Columns

Christmas with chaos, but no jelly

My husband narrowly avoided a “Jelly of the Month Club” situation at work over the holidays.

A couple of weeks before Christmas mail delivery to his Hillyard-area business came to a standstill. A disaster at any time when you depend on getting paid by your customers, so you can pay your employees, but especially concerning over Christmas.

Derek worried that instead of bonuses, he’d have to give his employees memberships to a Jelly of the Month Club just like Clark Griswold received in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

Movie fans know that didn’t end up well for Griswold’s boss.

Equally troubling was the absence of our sons’ Christmas gifts. I’m not an online shopper, so Derek buys gifts the kids put on their Amazon wish lists, while I purchase presents at local stores. He always has the packages delivered to his business because his locked mailbox is more secure than our home curbside box. No mail delivery from USPS meant no packages, either.

When a week passed with nary an envelope in his box, Derek sent an employee to the neighborhood post office to find out what the problem was.

After waiting in a long line of unhappy postal customers, he was able to get a stack of mail, but no packages.

“They’ll come tomorrow,” the harried worker told him.

It seems like many area post offices, the Hillyard branch was critically understaffed and completely overwhelmed.

The packages didn’t arrive the next day. Nor did any mail. Another week went by and Derek went to the post office and picked up a huge stack of mail. The packages?

“They’ll be delivered by Christmas Eve,” the employee assured him.

On Dec. 23, our sons’ gifts arrived (but no mail).

I thought Derek would be relieved, instead, he was sad.

“Your gifts didn’t come,” he said.

I hugged him.

“My birthday’s in February. I bet they’ll be here just in time.”

But the meltdown of mail delivery is no laughing matter. I’m glad Derek was able to pay his bills and his employees, but another customer at the post office was missing needed medication. For those who live on slim margins, the lack of a check can mean no money for rent, utilities or groceries.

As USPS still struggles, another catastrophe loomed. Our son was scheduled to return to Texas via Southwest Airlines on Dec. 29.

On Dec. 27, he woke us with the news that Southwest had canceled his flight and said they couldn’t rebook him until Jan. 13!

His was just one of more than 2,500 flights the airline canceled within four hours that morning. Sam has classes to prepare for and was due back in his office on Thursday. He and Derek found a flight on American Airlines that would get him home on Tuesday.

I couldn’t complain about an extra five days with our youngest, but my heart ached for friends stranded far from home.

Stressful situations like these serve as reminders to check our attitudes. Are we being kind to the airline workers and postal service employees who are on the front line of customer frustration? Are we finding things to be thankful for amid the chaos?

And honestly, a one-year subscription to a Jelly of the Month Club isn’t the worst thing in the world – especially if you’ve stocked up on peanut butter.

Columns

Yes, I can hear you now

In the early 2000s, Verizon Wireless launched a successful ad campaign with a series of commercials featuring the “Test Guy” who trudged through various locales asking, “Can you hear me, now?”

I thought about that commercial while perusing produce at the grocery store. As I slipped red peppers into a plastic bag, a tinny voice behind me said, “They got his test results. It’s not good.”

Pausing my pepper selection, I looked around. A man nearby was holding his cellphone in front of him. He leaned on his cart and said, “I knew it! He’s so fat. All he eats is what comes from boxes, or drive-thrus.”

Stunned, I watched the guy pick through the salad selection while the person on his phone went into detail about someone’s cardiac history. The shopper had his volume high enough that I could hear every word, even as I rounded the corner to the deli.

I wish that had been the only time I was forced to overhear a phone conversation about private matters in a public place.

We’ve all grown used to hearing one-sided conversations as people chat on phones while waiting in lines or walking through stores, but most of us are polite enough to hold our phones to our ears or use Bluetooth. Lately, I’ve noticed an alarming trend of folks putting calls on speaker mode while out and about.

I don’t think it’s intentional rudeness, but I do wonder if society’s standards have lapsed.

Not long before the grocery store incident, I waited in the lobby of a car dealership as Ruby Sue got her regular oil change.

