Columns

Seeing Mom

If I’d known I wouldn’t see her again for six months, I’d have given her an extra hug.

When I left my mom’s assisted living apartment on Feb. 29, I assumed I’d see her when I returned from visiting my grandsons. COVID-19 proved that assumption wrong.

Phone calls took the place of weekly visits, and instead of loving celebrations on her birthday and Mother’s Day, we stood in the parking lot below her second-floor window and held up signs that her failing eyes could barely see.

Mom has Alzheimer’s, so phone calls are often challenging. She still knows all of us, but her memories of the distant past are much sharper than say, remembering what she had for lunch. Or remembering why no one has come to visit her.

“My mom used to send me to my room when I was bad. Have I been bad?” she asked.

So, I remind her of the pandemic and how her facility is trying to keep everyone healthy, and she says, “Oh, yes. I saw that on the news.”

The next time I called she said, “I tried to go to the dining room for lunch today, but I got caught at the elevator and sent back to my room. I finally made some friends here, and I’m worried they’ve all forgotten me.”

She doesn’t have much of an appetite, and eating all her meals alone in her room, hasn’t improved it. Recently, I was on the phone with her when her dinner was delivered, so I asked her to tell me what room service had provided. She obligingly took the lid off her plate.

“0h, for the love of Pete, not again! It’s macaroni and cheese with what looks like birthday sprinkles on it!”

I tried to convince her it was some kind of vegetable garnish, but she wouldn’t buy it.

“It’s birthday sprinkles,” she insisted.

Some days she’s in better spirits than others. One morning she told me she was up and dressed, had breakfast, made her bed and even curled her hair.

“Of course, I have two curlers in the front which I’ll probably forget to take out like I usually do,” she said. “Also, I’m all out of hard candy. I can’t figure out who keeps eating it all!”

I didn’t feel the need to remind her she hasn’t had any visitors since the first of March.

Finally, on Aug. 26, I got to have an outdoor socially distant visit with her. She scooted her walker out the facility’s front door, and even though her face mask was in place, I could tell she was smiling.

“Oh, I can’t tell you how beautiful you look to me,” she said.

So we got the crying out of the way first thing.

Mom, August 2020.

She reached out for a hug, and I had to back away.

“We can’t hug yet,” I told her.

What a thing to tell a mother, especially my mother.

Mom is a hugger and a kisser. She grew up longing for physical affection that she didn’t receive from her mother, so when she had children and grandchildren, she lavished them with all the affection she’d craved.

Still, I’m so thankful to be able to sit across from her and visit. Being out of her room and in the fresh summer air is so good for her, but hugs are healing, too.

Countless studies have shown the importance of physical touch. It reduces stress, boosts the immune system, and calms the heart rate and blood pressure.

For now, I’m focused on making our outdoor visits as enjoyable as possible. Last week, I wore a mask that matched my navy and white polka dot blouse. I knew Mom would get a kick out of it. She was quite the fashion plate in her day.

When I snapped a photo of her, she insisted I take a selfie of my matching ensemble.

“I taught her that,” she told everyone who passed by.

Matchy, matchy made Mom happy!

In-person visits do both our hearts good. The results of social isolation and touch deprivation can be devastating, especially for elderly parents. And honestly? It’s not great for their kids, either.

This pandemic has taught me not to take anything for granted – the professional handshake at the outset of business meetings, the quick hugs from friends, a mother’s warm embrace. That’s why I’m doing everything I can to comply with mandated health protocols.

I really want to hug my mom again.

Columns

Finding truth in movies about boys

A little boy in World War II-ravaged Germany whose invisible friend is Adolph Hitler.

A young man with Down syndrome yearns to become a professional wrestler like his idol, the Salt Water Redneck.

And a boy’s battle with addiction baffles his doting father.

Recently, we watched three movies in one week. An unexpected COVID-19 gift is ample time to catch up on films we’d intended to see in the theater.

I had no idea that “Jojo Rabbit,” “The Peanut Butter Falcon” and “Beautiful Boy” would share a common theme. Each film features boys surviving the best way they can in an often cruel and unforgiving world.

When our youngest son raved about “Jojo Rabbit,” I was skeptical.

“It’s really funny,” Sam insisted.

I didn’t think Hitler as an invisible friend would offer much comedic gold. I was wrong.

The movie is equal parts hilarious and heart-rending, because no matter how many laughs you can mine from a wacky Adolph (“I gotta go, we’re having unicorn for dinner at my place tonight!”) the reality is Jojo and his mother are struggling to survive.

The 10-year-old is enamored with Nazi ideals, and pledges his life to the cause. Then he finds out his mother is hiding Elsa, a Jewish girl, in their attic. It’s a terrible secret to keep, but Jojo discovers as Elsa says, “We’re (Jews) like you, but human.”

