Columns

Missing Milo

He joined our family on a beautiful spring evening. Nine years later, he left us on a cold November morning.

None of us have gotten used to the silence his absence left behind.

Milo James, a svelte tuxedo cat, was our family’s first pet – unless you count sea monkeys and goldfish.

We’d intended to adopt an older female cat. Preferably a white, fluffy, princess-y type feline, because I’d grown tired of being the only girl in our house.

But a hyperactive ball of dusty gray fluff caught my eye at the pet adoption event. He was literally bouncing off the walls.

“My goodness!” I said. “This little guy needs Ritalin.”

He jumped. He hopped. He spun in circles. In short, he was just like the rest of the boys in my house.

“No,” Derek said. “Not that one.”

I dutifully looked at the other cats, but I couldn’t help wondering if all Milo’s frantic activity was just a desperate plea for attention.

“I want to hold him,” I said.

“Not a good idea,” Derek replied.

But a store employee unlocked Milo’s cage. I picked him up, fully expecting him to squirm, or scratch, or climb up my hair, but instead he laid his head on my shoulder and sighed.

“Let’s go pick out a bed for our new cat,” Derek told the boys.

That playful kitten grew into a sleek, bossy cat who quickly took charge of the household. He was a creature of order and habit. He expected breakfast to be on time, at the same time every morning, and the ruckus he raised if it wasn’t, was impossible to sleep through.

When it was bedtime, all I had to say was, “Night night, Milo,” and he ran downstairs to the boy’s room he’d chosen as his own.

He never slept in that fancy cat bed. Not once. Why would he when the other beds in the house were bigger and contained warm humans to snuggle with?

Milo appointed himself the household greeter. His was the first face each of us saw when we returned from work or school.

Milo James (2)

But he did have some less charming habits.

He was a committed and dedicated swiper, and he focused his attention on my desk. Anything left unsecured was fair game. Most mornings I come down to my desk and find my notebooks, calendar, pens, post-it notes and mouse on the floor.

Sam would catch him in the act and yell, “Milo! Leave Mom’s desk alone!”

Milo would gaze at him, unblinking, and proceed to knock everything to the floor.

He was also a prodigious and sloppy sneezer. Few things are more disgusting than stepping on a spot of cat snot in your bare feet first thing in the morning.

For someone with sneezing issues, he was mightily offended if anyone in his vicinity did the same. A sneeze from one of us prompted a loud yowling lecture, followed by an annoyed exit.

He didn’t like change of any kind. Re-arranging the furniture elicited anxious mutterings, so imagine his reaction seven years ago when we brought home a tiny tabby kitten named Thor.

Milo sulked for days. He hid under our bed and refused to come out, until hunger finally made slink downstairs.

Thor became his devoted, annoying acolyte, and Milo eventually tolerated his presence.

Two weeks ago Milo got sick. Really sick. I rushed him to the vet and was told his bladder was completely blocked. Urinary problems are common in boy cats who only eat dry food, and Milo turned up his nose at wet food or treats. He was a stubborn creature of habit.

His illness resulted in a four-night stay at the Pet Emergency Hospital. He seemed to rally, and we brought him home on a Monday evening.

He made his rounds. Cuddled with each of us, and spent the night on the couch curled up with Thor. But in the morning he was worse. Much worse. He hid under Zach’s bed or in his laundry basket. He refused to eat.

A miserable week passed, with daily trips to the vet. It was too much for Milo, who hated any kind of disruption to his schedule.

He grew silent. We grew sad.

And one evening the four of us made the choice to let him go. It was an agonizing decision, but Milo let us know he was done. He was sick. He was tired. He wanted to go.

So, on a Friday morning we gathered around him in the vet’s office. We held him. Kissed him. Told him how much we loved him.

He laid his head in my hand as the vet gave him the first injection. My face was the last thing he saw and the last thing he heard was my voice telling him what a good boy he was.

Turns out Milo didn’t have nine lives. He only had one. And we are forever grateful that he spent it with us.

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Columns

A soldier’s letters home

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Dear Mom and Dad,

I’m now in the barracks and have just a short time to write before the lights go off. I wanted to ask you to send my clarinet. They are forming a band in the company and I want to join it. The commander is very strong for anything musical. He said if we send for our instruments, the army would take care of them for us. They will ship them any place we go….

Please write soon.

Your “Private” Son,

Love Jack xxx

The letters came from Fort Devens, Massachusetts, from Camp Pontchartrain, Louisiana, from Dutch East Indies, New Guinea, and the Philippines – approximately 150 in all.

