Columns

“CIN” Relives Racing Glory Days

My glory days aren’t exactly the ones Bruce Springsteen refers to in his iconic song.

I wasn’t a high school softball champ or a beauty queen, but once upon a time I consistently placed in the top three on the Pole Position arcade game in the SUB (Student Union Building) at Spokane Falls Community College.

For those unfamiliar with 1980s arcade games, Pole Position is a racing simulation video game that was released by Namco in 1982 and licensed to Atari, Inc. Wikipedia refers to it as “one of the most important titles from the golden age of arcade video games.”

So. That’s how old I am – ancient enough to have been there for the “golden age.”

I’d play between classes, using my tip money from my waitressing job at Pioneer Pies.

The game features a steering wheel, a gear shift for all two gears, and a gas pedal. No braking needed – kind of the way my dad said I drove in real life.

For most of 1984, “CIN” (my video game moniker) consistently placed high in the winner’s circle. I also loved pinball. The bling! The bang! The gaudy, glitter glory of Flash Gordon and Medusa!

When Derek and I married in 1986, I was waitressing at the Grill (formerly The Men’s Grill) next door to the Apple Tree restaurant at Frederick and Nelson’s downtown. As newlyweds and college students, we couldn’t afford fancy dates. Every couple of weeks, we’d take my tip money to a North Side arcade or the old Lilac Lanes Bowling Alley on Division and play.

Obviously, we were early adapters to home video game systems.

My brother bought our boys a Nintendo 64 to keep them entertained at Grandma’s house. Guess who would go over to play it after the kids were in bed? Guess who beat Super Mario 64 first?

I was less enamored with the Game Cube; however, the Nintendo Wii stole a lot more hours than I’d like to admit. They were supposed to be workout hours with the Wii Fit, but, well, Super Mario Galaxy had to be conquered.

Imagine my delight when my sons told me I could relive my glory days at an arcade without hauling a bagful of quarters?

When the Jedi Alliance finally opened at their new location on Broadway in March, my boys checked it out and then encouraged us to go.

After one visit, Derek and I added it to our list of favorite date night destinations.

For a $12 ($15 on Friday and Saturday) contribution, guests can play 120 arcade and pinball games as many times as they’d like.

Contribution, because the Jedi Alliance is a registered church, and owner Tyler Arnold is an ordained minister through the Universal Life.

“As far as I know, we’re the only physical Jedi church in the world,” owner Arnold said.

“Church is a community – a place for people to belong.”

That’s just what he’s created. While the gaming is great, there’s more to experience. Arnold has housed his eclectic pop-culture collection in the 7,400-square-foot building.

A shrine to one of his favorite bands, The Ramones, has a home on the second floor along with dozens of one-of-a-kind movie props. A collection of life-size scary clowns mingled with Star Wars characters. vintage games, movies and collectibles are available for purchase.

On a recent visit, kids from 6 to 60-plus reveled in the old-fashioned fun of games without handheld controllers or headsets.

“I teach kids how to play pinball all the time,” Arnold said.

As to his own favorite game?

“My favorite is the newest one I got.”he 1980 Black Knight pinball, held his attention at the time of this interview, but he planned to have a QBert game up and running in December.

Meanwhile, Derek found he hadn’t lost his Ms. Pac-Man chops and I reconnected with Phoenix, a fixed shooter arcade game.

Of course, there was Donkey Kong, GoldenEye pinball, and so much more, including a couple of cool Terminator games that wore out our trigger fingers.

And of course, the pinnacle of my glory days – Pole Position. Alas, my arcade driving skills have grown rusty with disuse and CIN didn’t place anywhere near the top.

“Maybe you should try the cockpit version – it has a brake,” my husband advised.

As if.

At any rate, our visits provided me with a New Year’s resolution I hope to achieve. It may take a lot of visits to Jedi Alliance, but someday I hope to make it into the top 10 in Pole Position again.

And I don’t even need to save my quarters.

Columns

Made with Love: Kitchen Memories

During the holidays my house smells like sugar and spice and everything nice. The aroma doesn’t come from scented candles; it emanates from the shortbread, sugar cookies, three kinds of fudge, and two loaves of Amish cinnamon bread I’ve made.