He’s just a child, so when his mother tells him that love is more powerful than warped ideologies and is the strongest thing in the world, he replies, “I think you’ll find that metal is the strongest thing on Earth, followed by dynamite and then muscles.”

Slowly, Jojo’s belief in Nazism crumbles as the cause disintegrates in the rubble of bombed-out cities.

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” refers to the name the main character chooses to call himself as he makes his way to a North Carolina wrestling school run by his favorite professional wrestler, the Salt Water Redneck.

The actor Zack Gottsagen and the character (Zak) he plays have Down syndrome. Zak has been placed in a nursing home after the death of his mother, even though he says, “I am young. And I am not old.”

He makes his escape, determined to meet his wrestling hero, and encounters a grieving crab fisherman along the way, striking up an unlikely friendship.

“Maybe we could be friends and buddies … bro dogs … and chill. Have a good time!” Zak says.

When his caregiver from the retirement home catches up to him, she has some decisions to make about the nature of family, and what really makes life worth living.

Far more sobering (literally) “Beautiful Boy” traces the havoc addiction creates in family. Based on the memoirs “Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction,” by David Sheff, and “Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines,” by Nic Sheff, it’s a brutally honest look at how a kid who seemingly had everything loses it all to addiction.

“I need to find a way to fill this black hole in me,” Nic says.

His divorced parents send him to treatment program after treatment program, but sobriety is fleeting.

“There are moments that I look at him, this kid that I raised, who I thought I knew inside and out, and I wonder who he is,” says the grieving father, played by Steve Carell.

He holds on to the memory of the beautiful boy his broken son used to be.

“If you could take all the words in the language, it still wouldn’t describe how much I love you. And if you could gather all those words together, it still wouldn’t describe what I feel for you. What I feel for you is everything. I love you more than everything,” he tells Nic.

As the mother of four sons, movies about boyhood tug at my tender heart.

This world is often hard on little boys and raising them into men isn’t a task for the weak-willed. So many bumps along the way, so many times my husband and I looked at each other and wondered what the heck are we doing?

Let’s just say there are myriad parenting issues that aren’t covered in “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.”

A boy survives the cruelty and carnage of the Nazi regime and discovers a well of compassion and empathy for the “other” among us.

A young man meets his wrestling idol and creates a new family along the way.

And a broken boy survives years of addiction, while he and his father learn to make peace with their journeys.

Only one of these stories is true.

But the themes of resilience, compassion and courage mirror my own experience in raising sons.

Beautiful boys, every single one.

                                                                  Hval Boys circa 2008
Columns

Back-to-school one way or another

Stacks of notebook paper, piles of pencils, boxes of crayons jumbled with packages of highlighters and erasers spilling out across our bed; it used to feel like Christmas in September.

With four kids, shopping for school supplies was no small undertaking. We lived on one income until our youngest entered kindergarten, and our budget was chronically tight. But I loved school, and I wanted our boys to love it, too, so when it came to back-to-school shopping I splurged.

Then the day before school started, I’d invite the boys, one at a time, to come into my bedroom and fill their new backpacks. We’d go over the grade-level list of supplies provided by the school, and carefully organize each backpack. That was usually the last time my kids’ school stuff was well-organized, so I liked to make the most of it.

We’d chat about classes, teachers and friends. I got to hear what they were nervous about and what they were most excited about.

Of course, by the time they reached middle school, I’d just toss pencils and notebooks in their bedrooms and prayed they’d remember to take them. Power Ranger and Super Mario backpacks had given way to serviceable black or gray items from Costco, and no one needed a Spider-Man lunchbox.

I’ve been thinking a lot about our back-to-school traditions, because for many families it’s still unclear what school will look like this year. In my neighborhood one thing is certain; the big yellow school bus won’t be rumbling down our street and squealing to a stop to pick up waiting students.

The schoolyard I pass on my daily walk will most likely retain its summertime vacancy. No shouting kids playing tag, no friendly faces rushing up to the fence to wave, and empty listless swings.

I’m worried.

I’m a mother – it’s what I do. If I’m not concerned about my kids, then I’m worried about someone else’s.

When schools shut down this spring, our street filled with kids, riding bikes, skateboarding and bouncing basketballs.

“Aren’t they supposed to be doing distance learning, or something?” I asked my husband.

He shrugged.

As someone who once regularly battled her kids about too much screen time, it seems so surreal that screen time is now school time.

I’m sure many families will handle virtual learning well, but I’m worried about the ones who won’t.

Honestly? I’m not sure I would have been able to swing it with my pack of wild boys.