Jack Rogers enlisted in the Army in 1943, at age 19. He was assigned to the amphibious engineers unit and spent three years on active duty, two of them in the South Pacific.

When he returned from the military, he embarked on a lifelong career as an artist, illustrator and teacher. I met him many years ago when he taught art at my sons’ elementary school.

A founding member of the Spokane Watercolor Society, Jack started the art department at Spokane Falls Community College in 1963 and taught there for 26 years. He never actually retired. In fact, he was still painting and teaching the last week of his life.

He was an amazing, inspiring man, and I wrote several articles about him for this newspaper. I also included Jack and Fran Rogers’ story in my book “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.”

Recently, I went to Fran’s 95th birthday party. As I was leaving, their daughter Nancy asked if I’d like to read some of the letters Jack wrote home while serving during World War ll.

I eagerly pored over them when Nancy dropped them off. I thought I knew Jack and World War ll history pretty well, but these letters offered a new glimpse of military life during the war and they also reveal Jack’s wit and talent for telling a tale. Many of the envelopes are illustrated with his whimsical sketches and drawings.

Boy Mom, you ought to see me sew my insignias on. I can almost thread the needle every time. And as for my laundry, well they give you plenty of G.I. soap. We have plenty of water the rest is just plain elbow grease….

Please write real often.

Love Your Private Son Jack

Even the more serious anecdotes feature Jack’s flair.

Last Thursday Red was on guard. He felt a little sick, so he sat down and went to sleep and the O.D. caught him. Well, if you don’t know it that is a very serious offense in the Army. Friday they had a court marshell (sic) but no one would testify that he was actually asleep, so they charged him with sitting down while on duty.

Lots of Love, Your son Jack, good nite Mom xxx

He often couldn’t tell them exactly where he was or what his training entailed.

“You know, military secrets,” he wrote.

But in one letter he enclosed a small card emblazoned “Ancient Order of the Deep” that certified he’d crossed the equator aboard the S.S. Extavia on May 10, 1944.

Last night we slept on deck as it was too stuffy below. Although the steel deck didn’t have much spring, it was a lot cooler.

He asked his mom to send him things like white handkerchiefs, jockey shorts and coat hangers. She dutifully noted his requests on the backs of the envelopes.

In a 1944 letter from New Guinea, Jack already sounds like an old soldier instead of a young recruit.

Company had a rifle and personal inspection. It was the first we have had since leaving the States. How I remember the days when you shined your boots ’til you could shave in them, stood in ranks thinking of all the things that could hold up that weekend pass. Did you remember to tuck your handkerchief all the way in the pocket? Could you have missed a button, or could some dust have gotten on your rifle?

But a letter from Dutch East Indies shows that he and his buddies were still kids at heart.

They got a bulldozer and fixed up a softball field. And we have a league started in the company, playing in the evenings and Sundays. It sure roused a lot of company spirit.

It reminded me of what he’d said in an interview.

“Our whole company was made up of kids – kids dressed up as soldiers,” he’d said.

On Dec. 23, 1944, Jack wrote of Christmas plans.

Cornie is now fixing up a little java for us and we broke down and opened one of our fruit cakes. We were talking tonight that we would get us a small palm and decorate it, but I’ll be darned if I know what we’d use for decorations.

Jack’s unit was the first one back into Manila, Philippines, after Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s famous landing, and they served as part of the occupational forces in Japan. They were torpedoed by subs and shot at by kamikazes.

The letters from home served as their lifeline – their connection to the world they’d left behind and the world they wanted to come back to.

Good nite Mom and don’t worry about anything on this end. Write soon. Your loving son, Jack.

Columns

Some like it hot… especially me

They say you don’t appreciate what you have until you no longer have it.

Take electricity for example. In August we lost power for several hours. It didn’t take long for my family to deeply appreciate the magic that happens when you flip a switch and the lights come on.

Apparently, the Universe deemed we needed another lesson in gratitude.

Ten years ago, my husband and his father replaced our aging water heater with a fancy tankless model. Like all Hval projects it was fraught with unforeseen complications. Namely, they couldn’t get the water shut off. But also like all Hval projects, it was worth the wait.

At the time, we had six people living at home, including four active boys. Showering had turned into a competitive sport. No one wanted to be the last one to shower because that’s when the hot water usually ran out. And God help the Mom who threw a load of laundry in while boys were bathing.

After our new tankless system was installed, Derek ran his hand over the compact, gleaming wall-mounted beauty.

“We’ll never run out of hot water, again!” he said.