Shortbread and sugar cookies

The cinnamon bread cools in my mother’s aluminum pans. Last month, I wrote about the memories those pans hold for me and invited readers to share their stories of memory-laden kitchenware.

Below you’ll read about everything from pie tins to rolling pins, as readers reminisce about recipes, traditions and warm memories made in the kitchen.

Tom Peacock said his mother and grandmother were “pie goddesses.” It seems he inherited their skills, along with her flour sifter and Spode Christmas dishes.

“I baked my first pie (cherry) when I was around 12,” he wrote. “I picked the cherries from the next-door neighbor’s tree, pitted them with Mom’s old-school pitter, and the pie turned out nicely.”

From there he progressed to banana cream, pecan and blackberry cream pies.

“I did get to bake side by side with Mom, especially in her later years. The last few years before she went into assisted care, I did most of the Thanksgiving cooking using the skills I learned from her,” Peacock said.

Every baker knows you can’t make a good pie crust or sugar cookies without a quality rolling pin. John Kafentzis and his family use an irreplaceable one.

“A rolling pin from my grandmother is still very much in use at our house,” he said. “It was carved by her grandfather from a single piece of maple around 1920. It’s substantial. The family joke is that it was carved from the last tree in Kansas as that’s where they lived at the time.”

Pier Sanna’s mom was a pastry chef and taught Sanna to make everything from croissants to wedding cakes.

“After her death in 1980, I had first dibs on her bakeware – 50-plus-year-old cast iron pizza pans and cookie sheets. Try finding those at Williams Sonoma,” Sanna wrote. “Every time we use her bakeware, we suspect she is standing next to us smiling and resisting the urge to supervise.”

Jan Erickson uses a braising pot that her grandfather gave to her mother on her wedding day in 1947.

“I remember wonderful roasts, ribs, and so many favorite dishes coming from this pan,” Erickson said. “My grandparents did not have much money, but they splurged on this pot for my mom. Granddad told Mom that this pot would last her through her entire life. It surely did!

“I know my daughter wants this pot when I’m done with it, so it will continue in our family for years to come.”

Many of us revel in holiday baking traditions. For example, Leslie Olson Turner’s mother embraced her Norwegian roots when it came to Christmas cookies, making spritz cookies, berlinerkranser, rosettes, almond crescents and krumkake. Turner has continued the tradition, using her mother’s cookie press and rosette irons.

“I reserve the holidays to kick in my own version of a baking frenzy,” she wrote. “The krumkake iron I now use I inherited from my Aunt Sonja. It’s identical to the one my Mom had used – made of heavy-duty cast iron. And while I could have bought an electric one, it just wouldn’t have been the same.”

Michael Paul also continues cultural traditions. His great-grandmother was born in Hawaii to Portuguese immigrants.

“The Portuguese brought with them many new foods, including what is today known as Hawaiian sweet bread. Each Christmas, Nana Schultz would bake sweet bread for everyone, blessing each loaf with a cross and a tiny piece of garlic in the center of the cross as it went into the oven,” Paul wrote. “Today, I am just about the only one left in my family making this bread and the pickled pork also served at Christmas time.”

He still uses his grandmother’s metal measuring cups and Nana Schultz’s recipes.

“There’s no telling how old those recipes are. They came ‘around the horn’ from Portugal in the late 1800s,” Paul said.

Sometimes, the most practical items are treasured.

“After my dear mother passed away, going through her things there was one kitchen item, in particular, that was the golden ticket – the jar opener,” Julie Hoseid said. “Since I did most of the help for her, I rewarded myself with it, however, my sister and I are discussing shared custody.”

It seems pie-baking stirs up many memories.

“I’m not sure how old I was when Mom taught me her pumpkin pie filling tweaks, but I remember her setting me up at the kitchen table the first few times because I was too short to reach the countertop,” Carol Nelson wrote.

When Nelson married her, mother gave her the LustreCraft stainless mixing bowl, the pie plates that ensure an evenly baked crust, and her rolling pin. But it was her mother-in-law that gave her a never-fail pie crust recipe.

“Fifty-one years later, both moms have passed, but each time I take out my pie plates and the now-stained recipe card, I think of them, and their gifts of love to a new bride.”

