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.

Columns

Saying Grace

There’s hungry and then there’s waiting-for-your-father-to-say-the-blessing-over-dinner-hungry.

I grew up in a family that said grace before every meal – even breakfast. My father usually led the family prayer and he was from Arkansas. There’s a reason they call it a Southern drawl.

Basically, it means what most of us say in one or two syllables becomes three or four when pronounced by someone from the South. Also, my parents were Pentecostal and supported many missionaries. Support included mentioning them by name in prayer at every opportunity – often before a meal.

While our Cream of Wheat solidified, our PBJ sandwiches calcified and our meatloaf cooled, my father prayed.

Often, we kids were expected to pick up the mantle. My brother Jon famously balked when asked to pray over dinner. At age 3, he crossed his arms over his chest and scowled.

“I payed (prayed) at noon!”

This became an oft-used mantra when my siblings and I were expected to offer the blessing. It rarely held sway.

When Derek and I raised our four sons, we rarely breakfasted or lunched together, but family dinner was sacrosanct and included saying grace.

We held hands and took turns saying the prayer, which almost always ended with “and bless the hands that prepared it.”

Those hands were always mine and whoever prayed that evening often followed their father’s example and lifted my hand to their lips and kissed it. It’s one of the sweetest memories of all my boys at the table.

My sister reminded me that our brothers were less sweet and often got in trouble for amending that phrase to “Bless the hands that repaired it.”

Also, less sweet were the prayers my boys brought home from church camp.

Alex returned after one excursion and prayed, “Thanks for the meat. Now let’s eat!”

I was unimpressed.

His brother Zach upped (or downed?) the ante the following year, by bellowing “Jeeesuus! AMEN!”

I asked Facebook friends to recall blessings they said before meals.

Mary Roy’s family topped my dad’s invocation frequency.

“As a child, we would invite Jesus to our table to begin with prayer, then ended our meals with, ‘Oh, give thanks unto the Lord for he is good and his mercy endureth forever! Amen.’ We were a two-prayer-a-meal family.”

Joe Butler’s family was more concise: “God’s neat, let’s eat.”

When Ellen Peters’ kids were young they said a traditional blessing. “Bless us, O Lord. And these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Gene Brake’s less-reverent blessing didn’t amuse his grandmother: “Good bread, good meat, good gosh, let’s eat!”

Nina Culver said when her family was feeling goofy they’d pray, “Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub.”

My sister reminded me our oldest brother David finished that prayer with a rousing, “Yay! God!”

That seems tame compared to Cecile Charles’ dad. He mortified her mom when company came to dinner and he prayed, “Bless the meat, damn the skin, pin back your ears and cram it in!”

Norma Weber’s family prayer focused on counting blessings. “There’s a roof up above me. I’ve a good place to sleep, there’s food on my table and shoes on my feet. You gave me your love, Lord and a fine family. Thank you, Lord, for your blessings on me.”

And when a teenage Miriam Robbins worked summers at the Salvation Army Camp Gifford at Deer Lake, they sang this grace: “Be present at our table, Lord. Be here and everywhere adored. These mercies bless and grant that we may live to love and serve but thee.”

The simple act of pausing to express thanks before a meal may seem antiquated, but it still has value to me. In a world where many families eat in front of the television or with their eyes glued to their phones, something precious, perhaps sacred is lost.

Recently, Derek, Sam and I enjoyed a lovely dinner on our deck and I was reminded of an older prayer.

“For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen.”

That evening, my eyes filled with tears. However slowly my father prayed, his heart was pointed in the right direction – gratitude. No matter the state of the world, if you have food on your table and people you love to share it with, there is always, always something to be thankful for.

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 in bookstores nationwide.

Columns

Solar Powered

As home improvements go, I’d rather have an updated kitchen or a home office with a door. Instead, I’ve got solar panels on my roof. Twenty-eight of them.

The Hvals have gone green and it’s all my Norwegian brother-in-law’s fault.

Norwegians are a thrifty lot and when Derek heard Kjell bragging that his utility bill would “zero dollars” he was intrigued. He followed the process intently, as our brother-in-law winnowed through solar companies, selected a provider and had his panels installed.

Then Derek announced that he too, wanted our electric bill to be zero dollars. He regaled me with several lengthy presentations about the amazing benefits of solar energy, even though installing solar panels isn’t cheap.

“No sales tax on it in Washington State,” he enthused. “And a 26% federal tax credit that will drop to 22% in December. so we need to move quickly.”

Phone calls were made, funds secured, and in June our panels were installed just in time to capture rays during our sunniest months.

At least, I think we’re capturing something. Honestly, despite Derek’s PowerPoints, I’m still not exactly sure how this solar energy thing works. I mean, I get that solar power is the conversion of renewable energy from sunlight into electricity – it’s just that I don’t understand how.

Apparently, Avista does because they installed a net metering system at our house which measures the difference between the amount of electricity supplied by them and the amount of electricity generated by us each month.

“We don’t store it,” Derek explained. “Avista does and the excess is credited toward the winter months. We’re already generating more than we use. In our older years, we won’t have an electric bill!”

Then he said a bunch more stuff about kilowatts, one-to-one credits, and the grid.