A teenage girl held the denizens of the waiting area captive as she debated her homecoming garb with a friend via speakerphone. The volume was set so loud we could hear the person on the other end crunching chips as they conversed.

“K. I’m sending you my top three picks,” the girl in the waiting area said. “My mom already vetoed the red backless sheath, but I like it.”

Rustle, rustle, crunch.

“Dude, it’s sweet and all, but I like the lacy black mini way better,” her friend replied, through a mouthful of food.

I got up and moved to the other side of the waiting room and tried to read my book. Soon, the far side was filled with others trying to avoid a conversation none of us wanted to hear.

I’m not averse to using speaker settings during work interviews or chatting with a friend while making dinner. But I can’t imagine walking through a grocery store with my phone out in front of me asking my husband if he wants tacos or tuna casserole for dinner. That’s what texting is for.

Are people really self-centered enough to think others are happy to hear their discussions about whether no bra is better than a strapless one?

The worst example of this total lack of social awareness came on our way home from our recent trip to Ohio. Dozens of weary travelers crammed into a crowded way-too-small boarding area at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport to await a 9 p.m. flight to Spokane.

We sat elbow-to-elbow with other travelers. Honestly, the one thing I miss about COVID restrictions is social distancing. That sentiment became more pronounced as a 40-something woman two seats away, recounted her trip highlights and lowlights to her partner via FaceTime.

I mean, I think it went OK, babe, but I just dunno,” she said. “Do you think I’m too insecure?”

Her unwilling audience was treated to her partner’s murmurs of love and affection followed by his assessment. “Well, yeah sweetie, you are a bit insecure.”

People on either side of her and across the aisle glared. Most of us were trying to listen for our boarding call in the bustling airport.

Remember when you got caught passing notes or whispering to a friend in school and the teacher called you out and said, “Do you have something you’d like to share with the rest of the class?”

One wonders if these speaker-phone aficionados always replied, “You bet!”

Consider this my plea for simple good manners. When in public don’t use your speaker phone setting, because the answer to that Verizon ad question is clear. Yes, we can hear you, now, but do we really need to?

Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com. Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available at Auntie’s Bookstore and bookstores nationwide.

Columns

Finding thankfulness in empty nest adjustments

Baffled, we stared at our dining room table.

With the leaves, it seats 12. Without the leaves, it seats six. Now, there are just two of us.

“Where are we going to sit?” I asked my husband.

He shrugged.

Our places at the table changed over time as our family grew and then shrank. For several years, it’s just been Derek, me and our youngest son. In September, Sam accepted a teaching position at Odessa College in Texas. We hadn’t thought about the practical adjustments empty-nesters must make – like where to sit at mealtimes.

“We can’t sit next to each other. That’s just weird,” I said.

With a full plate in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, Derek nodded toward the door.

“Let’s eat on the deck,”

Crisis averted, we enjoyed our meal in the September sun and discussed where our new spots at the table should be.

“I don’t care where we sit as long as we’re not eating off TV trays,” he said.

I shuddered.

“Do they even still make those?”

In the weeks that followed we slowly found our new normal. While we miss our Baby Boy, we’re finding lots to love about our empty nest – like nuts. Sam has a severe peanut/nut allergy. We haven’t had a dish of cashews or peanuts in our home in 22 years. Now, we enjoy small dishes of mixed nuts as an appetizer or late-night snack. Also, our grocery bill has diminished considerably!

e aren’t the only ones adjusting to Sam’s absence. Our cats Thor and Walter have had to adapt as well – especially Walter. He’s a creature of habit, and his habit is to tag along after me all day long. Most mornings my tabby entourage escorts me to my basement office. Then he plunks himself on our old BarcaLounger near my desk in front of Sam’s TV.

Sam took the TV and the recliner with him when he moved. With no place to plunk, Walter took to napping at my feet. This proved to be a workplace hazard for both of us. I’d forget he was there and step on his tail, or he’d dart in front of me causing me to trip.

I explained the situation during a phone call with Sam.

“Maybe I should buy him a cat bed and put it next to my desk,” I said.

My son had a better idea.

