All Write, Columns

It’s the hardest part…

I sat in her kitchen, surrounded by fragrant braids of garlic. Plump and juicy just-picked tomatoes spilled from a bowl on her counter.

The garlic was famous, grown from seeds her father-in-law had sewn into his coat when he emigrated from Italy to the United States.

It was supposed to be a quick visit – just long enough to give her a hug and return some photos. But you didn’t visit Connie Disotell DiLuzio without being fed.

Connie died Nov. 23. When I saw her obituary, I remembered our last visit six years ago.

“Sit,” she insisted. “Have some biscotti.”

So, I sat.

She placed freshly baked biscotti on a plate and filled a ceramic mug with coffee.

“Eat,” she said. “You’re so busy with the book and those boys. You need to take care of yourself.”

“War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation,” had just been accepted for publication. Connie and her husband’s story is featured, and I was returning photos I’d included in the manuscript.

Ray had died not long after I interviewed them, and Connie loved to talk about their courtship.

They met in 1942, when he was home on leave from the Navy. Connie was just 15, but they corresponded as best they could during the war. He wanted to marry her when he got another brief leave, but she insisted they waited until she graduated from Rogers High School.

He waited, and they enjoyed 66 years together.

She told me how much she missed Ray.

“It’s hard, honey,” she said, as she hugged me goodbye. “It’s real hard.”025

Ray and Connie, January 2012

She wasn’t the only “War Bonds” bride I lost last year. In September, Marie Clemons died. Her husband, Rusty, preceded her in death in 2018. They were married 72 years.

They met when he was hanging out at his brother’s Colville restaurant. Rusty had just returned from 42 months of serving in the Pacific theater with the Army during World War ll.

Marie waitressed at the restaurant, but on this night the dishwasher hadn’t shown up, so she offered to scrub pots.

To Rusty’s surprise, he volunteered to help her.

“I don’t have a clue why I did that,” he recalled. “I never did like to wash dishes.”

That offer changed both of their lives.

“We got to holding hands,” Rusty said. “I don’t know whether it was during the wash or rinse cycle.”

After the interview I snapped their picture in their beautiful backyard, and Rusty pulled Marie close for a kiss.

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Rusty and Marie

My schedule filled with “War Bonds” events after the book’s 2015 release, and when they heard I would be doing a signing at the Spokane Valley Barnes and Noble, they showed up to give me a hug.

“You did good, kid,” Rusty said.

Marie beamed.

“We’re just so proud of you,” she said.

It felt like I’d received my grandparents’ blessing.

Cindy with Rusty and Marie Clemons April, 2015

Rusty Clemons, Cindy Hval, Marie Clemons, April 2015

Scanning these obituaries reminds me of how many goodbyes I’ve said in recent years. I’m so aware that every point of contact might be the last.

That’s why I was delighted to see Walt Powers honored before an Eastern Washington University football game last fall. He and his wife, Myrt, were proud supporters of the university where he had taught for so long. He checked in with me via email after Myrt died in 2017.

“I’m healing daily, but I have a long way to go,” he wrote.

And I received a lovely letter from Betty Ratzman in September, not long after she lost her husband, Dean.

“I do miss him so much,” she wrote.

Betty also wanted to tell me that a copy of “War Bonds” had been placed in the new Orofino Historical Museum.

“Not my Auntie’s February 2015 autographed by Cindy Hval copy,” she assured me.

She concluded with a reminder.

“Watch the obits for me.”

How I dread seeing her name there. Out of the 36 couples featured in “War Bonds,” only 13 widows and widowers and one surviving couple remain.

Each loss feels like saying goodbye to a beloved family member.

I think of what Connie DiLuzio said about losing Ray.

“It’s hard, honey. It’s real hard.”

And I know exactly what she meant.

Columns

A double rainbow after the storm

Forty days and 40 nights.

That’s how long it rained in the biblical account of Noah’s flood. Forty days and nights of darkness, destruction and despair.

When the rain finally stopped, and Noah and his family were allowed to leave the ark, they saw a beautiful band of color curving across the sky. A rainbow – a sign of God’s promise to never again destroy the earth by flood.

