All Write, Columns, TV

Telling a story in 150 seconds

They say learning new things keeps your mind sharp. Or is that sharpening things keeps you learning?

At any rate, when the producer of a new half-hour television show, “Spokane Talks,” on Fox28 Spokane asked if I’d be willing to do a short commentary at the close of each weekly broadcast, I agreed.

I’ve never been a television personality or a news anchor, but I did study radio and TV broadcasting at Newtech Skill Center (formerly Spokane Vocational Skills Center).

Granted that was in 1983, but hey, I got straight A’s.

Plus, the precarious state of dead tree journalism makes me think I’d better expand my skill set, just in case someday no one wants to “Wake Up and Read It.”

To that end, the one stipulation I had is that this newspaper gets mentioned in the opening credits of my segments. Who knows, maybe television viewers can be newspaper readers, too.

OK, I did have other stipulations regarding hair, wardrobe, snacks in the green room and limo service, but apparently those emails went missing.

When I told my sons about my new venture, I said, “It will be like Andy Rooney on ‘60 Minutes,’ only with better eyebrows.”

“Who’s Andy Rooney?” they asked.

“He’s that really short actor that was married like, 12 times,” my husband replied.

Which is when I realized TV news programs are probably teetering on the brink of extinction, as well.

We found some “60 Minute” clips on YouTube.

My sons were not impressed, but they agreed my brows were better groomed and thought I probably had a superior wardrobe.

Moving on.

The folks at “Spokane Talks” created a cool introduction, featuring the dulcet voice of Tom McArthur.

The segments, like this column, are called the “Front Porch,” and writing the tag line, (That’s the view from my front porch) was a breeze.

Coming up with weekly segments, no longer than two-and-a-half minutes in length?

Not so breezy.

I mean, I have sneezes that last longer.

In newspaper journalism, we’re told to write tight, that if it takes you more than 1,000 words to tell a story, you’re probably using too many adjectives. Or worse. Adverbs.

But telling a story with a beginning, middle and end in a 150-second frame proved tricky. Especially since my only audience during the taping is a couple of unblinking television cameras and Vinnie, whom I can’t see because he’s in the booth.

It’s like talking to yourself while someone is eavesdropping. I decided my entourage should accompany me to the studio.

Unfortunately, my cats don’t travel well, so I roped my manager into going with me. I had to promise to buy him dinner afterward, but he’s got a vested interest in my career and is usually a good sport. A well-fed good sport.

“You’re in charge of wardrobe malfunctions,” I told him.

“Causing them or preventing them?” he asked.

It’s tough when your manager is your husband, but if Celine Dion did it, then so can I. Not that I plan to do any singing on television. At least not intentionally.

In fact, Derek has been trying to manage me for years. He says some days it feels like a full-time job, but the benefits are pretty nice.

Six weeks into the program, I haven’t been censored by the FCC, groped any interns or appeared on television with lipstick on my teeth, so I think it’s going OK.

I asked my sons what they thought.

“Uh. This is on YouTube, right?” they asked.

No wonder Andy Rooney was a curmudgeon.

I’m not sure if my mind is any sharper, but I’m figuring out how to cut excess verbiage, make use of camera angles and use a teleprompter app on my husband’s Kindle.

Now, I’m working on not grimacing on camera. Seeing still shots from the shows revealed I have a very expressive face. Unfortunately, many of those expressions should not be seen on network TV.

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but maybe this old columnist can learn something new.

Stay tuned.

On the air

“Spokane Talks” airs Sundays at 6 p.m. on KAYU Fox 28 Spokane. To see previously aired “Front Porch” segments go to https://spokanetalksmedia.com/ and click the Front Porch tab.

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Columns

A Matter of Perspective

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Derek and Cindy Hval at the beach in Crescent City, California

When your youngest child who recently graduated from high school with honors utters such a simple wish, well, what parent wouldn’t want to fulfill it?

Sam is 18, and the window for family road trips is rapidly closing. His desire to see the redwood forest quickly became the focus of our family vacation.

Derek looked at maps and I booked hotels, and last week we returned from a trip that included the ocean, Shakespeare, waterfalls, the Columbia River Gorge and of course, ancient trees.

First I’d like to know what happened to all the Volkswagen Beetles? Every road trip from my childhood resulted in sore shoulders as my siblings and I played “Slugbug” or, as we called it, “Bugslug.” Our kids played it on family trips, too. But we traveled hundreds of miles and didn’t see a single Beetle till we returned to Spokane.

It’s probably just as well, because Sam was the only kid on this trip and you really shouldn’t punch your parents. Or your kids.

We picked Ashland, Oregon, as our central destination, making the grueling drive in one day. Smoke shrouded the landscape across Washington and into Oregon.