“Why spend money on a cat bed he won’t use? Just buy a clothes basket. He loves them.”

There’s a reason we call him Smarty Pants Sam.

I bought a $4 basket; put an old afghan in it and now Walter has a safe place to nap when he comes to work with me.

Though I’ve found lots to enjoy about our first few months as empty-nesters, I have to confess to feeling a bit blue as I did my Thanksgiving shopping. It’s our first holiday without our youngest son. We’ll have seven family members at the table – I doubt I’ll need to extend it with a leaf.But when reaching for the serving platters behind my Christmas china, I rediscovered my thankful spirit.Sam will come home for Christmas and his place at the table will be ready.

Columns

Not Bored in Florida

A few months ago, Derek came home from work and sighed.

“I have to go to Florida in October for a business convention. Do you want to come? We could fly to Ohio after, to see the grandkids.”

He said this like he would totally understand if I didn’t want to go.

My shriek of excitement clarified my response.

“I’ve never been to Florida!”

He pulled up the convention location on his phone and handed it to me.

“I’ll be in meetings for two full days and you’ll be on your own. I hope you won’t get bored.”

I scrolled through the resort description. It’s set on 230 acres and features a golf course, sand volleyball court, tennis and fishing. Those amenities failed to impress, but the nature trail, 15 restaurants, spa and three seasonally heated pools in a lush tropical setting certainly did. I quickly booked a spa day.

We worried when Hurricane Ian struck the week before our departure. Thankfully, Orlando was spared any significant damage and we landed in Florida on a balmy Sunday evening. We checked in and explored the expansive grounds, followed by a fabulous meal.

Bright and early the next morning, Derek headed out for his busy day while I rested up for my own excursion.

After a leisurely breakfast, I meandered to the spa. Wearing the spa-issued robe and flip flops, I curled up with a novel in a comfy chair in the “Whisper Room” to await my appointments.

A pair of voices disturbed the quiet as two ladies chatted.

“So, then I just shaved his back and mixed oil and sugar and rubbed it in,” said the first voice.

She did not whisper and I regretted not overhearing the opening of their conversation.

Whose back was shaved? Why the oil and sugar rub?

Her monologue continued with a long list of what everyone in her family died of. Then I learned she has two sons and no daughters, so no one will point out when she has long whiskers on her chin.

It was like eavesdropping on my future.

I tried to delve into my book, but then the other lady spoke up.

“All this industrial tool drama! It’s so ‘Peyton Place!’ ”

Now, I wondered exactly what kind of convention my husband was attending, but a massage therapist called my name before I could discover more.

That evening, I accompanied Derek to a meet and greet which included a trivia contest. Mercifully, the questions didn’t involve industrial tooling and I earned my keep when our team took third. We would have placed higher if any of us could have named all five members of NSYNC. Every person at our table was over 55 and all we could come up with was Justin Timberlake and Joey something.

Also, none of us knew Orlando’s nickname is “The City Beautiful.” Since I didn’t exactly see the city, I’m going to take their word for it.

The president of the business hosting the event was on our team and he was most impressed that I knew nappies are diapers in Great Britain. I may not know my boy bands, but I excel at diaper trivia.

The following day, I planned to walk the nature trail. The hotel’s backdrop is Shingle Creek, one of the headwaters of the state’s scenic Everglades. The trail promised towering grasses, graceful Spanish moss trees, dramatic pine tree stands and blooming flowers. But after a late breakfast and time spent reading in a cozy lobby nook, I discovered it was already 88 degrees outside. That’s much too hot for hiking, so I changed into my swimsuit and surveyed my choice of pools.

The lap pool? Too vigorous.

The family pool? Too splashy.

The cabana pool? Just right. The sign on the gate advertised it as the “quiet pool” and unlike the Whisper Room; it lived up to its moniker.

I nabbed a chaise with an umbrella and spent the afternoon gliding through the sparkling practically empty pool, sunning on the lounge, reading and sipping chilled beverages, delivered poolside. Time slipped away and before I knew it my phone buzzed.

“I’m headed to the room,” Derek said. “Are you ready for the awards dinner?”