When our youngest son had a rough day at school, he’d say, “Why can’t I be home-schooled?”

“Because you weren’t blessed with a saint for a mother,” I’d reply.

This year, he finally got his wish. Sam will have all online classes. Of course, he’s a 20-year-old graduate student at EWU, but hey, he’s finally home-schooled.

In Ohio where my son and his family live, the district decided to do 100% remote learning. His 7-year-old stepdaughter is devastated. She’s a sociable kid, and was so excited to go back and see her friends, but her mom is glad she won’t have to wear a mask all day or bring home germs to her twin brothers.

Many of my teacher friends are eager to get back into their classrooms, while others are fearful of worsening the pandemic by opening schools too early.

There are no easy answers, just adults working together, trying to make the wisest decisions for our children.

This I know: Kids are resilient. Learning doesn’t happen on exact calendar days. Most younger students absorb new routines quickly and soak up knowledge in myriad ways.

I wonder what stories they’ll recount to their children and grandchildren about The Year We All Stayed Home.

Only time will tell what was lost and what was gained.

For now, when I pass that empty schoolyard I pray for the children who used to swarm the playground. I pray they are safe, healthy and learning, and that someday soon the echoes of their happy shouts will be replaced by the real thing.

Columns

Silver linings in cloudy COVID-19 world

My doorknobs and light switches have never been cleaner.

The banister absolutely gleams.

Four months into the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m working hard at counting my blessings, and having much-touched areas of our home that rarely got a wipe-down, sparkling is one of them.

With no end in sight to restrictions and shutdowns, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by daily helpings of bad news.

I still haven’t been able to visit my mother. If I’d known when I saw her in February how many months would pass before I could see her again, I would have moved her spring and summer clothes to the front of her closet, so she could easily find them.

“Getting dressed every day is hard when I can’t go anywhere,” she said. “But I’m not staying in my bathrobe.”

And I’d looked forward to a quick break out of town when Derek had to go to the Tri-Cities on business. Last summer, I lounged by the pool when he worked, and we visited wineries and enjoyed a river cruise when he was done.

When I called the hotel to make the reservation, I was told the hotel pool and all its restaurants were closed.

I stayed home while Derek traveled to COVID Central and back.

Such small complaints when compared to those who’ve been sick, or lost jobs, or loved ones because of the virus.

So, I’m committed to counting my blessings, even though a recent grocery store visit vexed me.

How the heck do you open those darn plastic produce bags without licking your finger first? I spent most of my shopping trip trying to open them. I even rubbed them between my hands, but all I got was wrinkly bags.

When I posted my lament on social media, a friend suggested swiping my finger across damp lettuce or celery.

I tried it on my next shopping trip. Success! It worked like a charm, but I’m sure the produce clerks wondered why I was fondling the lettuces without buying any. Also, this is why you should always, always, wash your produce at home.

On the same outing my irreverent sense of humor caused me some embarrassment when a woman across the aisle from me sneezed. At home, I’ve taken to saying “Corona” instead of “Bless you,” when someone sneezes. Luckily, my mask muffled my response, and hopefully her mask muffled her sneeze.

Also, I learned the hard way that folks can get somewhat panicky when you say you’re not going somewhere because you feel a bit “corona-y.”

One of the biggest complaints about COVID-19 restrictions is folks feeling stuck or trapped at home. This is where introverts like me have it made. I love being at home – especially when I have it all to myself. Our son has been back at work for the past month, and Derek’s business is essential, so now at least a couple of days a week I have stretches of solitude.

When I’m done with work, I take my daily walk, and then relax in our backyard gazebo. Then I harvest zucchini, radishes, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries from our garden. Soon there’ll be tomatoes, green beans, beets and carrots.

Our garden goodies fill our plates every Sunday when our three sons join us for supper – and since corona we’ve revived our family game night tradition.

Another coronavirus blessing is library curbside pick up.

I’ve always selected my books online and then picked them up at the library, but now I don’t even have to leave my car! It’s like a literary drive-thru.

While I am doing more in-person interviews for work, I still do a lot more phone interviews than before. The time saved on driving is a boon.

In fact, I actually picked up a new hobby – the daily crossword. My mom always did the newspaper puzzles and had books of crosswords, but I never felt like I had the time.

Now, I take the puzzle page with me out to the gazebo every afternoon. No New York Times in ink for me – just the Daily Commuter. It’s easy enough to finish quickly, which makes me feel accomplished and smart.

The daily puzzle reawakened my love for pencils. I hadn’t used a pencil since I was in college, and it’s such a delight to rediscover the joy of good old No. 2’s. Even better, the Chic and Shab shop on North Monroe has a whole line of pencils with edgy sayings etched on them.