Speaking of Oregon, we thought the recently-passed gas law meant we could pump our own gas. Nope. Apparently, it varies by city or county. Derek opted to try at every fill-up, but was rarely successful.

Ashland is home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Derek and I had enjoyed a trip there several years ago, and had been anxious to return. We wanted Sam to see a play and mulled the options. The outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre is iconic and offers a fabulous experience, so we bought tickets for “The Book of Will,” which was slated for that theater during our stay.

The smoke-filled skies had me worried. The theater had canceled several performances due to poor air quality. Our hotel clerk said in the event of bad air, they move the play to the high school auditorium. Not at all what we were hoping for.

But first the redwoods. The Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is just a two-hour drive from Ashland, so we crossed our fingers as we set off from the smoky city in the morning.

As we crossed the border into California the skies cleared. Who knew we’d have to drive to California to breathe fresh air?

We wound our way through the primeval forest, carefully avoiding gawkers who pulled over on the side of the narrow road to take pictures. Stopping at the Hiouchi Visitor Center 9 miles east of Crescent City, California, we picked up a map and directions to Stout Grove, a half-mile loop walking trail.

The stillness of the redwood forest is surreal. The immensity of the towering trees, the soft sunlight filtering through ancient branches, adds a unique hush, making the grove seem more like a church than a forest.

Indeed, a short time later while exploring a side trail, I happened upon a partially hidden makeshift memorial – a small cross made of sticks and a photo of a bearded man. I imagine this must have been his favorite place.

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Sam and I did get the giggles counting how many times Derek said the word “huge.”

Crescent City is a short drive from Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. We cruised into the sleepy town looking for a lunch spot with an ocean view.

“Why don’t you drive that way?” I suggested to Derek, pointing at the ocean in the distance.

Amazingly, the street ended at small parking lot with steps leading down to the beach. Even more amazing, we had the whole beach to ourselves! From old growth forest to tide pools, sand, waves and driftwood in 20 minutes.

After beachcombing, we found a harbor-side restaurant, and a chorus of barking seals serenaded us while we ate.

The smoke was clearing in Ashland the next morning, so we spent the day shopping and walking through Lithia Park. I hesitantly made reservations at an outdoor dining spot, but I needn’t have worried. We sat down to dinner under brilliant blue skies and later, stars twinkled above us as we watched the play in the outdoor theater.

In fact, the only rain we encountered was a light drizzle at Multnomah Falls on the way to Hood River the following day.

The rain didn’t dim the beauty of the falls, but it did close the path to the highest point.

We spent the last day of our trip exploring downtown Hood River, and then relaxing in the sun and the wind on the beach, marveling at the windsurfers, riding the waves.

Like most busy families, we’d started vacation tired and stressed. Each of us wrestling with worries both big and small.

But something happened.

Was it when we sat on a piece of driftwood, staring out at the vast blueness of the Pacific Ocean while the waves lapped the shore at our feet?

Was it when we walked through the silence of the ancient redwoods while the sun filtered through the foliage of God’s cathedral?

All I know is the cares and concerns that once loomed so large seemed to shrink, to lighten, to dissipate into the wonder and beauty of nature.

It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it?

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Cindy and Derek walk through the redwoods

Columns

The Night the Lights Went Out in North Spokane

Our family recently went through a very dark time.

It came on suddenly, without warning. One minute we were relaxing after dinner, taking respite from the heat of the day in our cool air-conditioned home, discussing our Netflix pick of the evening, and the next minute our world stopped.

My reading lamp flicked off. The fans and air-conditioner stilled, and the wails from downstairs let us know our sons’ electronics had been disrupted.

Power outages are rare in our neighborhood. The power lines are underground, so when outages do occur it’s usually something on Avista’s end and we’re quickly back online.

Neither Ice Storm 1996 nor any of the recent windstorms disrupted our happy home. While all over the city food spoiled in freezers and propane lanterns flew of the shelves at sporting goods stores, we merrily went on our well-lit way.

So. Nobody panicked Thursday evening.

I mean, the most recent blip in our grid lasted all of a minute.

We peered out the window and saw our neighbors’ porch lights were off, and no lights shone from any windows. Our street lamp was out.

“Looks like it’s the whole neighborhood,” my husband said.

Feeling confident that the outage had been called in, the four of us gathered in the living room to await the resumption of our normal routines.

It was 7:45.

Thirty minutes later, Sam, 18, said, “Well. This sucks.”

His brother sighed. “I just got my new guitar pedal set up.”

We scanned our phones for Twitter posts about the outage, but nothing appeared.

I updated my Facebook status.