Alas, all cabana pool days must come to an end.

My inaugural visit to the Sunshine State left me refreshed and ready for a week’s worth of wrangling our toddler twin grandsons.

Turns out, my husband’s version of boring is my version of heaven.

Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com. Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available on Amazon and bookstores nationwide.

Columns

Classic Mom Meals

When the countdown to our youngest son’s move to Texas loomed, I doubled down on feeding him home-cooked meals.

I worried that he’d soon be subsisting on fast food takeout augmented with chicken nuggets, scrambled eggs, toast, and macaroni and cheese – the only foods I’d seen him prepare.

So, when the three of us sat down to slow-cooker simmered chicken over rice, I was amused to hear Sam say, “Now, this is a classic Mom meal.”

“What other dinners are classic Mom meals?” I asked.

He quickly rattled off a list: spicy chicken sausage navy bean soup, dirty rice, hamburger soup and Mississippi pot roast.

The next night I made sloppy joes.

“Oh yeah, sloppy joes are definitely a classic,” Sam said.

Intrigued, I quizzed his three older brothers to see if I could identify the ingredients of a “classic Mom meal.”

Ethan and Alex love my white chili–filled with chicken, onions, beans, sour cream and jalapenos.

“And the potato soup I ask for on my birthday,” Ethan added. “And beef stew.”

Soups and stews emerged as a theme, when Zach listed, “Post-Thanksgiving turkey noodle soup.”

They all mentioned my meatloaf and Hungarian goulash, so ground beef is a key ingredient. Most of the dinners they recalled are basic and quick and easy to prepare – vital for busy families.

This got me thinking about the meals my mom used to serve.

Mom loved clipping recipes, but she was born during the Great Depression, so thrift was always on her mind. Casseroles with cream of mushroom soup and canned vegetables loomed large. Ditto canned or frozen vegetables on the side.

My siblings enjoyed a dish she called hamburger fluff. It included ground beef, tomatoes and rice and was always served in her big yellow Pyrex mixing bowl. I’m morally opposed to any main dish with fluff in the name, so I was not a fan.

Pot roast or pork roast made regular appearances on Sunday afternoons. She used McCormick Bag n’ Season, putting the meat, carrots and potatoes in the bag and cooking it in the oven on low while we were at church. The house smelled heavenly when we arrived home.

By the time I had kids to cook for nutrition and taste buds had evolved. Now, we know the importance of fresh produce and lean protein. Additionally, Americans have embraced global foods and flavors. We don’t have to rely on Season All and black pepper to enhance recipes.

Slow cookers have been around since 1971, but Mom never used one. However, that simple appliance was a lifesaver for me. Even now, I use it weekly. While friends have embraced Instant Pots and air fryers, I cling to the simplicity of putting goulash ingredients in the slow cooker in the morning and coming home to a delicious meal after work.

In the month since we’ve been empty-nesters, Derek and I have tried a couple of cook-and-eat meals from the grocery store. They failed to impress.

“This just doesn’t taste the same,” he said, after sampling store-prepared pork chops.

Maybe the most important ingredient in a “classic Mom meal,” is that it’s homemade and filled with love for the family it feeds.

Diet cola sloppy joes

1 pound extra lean ground beef

1 medium onion

1 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup diet cola

⅔ cup ketchup

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons dry mustard

Brown beef and onion in large skillet. Drain well. Stir in remaining ingredients as listed. Mix well. Cover and simmer 30 minutes.

Serve on hamburger buns topped with shredded cheese and diced onion.

Note: This is supposed to serve six, but I always double it for our family.

Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com. Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available locally at Auntie’s Bookstore, Barnes & Noble locations and on Amazon.

Columns

Home Alone is Risky Business

Our youngest son’s move to Texas earlier this month offered me an unusual opportunity – six days home alone.

Sam’s overloaded Oldsmobile meant his road trip would be a father-son-only adventure. Also, I don’t think they wanted to hear me sobbing in the backseat for 1,767 miles.