On Feb. 23, 2018, our family floundered in a flood of grief, when our first grandchild, Ian Lucas, was stillborn.

The loss of that perfect boy with the chubby cheeks and swirl of dark hair devastated our son and his fiancee. It broke our hearts. It darkened our world.

On Nov. 23, 2019, a rainbow shimmered across our sky. Not just any rainbow, a glorious double arc.

Alex and Brooke blessed us with identical twin grandsons. Adam Thomas Hval and Nicholas Alexander Hval born just one minute apart, weighed in at 5 pounds 8 ounces and 5 pounds 9 ounces.

They are monochorionic-diamniotic twins, meaning they shared a placenta, but had separate amniotic sacs. Twins tend to run in families. My father was a twin and so was Brooke’s grandmother.

The first thing my husband Derek said when we found out the boys were identical was, “We’d better buy Sharpies, so we can tell them apart!”

We teased the new parents about getting the babies tattoos, but for now they are dressing them differently.

Though they arrived 6 1/2 weeks early, they are robustly healthy and didn’t require supplemental oxygen.

They did have a prolonged stay in the neonatal intensive care unit, because like many preemies, they struggled with feeding issues. They had to learn how to suck, swallow and breathe all at the same time, which took some practice.

But they are home now, both almost 9 1/2 pounds. They’re keeping everyone hopping. Alex sent a video of them making a ruckus. It seems they inherited the Hval loudness gene. Let’s hope they inherited their Uncle Zach’s musical gift, so they can holler in harmony.

When I showed my mom the video she said, “Well, if anyone can handle that, it’s Alex.”

Adam and Nicholas look so much like my dad, Thomas, and their father, Alexander. In fact, I’ve already dubbed them “The World’s Most Beautiful Boys.”

If they turn out to be like their namesakes in temperament, they will be busy, sweet and fun-loving fellows. We’ve booked our trip to Ohio, and can’t wait to cuddle them.

Having raised four sons, I know full well how wild these next few years will be for Brooke and Alex. Thankfully, they have a built-in helper. The twins adore Brooke’s 6-year-old daughter, Farrah. When they fuss, she sings to them, and they quiet and listen to her.

Children born following stillbirth, miscarriage or infant death are called “rainbow babies.” When I wrote about the loss of Ian, many readers shared their own stillbirth stories with me. Not all of them were blessed with a rainbow baby. For many, the wounds of their loss remain fresh and sharp.

Loss like that marks you forever, and even the arrival of The World’s Most Beautiful Boys can’t erase the pain of Ian’s death. Children are not replaceable.

But oh, their birth has brought soaring joy and profound comfort to our family. We are incredibly grateful that after the darkness of the storm, a miraculous double rainbow arcs across our sky – a sign of promise, of hope. It ends in Columbus, Ohio, and what waits for us there is more precious than a thousand pots of gold.

 

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Columns

Word Trouble: I don’t think that means what you think it means

I’ve been told I have a way with words.

After all, I’ve spent many years making a living writing them. But this summer I learned I’d apparently lost my way – at least when it comes to contemporary euphemisms.

Each year I host a gathering of friends in our backyard gazebo. The Great Gazebo Girlfriend Gathering provides a way for me to bring friends from varying parts of my life together to reflect, reminisce and laugh.

It’s also quite an educational event.

My friend, Judi, told us about her stay at a cute bed-and-breakfast with interesting room names.

“I saw that on Facebook!” I said. “I thought it was cool that your room was ‘Netflix and chill.’ ”

A brief silence fell.

Then someone giggled. Someone else tittered. Judi’s eyes got big.

“What?” I asked.

“Cindy, don’t you know what ‘Netflix and chill’ means?” my friend Sarah asked.

Puzzled, I gazed at her.

“Of course, I do,” I replied. “It means you’re going to watch a movie and relax.”

I’m pretty sure the resulting howls of laughter could be heard for miles.

Apparently, somehow, when I wasn’t looking, that innocently descriptive phrase has morphed into meaning something entirely different.

