Spa Daze

Soothing music. Delightful fragrances. The absolute absence of ringing phones or pinging emails. And best of all, the only time anyone says my name is to ask me how I’m feeling.

There’s nothing like a spa day to refresh my soul.

The Spokane and Coeur d’Alene area is blessed with ample places to bliss out, and I’ve visited most of them. For work. Seriously.

A few years ago, I took on a bunch of travel writing assignments for several regional magazines. Interestingly, most of them wanted me to cover spas and resorts. It was a rough gig, but somebody had to do it.

Not all experiences delighted. At a media day at one resort, my masseur looked like Bill Gates, and sounded like him, too. I closed my eyes and tried to relax, but all I could think about were the questions I’d like to ask Mr. Gates. Like would he care to subsidize my writing career? And what the heck is up with the Blue Screen of Death?

And sometimes the choice of music in the massage rooms isn’t exactly restful. Many places use the sound of ocean waves or a tinkling stream. It may sound soothing, but isn’t if you’ve had a mimosa or a cup of coffee before your appointment.

One of my favorite spa experiences involved my husband. An airline magazine had asked me to write about fun local activities for couples including a spa day at a local resort.

Derek had never been to a spa and was a little apprehensive.

“I don’t have to get my toenails painted, do I?” he asked.

“Only if you want to,” I replied.

The couple’s package included a soothing private aromatherapy bath in a huge jetted tub, and then a candlelight massage.

Derek followed a male attendant to the men’s changing room, and I went to the women’s. Luxurious robes with our names stitched on the lapels awaited us.

The attendants then ushered us into a suite, lit by flickering candles. They poured lovely smelling things into a tub that could easily hold a half dozen of our closest friends. Then they gave us each a glass of wine and told us they’d be back in an hour.

As they closed the door behind them, we got ready to climb into the tub.

That’s when I knew Derek was out of his depth. He dropped his robe and revealed he was wearing swim trunks.

I doubled over with laughter. He says I hooted and shrieked. I say I chuckled softly.

“Hey,the guy said I could wear them if I felt more comfortable! I didn’t know we were going to be ALONE,” he said.

I may have giggled intermittently throughout the hourlong massage that followed, but it was just because I was having such a fabulous time.

While I enjoy massages, manicures and pedicures, there’s one traditional spa activity that I haven’t cared for – facials. Be they European, aromatherapy, collagen or paraffin, I just haven’t found the facial experience relaxing. For one thing, I’m pretty claustrophobic and having my face wrapped in a hot towel with only my nostrils exposed feels suffocating. And once, the aesthetician got a little exuberant with an astringent and splashed some in my eye. My skin looked pink and rosy. So did my eye.

But recently with a gift card to my favorite spa burning a hole in my pocket, I decided to give facials another try.

And you know, it wasn’t that bad. The aesthetician explained each application and treatment, was careful with the hot towel mummification and didn’t splash anything in my eye.

One thing gave me pause: Most of the products used, she said, were to help with “fine lines and wrinkles.” After hearing “fine lines and wrinkles” for an hour, I started to get paranoid. Just how fine were those lines? And by wrinkles, did she mean laugh lines or wadded up linen blouse tucked in a drawer wrinkles? I was afraid to ask.

However, the organic masks, toners and scrubs smelled delicious, delectable even. There were applications of strawberry-rhubarb stuff, pink grapefruit potions and liberal lime mistings. In short, a fruit salad was applied to my face.

While facials still aren’t my favorite spa experience, I’d probably do it again. Especially if I’m hungry.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

A Rose by any other name is Henry

18555890_1413308598707763_588476224661146744_n[1]

The cat sat on the front steps of my friend Sarah’s house – a fluffy ball of gray, brown and white stoicism.

“Such a sweet kitty,” I said, rubbing its head, as we prepared to leave. “What’s its name?”

“His name is Rose,” said Sarah. “Yes, he’s a boy. Long story.”

Turns out Rose had turned up on their doorstep awhile ago and had already been given the flowery moniker before a veterinary visit revealed she was a he.

“Well, what’s his middle name?” I asked.

“He doesn’t have a middle name,” Sarah replied. “He’s just a cat.”

Sarah is a dear friend. A good friend. But at that moment our friendship teetered perilously on the abyss, the words “just a cat,” echoing in my ears. She couldn’t have shocked me more if she said she’d suddenly become an introverted night owl.

Fortunately, I’m easily distracted and temporarily put poor Rose out of my mind, until I checked my phone and noticed the picture I’d snapped of him. I posted the photo on Facebook, told his sad story and announced, “I’m going to call him Rose Henry and restore his shattered dignity.”