I’ve never been alone in my house for more than a weekend. When Derek was in the National Guard, he was out of town frequently, but I always had a houseful of boys to wrangle. Honestly, I was looking forward to some solitude.

Here are a few excerpts from my Home Alone journal:

Day one: Knowing I’d have an emotional morning, a friend treated me to lunch. I ordered a large sandwich and put half of it in a to-go container for dinner. Everything was lovely until I forgot it at the restaurant. “It’s Derek’s duty to make sure I don’t leave my leftovers behind!” I wailed. My friend expressed concern about my ability to survive alone.

Needing to shop for some single-lady food, I headed to Trader Joe’s. My purchases may or may not have included a box of wine and three ginormous chocolate bars, but I definitely bought a salad.

Once home, I eyed the two huge zucchini that Derek didn’t have time to grate before he left. I decided to worry about that tomorrow.

Day two: I purchased a food processor because those zucchini weren’t getting any fresher, and there was no way I was going to grate them by hand. Then I went to visit my mom. We had a nice chat until I showed her the picture of Sam in front of the U-Haul the morning he left. Then we had a nice cry.

I might have spent too much time away from home because Walter, our cat, went feral. He slaughtered a fly and ate it in front of me.

This reminded me it was dinner time. I considered the salad I’d bought but opted for making nachos in the microwave. Dinner in hand, I settled into the recliner to watch a movie (you can do things like this when you live alone). That’s when I realized I hadn’t turned on the TV since the guys left and I didn’t know how to find the movie on my watch list. I made it almost 48 hours without a call to tech support (Sam).

Day three: No bacon. Derek usually makes breakfast on the weekends and that usually includes bacon. I eyed the chocolate bars but decided to scramble some eggs, instead.

Then I took a long walk and scheduled a pedicure for later. Weekend days can drag when you’re alone, so I was thankful I had a happy hour with a friend on my calendar.

“How are you doing?” she asked.

“Great!” I replied. “But I am talking to my cats. A lot.”

I gave her some zucchini (small ones) and when I got home I took the food processor out of the box. It had several pieces and a large instruction book. I decided to go to bed early.

Day four: Labor Day. It’s officially OK to drink pumpkin spice coffee now, so I indulged. Then I labored in the yard, the responsibility of keeping everything green and blooming weighed heavily. I miss Derek.

Moving inside, I cleaned the house, which took 10 minutes. That’s a benefit of single life I could get used to. Despite my sparkling home, something smelled funny. I checked the zucchini. They were fine. Then I remembered with Sam gone, I’m responsible for the litter box.

I really miss Sam.

Day five: I interviewed a lady about her rock collection and worked my way through my overflowing inbox. In the afternoon, I went out to the shed and got out the leaf blower to clean off the deck and gazebo. The battery was dead. I called Derek and he told me to take the battery out of his drill and use that. By golly, I figured it out!

That’s not the kind of risky business I envisioned for my week alone. Thankfully, it was time to meet a friend for dinner.

Day six: I hosted my writers group in the gazebo and when they left I decided to water the lawn. I turned on the water and got a blast in the face. I texted Derek, “A leak! The house sprung a major leak!”

It’s hard to text with wet hands, so Derek was relieved that the hose was leaking and not the house.

With his return imminent, I returned to the food processor. I wanted to get those zucchini taken care of. Then I read another bold print section, “Warning! You can be killed or seriously injured if you don’t follow these instructions.”

If I’m going to die or be dismembered, I want my husband with me.

When I picked him up at the airport the next morning, he asked how I enjoyed my week.

“Home alone is fine,” I replied. “But home with you is better.”

Then I handed him the food processor instruction book.

Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com. Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available on Amazon and bookstores nationwide.

Columns

Last one out

Texas.

He never said anything about Texas. I would remember that.

When our youngest son was in fifth grade he informed me that he wouldn’t live in Spokane forever.

“I’m going to live in Seattle, Los Angeles and New York,” he said.

Last week, Sam, 22, moved to Odessa, Texas. He accepted a full-time position at Odessa College to teach English and composition classes. Odessa is 1,767 miles from Spokane.