Gail Justesen said her mother was known as one of the best pie-makers in Whitman County. When her mom was out of town, a teenage Justesen decided to step in and bake two pies for a pie social.

“The first two I cooked too long: the crust was brittle, apple filling overflowed. The next batch, the crust was raw and the filling soupy,” she recalled.

But Justesen kept trying – making seven pies in all before she had two that were pie social-worthy. Her dad didn’t mind gobbling up the mistakes.

“My friends moan when they think of making pies and usually cave to the store-bought pie crusts. However, I love to make them and am so thankful for the ‘pie genes’ I received from my mom,” said Justesen.

I’m not the only one with aluminum bread pans. Lisa Meiners treasures four that belonged to her mother.

“My mother passed away Aug. 1, just four months shy of her 100th birthday,” Meiners wrote. “She raised six children in Alaska and was a wonderful cook and baker. We always had homemade bread. Four of Mom’s bread pans moved with her from Alaska to Washington. I’m the only one of her five daughters who bakes bread regularly, and now have the honor of owning those bread pans that were used to bake loaves of love every week.”

So readers, as you sit at your holiday table this week, I hope you’ll enjoy more than just delicious food. Sometimes sharing memories and traditions with those you love is the most satisfying feast of all.

Columns

Pet Tales: Readers Share Pet Stories

Recently, I wrote about Sir Walter Scott’s terrible 2s. No, not the Scottish novelist and poet, but rather our rescue tabby, with the lofty literary name.

Our Walter is anything but lofty and having reached his second year, shows no signs of settling down to a sedate feline life. Why should he when there are plastic bags filled with noodles, chips, or marshmallows to plunder? And obviously, Walter feels that I’m the one in need of constant supervision. (He’s precariously perched on the back of my desk chair as I type.)

I invited readers to share stories about their quirky pets. Below you’ll meet canine pals who need their blankets adjusted properly and take their recycling responsibilities seriously. And there are cats who lounge in cupboards, stand up to big dogs, and switch on lights and radios if breakfast isn’t served promptly.

Readers’ pets

Theodora Sallee adopted Jack. an 18-pound ginger cat at Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service about five years ago. She said he was the calmest cat she’d ever seen, so she felt comfortable taking him out on her deck. She spotted a new neighbor and walked over to introduce herself.

The neighbor’s large dog barked and ran toward Sallee.

“Suddenly there was this shrieking and growling yellow streak that ran past me directly towards the dog,” said Sallee. “It was Jack! My neighbor and I were both surprised and the dog so scared he retreated about 10 feet.”

They were both thankful for the fence that separated them, and Sallee has since learned that Jack tolerates well-behaved dogs, but if they bark or act aggressively he will put them in their place.

Speaking of dogs, Beverly Gibb’s whippet is also named Jack.

“He requires a ‘Jack-nap’ every day around 1 p.m.,” she wrote. “After an hour or so, he lifts a bit to indicate he’s ready to rotate. At that point I am expected to hold up his blanket, so he can rotate around to his other side. If I don’t hold up the blanket, he’ll get all tangled up and drag the blanket around.”

Debbie Walker’s 10-month-old gray tabby likes to have an early breakfast. Really early.

“About 4:30 every morning he starts walking around on top of me to wake me up,” Walker wrote. “If I don’t get up within a few minutes, he turns on the light and if that doesn’t work he turns on the radio. Both the radio and the lamp have buttons on top that he pushes with his paw to turn them on. The first time was probably just an accident but as soon as he figured out it got me up he began deliberately waking me that way. Always the light first, then the radio. By then I’m fully awake, and breakfast is served.”

She’s then allowed to go back to sleep.

“I love him anyway,” Walker said.

*

My Walter is in good company when it comes to his plastic bag obsession. Denise Hanson’s rescue kitty JerryBoy also adores plastic bags.

“JerryBoy loves playing with big paper grocery bags, too,” Hanson said. “He will crawl in and want me to take him for a walk around the house while he’s in the bag (which, of course, I do).”

Sarah Sledge’s cat Chippie likes to curl up in the cupboard atop her clean dishes. He’s also partial to reclining on her washing machine and the alcove above the television.

“I’ve got to watch him every minute, just like a toddler,” she said.

Virginia Utley’s dog cattle dog Gem may be retired from obedience competition, but he still likes to help out around the house.