All of my cats have had middle names, unless you count Butterscotch, the ginger cat I had at age 3. My sister insists it was her cat, so the less we say about it the better. Also, Butterscotch came to a tragic end when my dad accidentally backed over her while on the way to work one morning.

If Butterscotch had had a middle name, perhaps she wouldn’t have met such an untimely demise. Middle names are important when communicating urgent matters, like, “Butterscotch Sundae do NOT sleep under that car!”

As our youngest son pointed out, “How will they know they’re in trouble if they don’t have a middle name?”

Samuel Kristian has had some experience with this.

Anyway, my next cat was christened Nicholas James (Nicky) and was followed by Brandy Michael. Brandy shows what should happen when you give a cat a girl name and then find out it’s a boy.

Our current cats are Milo James and Thor Hyerdahl.

Imagine my surprise when my campaign to restore Rose Henry’s dignity was met with resistance by Sarah’s husband, Terry.

His response to my suggested fix?

“Henry is not part of this cat’s name. His name is Rose.”

Sarah thought Rose Henry sounded rather regal, but when her husband continued to balk, she offered a compromise – Rose Jack.

Terry would not budge.

Nevertheless, the social media response weighed solidly, almost unanimously in favor of giving cats first and middle names.

Trish Gannon, owner/editor of the River Journal, wrote, “My granddaughter named one of my cats Snowy Snowflake Snow Gannon. Middle names are important.”

Terry was unswayed.

“His name is Rose. Cat names are not gender specific. Also roses are not gender specific.

Just to be clear, his name is Rose. There is nothing undignified about being named Rose. His having this name, by definition, dignifies it.”

To which I replied, “A Rose by any other name is Henry.”

Colleague Pia Hallenberg weighed in.

“He looks almost exactly like my old cat Felix Fittipaldi Hansen.”

Now that’s a great cat name.

Alas, Terry has proved unyieldingly adamant in opposition to my attempts to bolster Rose Henry’s dignity.

“Do not call my cat Rose Henry. That is not his name. His name is Rose. Just Rose,” he insists.

Well, OK. I mean, it is his cat after all. I am quite pleased that at least he finally seems to understand the importance of middle names. However, I must confess I think Just is a rather bizarre first name for a cat.

I liked Rose better.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com.

Guilt-Free Mothers and Other Mythical Creatures

Flowers, cards, breakfast in bed. You know the drill.

If you’re a lucky mom, Mother’s Day comes with a fairly predictable playlist. But often, an unwelcome condiment comes along with the coffee lovingly poured into the World’s Best Mom mug – a heaping side of guilt.

Don’t believe me? Google the words mother and guilt and you’ll get more than 10 million hits. That’s not a side dish, that’s an all-you-can-eat buffet of remorseful regret.

No matter how many articles, books and blogs advocate guilt-free mothering, I don’t know any moms who don’t struggle with feeling bad about some aspect of their parenting. Much like unicorns with rainbow wings, guilt-free moms are mythical creatures.

The things we feel guilty about are myriad. We feel bad that we worked outside the home or bad that we stayed at home. We regret not having more children or terrible that we had too many. We agonize over every time we lost our tempers and shouted things that shame us, and worry over all the times we were too lax, too soft, too permissive.

Most of us have a mental checklist of our perceived failures, and all the sweet Mother’s Day cards in the world can’t make us untick even one of those boxes.

No matter how we came to motherhood, whether by birthing, adopting or step-parenting, each of us has an ideal mother in mind – that’s the goal we struggle to achieve. Sometimes the ideal is our own mothers and sometimes it’s anyone but them.

None of us really dreams of being June Cleaver. Once, I actually tried vacuuming while wearing a dress, apron, heels and pearls. It was every bit as silly as I imagined.

But the home June created? Now, that still seems magical. Spotless, warm, love-filled – a place where every childhood problem was happily resolved by the end of each episode. Who wouldn’t want that?

Even worse than trying to live up to mythical ideals is the way we constantly compare ourselves with each other. Oh, we swear we won’t. Vow we don’t. But we do, we certainly do.

We look at the Facebook photos of our friends’ brilliant, talented, successful offspring, and we weigh and measure our mothering skills against theirs. As if being a perfect mother would guarantee perfect children. As if any kind of perfection among humankind is attainable.

For some, the Mother’s Day tally of gifts and sentiments either verifies our value or proves our unworthiness – either temporarily assuages our guilt or fans the flames of self-recrimination.