I would have much preferred he stuck with his fifth-grade plan and moved to Seattle, but Sam has worked hard to become a college professor and his first post-graduate school job is exactly what he envisioned during his long hours of study. It’s just that none of us envisioned it in Texas.

I’m getting a bit of an attitude about that state. Our second son moved to Houston at 21, stayed almost three years, and then moved to Ohio. Thankfully, our other two sons don’t seem inclined to move to the Lone Star State and both have places within a mile of our house.

Of course, I knew this day was coming – eventually, all parents get to enjoy an empty nest. But neither Derek nor I were prepared for how rapidly this last fledgling flew.

Last month, after two Zoom interviews, Sam went to Odessa for an in-person interview and was offered the job immediately. He found an apartment, flew back home and started packing.

He had a lot to pack – mainly books. (Seven boxes full and he left an overflowing bookshelf in his room.)

We shopped and scheduled last-minute dental and eye exams. In hindsight, we should have skipped those because his extensive benefits include 100% health care coverage.

His dad slaved over the aging Oldsmobile that Sam inherited when I got my Ford Escape. Derek needed to ensure it could make the trip across six states, towing a small U-Haul trailer. Then he excitedly mapped out the route he and Sam would take.

We hosted a big family bon voyage party filled with cousins, aunts and uncles, and suddenly we were in our week of lasts.

His last Friday family dinner with his brothers.

Last visit with his Grandma Shirley, 91.

Last back-to-school s’mores night in our backyard gazebo.

Last night in his childhood bed.

Last cuddles with our cats, Thor and Walter. (Well, last cuddle with Walter because Thor ran and hid. Thor hates goodbyes.)

I wasn’t the only one shedding tears.

For 32 years, we’ve had at least one son in our home.

“I’m going to miss having another dude around,” Derek said.

Apparently, our male cats don’t count.

Those lasts aren’t exactly final. Sam will come home for Christmas, and he’s going to meet us in Ohio this summer to visit Alex’s family with us.

But I’ve been through this three times before. Once a kid has a taste of independent living, they don’t want to live in Mom and Dad’s basement anymore. That’s a very healthy thing.

After raising boys for 32 years, Derek and I are ready for the next chapter of our story to unfold. Friends who’ve walked this path before us have all said the same thing.

“You’ll be sad for a few days, and then (here they all grinned) you will love having an empty nest!”

They’re probably right, plus I have something else that comforts me.

All those years ago, when Sam mapped out his life’s plan for me, he was adamant about one thing.

“When I’m done traveling around, and I’m ready to settle down, I’m coming home to Spokane,” he said. “That’s where I want to raise my family.”

I’m counting on it, Sam. I’m counting on it.

Columns

Letting Our Quirk Flags Fly

At a recent lunch with my friend Sarah Bain, she raised her eyebrows when our server brought water to our table and I asked for a straw.

“You always do that,” she said. “Why?”

Puzzled, I asked what she meant.

“You always ask for a straw for your water, but never for cocktails or wine or coffee,” she said. “It’s weird.”

It’s good to have observant friends. I hadn’t thought about the why of wanting a straw for water. I pointed to the red bubbled plastic glass.

“I don’t like putting my mouth on those glasses. It grosses me out. I figure hot coffee destroys any germs, likewise alcohol. But water?”

She deliberately rubbed her mouth all over the rim of her glass. While I gagged, she said, “It’s a quirk, but I guess it would be weirder if you brought your own utensils.”

A quirk? I didn’t know I had any of those!

“What’s your quirk?” I asked.

She thought about it for a minute.

“I don’t touch public bathroom doors.”

When I asked how she entered the facilities without touching the door, she admitted that she usually waits for someone else to come along or uses a tissue to open it.

I’m not sure that’s quirky. I think a lot of people don’t like touching anything in public restrooms, including doors.

I decided to poll my Facebook friends about their quirks and their responses made my straw-for-water issue look positively pedestrian.

Former colleague Pia Hallenberg said at wine tastings, she always turns her glass exactly two times before taking a sip. She also confesses to being a compulsive stacker.