I tuned back in when he said he was heading to Costco to purchase a generator. It seems like my husband’s efforts to save money initially involve a lot of spending.

“Do we need a generator for our solar panels?” I asked.

Derek shook his head.

“No, we’re not using battery back-up or anything; I’ve just always wanted a generator.”

Then he talked more about the grid.

My husband has many talents, but I didn’t know clairvoyance was one of them.

In our north Spokane neighborhood, our power lines are underground, which means we rarely have power outages. Even Ice Storm didn’t dim our lights. Yet, when Derek pulled into the driveway with the generator in his truck, our power went out for the first time since last summer’s brownout.

“See!” Derek said, tapping the still-boxed generator. “This baby operates on natural gas when hooked up to the line, or we can use propane or gasoline! It will run our lights, AC, freezers…” he paused. “But I’m not sure about your blow dryer – that sucker uses, like, 2000 watts.”

I grinned.

“I can always use solar energy and dry it in the sun.”

He took that as a sign I’ve embraced solar power, but what I’ve really embraced is my brother-in-law’s influence. You see, Kjell has also installed a beautiful in-ground pool in his backyard and recently added a hot tub.

Derek often mentions he wants to have less grass to mow, and a pool takes up a lot of space.

Lately, I’ve been dropping subtle hints about how a pool could be warmed by the sun and wondering aloud if a hot tub could be powered by a generator. If I can somehow work in “the grid,” I may be swimming laps in my own pool next summer.

For now, I’ll sit in the shade of our backyard gazebo and watch those solar panels convert sunlight into electricity.

Columns

Thankful for Every Milestone

Two weeks ago we sat in a classroom at Eastern Washington University, my husband’s alma mater.

“These chairs are way more comfortable than the ones we used to have,” Derek whispered.

I shushed him as the lecturer stepped to the front of the room and introduced himself.

Even though we know him quite well, we sat forward in our seats so as not to miss a word. The speaker was our youngest son, Sam, and we were there to watch him defend his master’s thesis.

Sam Hval defends his master’s thesis at EWU.

It was the final step to earning his master’s degree in English with an emphasis on literature and writing. Did I mention that Sam is just 22?

He started at EWU as a 16-year-old Running Start student. In six years, he graduated from high school, earned his bachelor’s degree, and now his master’s–and he didn’t incur a penny of debt.

The only help Derek and I gave him was housing him, feeding him and paying for his gas and car insurance. And maybe I threw in a few extra hugs and a listening ear when he decided to switch from education major to English.

As Sam introduced his thesis, “Navigating the Labyrinth of ‘House of Leaves’ Through a Postmodern Archetypal Theory,” I was stunned by his poise. In front of a panel of three professors and a handful of fellow grad students, he eloquently explained a new theory of literary criticism that he’s developed.

This from the kid who in first grade was sent to the reading resource room because his teacher felt he was lagging in reading skills.

This surprised me. Sam’s three older brothers and I had read to him since his birth and he was reading independently by kindergarten.

It turned out Sam found the first-grade reading material “boring.” When he understood the faster he progressed through “The Cat Sat on the Mat,” the sooner he could read chapter books, he suddenly didn’t need additional tutoring.

Our fourth son has been surprising us since birth.

He arrived on a golden September morning within an hour of our arrival at Holy Family Hospital. Weighing in at a hearty Norwegian 9 pounds, 9 ounces, Sam had his father’s broad shoulders and the trace of a dimple in his chin.

Soon after his birth we were told his time with us might be brief. Sam was airlifted to Sacred Heart Medical Center where he was diagnosed with 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 his right lung was fully formed. Our newborn was given a 50/50 chance of survival.

Twenty-two years later, the grief and terror I felt when I saw him in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit hasn’t abated. It’s still as sharp as the moment I was told he was so fragile, I could only touch his toe with my finger, and even my whispered “Mama’s here,” elevated his blood pressure to dangerous levels.

Obviously, this story has a happy ending. Sam survived. He grew. He thrived.

And he’d prepared us for the outcome of his thesis defense.

“I’ll either fail, pass with revisions, or pass,” he’d said.

After his presentation, attendees were invited to pose questions or offer comments. I may or may not have shared that after Sam had his wisdom teeth pulled, he’d asserted that the anesthesia had a minimum effect on him.

“It’s because I have a really big brain,” he’d slurred.

Honestly, when you invite your mother to this sort of thing, these kinds of comments are inevitable. As Sam’s older brother said, “Mom’s gotta mom, whether we like it or not.”

I may have been a teensy bit anxious as we waited in the hallway while the panel debated Sam’s fate. I needn’t have worried. He passed with no revisions.

After attending college for six years, Sam isn’t interested in pursuing a doctorate right now. Ideally, he’d like to teach at a community college or private university.

Who knows what the next year will bring?

But this I do know–the students who attend Mr. Hval’s classes will be blessed by a passionate instructor whose love of literature and language stems from both his intellect and his heart.

His time in our nest is drawing to a close. Over the years, I’ve battled the urge to smother, hover and over-mother, but I’ve not taken a moment of his childhood, nor his early adulthood for granted.

Each milestone is a gift I was never sure I’d be granted.

Derek, Cindy and Sam Hval

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.