“Gem recycles my Amazon boxes,” wrote Utley. “I hold up the box and say ‘recycle!’ Gem grabs the box, puts his foot on it, and rips it up in a frenzy of canine destruction. It’s our way of going green.”

They may be exasperating, adorable, comical, or sweet, but for many of us, the pandemic brought into focus just how much our furry friends add to our lives.

As Utley said, “Our fuzzy companions give us just what we need during the dark times.”

———

Columns

Baking with Mom

The lightweight aluminum pans aren’t beautiful. Scratched and slightly dented, they’re certainly nothing you would find at Williams Sonoma. They aren’t even nonstick.

Nevertheless, my freezer is filled with pumpkin bread, chocolate zucchini bread and beer-cheese bread, all turned out by these stalwart pans.

When my mother moved into a retirement community, it fell to me to sort out her kitchen – choosing what I wanted, what my siblings and their children might want, and what would be left for the estate sale.

Mom’s four kids are all long-married with established homes and kitchens, so most of her goods weren’t wanted or needed by any of us.

But the loaf pans that had churned out countless batches of banana bread – well, I knew I would use them, and I have.

I don’t have any cozy memories of Saturday baking with my mother. The kitchen was her domain, and I wasn’t invited to learn by her side. It could be that I wasn’t interested in spending my Saturdays mixing and measuring. Honestly, I don’t remember. But I must have learned something by osmosis because I’ve spent the past 35 years feeding copious amounts of family and friends.

Mom wasn’t stingy with her recipes. My cookbooks are filled with her handwritten notes for gingersnaps, pie crust, snickerdoodles and other tasty treats. It’s just that we never baked them together. In fact, when my sons were young, and I was working, it was my mother who baked weekly treats for them – a way to lure them to Grandma’s house for a visit and a hug.

She still misses baking. Still wakes up with a start thinking she’s left something in the oven too long.

Recently, I showed her a photo of the pans.

“Do you remember where you got these?” I asked. “I know you’ve had them since I was tiny.”

But her memories are clouded now. Dates and times blend and blur.

No matter.

On Thanksgiving, I’ll welcome her to my table set with her harvest gold cloth and the lovely Noritake china my father bought for her in Japan. I’ll lay out her silver flatware that I used to polish every holiday as a child. It seems some chores are yours for a lifetime.

I’ll roll out her pie crust recipe with her red-handled rolling pin and fill the crust with fragrant apples, cinnamon and cloves.

And perhaps after all these years, it will feel like I’m finally baking with Mom.

Columns

My #1 Fan Can’t Read

It’s flattering to have an ardently devoted fan.

One who follows your every move and watches everything you do with unabashed interest and adoration.

It’s also annoying when that fan is an adorable, but constantly underfoot tabby.

Sir Walter Scott, our rescue kitty, turned 2 this summer and I’m still his favorite person.

Supervising my social media updates is just one of Walter’s annoying habits.

However, my status was briefly in doubt when I took him to the vet for his annual checkup. It seems His Royal Cuteness can hold a grudge.

The day after his appointment, he didn’t jump into bed to cuddle after breakfast.

I shut the bathroom door when I showered and he wasn’t waiting for me with reproachful meows when I opened it.

He didn’t follow me downstairs to my desk or come running when the printer whirred to life.

I put on my walking shoes without fighting Walter for the laces. When I returned home, he didn’t run to greet me. Instead, he stared somberly at me from the top of the cat tree.

Just when I thought I’d permanently lost his devotion, he jumped into my lap while I did a crossword, and tried to grab my pencil. Walter is passionately fond of pencils. He also loves emery boards. He can hear me open the drawer that contains them from wherever he is and scurries to find me, so he can steal another emery board for his collection.

Walter adores me so much that at bedtime he can’t stand for anything to come between his face and mine. Therefore he loathes books, newspapers, my phone; and Derek often ends up in Walter’s bad graces. Sometimes when my husband goes in for a kiss, he ends up with fur on his lips. No, I haven’t grown a beard, but Walter is pretty good at blocking affectionate advances from my spouse, which is why he isn’t allowed to sleep in our room.