“No power in North Spokane. We’ve been forced to sit in our living room and talk to each other. #HELP!”

My friend, Beth, replied, “Surely your phones have some charge left in them.”

“Obviously,” I replied. “But we’re conserving our batteries for social media. #priorities”

The thought of being cut off from the world chilled us. We hastily checked the charges on our phones and Kindles and reported the results.

“We should be OK for a few hours,” Derek, my husband, said.

Slowly the Twitter and Facebook responses trickled in from other North Side folks. Apparently, our little corner of Spokane was the only area affected.

As the sun started to set in the smoky sky, I gathered candles and piled them on the dining table.

And not a moment too soon. Darkness fell quickly. Our son, Zack, put new batteries in my three pillar candles, as I fumbled in the dark cabinet for candleholders for my motley collection of wax tapers and votives.

Flickering candles don’t emit much heat, but it had been a really hot day. The house grew stuffy. We opened the windows, but there was no breeze, just smoke.

“Everybody to the gazebo,” I announced. “If the power’s still out at 10, we’ll make s’mores.”

This mom always has s’mores ingredients on hand during the summer months, and suddenly the boys were rooting for continued darkness.

Derek had wisely installed solar lights along our deck and stairs, so nobody stumbled on the way to the gazebo.

I remembered we had a battery-operated light that can be attached to outdoor umbrellas. Using our cellphone flashlights, we ransacked the storage room until we found it. Derek went out to light the fireplace while I gathered chocolate bars, marshmallows, graham crackers, paper plates and napkins.

We roasted marshmallows and enjoyed our sticky snacks as music from Zack’s iPhone filled the night. Our flickering fireplace was an oasis of light in a neighborhood shrouded in dark.

A big truck rumbled past, and we hurried to the front yard to see an Avista crew examining the box across the street. After a few minutes they got back in the truck and drove away.

We were still in the dark, but no one wanted to go to bed without some information.

At 10:45, I finally called Avista.

A nice man confirmed that they were aware of the outage and had sent a truck out, but the crew had to return for supplies to fix the problem.

The reason I hadn’t seen anything on social media is because only 45 homes had been affected.

“We estimate power should be restored in two to three hours,” he said.

The boys and Derek were ready for bed, but I had a problem. I can’t go to sleep unless I read for at least 30 minutes.

We’d recently bought a rocking chair for the deck. I scooted it over to the solar light on the railing, and Derek affixed the umbrella lamp low enough on the stand so I could see the pages of my novel.

Around midnight, I went indoors, carefully snuffing out the few candles still lit. I brushed my teeth in the dark and climbed into bed.

An hour or so later, the blinding glare of my reading lamp jolted me awake, and the rumble of the air conditioner filled the house.

We had survived the Great Spokane Power Outage of 2018 with marshmallows to spare.

I think our pioneer ancestors would be proud.

Columns

Boys and Backyard Buried Treasure

Lightning McQueen has definitely seen better days.

His front wheels are missing, as are both headlights. His rear tires are packed with dirt and his big eyes on the windshield peer through a layer of dust. His red paint job has faded into orange, and his plastic body is cracked in places. Years of exposure to sun and snow will do that to a car.

My husband is building a retaining wall at the back edge of our property, and his shovel had unearthed the abandoned toy.

“Look what I found,” Derek said, cradling the car in his hands.

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Like an archeologist on a dig, he’s discovered the remains of a previous civilization. He’s been working hard to eradicate the evidence that small boys once roamed wild in our backyard, but this is something he’d missed.

When we moved into our home in 1993, both the front and back yards were a mess of weeds and clover.

Derek focused his attention on the front first, so our boys took possession of the back. That summer, my dad bought them a swing set, and we installed the first of many plastic wading pools.

Very little swinging happened on that swing set. Instead, the slide was used as a launching point for cars, toys and boys. The tandem swing made it easier for them to scale to the top of the set, the better to terrify their mother.

The boys grew. The grass came back. The swing set fell apart. And a series of bigger pools kept them occupied during the summer.

Squirt guns, bicycles, skateboards and toys littered the yard making navigation perilous for parents.

When our four boys grew bored with toys and things with wheels, they took up digging in the barren patch of ground where the previous owner had attempted to garden. Bordered by railroad ties, the spot offered ample space for industrious boys to play in the dirt.

I worried about the holes they dug with plastic shovels getting too deep, the tunnels getting too long, but Derek just said, “Boys gotta dig.”

However, even he was surprised to find they’d used a few of his two-by-fours to shore up a gaping gash in the ground.

The boys grew. They mowed the grass. They stopped playing in the dirt. And Derek built a beautiful cedar shed where the swing set once stood.