And this year, what I most wanted for Mother’s Day created a week’s worth of angst for me. You see, I wanted something different. Something I was sure other moms would judge me for. Something I felt guilty even mentioning.

Ala Greta Garbo, I wanted to be alone.

I felt incredibly selfish even mentioning it to Derek. I mean, what kind of mother doesn’t want to spend the day surrounded by her children? Plus, we usually have both of our moms over for dinner. What kind of daughter messes with tradition?

A tired one, perhaps?

It’s been an especially busy season in our household. Kids coming and going, juggling jobs and community commitments, maintaining friendships and important connections. As someone who needs a certain amount of solitude to recharge, I was drowning in a sea of obligations of my own making.

Thankfully, I married a man who knows me well. When I dithered and dallied over Mother’s Day plans, he encouraged me to give myself a break. So I did.

We took our moms out to brunch on Saturday. And on Mother’s Day I didn’t leave the house. I relished a solitary breakfast in bed, while reading the newspaper. Then I enjoyed long phone conversations with two of my sons and briefer conversations with the other two. Then I turned my phone off.

I didn’t get out of bed until noon. Stayed in my sweats sans makeup all day and binge-watched the new “Anne of Green Gables” on Netflix.

It was heavenly.

The flowers, cards and gifts from Derek and the boys were sweet, but the best gift was the one I gave myself – a feast of solitude minus the side of guilt.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

Smells Like Teen Spirit

The nurse in the delivery room smiled as I pressed my nose to the downy head of my newborn son.

“He smells like angel kisses,” I murmured, besotted.

I had a nonmedicated birth, so I couldn’t blame that statement on a drug-induced haze. Nope, this was a love-induced haze.

“Enjoy it while it lasts,” said the nurse. “In about 13 years you’re going to walk into his room and gag. It’s gonna reek like ripe goat pen meets Old Spice.”

I stared blankly at her. It was like she was speaking Swahili.

That was many years ago, and of course, now I know that nurse had pretty much called it. However, I can’t attest to the goat pen analogy. In my experience (and I’ve had a lot of experience) the scent of a teenage male’s room is best described as sweaty gym socks meet crushed corn ships, mingled with soccer jersey left to mildew in the bottom of an athletic bag, topped with a cloying cloud of Axe body spray.

The odor could be marketed as a teen-pregnancy-prevention aid.

Baby boys should come with a disclaimer. The heady scent of Baby Magic lotion wears off long before they reach kindergarten and is initially replaced by the smell of dirt. Plain old dirt. Which isn’t bad, it’s a reminder of all their adventures.

Adventure-reminders also include; worms, gravel, sticks and clumps of mud left in pockets. Mud? You may ask. It was for the worms, of course. But that earthy aroma is better than what comes next.

Around age 12, the smell of dirt gives way Eau de Gag. It’s so unfair that by the time they really start smelling good again, they move out.

At one time I had three teenage boys living in my house. Trust me when I say there are not enough Yankee candles in the world to compensate.

Change in body odor is one thing, but the universal shift in attitude as boys transition from teens to young men – well, that’s something impossible to mask.

Eye-rolling “whatevers” often replace heart-to-heart conversations. The chattiest of teens suddenly embraces sullen silence, and sometimes the silence is shattered by angry words and accusations that fly through the home polluting the atmosphere more than gym socks and body spray ever could.

And the things we find in pockets are far more sobering than worms.

Even when you know this necessary bid for healthy separation and independence is coming – when you know this is the natural order of things – it’s still painful.

As they grow, we lovingly support their independence by giving them safe places to explore. But when they can drive and spend long hours away from our watchful eyes, they sometimes explore places we’d rather protect them from.

Now, with just one teen left at home, these pitfalls don’t dismay me and instead of clutching him more tightly, I hold him more loosely than I did his older brothers.

Because I know what comes next. If you can weather those turbulent teen years, a really nice young man may come home to visit you. And he’ll actually choose to spend time with you.

Last weekend, one of those young men came home for dinner. As I reached up and wrapped my arms around my oldest son, he pressed his whiskery cheek against my forehead.

I hugged him, and somewhere beneath the cigarette smoke and shampoo, I caught the faintest whiff of my baby boy. Time blurred, melted and stopped momentarily, as I closed my eyes, breathed deeply and held him tight.