“Why you read when you could cuddle me?” Walter

In fact, he’s taken to hiding under the bed and waiting ‘til we fall asleep. When he thinks it’s safe, he jumps up–usually near my face. This gets him in my bad graces because I’m the one who has to wrestle him out of the room.

I’d hoped he’d outgrow his obsession with food in plastic bags, but if anything it’s intensified. Our bread is stored in the microwave, but we recently discovered Walter will scale great heights for a bag of corn chips.

We’d taken to storing chips on the top of our freezer. Since I have to stretch to reach them, I thought they’d be safe.

Wrong.

Our son Sam soon found a trail of tortilla chip pieces and a bag of previously unopened chips on the floor. It seems Walter jumps from shelf to shelf to freezer top.

Sam moved the unopened chips to the highest shelf in our pantry. A week later, I found a bag on the floor with Walter’s teeth marks all over it.

I moved the chips to shelves on the opposite side of the room and I’m hoping he can’t Parkour himself to reach them.

Right now, I have another problem. While writing this column, I took a break to gather dinner items. My feet crunched something on the carpet. I bent down and retrieved a piece of uncooked pasta–Walter had ripped open a bag of noodles.

He’s got this terrible two thing down, all right. I’d tell you more about it, but he’s curled up on my desk with one paw on my hand. He’s gazing up at me like I’m the best thing since canned tuna. I don’t think he’d be as adoring if he knew I’m documenting his crimes.

I’m just glad my No. 1 fan can’t read.

Always adorable when sleeping.

Columns

The Wild Rumpus Times Two

Things you forget when it’s been 20 years since you’ve had a toddler in the house: they like to climb into things.

Two weeks ago, we traveled to Ohio to visit our 23-month-old twin grandsons Adam and Nick. (Well, we visited their parents and big sister, too.)

As usual, we rented a small Airbnb home, so we could care for the twins each day and give their parents a break.

One afternoon, Adam was busily playing with a wooden dinosaur puzzle, but Nick was nowhere to be seen. I heard a sound in the kitchen and quietly sneaked into the room to see what he was up to–but I didn’t see him. Then I noticed the dryer door was ajar, and as I watched it slowly swung open.

“Nick!” I called.

Sure enough, he poked his head of the dryer and grinned. Thankfully, he was unable to secure the door.

Nick, freshly dried!

I texted our son a photo and said, “We’re bringing him home freshly dried.”

With their second birthday looming next month, the World’s Most Beautiful Boys are busier and faster than ever. They’re nonstop perpetual motion machines, just like their father was at this age.

On the first full day of our visit, the temps in Newark, Ohio, soared to 85 degrees. Our rental featured a lovely fenced backyard, so Derek bought the boys a T-ball set, and we spent lots of time playing outside.





Nick at bat, while Adam waits.

This brings me to something else I’d forgotten about toddlers: they put everything in their mouths–including handfuls of dirt. We found they’d drop the dirt when offered a more healthful option, like frozen fruit bars.

We enjoyed several firsts with the twins, including eating outdoors at the neighborhood Dairy Queen, and a visit to a park with baby swings and big kid slides. The boys enjoyed the swings and the smaller slides, but it didn’t take long until Adam was scampering up the ladder to the tallest slide.

Derek and I no longer scamper, so with their sister Farrah’s help, we rounded them up and headed for home before my hair turned any grayer.

They enjoyed their first visit to a pet store, pressing their noses against the fish tanks, and chattering back at the birds. Sadly, it was nap time for the kittens. It’s probably just as well that they were asleep, because I’m not allowed to have any more cats, and I don’t think unauthorized pet purchases would endear me to the twins’ parents.

Jumbo-size crayons and sketch pads proved a safer purchase, but one that still required vigilant supervision. (See toddlers put everything in their mouths note above.)

Despite their amazing energy and boundless curiosity, both boys still enjoy cuddling and being read to, which makes this Nana’s heart soar. It makes Papa Derek happy too because if one of the boys nods off while cuddling, Papa can nap right along.

We packed in all the adventure and affection we could because we won’t be able to visit again until spring. By then Adam and Nick will be well into the Terrific Twos (there is nothing terrible about my grandsons) and we can’t wait to see what excitement and escapades their second year will hold.

Because that’s one thing I haven’t forgotten about toddlers – they soak up love and return it effusively – provided you can catch them.