Here’s the Wikipedia definition: Netflix and chill, as a distinct phrase, means to watch Netflix with a romantic prospect with the eventual expectation of sexual activity.

And that’s the most family-friendly definition.

Reader, I beg of you, do not look this up in the Urban Dictionary.

Horrified, I gazed at my laughing friends.

A blush spread over my face and deepened to a reddish hue as I recalled my response when a much younger colleague asked what Derek and I had planned for the weekend.

“Oh, we’re going to Netflix and chill all weekend long. I can’t wait!” I replied.

He grinned.

“Good for you!” he said.

Then I remembered how I’d told the grocery store cashier the same thing. He paused in the midst of scanning my items, smiled and winked at me.

“Awesome,” he said.

I endured my friends’ good-natured ribbing for the rest of the party, but honestly, I hoped they were pulling my leg (definition: to make someone believe something that is not true as a joke, which I looked up to be sure that meaning hadn’t changed).

When they left, I turned to my trusted youngest son.

“Sam, what does ‘Netflix and chill’ mean?”

Peering at me, he cautiously replied. “What do you think it means?”

That’s how I knew my friends were telling the truth, and I was mortified all over again.

I hoped this was something only teenagers, young adults and their parents knew, but recently that hope was dashed.

When we met my friend Jill and her husband for dinner, the subject of my embarrassment came up again. (Honestly, I’ll be 70 before I live this down.)

To prove the phrase wasn’t known to merely the younger set, Jill asked our server, “Do you know what ‘Netflix and chill’ means?”

“Yes,” she replied. “And I only do that with my husband.”

Lesson learned. The next time someone asks what my plans are for the evening I will reply, “My husband and I are going to watch a movie via an online streaming service and relax.”

Or, because truthfulness is important to me, I might just smile and say, “We’re going to Netflix and chill.”

Columns

With 20/20 clarity, I see change ahead

I don’t remember ever having 20/20 vision. I got my first pair of glasses in fourth grade, my first pair of contacts at 15, and my eyesight continues to decline.

That’s why I’m really looking forward to this new year – I can finally see 2020! And every time I glimpse the date in my new calendars and planners, I smile. There’s just something exciting about turning a page.

2019 brought change to our household. In the fall, our third son moved into his own place, and we’re officially down to just one kid at home. That kid will graduate from college in the spring, and while he’ll likely stay with us while pursuing a second degree – our empty nest years are looming.

So far, meal planning has been the most challenging thing about our shrinking household. Because Sam works mainly evenings, I foresaw a lot of cooking for two in my future. As usual, my vision was faulty, because at least once a week there are five at my table.

When Zach moved out, I told him I hoped he’d join us for a weekly family meal. Our oldest son also lives nearby, and if I’m cooking for four, it’s certainly no stretch to make dinner for five.

The result? I now get to have my three in-town sons around my table on a regular basis, and nothing makes this mama’s heart happier. Besides, I haven’t yet mastered the art of cooking for three, let alone two.

The holidays revealed more opportunities for adapting. In recent years, our two youngest sons have been in charge of tree decorating. My penchant for holiday décor seems to grow each year, so it’s nice to leave the Christmas tree in their capable hands. However, this year, varying work schedules proved problematic.

I’m all about problem solving, so for the first time in at least 25 years, Derek and I trimmed the tree by ourselves. What might have been melancholy became delightful. We took a lovely, romantic stroll down memory lane as we hung ornaments and remembered Christmases past.

Then came the cookie-decorating conflict.

In 2011, Sam made us a book featuring his treasured Christmas memories. In it he wrote, “I love making and decorating Christmas cookies with you.”

That was then.

This is now.

As usual, I baked dozens of sugar cookies, and then checked with our sons to see when they’d be available to frost and decorate them. Sam seemed ambivalent and told me to check with Zach.

I’ve never wanted to try to squeeze my sons into traditions that no longer fit, so I texted Zach, “How strongly do you feel about decorating Christmas cookies? I can leave them out for you guys to do when you come over Wednesday, or Dad and I can just do them tonight.”

He replied, “I don’t feel strongly either way.”