For a long time, he was right. But a few years ago, the heater began making some ominous noises. We ignored them.

This summer the rattle turned to a roar that echoed all the way outdoors to the Great Gazebo where I sunned myself.

And then the dripping started.

Last month, Derek and I came home after an evening out, and Zach said, “Did you know water is coming out of the hot water heater?”

We did not know this.

After assessing the situation, Derek put a bucket under it.

Within days the trickle became a small but steady stream and the bucket had to be emptied with increasing frequency. We took to turning the water heater off at night.

“I think it’s the heat exchanger,” said Derek.

Then he did something unheard of in the Hval household: He called for professional help.

A plumber visited and confirmed Derek’s suspicion, and recommended replacing the entire unit. The estimated cost was the equivalent of sending one of us to Hawaii while the other stayed home and ate macaroni and cheese for a week.

“I’ll just replace the heat exchanger and I’ll do it myself,” Derek announced.

He watched a YouTube video about the process and ordered the part online.

“It’ll be here in less than a week,” he said.

Of course, that was the day the water heater quit all together.

Theoretically, one can live without hot water. You can wash your hands and your clothes in cold and our dishwasher has its own heating coils. What you cannot do is shower in cold water. At least I can’t.

The four of us scrambled to find bathing options while we waited for the part to arrive. We have a gym membership, so Derek and Sam took hot showers there. I could have done that, too, but I like more privacy when I get ready for my day. Thankfully, I housesit for snowbirds during the fall and winter, and hot showers and my office away from home were just a short drive away.

Which left poor Zachary (who’d let his gym membership lapse) to learn the military discipline of taking an icy shower.

“The key is to keep your feet out of the way of the water,” he informed us.

A chilly week passed before the part arrived. It had some complicated wiring, but Derek easily figured it out and hooked it up in record time.

He switched it on and waited. No rattle. No roar. And unfortunately no hot water.

“I think the dripping water fried the fan,” he said. “I’ll order a new one. It’ll be here in a couple days.”

We are a stoic lot, but the news was hard to take. Our combined groans sounded almost as loud as the defunct water heater used to.

On the appointed day, the fan arrived while we were all at work. Derek hurried home to install it. The rest of us watched our phones, anxiously awaiting word.

Within minutes a text arrived. “We have HOT WATER!”

Such beautiful words!

Zachary got the first shower. He’d earned it.

As for me, when it was my turn to luxuriate under the warm water’s soothing spray, I counted my blessings. Loudly. Just in case the Universe thinks I need any more reminders.

Columns

A prayer to find their way home

Grime had worn grooves on the backs of her heels.

Flip flop season was quickly veering toward boot-wearing weather, and I wondered if she had warm shoes – or a place to bathe.

The September sun was brilliant in a cloudless sky, but the chill in the air made me thankful for the sweater I’d shrugged on as my husband and I walked through Riverfront Park.

The girl caught my eye as we waited at a crosswalk. Her thin shoulders bowed under the weight of a backpack, and her arms were filled with plastic bags. Clothing dangled from them.

Her companions, a large man on a small bike, and a beanie-wearing, vaping teen, mostly ignored her. She kept her head down, her long hair hanging in greasy ropes around her face. One of her companions had to nudge her when the crossing signal flashed.

I worried about her feet and her bare legs. They weren’t the kind of dirty a kid gets from playing barefoot all day. It looked like it had been a very long time since her last hot shower.

We stopped at a restaurant entrance, and the trio kept moving. I paused, watching her walk away.

A few weeks later in my suburban neighborhood, I went out to get the newspaper from our box. An angry shout startled me.

“Give me my coffee right now!” a woman shrieked.

I’m pretty addicted to my morning cup of Joe, but I don’t think I’ve ever sounded that furious when asking for it.

I looked down the street and saw a woman in a pickup truck, yelling at a small boy on a bicycle. Neither the truck nor the boy looked familiar.

Turning away to retrieve the newspaper, I heard her shout again.

“Give me my coffee! I am so sick of this. You do this every morning and I’m sick of it!”

Her anger floated like a vaporous cloud, shattering the Sunday morning stillness. But her words intrigued.

Did this boy steal her coffee and take off on his bike every morning? That would definitely be rage-inducing behavior.

Did the kid do it just to provoke her? How far away did they live that she had to get in her truck to track him down? Was it the coffee-stealing or other behavior that the woman was sick of every morning?

From the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of her reaching out from the truck and snatching a white cardboard cup from his hands as he stared at her.

They were too far away for me to see the kid’s expression, but I have no doubt he was glaring.