The beautiful thing about pencils is that anything can be erased – mistakes, misspelled words, incorrect answers.

It’s really too bad 2020 wasn’t written in pencil.

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Columns

Twin grandsons make heart grow two sizes

2,142 miles. That’s the driving distance between Spokane and Columbus, Ohio. Even if you fly, that’s a heck of a long way, especially now.

But our recent pre-pandemic-planned trip was worth every mile and occasional discomfort, to celebrate our youngest son’s graduation, and to see our twin grandsons.

Sam recently earned his BA in English with a focus on Literary Studies from Eastern Washington University. He’s 20, graduated cum laude, debt-free, and is already enrolled in the Masters program at the university.

We wanted to celebrate his amazing accomplishment in a meaningful way – and for him nothing could be more meaningful than seeing his brother, Alex, and meeting his identical twin nephews.

Sam hasn’t seen Alex in five years, and Derek’s 76-year-old mom has been longing to meet her first great-grandchildren. So even when the airline changed our flights to include a five-hour layover at SeaTac on the way over and a four-hour layover on the way back, we were just relieved our flights weren’t canceled.

Apparently, air travel is picking up. SeaTac seemed busier than ever and everyone – and I do mean everyone – wore masks and endeavored to maintain social distancing. Even better, Alaska Airlines is continuing to limit seating. Every middle seat was empty on our flights to and from Columbus.

We arrived in Ohio, with just enough light to find our Airbnb house a few blocks away from our son’s place. However, it was dark by the time Derek and I finished our grocery store run, and we got hopelessly lost on our way back. Our GPS was no help. Thankfully, Alex and Brooke are night owls and were able to talk us in by phone.

And then? Four blissful, baby-filled days with The World’s Most Beautiful Boys. At just shy of seven-months, Adam and Nick had already changed so much since our last visit.

Of course, great-grandma Nita and Uncle Sam promptly fell in love with the perpetually grinning, good-natured boys.

“You know, I wasn’t sure if I wanted kids,” Sam said. “But I love those babies. I want some of my own.”

Sam and twins

Sam meets Nick and Adam

That right there was worth the price of the trip, though I did ask him to wait a few years, and maybe not move any place as far away as Ohio.

He and Alex spent hours together, making up for lost time, making new memories, making every minute together count.

They went to the Book Loft in the German Village in Columbus, one of the nation’s largest independent bookstores. It’s so big; they lost Grandma Nita in the two- story maze of book-filled nooks and crannies.

And then while the guys lunched at the Thurman Cafe, featured on the television shows “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” and “Man vs. Food,” we girls bonded over babies.

And oh, those babies! I was filming great-grandma tickling Adam’s bare feet, when he turned and saw me. Recognition, excitement and love beamed from his face as he reached for me.

I thought when I became a mother I couldn’t love anything more fiercely than my sons. And then my grandsons arrived, and my heart grew at least two sizes that day.

Sam, Adam, Nana, Nick

Spending Father’s Day watching my son dote on his sons, filled me with indescribable joy. I never doubted Alex would be a wonderful dad; after all, he had the best role model.

Speaking of Derek, true to tradition, every time a twin nodded off in his arms, Papa fell asleep, too.

“I can’t help it,” he said. “Babies make me sleepy.”

But when Adam or Nick fell asleep in my arms, I didn’t want to miss a thing.

In fact, if I could freeze one moment in time it would be this: the feel of my grandson’s head heavy on my shoulder, the rise and fall of his chest against mine.

If I could bottle one scent it would be this: the sweet smell of his head tucked beneath my chin.

If I could capture one sound to listen to repeatedly it would be this: his sleepy sighs, soft against my ear.

After 2,142 miles, and more time at SeaTac than anyone would ever want to spend, we’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Twins

Adam and Nick

Columns

Cat’s in doghouse after hot, sleepless night

It’s a good thing he’s so cute.

It’s also a good thing I have the Facebook Memories app to remind me of how utterly sweet and tiny Sir Walter Scott was when we first met him last year in June.Baby Walter Love at First Sight

Love at first sight. June 11, 2019

I needed those reminders, because recently Walter (no longer tiny) was the cause of a very long sleepless night.

To be fair, it wasn’t entirely his fault. On May 29, the temperature soared, reaching 90 degrees for the first time this year. Derek and I weren’t prepared for the sudden warmth. We don’t have central air and since we were both out all day, we didn’t turn on our dining room air conditioner until we got home. Our bedroom window unit was still out in the shed. Even with fans running, our house was hot and stuffy.

“We’re going to have to sleep with the bedroom door open,” I said.

My husband eyed Thor and Walter.

“Great,” he said. “You know we’ll have company.”