Our two oldest sons moved out and their dad built a beautiful deck, and we added a gazebo, and raised bed gardens. The retaining wall is just another step in the beautification of our kids’ former playground, and it seems Derek had stumbled upon a toy graveyard while constructing it.

“I’ve been finding a lot of green army men,” he said. “I rebury them with full honors.”

But it didn’t seem right to leave Lightning in an unmarked grave, especially since it looks like he’d been the victim of violent crime. Someone had used permanent marker to print “Help Me…” on his hood, leading us to conclude the toy had been carjacked and possibly held for ransom.

The printing looks exactly like our second son’s writing, and our youngest son, Sam, was a huge fan of the movie “Cars.” He was 6 when the first movie was released, and he went “Cars” crazy.

He had a Radiator Springs play set and the full fleet of cars from the film. But Lightning was always his favorite. In fact, if I venture into his teenage lair, I know I’ll still find at least two versions of Lightning McQueen that he’s not ready to part with.

Derek went back to work on the wall, leaving the dirt-encrusted car on the deck railing. Weeks later, it’s still there, parked facing our outdoor dining area, where Lightning can watch the boy who loved him come and go.

Last night, I swear I saw his eyes shining through their dusty coating when Sam sat down to dinner.

And then old Lightning smiled.

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Columns

Still dating after all these years

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Glancing at the clock, I fastened my earrings and scanned the room for my gold sandals. My date was on the way to pick me up, and I didn’t want to keep him waiting.

Honestly, he wouldn’t complain too much if I did. He’s kind of used to it. We’ve been dating for 33 years.

Yep. My husband and I still date, and with our nest gradually emptying, we’ve resumed dates that actually involve leaving the house and going someplace other than Home Depot or Albertsons. Dates that require advance planning which translates into eager anticipation.

When our boys were little, date night meant putting them all to bed by 8, enjoying a candlelit dinner at our dining room table and renting a movie from Hastings. It also only happened once a month, due to sheer busyness and exhaustion.

This year, with more freedom in time and budget, we’ve instituted weekly dates. Dinner and a movie are nice, but we’ve upped the ante on our adventures. As a result, we’ve been exploring and enjoying our hometown.

For example, late this spring when the Spokane River was at its peak, we dined on the patio at Clinkerdagger’s, shopped in the Flour Mill, spied on the marmots scampering on nearby rocks and snapped a selfie with the river behind us.

But dates don’t need to be spendy. One hot sunny Saturday, we played tourist and explored Manito Park in all its glory.

We encountered some real tourists in the Perennial Garden.

“Spokane is just like a mini-Seattle!” one of them exclaimed.

Them there is fightin’ words to this hometown girl, but Derek distracted me by pointing out a large butterfly perched nearby.

We skipped the Duck Pond because many years ago, our son, Alex, took an unplanned dip in the pond’s murky waters during a family picnic. We’re still traumatized by the memory of trying to clean duck poop off the kid in a park bathroom.

“I told him not to run on those rocks. They’re slippery, I said,” Derek muttered as we skirted the pond.

See? Traumatized.

Our weekly dates have also included local attractions that we’ve always meant to get to, but never had the time – the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum, for one.

When we read the museum was hosting a traveling Smithsonian exhibit, “Mail Call,” we took a Friday afternoon off from work and checked it out.

The exhibit tells the history of the military mail system and featured personal stories of service and family bonds, told through documents, photos, audio recordings and handwritten letters.

We were charmed by the unique museum and its friendly staff.

Last Saturday, we enjoyed a lingering summer date in the West Central neighborhood.

We started the evening with appetizers at The Wandering Table in Kendall Yards, and then wandered across the street to the Maryhill Winery tasting room.

The Maryhill patio, liberally dotted with umbrella’d tables, is quickly becoming our favorite spot to unwind, enjoy a glass of wine and soak in the spectacular views of the river, downtown and the Centennial Trail.

From Kendall Yards, we drove west to a Spokane landmark – Doyle’s Ice Cream Parlor. Though he’s lived in Spokane more than 40 years, Derek had never been to the iconic seasonal shop.

We sat in the red Adirondack chairs out front, enjoying huge scoops of licorice ice cream and watching the steady stream of people ebb and flow from the busy shop.

As we savored each bite, we had our usual marital discussions of what the work week ahead looked like, the status of our August vacation plans, and where we’d like to go on future dates.

We’d saved the newspaper’s guide to area parks and plan to start working our way through a list of parks we want to explore. Sunday’s story on city staircases gave us some new destinations to contemplate.

Sure, sometimes dates are simply Netflix, pizza and jammies at home, but going out on the town adds intentional enjoyment. Especially, when you have the day circled in red on your calendar.