This I know. If someday my eyesight fails, if my hearing declines, if I lose my sense of touch, I will always recognize this man I call my son. His infant scent is embedded in our mutual DNA. To me he still smells like angel kisses.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

Caution: Kids at Work

The friendly bagger shook open my reusable bags on Saturday, and eyed the flood of goods making its way down the conveyer belt toward him.

“How heavy should I make these bags?” he asked.

“Load ’em up,” I replied. “I’ve got kids at home to bring them in.”

The cashier paused her scanning. “Your kids help you unload the groceries?” she asked, wide-eyed.

“Only if they want to eat,” I replied.

Her surprise baffled me. If I work to earn money to buy the food, and then shop for it, and turn it into delicious meals, why wouldn’t my kids at least carry the groceries into the house and put them away? It’s called being part of a family.

I’ve been amazed by how many parents I’ve encountered who don’t expect their children to help with the most basic tasks of family life. On the contrary, they’re struggling to do it all so their kids can have it all. But the newest video games, the fastest computers, the sleekest phones and being part of elite club sports teams can’t replace lifelong lessons learned at home.

Specifically, skills learned while wielding a toilet brush or vacuum cleaner. Those skills will be far more useful in daily life than the super speedy thumb work needed to unlock a new achievement in “Gears of War 4.”

Work has never been a forbidden four-letter word at our house. The adage “Many hands make light work,” is so true, and with four sons, we had plenty of helping hands.

Toddlers love to help, so while our kids were still in diapers they learned to set the table for dinner. Picking up their toys before going to the park or watching a video became a breeze thanks to a simple song all four of them can still sing.

“Clean up; clean up, everybody, everywhere!

Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share”

Of course, as they got older getting them to do their work became an onerous chore for me. Arguments about whose turn it was to clean the bathroom, who was supposed to mow the front yard and who didn’t empty the dishwasher ruined many a Saturday morning.

That’s when I bought a white board and hung it in the basement. Each kid had a list of tasks. No television, no video games, and no hanging out with friends until their work was done.

This worked great until they became teenagers. Suddenly schoolwork, sports and socializing, made holding them accountable difficult, but as priorities shifted, so did the workload.

Thankfully, habits ingrained when they were younger paid off. Simple things like rinsing their plates and putting them in the dishwasher after a meal, or taking the trash out on Tuesday before leaving for school, were already second nature.

When I complained to my sister-in-law about my middle-schooler having a fit one morning because his favorite shirt wasn’t washed she said, “Why on earth are you still doing his laundry?”

Bingo! The next day, I gathered all four of them in the laundry room and showed them how to use the machines. To avoid fights, I assigned them each a laundry day. No one ever yelled at me again about not having clean clothes.

The only drawback to raising kids who know how to work is that as soon as they’re able, they want to work outside the house. You know, where people actually pay them money for their labor.

Our three older sons got jobs while still in high school. As long as they maintained a respectable GPA, made time for sports or social commitments and didn’t seem overwhelmed, we encouraged their efforts even though it meant a re-division of the workload at home.

Now, Sam has followed their example. Two weeks ago he started working at Shopko. As if that wasn’t enough change in our household routine, our middle son Zach is moving to Nashville.

I might want to start having my grocery bags packed just a little bit lighter.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

Montana, Milestones and Wascally Wabbits

When several Facebook friends posted about their fabulous experiences at Quinn’s Hot Springs in Montana, I knew I’d found the destination for our anniversary getaway. Especially since a hot springs visit meant I could actually wear the swimsuit I’d purchased last year to wear on Hawaiian beaches. The suit that arrived shortly after our plane took off for Oahu.

I booked the “Cabin Fever” special for two nights, and on March 21, our 31st anniversary, we hit the road. Less than three hours later we were greeted by a friendly front desk clerk.

Our room keys were attached to tiny flashlights.

“Press once to turn on the flashlight,” the clerk explained. “Press twice to scare away any bears. Press three times to attract a bear. Nobody’s survived pressing it four times.”

You have to love a Montana welcome – and Montana scenery. The resort, located on the Clark Fork River in the Lolo National Forest, is tucked in a hollow and surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

We briefly explored the grounds, checked out the hot springs temps (106 degrees in the warmest pool!) and headed to the historic Harwood House for dinner.

Built in 1948, the log restaurant features the original fireplace and offers a menu comparable to any big city fine dining establishment.

After we let our prime rib dinner settle, we donned our suits and robes and headed out for a late-night soak.

It took a certain amount of bravery to take off my robe when the outside temperature hovered at 50 degrees and a light misty rain was falling, but by golly, I had my Miracle Suit on, so off went the robe and in went Cindy.

