and a lifelong loathing of Big Hunks.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists.


Zucchini: The Sequel

“We went on vacation – the squash did not,” Cindy Hval said in an email about Tuesday’s harvest, shown. “It’s like the zucchini are mocking me.” (Cindy Hval / The Spokesman-Review) “We went on vacation – the squash did not,” Cindy Hval said about Tuesday’s harvest, shown. “It’s like the zucchini are mocking me.”

Every great adventure deserves and sometimes demands a sequel. Such is the case with my previous column about surplus squash.

When I wrote about the Great Zucchini Invasion of 2017, readers responded with recipes, suggestions of where to donate the surplus, and offers to take some zucchini off my hands – or countertops.

It turned out that reader response to the column was as prolific as, well, zucchini.

The irony was in the few days after the column ran: My harvest trickled down to near nothing. In fact, I almost put away the grater and the freezer bags, but then I blinked. Yep. More zucchini and the giveaway began anew.

A Facebook friend stopped by to take a few. My monthly writers group met at my home – each writer took home helpful critiques, encouraging words. And zucchini.

I hosted my annual Great Gazebo Girlfriend Gathering and sent the ladies home with a squash or two, except for one friend who sneaked out without taking her fair share. That’s OK. I know where she lives.

And, of course, we celebrated National Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbor’s Porch day on Aug. 8. We may have celebrated a bit too much as most of our neighbors are still avoiding us.

Yet the zucchini just kept on coming. An online commenter offered this solution: “Cindy, if you put your surplus crop in a box at curbside with a FREE label, no one will take them. But if you label the zucchini $1 each, someone will steal them after dark. Problem solved.”

Others requested some of the recipes I mentioned in the column, so I’ve included a few of those here.

Speaking of recipes, a reader offered to send me a recipe for zucchini relish and pickles. Both sound wonderful, but the recipe requires canning and I’m not quite that desperate. Yet.

One reader offered to trade farm fresh eggs for zucchini, and I just may take her up on that.

Others suggested nonprofit organizations that might welcome fresh produce.

Mary Ellen Gaffney-Brown said Meals on Wheels gives out fresh produce every Wednesday. I called the organization to confirm and discovered that they often welcome veggie donations, but cautioned readers to call first.

Barbara Hill notified me of a wonderful program run by Refugee Connections. These folks actually come to your garden, glean it, and then donate the produce to the East Central Community Center.

Another fun way to share garden goodness is to take it to your local library for a produce swap. The summer bounty program sponsored by Spokane County Library District invites folks to bring their extra fresh produce to select branches, and take home something different from another garden. Leftovers are taken to a local food bank and the produce swaps continue in September.

So if you find yourself swimming in surplus squash, don’t despair. It turns out there are plenty of ways to share the wealth. That said, sequels are fine, but I’m really hoping the Great Zucchini Invasion won’t become a trilogy.

The Great Zucchini

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Unfortunately, the most valuable life lessons are often learned the hard way. This summer I’ve been schooled in the veracity of the adage “be careful what you wish for.”

Last year my husband experimented in the Glorious Garden. He tried growing zucchini, vertically, in pallets. The experiment failed, and I was disappointed.

“Next year, I want zucchini. LOTS of zucchini,” I told my hardworking spouse.

He heard me. Boy, did he hear me.

Two weeks into this summer’s zucchini season had me yelling for mercy – praying for drought, pestilence or plague. No such luck. Our bumper squash crops shows no sign of slowing down.

It’s come to this – last week, I went to a party. I took zucchini as a hostess gift.

I returned my sister-in-law’s baking dish – with a squash tucked inside. Our relatives are starting to avoid me.

Our teenager used to eagerly ask, “What’s for dinner?”

Now, he hesitates.

In the last few weeks I’ve made zucchini cornbread casserole, cheesy zucchini, zucchini and rice, zucchini fritters, zucchini chips, zucchini stuffing casserole – and that’s just for dinner.

I’ve also baked dozens of zucchini chocolate chip muffins and many loaves of chocolate zucchini bread.

I have bags of shredded frozen zucchini in the freezer, and Derek recently bought a spiralizer. He wants to try zucchini spaghetti, but I’m not sure I’m ready to make the vegetable-in-place-of-pasta leap. Ask me next week.

And yes, I should know better, because many years ago, I used to write for a now defunct section of this newspaper, called HOME, and one of my assignments was to cover ‘The Great Zucchini War’ between two Spokane Valley neighbors.