I wasn’t too worried. After our older cat Milo died, we let Thor sleep with us whenever he wanted. He’s a placid fellow, and just drapes himself at our feet and snores. Derek can outsnore both man and beast, so Thor’s nasally rumblings didn’t bother me.

Walter is a different cat – he’s all about the action. Apparently, he didn’t get the memo that kittens sleep 16 to 20 hours a day, because from the time we brought him home at 8 weeks, it was clear he could catnap, but long stretches of sleep were not in his wheelhouse.

It also became clear that Walter is a fervent Mama’s boy. My son paraphrased a Bible verse to describe his devotion thusly: “Where Mama is, there Walter will be also.”

And he’s a cuddly cat. While he’s not allowed to spend the night in our room, he does curl up in bed with me every morning after breakfast. We both catch a brief bit of shuteye before embracing the day in earnest.

He also knows the nighttime drill. Each evening I get into bed to read before Derek joins me. Well, joins us, because as I mentioned, Walter is rather attached to me. He likes Derek, too, but not at bedtime. Derek’s arrival means Walter’s exit.

Our furry feline tries to circumvent his ouster by feigning death or hiding under the bed.

“Walter, it’s night-night time,” Derek would say to the prone cat.

No response.

Walter squeezes his eyes shut and won’t budge when Derek pokes him. If he doesn’t make a sudden dash under the bed, my husband picks up the tabby’s inert body, carries him from the room and deposits him on the sofa. Then it’s a sprint to see which of them will make it back to the bedroom first. Personally, I think the exercise is good for both of them.

On the hot night in question, after cranking up the fans, we let sleeping cats lie. Thor slumbered on when we turned off the light. Walter trilled questioningly.

“Go back to sleep,” I said.

So, he sunk his head into my pillow and snuggled up next to me. A few minutes later, he patted my face.

I ignored him.

He licked my eyelids.

ignored him.

He laid his whiskery chin on my nose.

I couldn’t breathe, so I nudged him off.

A slight thud and the tinkling of his bell, notified me he’d left the room.

I’d just nodded off, when I felt a soft body land at my side. Then a wet, slobbery piece of felt hit my cheek. Having taken his required catnap, Walter decided it was playtime and brought his beloved gray mouse to bed. The mouse is attached to a string, and usually I wave it around while he chases it and pounces on it.

“One a.m. is not playtime Walter,” I whispered, tossing the toy toward the door as hard as I could.

Big mistake.

Walter loves a good game of fetch. He had the mouse back in bed before I could close my eyes. I refused to throw it again, so Walter found someone else to annoy. He discovered Thor, sound asleep on Derek’s feet and launched himself toward the unsuspecting senior tabby.

Hissing, growling and mayhem ensued as Thor fled from his tormentor.

“One cat down, one to go,” Derek mumbled.

His mumble alerted Walter to his next victim. He sprang from Derek’s feet, landing with a thunk on Derek’s stomach.

“Oof! Get him off of me!” Derek roared.

And so went the rest of the long night. Sometime around 5 a.m. I noticed the house had cooled considerably, but my head was sweating due to Walter’s proximity to my pillow.

I scooped him up, put him in the hallway and shut the door.

Piteous, heartbreaking, tiny meows poured from the hallway.

I put my cat-warmed pillow over my head.

“You’re in the doghouse, Walter,” I said.

A few hours later I opened the door, and Walter came running. Weaving in and around my ankles, stretching up his paws, eager to be in my embrace.

Like I said, it’s a good thing he’s so cute. It’s also a good thing Derek has our window air conditioner ready to go. Who knows? We may see 90 degrees again someday, and this time we’ll be ready. No more cats on hot, sleeping Hvals.

Walter Scott Not a Bit Sorry

Walter the morning after. Not one bit sorry.

Columns

Walk softly; the stories are etched in stone

It’s the storyteller in me.

Lots of people visit cemeteries on Memorial Day, but I visit cemeteries often, especially when passing through an unfamiliar place.

I wander through rows of markers reading history etched on tombstones. Each grave offers a thread of a story, and that thread weaves through time and place, connecting me to strangers. What’s not to love about that?

In March while visiting our son and his family in Grove City, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, our Airbnb sat directly across the street from the Grove City Cemetery and the adjoining St. John’s Lutheran Cemetery.

Our time in Ohio was filled with making the most out of every delightful moment with our twin grandsons, yet the graveyard beckoned every time I looked out the window. Balloons, ribbons, flowers and Christmas decorations dotted the graves, though the holidays were long past.

On our last morning before heading to the airport, we walked across the street and traveled back in time.

The photos caught my eye.

The newer Grove City Cemetery (established in 1906) had many gravesites that featured photos etched into the markers. They offered a surprisingly intimate glimpse of those buried there.