The glorious heat of 100-degree mineral waters quickly quelled my shivers. Though there are six pools for soaking and swimming, we braved only the three warmest pools that first night. The faint smell of sulfur proved a small price to pay for the delicious luxury of sinking chilled shoulders into warm water that left our skin feeling silky soft.

The steam from the pools wafted upward into the moonlit sky, adding an otherworldly air to our scenic vista.

In the morning, after a hearty breakfast, we hiked along the banks of the Clark Fork. So far we hadn’t seen any wildlife other than the elk head in the dining room and the moose head in the lodge.

A flicker of movement caught Derek’s eye.

“Look!” he said. “It’s Peter Cottontail!”

Indeed, just a few yards away, a rabbit sat munching on something he’d found in the tall grass.

“Oh, he’s so cute!” I exclaimed. “I want to pet him! Can we keep him?”

“If you can catch him, you can keep him,” Derek said.

Now, regular readers know my husband has issued an edict that we are a two-cat household. No matter how many sons move out, I’ve been forbidden to continue replacing them with kittens. It’s the price I pay to stay married to a pretty great guy, but with son No. 3 exiting the nest at the end of the month, my nurturing instincts are in overdrive.

So, imagine my joy – my exultation, when I was this close to getting a pet bunny. THIS CLOSE!

Unfortunately, my rabbit-stalking skills leave much to be desired.

I figured a direct approach was out, so I carefully inched sideways across the grass, avoiding eye contact at all costs.

“Um. What are you doing?” Derek asked.

“Shh! I’m catching a rabbit,” I hissed.

But his question distracted me, causing me to look up and meet the wary black eyes of my prey. In a flash, he bounded off.

“You did that on purpose!” I said.

Shoulders shaking with laughter, Derek said, “I have never, ever seen anyone hunt a rabbit like that!”

My annoyance dissipated a short while later, as I sipped a fizzy, fruity drink while lounging in the pool. It wasn’t a mai tai, but when the sun came out, I closed my eyes and soaked in the rays and the mineral water and didn’t miss Hawaii a bit.

Then Derek decided to visit the polar plunge pool.

Lots of bad ideas begin with the words, “Hold my beer,” but I didn’t try to dissuade him. Gamely, he swung his legs over the edge and into the 55-degree water of the cold pool, lowering his body into the chill.

Boy! I haven’t seen my husband move that quickly in a long time. He was back in the soaking pool before I had time to sample his beverage.

“I think my heart just stopped!” he said.

Later, on our way to dinner, we decided to visit the casino inside Quinn’s Tavern. Apparently, in Montana a few gaming machines make a casino.

We’re not much for gambling, but Derek recently took a trip to Laughlin, Nevada, with a buddy and wanted to show me his newfound knowledge.

I picked a slot machine and slid in $2, while he explained about lines and bets and a lot of other stuff I didn’t pay attention to. When our $2 had more than doubled, I was ready to take our $8 winnings and head to the restaurant.

“No,” he said. “We gotta keep playing. This machine is hot!”

I let him take over pushing the buttons and watched the $8 dwindle down to $1, and then the tide began to turn. In ten minutes, with our winnings at $101.52, we decided to take the money and run.

The next morning, flush with victory and hot springs water, we returned to Spokane.

Our sons were eager to hear about our adventures and wanted to know what we meant by “sulfur smell.”

“It smells like the fart bombs Santa used to put in your Christmas stockings,” Derek explained. “Next time you guys should come with us!”

They smiled and quickly left the room.

It’s a pity, because I feel like with their help, next time I could actually catch a bunny.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

Looking Ahead at an Empty Nest

Strains of ragtime music float through the house as I write. Zach’s learning a new tune on his banjo.

Nearby, explosions and machine gunfire flicker from the television while Sam advances in “Gears of War” on his Xbox. It could be “Call of Duty” – I’ve long since given up trying to identify video games.

I’ve also long since given up on having an office with a door. Ninety-five percent of all columns have been written in our unfinished basement family room. Family being the operative word. No matter how hard I try to carve out an empty house to write in, someone always comes home early. Or leaves late. Or brings a friend over. You get the picture.

Milo’s plaintive meows escalate as he tries to convince someone that he’s near starvation. Thor yawns while shifting his bulk onto my feet. He’d prefer to be reclining on my lap, but I’ve scooted my chair under my desk, so there’s no room for him. His thunderous purrs add to the cacophony.