I walked slowly back up the drive, wondering if I should intervene.

Suddenly, the boy spoke. Well, screamed. An expletive.

The woman floored the truck, speeding past my house.

“I’ll show you ‘expletive’ !” she screamed as she drove by.

What had been an awkward, but potentially amusing anecdote became a heartbreaking glimpse into a family’s struggle.

I don’t assume this woman is a bad mom, nor do I infer this boy is a budding delinquent. I’m not making an album out of one small snapshot.

After all, I’ve had my share of painful encounters with angry kids. I’ve been the perpetrator and the victim of enough harsh words to know that no one gets out of parenting or childhood unscathed.

From my front porch I watched the woman race up our street in one direction, while the boy furiously pedaled off in the other.

Shaken, I closed the door and walked up the stairs into a home where my well-loved family slept.

And I then remembered the girl with the dirty feet walking away from me on a downtown Spokane sidewalk.

Dropping the newspaper, I bowed my head.

I prayed that the girl with the grimy feet had walked safely to a shelter where she was warm, well-fed and clean.

Then I asked that the woman in the truck and the boy on the bike would circle back to each other and discover forgiveness and healing.

More than anything, I hoped that all three would be able to find their way home.

Columns

Like the seasons, decorations come and go

It started small.

Several years ago, Mom was downsizing her autumn decorations and gave me a wicker cornucopia and a figurine of a Pilgrim woman carrying a basket of produce on one arm and a pumpkin in the other.

“I don’t know what happened to her Pilgrim husband,” she said. “I’ve been looking everywhere, but I think she’s been widowed.”

My Mom was a serial seasonal decorator. From pilgrims and pumpkins in the fall, to angels, candles and a Christmas village in the winter, followed by roses and greenery in the spring, she marked the change of seasons with change in household decor.

I, on the other hand, confined my home embellishments to decking the halls at Christmas.

That also started out small: a crèche, a nativity calendar, some stockings and of course, a tree.

Those few homey decorations somehow evolved into many large red and green plastic totes filled with wall hangings, wreaths, framed art, pillows, candles and a multitude of heavenly hosts.

Holiday fever spread to my kitchen and dining room with Christmas dishes, stemware, towels and serving pieces.

Then my husband and our youngest son caught the contagion, and now sometime after Thanksgiving, our lawn will be filled with lighted deer, candy canes, a nativity and angels.

I do have some self-restraint. I drew the line at a toilet paper holder that plays Jingle Bells. And even though the Santa bathroom set complete with a chimney on the tank cover tempted, I resisted. I mean, he already knows when I’m sleeping and knows when I’m awake; he doesn’t need to know anything else.

So, I should have known better when I adopted Mom’s harvest decorations. They looked lonely perched atop the piano.

We took the kids to Green Bluff, and I bought a few little pumpkins and corncobs. Then I added a couple vases Sam had made in elementary school. I really liked the autumn look, but the trim still seemed sparse.

Derek suggested we visit Hobby Lobby – a suggestion he has come to regret. For one thing, he didn’t really think I’d go. I have a deep-seated aversion to any type of craft or fabric store.

“They have home decorating stuff,” he said.

What he really meant is they had some cool outdoor decorations for the garden and his shed.

But he was right about the home decor. I browsed the harvest-themed shelves with Thanksgiving in my heart and picked out a few items.

Then I went back later and picked out a few more.

By now my eyes had been opened, and it seemed like every store I visited had some kind of autumn trim. Coasters, candy dishes, tablecloths, lighted garlands. Before I knew it, I’d somehow amassed a bin full of fall decorations, and there was more fall foliage inside our house than outside.

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When I added a welcome mat and a couple outdoor “Welcome Autumn” signs, I felt I’d tied the theme together and vowed not to add anything else.

So far, so good.

Last year Mom moved to a retirement facility, and the transition was difficult. She spent her entire life turning houses into homes as she followed my dad’s Air Force career. Moving from a four-bedroom, two-bath home to an apartment was quite a change. But she rallied, and last week I thought it might be nice to add a few fall touches to her new place.

Of course, this required a quick trip to Hobby Lobby, but I wasn’t distracted in my mission and just picked out a couple of small things for Mom.

She was delighted and asked if I was still using the decorations she’d given me.

“Do you still have the Pilgrim lady?” she asked. “Did you ever find her a husband?”

“No, she’s still unattached,” I replied.

I’m not buying anymore decorations. I really mean it. But don’t you think that poor Pilgrim has been single long enough?

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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.

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.