Anticipation. That’s what makes dating so much fun.

All Write, Columns

Apology Accepted?

The crash happened in a split second. One minute my husband was driving down North Monroe Street, and in a flash a sedan darted out in front of him from a side street.

By the time he hit the brakes, he had hit the car, which spun 180 degrees, ending up with its back end in the southbound lane and its front end in the northbound.

Stunned and shaken, he pulled over in a nearby church parking lot. An off-duty fireman stopped to see if he was OK while others checked on the teenage girl and her passenger.

Derek drives an F-150 truck, and it hit the rear passenger door of the small sedan. All of the car’s airbags deployed. Amazingly, no one was injured.

“What were you thinking?” Derek asked the driver.

She said she had seen him signal to change lanes on the busy four-lane section of Monroe and thought he was turning. She thought she had time to make it across the intersection.

She thought wrong on all counts, and her mistake could have had a much higher price than just the inconvenience of damaged vehicles and time spent on insurance paperwork.

In the following days, Derek wavered between anger and relief. Several weeks later when the dust and the insurance had settled and his truck repaired, he received a letter from the girl.

“I’m sincerely sorry for the accident I caused. I’m very grateful you’re OK. This accident made me realize how very short life is – your life could be taken in any minute.”

The note seemed genuine and heartfelt, and whether her mother made her write it or not, the effect on Derek was liberating. He had already moved past anger, but her words allowed him to think more kindly of her.

A sincere apology will do that.

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if that happened more often?

Instead, sorry/not sorry has become a hashtag on Twitter, a popular Demi Lovato song, and a featured phrase in everyday conversation. Sorry/not sorry is what you say when you acknowledge your words or actions may have upset someone, but you really don’t care.

Huckleberries columnist Dave Oliveria refers to insincere mea-culpas as “ap-hollow-gies.”

It’s like when my boys were fighting and someone’s feelings, body, or toy had been hurt, and I’d admonish the offender to tell his brother he was sorry.

“Sorry,” the culprit would mumble.

The word was right, but often the body-language – arms folded, eyes-rolling, shoulders shrugging – revealed the kid was less than repentant.

That kind of apology usually resulted in further consequences. Even so, an “I’m sorry” rendered because a kid doesn’t want his video game privileges revoked, doesn’t get to the heart of the matter.

And speaking of hearts, there are times when even the most genuine mea culpa cannot mend or alleviate the pain of damage done.

Think of the courtroom apologies proffered by people who have killed or maimed someone while driving drunk. Or the relationships broken by betrayal. Or the workplace gossip that results in job loss.

While saying sorry may be the right thing to do, it doesn’t automatically translate into forgiveness.

And sometimes we can be haunted by the apology we never received.

Many years ago, someone close to Derek treated him very badly. Harsh words and untruths were spoken. He waited for an apology or even an acknowledgement of wrongs done.

It never came.

Eventually, Derek chose to forgive this person. It had little to do with the offender and everything to do with my husband’s peace of mind.

Forgiveness is a choice, and so is asking for it.

The letter from the young driver demonstrates what it means to acknowledge harm done and accept responsibility for it.

“I know I’m young and learning. I know that this was my fault, and I take full blame,” she wrote. “This has helped me look at life from a different perspective. I appreciate every moment for what it is. Once again I apologize.”

Apology accepted.

All Write, Columns

Rock on! And I don’t mean in a chair

18882142_1433976726640950_512120073299930773_n[1]Derek and I had a peaceful easy feeling in May when we joined several thousand of our closest friends to hear the Eagles in concert at the Spokane Arena.

From the moment the opening a cappella strains of “Seven Bridges Road” soared through the venue, till the final sweet notes of “Desperado” echoed, we were enthralled and entertained.

The Eagles are a band even my parents would have approved of … except for the somewhat controversial “Hotel California.”

When I was growing up parental approval did not extend to the “devil’s music,” so I started rocking later than most of my peers.

Our home was filled with the music of the Gaither Vocal Band and Dottie Rambo, and of course, Elvis – gospel and hymn recordings only.

In the ’80s backward masking was on the nightly news. We teens were told the subliminal messages contained in albums by certain bands would turn us into devil worshippers.

We attended seminars at the Spokane Convention Center where speakers warned us that subliminal messages weren’t limited to records. Even eating crackers could send one spiraling into sin due to the word “SEX” being spelled out in the dots of a Ritz cracker.

That explains why I still prefer Wheat Thins, and why my first concert was Ronnie Milsap. I’d never heard of him, but my best friend really wanted to go. My parents thought country music wasn’t as dangerous as rock ’n’ roll.