It’s hard to imagine an empty, silent house, but one day soon these rooms will echo with memories instead of noise. Next month, Zach is moving to Nashville to further his music career. Our family that once numbered six (not including cats) will shrink to three, and sometime in the next few years Sam, too, will fly the coop.

Those empty-nest years I’ve both longed for and dreaded are fast approaching, and the feedback from friends who’ve walked this path ahead of me hasn’t exactly been encouraging.

You won’t have anything left to talk to your spouse about. You’ll be at greater risk for divorce.

Look out! Menopause and midlife crisis happen at the same time as empty nest.

Your finances will be more stressed than ever.

They’ll call all the time, yet never listen to a word you say.

They won’t call at all.

Don’t worry, they’ll come back. The hard part is getting them to leave again.

What empty nest? Those kids will never leave and still be living in your basement when they’re 30.

I take these dire pronouncements in stride, because I know plenty of folks who are reveling in their child-free homes, embracing this natural sequence of parenting with gusto and gumption.

Most days I think I’ll be one of them. In fact, I’ve already got my eye on a ’65 candy-apple red Mustang convertible. It’s my midlife crisis insurance policy.

I’m fine with the idea of my sons being out in the world, making their own lives, buying homes, building careers, and starting families. Honestly, I can’t wait to be a grandmother. “Nana Cindy” has a lovely ring to it.

We’ve done the best we can to equip our children for life outside the cozy cocoon of home because we’ve always understood their presence here was fleeting at best.

But much like giving birth, the reality of the experience rarely dovetails with research. So, I do the best I can to prepare. Like stockpiling for a snowstorm I shore up friendships, knowing I’ll need the company of others to help ease the silence that will remain in my children’s absence.

We invest in our marriage with date nights and weekend trips, remembering what it was like when we were a family of two.

We have work and volunteer opportunities. We have siblings and extended family. We have cats. An empty nest doesn’t have to be lonely.

Yet as much as I long for silence, I’m glad our home is emptying slowly. Each son’s departure offers an opportunity to learn how to parent from afar, and ultimately how to parent less and friend more. And I’m profoundly thankful for the unexpected blessing of our fourth son. Sam’s presence has served as a bridge between so many parenting milestones, including this one.

And this I know; however far my sons soar, their homing instincts will occasionally guide them back to the nest – a place where they will always be safe, welcomed and loved.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com.

For Summer’s Sake

My new business cards arrived in the mail recently. They read “Spokane County Court Services, Cindy Hval CASA/Guardian Ad Litem.”

I’d heard about the CASA program many years ago. When a petition has been filed alleging a child has been abused or neglected, the Juvenile Court appoints an individual to serve as a court appointed special advocate.The role of a CASA is to represent the best interest of the child by making independent observations of the child’s situation and submitting a written report to the court.

After 30 hours of training, plus my first in-service, I’ve already been assigned my first case.

But it was another child I thought of as I held the business cards in my hand – she’s the reason I wanted to be a CASA in the first place.

Her name was Summer Phelps and she died on March 10, 2007, at age 4 – her body a broken, bruised and bloody roadmap of the abuse she’d suffered at the hands of her father and stepmother.

My brother-in-law was the ER physician on duty the night Summer was brought into Deaconess Hospital. She arrived with no pulse and no breath sounds, but he and the medical staff fought desperately to bring her back.

“After 20 minutes, I had to call it,” said my brother-in-law, recalling that night.

It was the worst case of abuse he’d ever seen. He doesn’t talk about Summer, or what he saw on her battered little body that night – but she still haunts his nightmares.

Eventually, Summer’s father and stepmother were convicted of homicide by abuse. I struggled to read the newspaper accounts of the trial. Reading it again while writing this column hasn’t diminished the horror. I walked away from my desk many times – my stomach knotted, my eyes blurred with tears.

Ten years ago, I vowed to do something to help the children in our community, but at the time my hands were full with my own family.

In January when a friend mentioned she was taking the CASA training, I remembered that promise, and at her urging, signed up.

I’m glad I did because the need is great.

“We average 52 kids a month coming into the system,” said Patrick Donahue, CASA/GAL program coordinator and Juvenile Court volunteer coordinator. “We have six staff GALs (guardian ad litem) who advocate for an average of 65-75 kids each.”

The roles of a CASA and a GAL are identical; CASA just means they are volunteers. Currently, 142 active volunteers represent about 370 children.

“CASA volunteers are vital to the dependency process in that they advocate for fewer children and can be more involved in the overall advocacy for the children’s best interest,” Donahue said. “Children with a CASA volunteer may spend less time in the dependency process in that their cases may resolve sooner. They typically have fewer disruptions in placements and their overall time in foster care can be more positive with a CASA volunteer.”