Like, Lisa, “loving daughter and sister,” who died at 19. Her beautiful smile beamed at us from beneath her blonde upswept hair. Fresh roses bloomed in urns. A ceramic horse had toppled from her marker, so I gently replaced it.

Other mementos brought smiles. A bottle of Blue Moon beer perched beside the grave of Georgia, “Loving Mother, Grandmother and Nana.”

Speaking of grandmothers, one gal’s family called her “Grammer.” I loved that. In fact, if my grandkids tire of calling me Nana, I’ll take Grammar (note spelling change) in a heartbeat.

Some gravestones featured beautiful colorized etchings of the person’s favorite place or activity. A covered bridge over a swirling stream marked the Ogg’s family plot, while the Thomas family monument highlighted a stable on one side and beautiful horses on the other. A bowling ball at the top and a pair of golf clubs at the bottom, showed how Robert and Rose Davis spent their time.

Sadly, many of the graves at the next-door St. John’s Lutheran Cemetery (1860) had grown too old and moss-covered to read. Indeed, some of the stones had fallen over, while towering obelisks some topped with angels or crosses stood sentry.

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I caught my breath at one simple plaque, embedded in the ground. “Daddy,” was all it said.

As a mother, I’m always drawn to graves adorned with lambs and angels – children’s graves where the briefest of lives are marked.

A tiny red tinsel Christmas tree fluttered in the March breeze. It marked Darren’s grave. He was born and died Oct. 26, but I couldn’t read the year through my tears.

I hadn’t anticipated the wellspring of grief that the graves of stillborn babies would trigger since we lost our grandson Ian Lucas in 2018.

“Our little angel,” Stephanie Lynn was stillborn April 26, my son’s birthday.

A photo of beautiful Maggie Jean, March 7, 2015-March 8, 2015, brought me to my knees, and since I was there anyway, I prayed for Maggie’s family.

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Some housekeeping seemed in order. I righted toppled ceramic angels and Santas, and brushed leaves and dirt from markers, knowing I’d want someone to do the same for my family.

Suddenly, I couldn’t wait to get to my son’s house to hold The World’s Most Beautiful Boys one more time.

But I’ll never forget Maggie Jean, Darren, or Chelsea whose gravestone reads, “Walk softly an angel sleeps here.”

Indeed, it might be wise for all of us to walk a bit more softly wherever we tread in these troubled days. The thread of our stories can be ephemeral, but that connection is what we crave.

A stroll through any cemetery reminds us that our time here is just the merest whisper. How much sweeter our echoes would be if we choose to walk softly and be kind.

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Columns

Taking out, dining in: Supporting local eateries

You never know how much you miss something until it’s gone.

Derek and I have entered the blissful state of the almost-empty nest. With just one kid at home our budget has relaxed enough for us to enjoy dining out at least once a week (and that doesn’t include Friday night pizza.)

Then COVID-19 arrived and poof! No more date nights or happy hours at our favorite eateries.

As small business owners ourselves, we worried about the fate of our locally owned restaurants. So we decided to do something about it. For the past several weeks we’ve ordered takeout meals for three from locally owned restaurants – places that we regularly patronized prior to the pandemic.

We eschewed delivery services and picked the food up ourselves. We wanted the staffers (usually the owners) to be able to see our faces and to let them know they weren’t forgotten during this difficult time.

Honestly? Altruism aside, I enjoy cooking, but this grueling, six-hot-meals-a-week thing is getting exhausting. Soups or stews on Mondays, seafood on Tuesdays, crockpot meal on Wednesdays, Derek usually grills on Thursdays and Saturdays, and on Sundays I make a big supper, plus dessert for extended family. So, you can see why Friday is now my favorite day of the week.

Here’s our culinary calendar thus far. And these are only nine of the hundreds of restaurants that need your support.

McClain’s Pizzeria: Since Friday night pizza has always been a staple, we started our Friday night foodie tour with this North Side gem. The Ostendorf, featuring sausage, fresh basil and Sriracha hot chili sauce is a family favorite, and their hand-tossed, chewy, slightly charred crust is delicious.

Red Dragon (Hillyard): When we’re in the mood for Chinese food, this is our destination. Sam loves the Orange Chicken, and I’m a huge fan of the Spicy Chicken and Cabbage.

Lost Boys’ Garage: This casual burger and beer joint is a frequent stop for Derek and our boys, and I love the Cod and Chips. Bonus: You can get growlers filled. Extra bonus: Their Facebook page frequently features fun videos.