“Napkins, magazines, newspapers, books, whatever can be stacked in neat stacks, I shall stack,” she said.

Heather Clarke can’t abide a chair that isn’t properly pushed in.

“I have actually pushed chairs in at work and in restaurants as I pass tables,” she said.

I think chair pusher-inners are providing a public service, and my friend Ashley Lorraine who navigates the world using a wheelchair agreed.

Jeanie Buchanan straightens things – all kinds of things.

“Mainly pictures on walls,” she said. “And it can be in stranger’s houses; the doctor’s office. Pens, paper, books – I straighten them, too. Today, I straightened a row of Kraft cheese slices at Grocery Outlet.”

Regarding dining out, Dan Webster is more concerned about napkins than straws.

“I always ask for an extra napkin because I don’t like to put my silverware down on a table that doesn’t have a clean tablecloth,” he said. “They usually wipe those bare tables down with a rag or sponge that I suspect isn’t sanitary. It may not be true, but I’m not taking any chances.”

While Sarah seemed thankful I don’t bring utensils from home, I know someone who does exactly that.

“I have a thing about eating off silverware at a restaurant or letting my silverware touch a table, so I bring my own and bring a utensil rest with me,” Cecile Charles said. “It holds my own cotton napkin.”

I’d never heard of utensil rest! Now, I kind of want a set.

Some folks’ quirks are on the edgy side.

“I pull off the ‘Do Not Remove’ tags from mattresses and pillows in hotels (and at my kids’ houses, too, mea culpa),” Linda Finney said.

I hope the tag authorities don’t read this column.

Sarah’s other professed quirk truly horrified me.

“I usually read the end of a book before I start it,” she said. “Is that weird or a quirk?”

“That’s an abomination!” I replied.

When I told my son, Sam, about my alleged quirky straw habit, he shook his head.

“Using straws is the most effective way to drink,” he said. “Besides, pretty soon you’ll be getting all your food through a straw, so it’s good to get some practice.”

For the record, I still have all my teeth. Well, most of them.

The truth is, I don’t like the taste of restaurant water, so I rarely drink more than a few sips even when it’s my only beverage.

Sarah pointed that out as she emptied her second refill.

We said goodbye in the restaurant parking lot, but I called her a few seconds later.

“Yes?” she said.

“Um, I’m really thirsty,” I said. “So thirsty!”

I hung up to the sounds of her guffaws.

The minute I got home, I went to the kitchen, filled a glass with ice and water and drank the whole thing.

No straw needed.

Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com. Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available on Amazon and bookstores nationwide.

Columns

A mother’s (and grandmother’s) heart always has room for more

The instant I felt his butterfly-fluttering kicks in my womb, I was besotted with my first child.

Ethan arrived with golden hair and a sweet disposition. I documented his first smile, first tooth, first word (mama, of course) with the absorption of a Ph.D. candidate completing her dissertation.

Eighteen months after his birth, I was delighted to learn another baby was on the way. But as my delivery date drew closer I worried: How could I love this new son as much as I did my first?

On a sunny April afternoon, they placed the heft of Alex in my arms. Weighing in at 10 pounds, 6 ounces with a head of dark hair that already needed a trim, he peered at me through the bluest of eyes. Instantly smitten I began to hum, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine …”

And I didn’t worry a bit when my third and fourth sons arrived. I’d discovered that a mother’s heart expands with each child – its capacity for love encompassing every new arrival.

I thought about that during our recent visit to see Alex and his family in Ohio.

Six years ago, when Alex fell in love with Brooke, he got a twofer – she had a beautiful 2½-year-old daughter.

After they moved from Texas to Ohio, I flew out to meet my son’s new loves and just like that my heart expanded again. How could I not adore the woman who made my son so happy? Her beautiful daughter, Farrah, was the icing on the cake.

When they told us they were expecting their first son, Ian Lucas, my joy knew no bounds.

My grief when Ian was stillborn at full term was equally limitless – an ever-present ache.

The birth of their identical twin sons, Adam and Nicholas, in November 2019, offered our broken hearts a way to begin to heal.