So for the first time in our 33-year marriage, Derek got to be part of the Christmas cookie fun. He’s artistically inclined, so our cookies looked fabulous. And honestly, I don’t much miss the Cyclops angels or graphically anatomically correct snowmen that our sons were inclined to include.IMG_20191216_194208217

Derek and I further simplified our holidays by skipping stuffing stockings for each other. Less shopping equaled less stress and more fun.

As someone who cherishes the familiar, and relishes ritual and tradition, I’ve been surprised at how readily I’ve adapted to this new season of our lives, and how eagerly I’m anticipating the unknowns that await.

Because whatever 2020 brings, the one thing I can clearly see ahead is change. And instead of dreading it, I’m choosing to embrace it.

Columns

Loafing around with the bread thief

The rustling sound gave me pause.

Taking a sip of coffee, I lowered the newspaper and looked around the bedroom.

Crackle. Crackle. Jingle. Jingle.

The bell gave him away, because it’s too early for one of Santa’s reindeer.

I flung my cozy quilt aside, knelt on the floor, and lifted the bed skirt.

That’s where I found Walter manhandling (cathandling?) a half-loaf of bread. His sharp teeth had punctured tiny holes in the bag, and the bread was mostly squished.

“Walter!” I yelled. “Bad kitty!”

This wasn’t our 7-month-old kitten’s first foray into bread theft.

Some weeks earlier I’d awoken to a similar scenario. Derek had surprised me with a lovely breakfast in bed before he left for work. It was still too early for me to get up, so I dozed off after enjoying it. Apparently, wanting to demonstrate that he, too, was capable of serving me breakfast, Walter dragged an entire loaf of bread to the bedroom.

The loaf was bigger than he, and he couldn’t hoist it onto the bed, so he decided to squeeze it beneath.

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I loudly expressed my displeasure.

Baffled, Walter cocked his head, gazed at me with sorrowful eyes, and gave a small chirp which I interpreted as, “How come Dad gets kisses when he brings you food in bed, and I get yelled at?”

With no room on our kitchen counters for a bread box, we store bread on top of our refrigerator. After all, none of our other cats had ever ventured up there.

Of course, none of our other cats have decided to jump on our ceramic stove to watch our son cook macaroni and cheese.

Thankfully, Walter wasn’t burned, but Sam was pretty traumatized. I suggested in the future he should stay by the stove while the water boils, just in case.

In addition to on top of the fridge, we’ve taken to storing our bread in the microwave – anything to keep Walter’s paws off our loaves.

Evidently, he’s addicted to the crinkling sound of plastic, because he’s also smuggled an entire bag of miniature marshmallows to our bedroom. When I caught him with the marshmallows, I discovered his stash of plastic grocery bags under our bed.

But our furry Jean Valjean still prefers to focus his thievery on bread.

I spent Sunday making sausage with my sisters-in-law. When I returned home, Walter met me at the top of the stairs, licking his chops.

I hustled to the microwave and opened the door. The bread was still there. Then Thor, our senior tabby, strolled into the kitchen, also licking his whiskers.

They watched me to see if treats were forthcoming, but I was not in a treat-dispensing mood.

“Walter,” I said. “What have you done?”

He gave a pleased little trill and sauntered toward the bedroom with his tail held high. I followed and found a trail of crumbs leading to a Ziploc bag of mangled cornbread.

He’d managed to climb on top of the refrigerator, snatch the Saturday supper leftovers, take the bag to our bedroom, tear a hole in it, and share the spoils with Thor.

Who knew cats like cornbread?

“Walter,” I muttered. “You are working your way to the top of Santa’s naughty list.”

Rubbing his head on my ankles, he purred and stretched out on top of my feet. Apparently, he’s of the opinion that being utterly adorable automatically earns you a spot on the nice list.

However, his hopes to find his stocking stuffed with a loaf of bread may be dashed on Christmas morning. At this rate, all Walter’s getting is a lump of coal.

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Columns

Home for the holidays at Hutton Settlement

There’s no place like home for the holidays and for 32 children, Hutton Settlement is the place they call home. Earlier this year, I got to know four of those children.