CASA volunteers meet regularly with the child/children they’re assigned to. The kids typically range in age from newborn to 12 years. CASAs ask questions and observe the child’s living conditions. They talk with the parents, the foster parents, teachers, doctors and day care providers to assess how the child is doing.

The ultimate goal is to reunite the parents with their child if the parents can provide a safe and stable environment. A CASA’s recommendation to the court offers an important independent insight and can be a significant factor in deciding what’s ultimately best for the child.

“Spokane takes great pride in hearing foster children say, ‘My CASA was the one person in my life at that time that was always there for me.’ ” Donahue said.

That isn’t to say every dependency case ends in happily ever after. The scars of emotional trauma and abuse can linger long after physical scars heal. The pain of being separated from parents can have lasting consequences. Not every child gets a healthy, intact family and a house with a white picket fence, but at the bare minimum they can have a safe home, free from violence and neglect.

The kind of home Summer Phelps deserved.

SUMMER PHELPS

Summer Phelps

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast, “Life, Love and Raising Sons,” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

To volunteer

The next CASA training begins April 11 and runs 5:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays until May 9, plus one Saturday morning, April 15 from 8:30-12:30. For more information about the training email Patrick Donahue pdonahue@spokanecounty.org or call (509) 477-2469.

For more information about CASA, visit www.spokanecounty.org.

 

Illness, injury, indignity & inspiration

Sometimes when it rains, it blizzards. At least in Spokane, anyway.

This past month of endless precipitation was echoed by a round of illness and injury for me. It’s worth noting that I only get sick once a year – always in February. I tolerate my yearly cold as a minor disruption and a gentle reminder to slow down a bit.

It’s also worth noting that I routinely ignore gentle reminders.

What became an epic stream of misfortune started with a trickle – from my nose. One Friday morning, I woke up sniffly. My throat was scratchy and my head ached, but I’d just signed up for 30 hours of training to become a court-appointed special advocate – or CASA/guardian ad litem – for Spokane County Juvenile Court, and there was no way I was going to let an inconvenient cold interfere. I slurped down some orange juice, grabbed a packet of Emergen-C and set out.

By Saturday, it seemed like everyone was speaking underwater, and when I croaked out a question, I sounded like Darth Vader.

I tried to take it easier during the week, and when Friday rolled around again I was feeling much better. Perhaps because I’d gifted my cold to my friend Sarah.

Mindful of the need to take it easy, I collapsed in bed when I got home, fully expecting to bounce out of bed after my nap with my vitality and vigor restored. But when I woke and tried to sit up, a shooting pain exploded from somewhere in my midback. There would be no bouncing. Apparently, I pulled a muscle while sleeping. I didn’t even know that was possible.

Having never before experienced a back injury, I did the only sensible thing – I took two ibuprofen and asked for advice on social media. Hey, I said I was generally healthy, not universally smart.

I received a wide range of guidance regarding back pain and promptly followed what I now know to be a piece of spectacularly ill-conceived advice. This is what happens when you seek medical help on Facebook. Despite that setback, the pain gradually subsided over the weekend. This was great, because by Tuesday I was having difficulty seeing out of my right eye.

Last year, I was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration. It’s bad enough to have poor vision, but to tack “age-related” in front of it is just mean. Anyway, a large floater suddenly appeared in my right eye. I guess having one in my left eye wasn’t enough. Because this can sometimes be a sign of a detached retina, I had to schedule an emergency eye exam.

Thankfully, the new floater was nothing serious, just annoying. Vitamins have been shown to reduce or slow the affects of the disease, so I redoubled my commitment to healthy eyesight and even added a supplement my husband assured me would help.

I should note that my husband is not a doctor. He doesn’t even play one on TV. But he’s well-read and has done a lot of research about the effects of supplements on certain ailments.

Sadly, I woke up violently ill in the middle of the night. Even worse, it just happened to by my birthday. I couldn’t believe after surviving a cold, a back injury and an eye problem, I now had the stomach flu. The health downpour had reached flood stage, so I was hopeful the waters would recede.

They didn’t.

On Valentine’s Day, I prepared a lovely meal for my family. Shortly before Derek came home, I diligently took my vitamin and supplement for the first time since my birthday. Within an hour I was desperately sick.

“Did you take out life insurance on me?” I wailed at my husband. “Those supplements are poisoned!”