Two weeks ago, we took Derek’s mother, Juanita, with us to Ohio. She hadn’t seen the twins since they were eight months old and was eager to reconnect with Farrah.

She celebrated her 79th birthday with us during our trip. Alex took the day off of work to take her and Farrah on a shopping spree to the landmark Columbus book store, The Book Loft, and then out to lunch.

While Derek and I entertained the twins, Brooke decorated their house for GG’s (great-grandma’s) birthday. GG spent the afternoon at their beautiful backyard pool and taught Farrah how to dive off the diving board.

I’d simmered pulled pork in the slow cooker all day for dinner, and GG chose a bakery carrot cake for her birthday treat. We all sang while Alex brought the cake to her, and Adam helpfully blew out the candles.

As I watched four generations of Hvals swim together that evening, I marveled at the ways families shrink with sorrowful losses, but grow with the joy of new additions.

The next morning, Nick needed some Nana cuddles and crawled up in my lap with his blanket. Adam wasn’t about to be left out. He ran and got his blanket and scooched onto my lap.

Adam, Nick and Nana Cindy

I wrapped my arms around them both and swayed and sang, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray …”

It was a tight fit for two gangly toddlers, but oh, there’s always space on Nana’s lap and plenty of room in her heart. That’s just the way love works.

Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com. Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available on Amazon and bookstores nationwide.

Columns

Spokane Summertime Fun

I’m an unabashed hometown girl.

I love Spokane (except for the potholes), and in 40-plus years of living here, I’m still finding new things to do.

In July, Derek and I attended two quintessential outdoor Spokane events.

First, we finally made it to a Sunday summer concert at Arbor Crest. Though we’ve visited the winery many times, we’d never made it to an outdoor concert. When we saw one of our favorite local bands was scheduled for July 10, we quickly bought tickets.

The Sara Brown Band plays R&B tunes with a soulful edge that usually gets us out on the dance floor at least for a few songs.

At Arbor Crest, you can bring a picnic or buy a meal there. We opted to picnic and while I packed a cooler with salamis, cheeses, olives and chocolate, Derek fetched our folding camp chairs.

We arrived early to find a good spot. That’s when we discovered Derek had accidentally grabbed our bleacher seats instead of chairs.

No worries. The winery provides plenty of plastic lawn chairs.

With our spot staked, we sampled a wine flight and purchased a couple of bottles of Fume Blanc – one to enjoy with our picnic and one to take home.

The evening proved spectacular. Just enough sun to make us welcome sunset’s arrival, fabulous music and fun chatting with fellow concert goers.

A kiss at Arbor Crest.

The following weekend, we attended the final night of Crave! Northwest a three-night foodie extravaganza showcasing the best of the area’s food and drink. The event offers an opportunity for chefs, breweries, and winemakers to connect with each another while serving fantastic food to the public. It’s also a great way for attendees to discover local chefs and restaurants.

Saturday’s “Fire and Smoke” night at Spokane Valley’s CenterPlace quickly sold out, and no wonder. Billed as a “culinary adventure of smoked and fired foods,” my home-grilling king only stopped smiling long enough to chew and swallow.

Derek and Cindy Hval at Crave!

We sampled smoked ribs with apple chutney from Tracy Rose of the Coeur d’Alene Casino, smoked steelhead, from Peter Froese of Gander and Ryegrass, and beef and pork wood-fired meatballs with charred Pomodoro sauce, from Aaron Fiorini of Market Street Pizza.

Then we tasted pork shoulder, smoked tri-tip, grilled jalapeno poppers, and more!

Of course, there was plenty of swill to wash it all down with. We saw our friends from No-Li Brewhouse and Barrister Winery and grabbed ice-cold bottles of water upon entry.

We needed the hydration, as it was a sizzling evening, but the venue offered some shady spots and a cool misting fan or two.

Two back-to-back, action-packed weekends made us perfectly content to enjoy our own backyard the following week, but we’re so glad we got to partake of some of the best fun our area has to offer.

While I enjoy all four seasons in the Inland Northwest; Spokane truly shines in the summer.