Papa gives Nick, left and Adam right, a push.

Columns

A love letter to teachers

We’ve all struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’ve had to learn new ways to work while constantly adapting to ever-changing pandemic restrictions. But it often seems like educators bear the brunt of community ire, as they try to safely navigate the return of students to in-person school.

Perhaps that’s why the response to my recent column recalling an SFCC instructor who influenced my decision to pursue writing struck a chord. I wrote of my hopes that our son, Sam, now teaching English 101 at Eastern Washington University, might also be an encouraging influence on his students, and I asked readers to share memories of an educator who impacted them.

Here are some of the responses I received.

When Cheri Moore attended Northwest Christian College (now Bushnell University) in Eugene in 1979, she was married, pregnant and a full-time student.

She loved her 7 a.m. New Testament Exegesis class until morning sickness hit.

“After missing several classes in a row, I went to see the professor during his office hours and explained the situation,” Cheri wrote. “He told me to do the best I could and to find someone to get class notes and assignments from when I missed a class. The next time I missed a class the prof popped into the cafeteria during lunch, dropped his class notes, including the assignment for the next class, on the table in front of me, then leaned over and whispered in a stage whisper ‘Don’t tell Dr. Root, I hear he’s a stickler about note sharing.’ Every class I missed from then on found Dr, Root handing me his notes at lunchtime.”

• • •

Bill Reuter’s most influential educator was his fifth-grade teacher at Finch Elementary in Spokane during the 1949-1950 school year.

“She was hard on me, expecting better from me the entire year, no excuses accepted,” he recalled. “I still remember once being in tears after a very trying lesson. My report card grades were lower than in previous years, but I kept trying. I later realized how a teacher can set you on a career path to something that can be rewarding. After graduating from North Central High, I attended Eastern Washington College of Education and followed in her footsteps. I was then employed by Spokane schools as a teacher and principal for 33 years.”

His teacher? Emma Reuter, who also happened to be his mother.

• • •

Michael Groves recently visited the Seattle area to see his former Shorecrest High School history teacher, Bruce MacDougall, now 88. Groves graduated in 1976 but stayed in touch with his teacher. MacDougall’s love of travel rubbed off on his student in a big way.

“From 1980 through 2005, I was fortunate to make around three dozen trips abroad, strictly as a tourist,” wrote Groves.

He visited six of seven continents during that time with Antarctica being the only holdout.

“Because of his (MacDougall’s) influence on me, I’ve had a chance to go into Red China on that opening journey in 1980,” he wrote.

Other trips included: Christmas Eve and morning in Bethlehem’s Manger Square; his 30th birthday at the Taj Mahal; his 40th at the Vatican in Rome; riding a camel in the Gobi Desert on his 45th; and witnessing a new century unfold in Australia on New Year’s Eve 1999.

“I don’t think that any teacher, anywhere, had as much influence on a single student like he did in my case, both in my personal life, and my time away from my job in traveling the globe,” Groves said. “Thank you, teach!”

• • •

Judy Felgenhauer gave a special shoutout to her Susanville, California, fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Marguerite Crane.

“She gave me my first ‘C’ ever – in handwriting,” Felgenhauer recalled. “But she encouraged me to practice and provided much support. She also helped cement my love of reading. Each day she read to us from a children’s classic.”

They stayed in touch over the years and when she graduated from medical school, Mrs. Crane sent her former student a pair of earrings that Felgenhauer still treasures.

Felgenhauer is the pediatric divisional lead physician at Providence Medical Group and is medical director of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Children’s Hospital.

“Whenever someone tells me I can’t possibly be a doctor because they can read my handwriting, I credit Mrs. Crane,” she said.

So here’s to you, teachers, school board members, professors and support staff.

We see you. And most of us are profoundly thankful you keep showing up for our kids.

Columns

Still afloat on the pond of English 101

I am absolutely not going to tell you how many years ago I took English 101.

For one thing, I’m not good at math – something my college transcript verifies. For another thing, it was a really long time ago. How long ago? Well, let’s just say all of my essays were handwritten. In cursive. In pen. No, not with quill and ink.

Memories of that class were triggered when our youngest son headed out the door to Eastern Washington University last week. He’s not taking 101 – he’s teaching it.