Pizza Rita: We’ve got a soft spot for this place. Owner Brian Dickmann regularly supports local causes and events. In addition, he gave our son, Zach, his first job at the Indiana Avenue store. Zach worked his way through Spokane Falls Community College slinging pizzas. Plus, it’s the home of the Five Pounder – 11 toppings on one huge pizza.

Poole’s Public House (North): This is our regular Sunday-after-church stop. It’s also where we often watch the Seahawks or World Cup soccer. Sam craves the Whiskey River burger, while Derek loves Scottie’s Favorite Hottie, loaded with grilled onions, jalapeños and peppered bacon. I tried the Lucy Mae (a chicken sandwich, named after the owner’s first grandchild) and found a new favorite, just like that.

Prohibition Gastropub: A frequent Happy Hour stop for us. The burgers feature fresh ground beef mixed with a secret blend of spices and coffee grounds. Since it’s one of our kid-free date night destinations, Sam hadn’t sampled the burgers. He was wowed by the Spicy Bootlegger, featuring grilled jalapeños, blue cheese and candied bacon. Bonus: Cocktails to go. Derek got an old-fashioned and treated me to a margarita.

Pete’s Pizza: One word: calzones. While Derek stuck with Pete’s Favorite and Sam tried the Sicilian, I ventured into new territory with the Chicken Cheddar Deluxe. Yum.

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Calzones from Pete’s Pizza

Craft and Gather: When an errand took me to Spokane Valley, it was a no-brainer that this would be our takeout meal of the week. Another date night staple for us meant once again Sam got to try a new place without ever leaving the house. He loved the Steakhouse burger and fries. Derek tried the Lamb Burger with pasta salad and pronounced it, fabulous, while I ordered the Chicken Sando – fried buttermilk chicken breast, tomato, lettuce, tarragon aioli. So good, I can’t wait to get it again.

The Onion (North): We were so glad this neighborhood family favorite finally started offering takeout service. Since we live nearby, we knew an order of the fabulous onion rings would travel well. We each got our favorite burger; America’s Best Cheeseburger for me, Jalapeño Bacon for Sam and a Gourmet Bacon Cheddar Burger for Derek.

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Gourmet Bacon Cheddar Burger from The Onion

I hoping reading this makes you hungry to support locally owned restaurants, but of course, these fabulous meals may result in a less fabulous waistline.

All I know is instead of the “freshman 15” college students often gain; we’ll most likely be emerging from Stay Home with the COVID 15.

Bon appetit!

Columns

A mugful of Monday

Bewildered, I stared through sleep-fogged eyes at the rack above the kitchen sink.

I saw Sam’s Star Wars cup, Derek’s Three Stooges mug, and a few others, but my Monday mug was missing.

One of the advantages of working from home is that there are no co-workers to steal your coffee cup or pilfer your lunch. (Well, there was that time in 2014, that Zachary ate the last piece of leftover meatloaf I’d saved for a sandwich. But I’m mostly over it, and only mention it every time I make meatloaf.) So, I was puzzled by the absence of my personalized Spokesman-Review mug.

I checked the dishwasher, but I’d emptied it the night before.

At the kitchen table, Derek shook out the newspaper and took a slurp of coffee.

“Have you seen my Monday mug?” I asked.

He glanced at the cup in his hand.

“You mean this one?”

Sure enough, he was sipping java from a pinwheel-decorated cup with my name on it.

I’d worried that anarchy might rear its ugly head during this time of pandemic, but I never expected the decline of civilization to begin in my own home.

“That’s my deadline day cup!” I sputtered. “It’s got my NAME on it! How can I be expected write newspaper copy without coffee in my Monday mug?”

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My husband frowned and pointed to a cup with a cat and a newspaper on it.

“Can’t you use that one?”

Horrified and uncaffeinated, I gasped, “That’s my SATURDAY mug!”

Before he could inquire about the other days of the week, I pointed to my “But first coffee” cup and my Wonder Woman mug.

“Those are for Tuesdays,” I explained. “I vary depending on my workload.”

Sighing, Derek poured his coffee into another cup and handed me my mug.

As someone who leaves the house every day and goes to an office, he doesn’t understand the sanity-saving sanctity of a well-established routine for those of us who work from home.

I swiped the newspaper and headed back to bed, coffee in hand. That’s when I stepped in a puddle of cat barf and went puke-skating down the hallway.

Apparently, Thor had upchucked his breakfast while I was explaining mug protocol to Derek. I was able to stop my slide by hitting the wall with a resounding thud. I didn’t fall, and more important, I didn’t spill my coffee.

“Nice save,” Derek said.

He got to scrub the floor while I cleaned bits of cat vomit from between my toes. Suddenly, he seemed anxious to get to work.

“Don’t forget our new mattress will be delivered today,” he said on his way out.