Of course, I listened to the American Top 40 on the radio so I could keep current with the sinful state of the world. That radio rebellion must have corrupted me. How else to explain the first album I purchased was Quiet Riot’s “Metal Health.”

But metal never moved me much, especially once I discovered Bon Jovi. Their music was the soundtrack of my teen and young adult years.

My husband was an avid concertgoer in his teens, and when we met he was astonished by my rock ’n’ roll ignorance.

“Just think if you hadn’t married me you would know nothing about Van Halen. Nothing!” he often says.

During our early married years, the cost of raising four kids put concert attendance out of our reach.

We did splurge on Jim Brickman tickets when he came to the INB Performing Arts Center around the time of our anniversary one year. My parents would also approve of Jim; our children, however, were mortified.

“My gosh! If John Denver was still alive, you’d probably pay money to see him, too!” our teenager groaned.

“Well, duh!” I replied, and launched into a spirited rendition of “Grandma’s Feather Bed.”

As our kids grew older, our wallets grew less lean, but I was still shocked when five years ago Derek surprised me with tickets to Bon Jovi.

He’d already taken the boys to see Van Halen when they were in Tacoma the previous year, and he wanted me to be able to hear my favorite band in concert, too.

But the biggest surprise was how much Derek, a Bon Jovi-scoffer, loved the show.

“That was absolutely amazing! Best concert I’ve ever attended!” he said afterward.

Since then we’ve seen a slew of bands and performers. Our son treated us to Bob Dylan in Seattle. And we got our ’80s groove on with Foreigner, Styx, Loverboy, Joan Jett (twice), Pat Benatar and Melissa Etheridge when they’ve performed at Northern Quest.

But it was seeing Blondie in 2015 that reminded Derek of the passage of time.

“Debbie Harry is still so hot!” he enthused.

I grinned.

“Not bad for 70, huh?”

Stricken, Derek gasped, “She’s almost as old as my mother!”

Time has not been good for all bands, however.

Derek was delighted when the newspaper asked me to review Def Leppard when they came to town last summer with Tesla and Poison.

The show was fine, and Leppard fans were pleased, but there was a lot of sweat and a lot of screaming – both on stage and in the audience. For the first time, we both had to wear ear plugs.

The difference between metal bands and more mellow bands becomes apparent as the members age.

“You can actually understand the lyrics when the Eagles and Bon Jovi sing,” he said. “Van Halen and Def Leppard just play louder to compensate for their fading vocals.”

There you have it. We’ve reached the age where the words matter just as much as the music.

Some folks do their rocking in chairs, but we’re going to keep doing ours at concert venues – at least while we can still hear the lyrics.

Columns

Sometimes the Simplest Prayers Mean Most

We eagerly scanned the swarms of blue-robed students filing into the McCarthey Athletic Center on Friday evening. The strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” swelled, and then we spotted our baby boy – not much of a baby anymore.

As Sam received his diploma and was recognized as an honors student who’s already earned 87 credits through the Running Start program at Eastern Washington University, another chapter in our parenting lives closed.

Our fourth and final son graduated from high school.

It was an occasion I couldn’t even imagine 18 years ago when he struggled for every breath in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at now-Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.

On a golden September day, Sam, our grand finale, had entered the world weighing in at a whopping 9 pounds, 9 ounces. He had his father’s broad shoulders and the trace of a dimple in his chin.

He also had a hole in his diaphragm.

Within hours of his birth we were told our baby had congenital diaphragmatic hernia. A hole in his diaphragm hadn’t closed early in gestation. As a result, his internal organs pushed into his chest cavity, squashing his developing lungs. Only Sam’s right lung was fully formed. Our newborn was given a 50/50 chance of survival.

Milestones like a commencement ceremony remind us of how close we came to losing this child.

Late Friday night following the celebration, while the rest of the household slept, Derek and I quietly recalled Sam’s desperate first days.

He’d been flown by helicopter from Holy Family Hospital to Sacred Heart Medical Center an hour after his birth. Having just given birth I was forced to stay behind while Derek drove downtown.

“When I walked into the NICU, they had Sam restrained on a table,” he recalled. “His back was arched, his face red. He was screaming his head off. They told me he was a fighter, but that I needed to leave the room for a minute. They said they were going to sedate him, that his blood pressure was dangerously high. When they let me back in, Sam was silent and still. So very still.”

And 18 years later, the tears fell as he remembered his helplessness in the face of his son’s need.

My own memories of that day still haunt.

Twelve hours after his birth, I stood next to Sam’s bed. Tubes and wires protruded from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. The ominous whooshing of the ventilator and the beeping and whirring of machines filled the room. He was so fragile that the sound of a voice raised above a whisper sent his blood pressure skyrocketing.