Sam’s first day of teaching English 101/First day of kindergarten.

Sam is in the final year of his graduate degree and is a composition instructor in the English Graduate Student Assistantship Program. His 22nd birthday was Friday, but he’s already teaching a class of 24 students.

He’s relishing his new role, and I’m sure his students will benefit from his enthusiasm. For many of them, English 101 will be just another required class to get out of the way, but perhaps for some the class will trigger a desire to learn more about writing.

That’s exactly what happened to me at Spokane Falls Community College.

At 18, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. The career aptitude tests I took my senior year of high school pointed me toward fashion merchandising. I’m pretty sure that’s just a fancy way to say retail sales clerk, but I could be wrong.

Dad said college would be a better place to discover my aptitudes and paid for my first quarter at SFCC. I’d been the editor of our school newspaper and co-editor of the yearbook, so English classes didn’t scare me. I was far more terrified of classes involving math – a justified fear as evidenced in the above-mentioned transcripts.

I’m sorry to say, I don’t remember the name of my English 101 instructor. I do remember he was also the tennis coach and often wore his tennis whites to class. Maybe fashion merchandising should have been my thing, after all.

Yet, he’s the one who lit the spark of interest – who first made me wonder if perhaps writing was something I could actually be good at. To be sure, 101 is the most basic of college classes. Students typically learn the different stages of writing: gathering material, drafting ideas, revising drafts, editing and proofreading.

Sitting on my desk is one of the first essays I wrote for that class. The title? “From Duckling to Swan,” in which I related my middle school to high school transformation.

Honestly, reading it now is cringe-inducing, but I’ve saved it all these years because of the comment the instructor wrote in pencil on the title page.

“An essay like this can keep you afloat in the pond of 101.”

When that paper landed on my desk, after he first read it to the class, it was an a-ha moment for me. I thought, “This is it! This is what I want to do. I want to write and I want people to read what I’ve written.”

And here we are.

Now, it’s Sam’s turn to make a difference.

Who knows? Maybe someday a writer will sit down to pen a newspaper column or write a book, and remember an English 101 class at EWU, and the instructor who encouraged her to believe that she had a way with words. And perhaps that teacher’s name will be Sam Hval.

It wouldn’t surprise me a bit.

Columns

Losing Lance

As I write this, there have been 778 deaths due to COVID-19 in Spokane County residents. By the time you read this, there likely are more.

On Sept. 6, those numbers became deeply personal when a longtime family friend died of the coronavirus.

Lance Lehman and I were born the same year. We met him and his wife Jodi at church in 1992, and soon Lance joined my husband’s men’s group. Every Friday morning a small group of guys met for Bible study and prayer. Before long, those friendships grew to include their wives – most of us at-home moms with young children.

The friends you make when your children are young often become like extended family. Baby showers, birthdays, girls’ nights, guys’ outings, all that time shared weaves cords of connection.

When Lance and Jodi and their four kids moved to Colville in 2005, those connections loosened but didn’t break.

What broke were our hearts at the devastating news of his death. He was 55. He and Jodi looked forward to celebrating their 30th anniversary in November. His three grandchildren adored their “G-Pa.” The adoration was mutual.

Lance often said, “If I’d known being a G-Pa was so much fun, I would have done that first!”

Lance and Jodi Lehman, December 2019

Here’s what I remember about Lance Lehman.

I remember his years working at Costco (18) and how brave he was when he decided to go back to school and pursue a career in dental hygiene.

Playing trivia-type games with him and Jodi was hilarious because he was six years older than she, and got our ‘80s music/movies themes while poor Jodi was still grooving to the ‘90s vibe.

He ALWAYS wore shorts. Even in winter. Even though his legs were as white as snow!

I remember the camping trips, game nights, Fourth of July celebrations and countless potlucks our families shared.

Lance adored his two girls and did his best to figure out the whole hair situation.

He delighted in his two sons.

I remember his unwavering faithfulness to Derek’s men’s group and how he never missed a meeting. How after they moved to Colville he pondered coming to Spokane, just for their Friday morning gathering.