It was actually more of a story of the gift that kept on giving. In the 2006 article, I chronicled the tale of a super-sized squash that made its way from bench, to birdbath, to treetop, as two neighbors escalated the art of re-gifting.

The Pedens and the Fairhursts took the squash war to unheard of heights. The much maligned vegetable was camouflaged in orange, black and silver and set afloat in a koi pond. It was transformed into a replica of a Flying Tiger fighter plane. Sporting wings, tail fins and the snarling teeth of a tiger, it perched in the upper branches of a walnut tree where it remained until a ladder tall enough to reach it could be found.

When last seen, it was Halloween and the re-gifted gourd was growing soft in the middle. It had been painted white, covered in ghostly draperies and encased in concrete – on a neighbor’s porch.

That was 11 years ago, and one can only hope the extra-large zuch was given a decent burial somewhere, or at least turned into enough bread to feed the ’hood.

Which brings me back to my squash stash. I’ve been trying to make eye contact with my next-door neighbors, but surprisingly they always seem to be in a hurry to peel out of their driveways or slam shut the sliding doors on their decks.

I’ve pondered placing the surplus squash in a box in our front yard with a “free to good home,” sign, but I worry they will rot in the hot summer sun before they are adopted.

There’s always Craigslist, but I don’t relish getting caught in some kind of undercover sting operation. I can just picture a jaded cop in a deserted parking lot mocking me. “You thought you’d get cash – for squash!?”

Last week I interviewed a longtime greengrocer who told me, “If you have to buy zucchini at a store, you must not have any friends.”

Well, at the rate my freezer is filling, I won’t have any need for zucchini or friends until roughly, 2020.

Listen to me dear readers; be careful what you wish for – especially if it involves produce.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

 

 

Tattoo Talk Turns Troublesome

A delicious family dinner on the Delightful Deck turned into a conversational minefield recently when my husband asked what my plans were for the following day.

“Oh, the usual,” I replied. “I have an interview for a magazine story in the morning, and I’m getting a tattoo in the afternoon.”

As the kids say, mic drop.

Sam, 17, recovered first.

“No,” he said. “No, you most certainly are not.”

Kids can be so bossy.

I just smiled.

Derek took a deep breath, shrugged and said, “OK, but only if you get it on your … .”

Let’s just say my husband wanted me to get a tattoo where he could see it, but I couldn’t.

Sam was still concerned, but Derek wasn’t. That’s because he vividly remembers our first childbirth class, some 27 years ago.

Everything went well until they took us on a tour of the birthing rooms. Mind you, we’d already seen the graphic movies of natural, medicated and cesarean births, and I was unfazed, but during the tour the nurse showed us the needle they use to administer epidurals.

I took one look and Derek said my face turned whiter than the stack of cloth diapers on the table near the bassinet.

Woozily, I backed out of the room and leaned against a wall. One of the soon-to-be dads had a similar reaction and slumped next to me.

“OK,” I said to Derek. “Natural childbirth it is. There is no way I’m letting that needle anywhere near me.”

“Me too,” said the guy next to me. “Natural childbirth all the way.”

I’m not sure his wife agreed with him.

All this to say, Derek wasn’t convinced my tattoo plan would come to pass because he was quite certain that I’d pass out at the sight of the needle.

He also knows how changeable I am. On any given day I change my mind about what to wear at least a half dozen times.

Permanent body art might be a stretch for a person whose accessories litter her dresser like flotsam the tide washed in, because she can’t decide between gold or silver earrings and then needs a bracelet to match.

The jumble of shoes on my closet floor is not a testament to a hoarding problem, but the result of my inability to stick with the shoes I’d carefully laid out the night before to go with the outfit that I no longer feel like wearing.

Ethan, our oldest son had a more pressing question – what would I get a tattoo of?

“I think tattoos should mark something meaningful,” he said. “A milestone, a memory – something important.”

I agree. The birth of each of my children was certainly meaningful, but those events have already documented on my skin in the form of stretch marks.

In fact, if I wanted important permanent reminders etched on my flesh, having my name and birthdate tattooed somewhere would be more useful. Or maybe the words “If found return to … .” As long as the info was inked where my husband has suggested.

At the end of the meal I admitted to my family that I was actually going to get a henna tattoo. I’ve always wanted one and my teenage niece, Lizzie, recently started doing them.