I believe in the power of prayer. I always have. But that morning I could find no words. So I reached two fingers under the maze of wires, rested them on his laboring chest and whispered, please. When he exhaled I whispered thank you.

In the weeks that followed those words became a ritual.

Even as he grew healthy and strong, with no lingering complications, each breath simply seemed miraculous to me. Life is a gift, but how casually we treat it, until we’re forced to confront its fragility.

More nights than I can count, I’d slip into Sam’s room, lay my hand on his chest and whisper please and thank you as he breathed. Over the years that prayer grew to encompass much more than his physical health.

Like his dad, Sam’s going to continue his education at EWU. He plans to become a high school English teacher and will live at home for a while, so our nest won’t be empty anytime soon.

Following the commencement ceremony, we posed for photos. Sam now towers above me, and when I wrap my arms around him, my head rests near his heart.

Once again I found myself whispering please when he inhaled, thank you when he exhaled.

It’s a prayer that’s served me well.

Sam's graduation

Columns

Low-Tech Cindy Meets High-Tech Ruby Sue

The newest member of our family arrived just in time for Mother’s Day. Her name is Ruby Sue, and I’m absolutely in love.

I’m worried my friends will tire of hearing me extol her virtues, but she just has so darn many! She’s helpful, easygoing, and so far has been remarkably patient with me as we get to know each other.

What’s odd is I’ve never found black leather and tinted shades particularly attractive. Until now.

Ruby Sue is a 2015 Ford Escape Titanium.

Our youngest has been driving the 1995 Dodge Caravan that his three older brothers drove. The slider door doesn’t open. The passenger door opens from the inside only. There’s no radio. No air-conditioning. It’s been wrecked at least once by each driver, but the Green Monster seems impossible to kill.

Still my husband said the beast won’t live forever, and it was time to pass Golda MyDear, my 2011 Oldsmobile Intrigue, down to Sam.

“It isn’t manly,” Sam protested.

Who knew aging minivans with peeling paint were manly?

Anyway, Derek diligently searched the internet and found the Ford Escape at a local Subaru dealership.

He showed me the photo and the specs.

“What do you think?” he asked. “Shall we take her for a drive?”

I smiled, already enthralled by her sparkly red paint job and sporty trim.

Ruby Sue drove like a dream, but the back-up camera proved disconcerting. Both Derek and I swiveled our heads and peered at the side mirrors while ignoring the screen in front of us.

The salesman left us to discuss the purchase. Taking a car for a test drive is like going to a shelter to “look” at cats or dogs. You’d better be prepared to shell out some cash and take one home because chances are you will fall in love.

Our discussion was brief thanks to the research Derek had already done. All he needed to know was would low-tech Cindy be happy driving high-tech Ruby Sue.

I nodded.

“I’ll read the manual,” I said.

After a sheaf of paperwork completed the adoption, Derek asked if I wanted to drive her home while he drove Golda back to work.

“Of course!” I said, as I kissed him goodbye and approached my new red ride.

The salesman had already explained the keyless ignition meant I just had to be within a few feet of the door and when I touched the handle it would unlock, which it did. What he failed to demonstrate was how to start the car.

Sliding behind the wheel, I adjusted the mirrors and the lumbar support on the smooth leather seat. Then I pushed the start button. Nothing happened. I fiddled with some things and tried again. The radio came on. I pushed more things on the touch screen. The air conditioner came on.

Finally, I read the screen. “Push brake to start car.”

“Thank you, Ruby Sue,” I said.

It’s been two weeks since I drove her home, and I must admit the learning curve is a bit steeper than I anticipated. I did scan the manual, but I’ve always been a learn-by-doing person.

This rig comes not so much with bells and whistles, but with beeps and bleeps, that I’m still deciphering.

For example, when I pulled into a parking space, Ruby Sue started beeping. I slammed the brake and looked around. No lights were flashing. Auto self-destruct mode hadn’t been activated. It took a few more trips for me to realize the car was just alerting me to the proximity of the curb.

Ruby Sue is quite chatty. Bluetooth technology enabled her to sync with my phone automatically. No more ear pieces or headsets to lose! I can receive and send calls and texts using the buttons on the steering wheel. In fact, everything in the Escape Titanium operates through voice command – the radio, the climate control, even the built-in navigation system.

So far, Ruby and I haven’t had any arguments about the best way to get somewhere.

But we’re still working out a few glitches – mine, not her’s. The trunk is supposed to open and close when I swipe my foot under the tailgate – no more juggling grocery bags and fiddling with keys. Alas, only Derek has figured out how to activate the sensor with one swipe of his foot.