Distressed at how ill I was, he Googled the ingredients in the supplement. Turns out one of them, “curcumin,” affects a small percent of the population the way it did me.

Lesson learned – the hard way.

As I write, heavy snow falls once again. I wish I’d taken a picture of the grass I’d spotted peeking out from the edge of our lawn Sunday. However, no matter what it seems like, winter really doesn’t last forever. Cold and flu season passes, too.

Crocuses and daffodils wait patiently beneath the frozen ground, biding their time. They will bloom. They always do. Sunshine and fresh air clears stuffy heads and brightens tired eyes.

And sometimes, it takes a long, bleak winter and a bout of illness to renew our appreciation for beautiful spring bulbs, and to revel in clear nasal passages that can breathe in their fragrance.

 

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

Lessons From the Bowl

Like most Seahawks fans we rooted hard for the Atlanta Falcons during the Super Bowl on Sunday. Birds of a feather flocking together, united in Tom Brady disdain.

Well, we all know how that turned out.

But in between kickoff and that stunning win by the New England Patriots we had a lot of fun watching the game with my brother David and his wife, Becky. We all enjoy football and are pretty much experts on the game.

Our son Alex was a record-setting kicker for the Mt. Spokane Wildcats, and David played defensive tackle for the Anderson Air Force Base Vikings in Guam. Obviously, we’re well-qualified to loudly shout play calls at the television. Our commentary is usually spot-on, too, though Derek did get himself in a bit of trouble.

As the game began he opined of the Patriots, “Once you’ve been to the Super Bowl so many times it’s not a big deal; kinda like being married 30 years.”

Sadly, I’d left my yellow flag at home and couldn’t call the foul.

But when I posted his comment on Facebook, friends took care of that for me. One commented, “Dude. Either stop drinking or stop talking.”

Another asked, “Have the flowers been delivered yet?”

Thankfully, we were distracted by the latest round of Super Bowl commercials. Many of the ads were positively perplexing, like the artsy ad for something called LIFE WTR.

“What on earth is Life Wtr?” I asked.

“It’s water with the vowels strained out,” my brother replied.

Then there was the 84 Lumber advertisement. I thought it was lovely and moving, but like many I didn’t have a clue what the ad was supposed to sell. Maybe compelling political statements are the new Budweiser frogs.

I missed some commercials due to using the break for what God intended commercials for, but I did see the adorable NFL Super Bowl Babies and the Melissa McCarthy Kia ad was hysterical. Also, I’m sure I’m not the only woman in America who has watched the Mr. Clean ad more than a dozen times.

However, we were all puzzled as to why Terry Bradshaw has to remove his pants to get a stain off his shirt and agreed that Spuds MacKenzie should have been left to rest in peace.

“How can he hold a beer can if he can’t open it because he doesn’t have thumbs?” Derek asked.

None of us had the answer.

Snacks are a big part of Super Bowl fun and Becky’s homemade pizzas were delicious. Alas, the Oregon-made amber I purchased for Derek was not. Apparently, it tasted like pine trees. Or turpentine. What can I say? I’m not a beer drinker. Anyway, it didn’t hiss forever like the Busch beer in the Super Bowl ad.

At least this year’s halftime show didn’t leave a bad taste in our mouths. Though none of us are huge Lady Gaga fans, at least her clothes stayed on and we could understand her lyrics.

When the game resumed we witnessed an epic moment when Patriot Martellus Bennett and Falcon Dwight Freeney got their helmets stuck together like two mountain goats locking horns. Talk about an awkward dance.

Speaking of dancing, upon the advice of friends I spent considerable time Sunday morning practicing the Dirty Bird – the Falcons celebratory touchdown dance. I didn’t practice this at church, which I’m sure my pastor appreciated, but had planned to break it out as the confetti fell on the Falcon’s victory.

We were so sure of this victory that David opined Brady was a shoe-in for MVP – for the Atlanta Falcons.

I replied, “I’m sure Tom Brady’s balls are pretty deflated right about now.”

Of course those words came back to haunt us, just like Tom Brady came back to rally his team to an amazing, unprecedented, overtime victory.

It was like watching Lucy pulling the football out from Charlie Brown. The only comfort was that at least it wasn’t the Seahawks sitting dejectedly on the sidelines.

I’ve always found the Super Bowl to be educational and I learned several valuable lessons on Sunday.

No. 1: Don’t send a wine-drinker to buy beer.

No. 2: Men who mop are super sexy, even if they aren’t named Mr. Clean.

No. 3 And never, ever count Tom Brady out.

 

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.