And I didn’t forget, exactly. I just got engrossed in my work. So, when the doorbell rang I was still in my bathrobe.

No worries. A pandemic plus is having a kid at home all day.

Sam obligingly answered the door and began to wrestle the mattress-in-a-box inside. It quickly became apparent that this was a two-person job, and I was the only other person present. I wasn’t strong enough to pull the box up the stairs, so I got pushup duties. Which is how I ended up on my front porch in my pink plush bathrobe at 1 in the afternoon.

Apparently, most of our neighbors are “staying home, staying healthy,” because there was quite an audience to observe our progress.

The box was heavy, but on the small side for something containing a queen-size mattress.

“I think it explodes or something when you open it,” I explained to Sam. “Let’s not touch it till Dad gets home.”

My last phone call of the day involved hashing out a complicated medical story. Thankful to be able to discuss it with a colleague, I said, “It really helps to have two brains.”

She quickly ended the call.

When Derek got home, Sam helped him unpack the new mattress. It didn’t explode; it just kind of sighed and got fluffy. When I described the scenario on Facebook, a friend said, “Just kind of sighed and got fluffy – the story of my quarantine.”

Pretty apt description for many of us.

Late that night, Derek and I stretched out on our new mattress. I was almost asleep when he nudged me.

“Tomorrow’s Tuesday,” he whispered. “Can I use your Monday mug?”

 

Columns

It’s not what I miss; it’s who

March 29.

For those keeping track at home, that’s the last time I wore mascara. I’m putting that extra five minutes a day to good use, though. For instance, I posted that fascinating tidbit across my social media platforms.

Seriously, for all the frustration and inconvenience of the stay-home order, there are bright spots. Not only am I saving money on cosmetics, but my gas use has plummeted. Doing all my interviews by phone from home means the only time Ruby Sue and I leave the driveway is for groceries.

And new routines are replacing the old. Knowing my family’s screen time has increased exponentially, I dug out a deck of cards, and introduced our youngest son to Gin Rummy and Kings Corner.

Sam wasn’t so sure about this old-fashioned nondigital form of entertainment, and I was horrified to discover he didn’t know how to shuffle.

I’m proud to say that after several weeks of nightly card games, our son can shuffle the deck almost expertly, and has actually won a few hands. If the stay-home order isn’t lifted soon, we’ll have to teach him poker, and I fear for our stimulus money.

Some friends are using their mandatory confinement to explore new hobbies or tackle remodeling projects. I’m a wee bit jealous, because I’ve always worked from home, and I’m busier than ever. But I’m extremely thankful to be able to continue the work I enjoy. And honestly, I’d probably spend my bonus time napping.

Speaking of naps, Sunday is now a lot more relaxing. While I miss corporate worship, I have to be honest – livestreaming the service in my bathrobe, ensconced in my recliner, is heavenly. I did make more of an effort in honor of Easter. I wore yoga pants and sparkly slippers.

Still, I miss lots of things – happy hour with girlfriends, picking up books at the library, getting a haircut, and Saturdays with my mom.

Feb. 29

That’s the last time I visited Mom in person. She lives in an assisted-living facility that was extremely proactive in quarantining its residents. I’m so thankful for their foresight and diligence. They quickly went from screening visitors to no visitors to residents staying in their rooms at all times. And so far, no residents or staff has been infected by the virus.

But this is the longest I’ve ever gone without seeing my mom. We’ve always lived in the same town, always within 3 miles of each other. Even before she moved into assisted-living, I’d stop in and see her every Saturday.

She’s been in great spirits for the most part. Even though she has Alzheimer’s disease, she usually remembers why I haven’t been to see her.

“Don’t worry honey, they won’t let your brother in here anymore, either,” she said.

Having all her meals in her room isn’t much fun, but she seems to understand the reason for the quarantine.

She teases the staff.

“I tell them I’m going to be extra good, so they’ll let me out of my room again.”

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Mom turned 89 on March 21. We dropped off gifts at the designated area, and the staff delivered them to her room. Then I called her from the parking lot, and she came to the window so we could see each other.

“You look so cute with your hair in a ponytail!” she said.

I explained I couldn’t get a haircut, and she laughed.

“Me either, I think I’m just going to leave a curler in my bangs so I can see.”

But recently she seemed a bit down.

“I miss you,” she said. “This is getting hard.”

Then she told me a story about how she and Dad never went to church alone. They were always stopping to pick someone up and give them a ride. One woman’s name was Aleece.

“She told us her daddy named her that because they had a lot of boys and he said, ‘At least this one’s a girl!’ ”

Sure, I miss the freedom to dine in a restaurant, shop in a bookstore, or get a haircut, but I miss Saturdays with mom a whole lot more.

Mom and Me