And frankly, the self-parking option freaks us both out. Last night we decided to try it for the first time in the safety of our neighborhood.

We pushed the parking assist button and watched, stunned, as Ruby Sue ably parallel parked herself between our son’s car and our garbage cans.

It’s a surreal experience to sit in the driver’s seat and watch the steering wheel spin as your car parks itself, but I have to say this could be a game-changer and a solution for my frequent downtown parking dilemmas.

My least favorite part of my job used to be all the driving. But now, I take the long way everywhere just to spend more time with Ruby Sue.

It’s safe to say I’ve left Intrigue behind, and now that I’ve Escaped there’s no turning back.

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Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Her previous columns are available online at http://www.spokesman.com/staff/cindy-hval/ Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

Columns

Auditing my childhood wish list

Nothing brings life into focus like finding a list of things you wanted when you were a kid, and measuring it against the reality of your adult life.

That happened to me recently while going through a box of “Cindy” things my Mom has kept since my childhood.

But first can we talk about those locks of hair? I mean, why?

What am I supposed to do with the locks of honey gold hair in the Ziploc sandwich bag? My mother has saved these for 50 years. They’ve traveled across the ocean and back, not even attached to my head.

The artsy-craftsy among you might suggest making some kind of shadow box, so that my once-golden hair will be forever preserved behind glass. I guess I could stick my baby teeth in there, too. Yes. Mom also saved my teeth.

I have to admit that I saved my oldest child’s first tooth as well, and I can’t seem to toss it. I saved another son’s first tooth, but didn’t label it, so now it’s in a sandwich bag in my jewelry box.

And no, I don’t know why it seemed important to save those teeth. I blame my mother.

But back to my hair.

Facebook friends suggested the hair and teeth can be used for DNA purposes. I hope they meant tracing my genetic heritage, and they’re not referring to making a positive ID of my corpse, or using the DNA to tie me to a crime scene.

That’s almost as creepy as the friend who suggested I use it to make a voodoo doll.

The fishermen of my acquaintance suggested my golden locks might be used to make fishing lures. Also creepy.

Others suggested making a keychain or using it to make a clone of myself. And one fashion-retro friend said I could weave it in my hair to make a mini rat tail.

For now, it’s in my jewelry box with my kid’s unlabeled tooth.

While the hair and the teeth were a bit disturbing, Mom also saved quite a bit of my early writing – including a list titled “Things I Want.”

I suspect the list was written during a church service. My parents took us to church every Wednesday night and twice on Sunday, so I had ample time to hone my “sit still, be quiet” skills, and Mom kept a sheaf of scratch paper in her purse to keep me occupied.

I drew a lot of pictures and did even more writing. The writing took. The art, not so much.

The list reads as follows (remember I was 8, I spell much better now.)

A puple bike with training wheels

A 1000 dollars

A Maroon body shirt whith an Aqua skirk. And white go-go boots.

Some corel lipstik. And some peach lipclos. And some pink blosh. And some ponds lemon cold cream,

And some toys.

And a laveder dress with pink and lavender flowers.

But most of all I want God to come! Yas!

Obviously, I was 8 going on 18. Or I wanted to be my mother. Probably both.

Also apparent, I must have been hedging my bets on my wish list by making the good Lord’s return my most heartfelt desire.

So here’s the round-up.

I did NOT get a purple bike with training wheels. I got a blue bike with a red, white and blue striped banana seat. I tried to be grateful, but I was positive the patriotic color scheme meant it was a boys’ bike.

I did get $1,000, at some point in my life, but it was not gifted to me in any magical way. I had to work for it.

I did get a maroon body shirt. For those not familiar with ’70s fashion, body shirts were tight-fitting knit shirts with snap crotches. I suppose the idea was that your shirt would stay nicely tucked in, but let me tell you those snaps were awful, if you drank too much fruit punch at a birthday party and had to wait in line for the bathroom. That’s all I’m saying about that.

I don’t think I had an aqua skirt, but Mom had white plastic go-go boots that ended up in our dress-up box. I loved those boots. In fact, I just might find a pair online, so I’ll be prepared when they come back into fashion.

As for the makeup, I did wear coral lipstick topped with peach lip gloss in middle school, and I still wear pink blush. The Pond’s cold cream? Never used it, but Mom still does.

I don’t remember a lavender dress with pink flowers, but I did have some toys.

All in all, most of the things I longed for as an 8-year-old have come my way, so I can’t complain.

I folded the list and tucked in with the lock of hair and my baby teeth.

Someday my sons can figure out what to do with them. Cloning may be an option by then, and I’m sure having their mother cloned is every son’s dream.

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Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Her previous columns are available online at www.spokesman.com/staff/ cindy-hval/ Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.