Lance loved to golf and planned and organized many outings for the guys. He was complicit in an epic prank at one of those. I was pregnant with Sam, and one of Derek’s friends pretended to get a call from his wife, saying I was trying to reach him because I was in labor. I wasn’t. But the guys enjoyed watching Derek panic, and throw his golf bag over his shoulder while scrambling to the parking lot.

I remember the very distinct, Lance-way he said my name.

can still see the beaming glow on his face when he walked his daughter, Lexi, down the aisle at her wedding.

On Friday morning amid funeral preparations, Jodi shared more memories with me.

“He loved to sing,” she said. “If he didn’t know the words, he made them up. Lance enjoyed going into the kid’s rooms in the morning to wake them up by singing ‘I Saw the Light.’ He thought it was hilarious. They did not.”

Lance loved camping, especially at Haag Cove Campground on the Columbia River near Kettle Falls. They’d recently purchased a new trailer and in July they took it up to the Cove. They had so many plans for that trailer.

They had so many plans.

His favorite food was Bonzai Burgers at Red Robin. Every time they came to Spokane, he had to have one.

His faith was vital to him, and he wanted to share it whenever he could.

“Lance’s heart was to reach the lost for Jesus,” said Jodi. “He’d offer to put his clients on his prayer list. His work became his ministry.”

She grieves for their three grandchildren, the oldest is only 4.

“I miss him on behalf of my grandbabies,” she said through tears. “They won’t remember him.”

She drew a shaking breath.

“Someday it will all make sense.”

While we wait for that day, I ask you to remember that those listed on the COVID-19 death tallies are more than sobering statistics. Each number represents an individual who left behind a grieving spouse, children, parents, siblings or friends.

To someone that number was a person like Lance, who meant everything to those who loved him.

Columns

Procrastination: it’s keeping me waiting

I would tell you how many times I started this column, but somewhere along the way, I lost count.

What no one warns you about working from home is that if you’re prone to procrastination, your house will give you ample opportunities for postponing pesky deadlines.

In more than 15 years in journalism, I’ve never missed a deadline, nor even been significantly late, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t cut it close to the wire.

Not long ago I wrote a column about anticipation, referencing the Carly Simon classic hit song “Anticipation.”

Guess what? That tune works fine if you substitute procrastination for anticipation. (You know you just tried it.)

I hummed that tune as I started a load of laundry after typing the header on this column. Since the washer is next to the freezer, I thought I might as well grab the roast I was planning to cook for dinner.

I set the frozen slab on my desk and typed my byline. Then I checked Facebook and time melted as I scrolled through a friend’s vacation photos. The roast also started melting, so I hustled it upstairs to the kitchen.

Opening a cupboard, I searched for the seasonings I’d need for the roast. Searched, because tall bottles of cooking wine, vinegars and oils had hidden the basil and oregano.

Then I eyed the cupboard with baking supplies. We’re in the middle of zucchini season, and every week I’m churning out breads, cookies and muffins. Why was the baking powder on a shelf so high I had to climb on a chair to reach it?

Obviously, the cabinets desperately needed organizing. I pulled everything out of each cupboard and wiped down the shelves, racks and lazy Susans.

Hysterical meowing broke my cleaning reverie as my cats, Thor and Walter, notified me lunchtime was past due. I filled their bowls and heard the timer on the dryer ringing. When you don’t iron, you can’t afford to let your clothes sit in the dryer.

My blinking monitor reminded me I’d barely started this column, so I sat down and wrote the first sentence. That’s when I noticed my email flag waving. After answering and categorizing a multitude of messages, I realized I’d left everything out on the kitchen counters.

Organizing puts me in an absolute Zen state of mind. The beauty of a well-stocked kitchen delights me. By the time I was done, all of the baking and cooking spices were within easy reach, and I’d rearranged the canned and box goods, too.

It was picture-perfect, so of course, I grabbed my phone and took some photos. I posted the pictures on Instagram and congratulated myself on work well done. Then I remembered my paying job. I’d only written about 50 words. Back to the basement I trudged.

As I finish this, it’s almost time to start dinner. Which has me thinking about my pots and pans. Why are the baking sheets so hard to reach? Wouldn’t the colanders and mixing bowls work better in a larger cupboard?

That’s when I started humming. Feel free to sing along.

Procrastination,

Procrastination

Is making me late

Is keeping me waiting