The next day I showed off the results; a beautiful mandala with a trailing leaf pattern, exquisitely etched on the inside of my arm.

My guys agreed Lizzie’s talents are exceptional, and they all thought the design was perfect. Best of all henna isn’t permanent, so I can get something different next time.

And there will be a next time, because when I posted a photo of my tattoo on Facebook, a friend commented, “A bold design choice. Known as two fighting cats – shows them swirling in anger and rage as their tails are poofed out and the spittle flies. Not everyone chooses this design so you are the brave.”

I’m pretty sure he was teasing, but his comment reminded me that the milestone additions of two cats to our family still hasn’t been marked in a meaningful way.

Yet.

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Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

Barely bothered by roadwork

I’m not at my best in the morning. I admit it. I don’t relish the sunrise. In fact, I’d prefer not to be notified of its occurrence.

I say this to explain why I inadvertently exposed more of myself than strictly necessary to the road crew working on the gas lines in front of my house last week.

It’s not like I was unaware of their presence. I mean, it’s pretty hard to ignore a backhoe parked across your street. Or a guy with a jackhammer breaking up the asphalt at the end of the driveway. Or the port-a-potty perched up the hill. After all, it’s the first thing I see when I open my living room blinds in the morning.

Still. It was the crack of dawn on a Monday morning (OK, 8 a.m.) and I hadn’t yet had my first cup of coffee. I usually enjoy my coffee while I read the newspaper. My husband or sons set it inside the door when they leave for whatever they do before 8 a.m., but on this day, there was no newspaper to be found.

I slumped down the stairs, opened the door and found our delivery person’s aim had been a bit off. The paper wasn’t nestled against the door; it was perched precariously on the edge of the porch.

Squinting my eyes against the morning glare, I stumbled forward, bending down to retrieve my sun-warmed newsprint.

A slight breeze shifted my short summer nightgown. The garment I hadn’t bothered to throw a robe over, since I was home alone.

Newspaper in hand, I straightened up. That’s when I saw the flagman with the STOP sign at the end of my driveway. That’s when I noticed the half-dozen hard-hatted workers swarming across the street.

Mortified, I gathered the slim remains of my dignity (and the even slimmer fragments of satin fabric) and shrunk toward my doorway.

The flagger slowly, raised his hand to his hard hat in a solemn salute. Then he grinned.

I know from my husband’s days as a military officer that I should have returned the salute, but like I said, I’m not my best in the morning.

I backed in through door, holding the tightly wrapped newspaper in front of me like a shield. Unfortunately, Monday’s paper is the slimmest shield The Spokesman-Review offers.

I took a few deep breaths, gulped some coffee and called my husband.

“Can you pick up something for dinner tonight? I can’t leave the house.”

He found my humiliation hilarious.

“Don’t worry, I’m sure they’ve seen worse,” he said.

“Worse? Do I look that bad in the morning!?”

Turns out my husband isn’t at his best or brightest in the morning, either.

Of course, I couldn’t hide in my house all week, but when it came time for my afternoon walk, I admit, I snuck out through our backyard and took a shortcut through the neighbor’s yard to avoid making eye contact with the friendly flagger.

The week and the street work on. Many mornings I awoke to the jarring sound of a jackhammer. Waking up is hard enough for me. Waking up to a jackhammer proved positively painful.

I finally penned a poem and posted it on social media.

Ode to a Jackhammer and the Man Who Wields it Outside My Front Door

For the love of God,

STOP!

Yeah. So, I should probably stick to journalism. At any rate progress is proceeding at a glacial pace. Replacing gas lines can’t be done quickly. But I’m rather fond of hot showers and my gas fireplace warms my basement office all winter. Plus, the crews are working long, hard days in horrible heat, so I keep all this in mind when I navigate our torn-up streets.

I drive slowly and always try to offer a smile or a greeting when I’m forced to wait for a backhoe to move, or truck to rumble by.

On Friday, the flagman at the end of my driveway motioned for me to roll down my window as I backed out.

“Thank you for your smiles and friendly waves,” he said. “You would not believe how many dirty looks we get.”

I’m sure his appreciation had nothing to do with the nightgown-newspaper debacle. And his words of gratitude prompted my own thankful reflection.

The noise and inconvenience of the roadwork hasn’t been pleasant, but as I sat on my couch and gazed out my front window that evening, I realized things could be worse.

We could be the house that’s had a Porta Potty parked in front of it for two weeks.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.