My friend, Tom McArthur, asked if I’d interview the kids with him for a special edition of the Northwest Profiles television program.

First, a bit of background.

Hutton Settlement was founded by Levi Hutton, a wealthy businessman who made his fortune in the North Idaho mines during the early 1900s. Hutton was an orphan and so was his wife, May Arkwright Hutton. After her death, he decided to use some of his fortune to create a true home for kids like him instead of the institutions that were common at the time.

This year, the settlement celebrated its centennial with a slew of events.

In July, a bronze sculpture by artist Vincent DeFelice was unveiled, and Babe Ruth’s granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, threw out the first pitch at the memorial baseball game.

Babe Ruth, himself an orphan, had heard about the settlement and visited Hutton in 1924 during an off-season with the New York Yankees.

In late October through early November, a play written by Tim Rarick premiered at the Spokane Civic Theatre. “A Place to Call Home” told the story of the settlement’s founding.

And on Oct. 31, Northwest Profiles devoted a half-hour program to the history of Hutton. The program, which aired on KSPS-TV and kicked off the show’s 33rd season, featured the four children I interviewed with McArthur.

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Tom McArthur and Cindy Hval at KSPS-TV studios with Hutton Settlement residents.

Gavin McArthur, 16, Roxy Fredericksen, 14, and Trinity Kinville, 11, shared their stories of how they came to live at Hutton, and what the settlement means to them.

Gavin said he and his brother were being raised by their dad. One morning when he was about 4 years old, he heard a knock at the door.

“My dad opened it up and a bunch of police officers stormed in. My brother and I were scared. We ran and hid under a bunk bed. It turns out that he (Dad) was arrested for using drugs at the time. I found out later that he suffered from schizophrenia and mental illness.”

After going through several foster homes, the brothers ended up at Hutton.

“I could tell right away these people are here for me — they’re trying to help me, nurture me and take care of me,” he said.

Roxy said her mother and father argued frequently.

“It was really bad. And then one day my mom, she’s like, ‘Oh you’re not gonna be living with me anymore,’ ” Roxy said.

When she was 7, she moved to Hutton and her two younger sisters soon followed.

Trinity had a similar story.

“When I was just little, our father abused me and my mother,” she said.

The abuse continued when her younger siblings arrived.

“When I was 8, my mother died from an overdose. I lived with my grandma and grandpa for a year,” she said. “One day our uncle came and said, ‘I just found this great place online, and I have friends who used to work there. It’s called Hutton Settlement.’ That summer we started visiting, and we ended up moving to Cottage Two, and I’ve lived there since.”

Each of the children shared their memories of going up the long tree-lined drive at the settlement, and of the love and warmth they found with Hutton’s shelter.

When asked what they’d like to say to Levi Hutton, Roxy said, “Thank you for making this place where I can be myself and have a loving caring family. I didn’t have that before.”

Trinity reflected on what she’s learned since coming to the settlement.

“God loves everyone,” she said. “Even when times are tough it can get better. It will get better. And even if you don’t feel like it, someone’s always there by your side.”

In this season of the year when hearts yearn for home and family, the kids at Hutton Settlement are profoundly grateful for the acceptance and love they’ve found.

“Hutton Settlement to me is a place to call home — a place to call family,” Gavin said.

Columns

What happens in Vegas…

Whoever said what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, is obviously not a newspaper columnist.

My husband and a buddy usually hit Vegas via Laughlin, Nevada, for an annual guys getaway. This year his friend jetted to Maui, so Derek asked me if I’d like to go.

The folks at Don Laughlin’s Riverside Resort Hotel and Casino sweetened the deal by offering us a buy-one, get-one-free deal for airline travel and resort stay. On Thursday we drove to Lewiston to catch a chartered flight aboard Laughlin’s Sun Country Airlines.

A couple of hours later, we landed in Bullhead City, Arizona, where a resort bus met us and drove us across the Colorado River to Laughlin.

Crossing three states, two time zones, and one river makes you hungry. After checking in, we stretched our legs along the Riverwalk in pursuit of dinner.

“Look! A cat!” Derek said, pointing toward a nearby garbage can.

As the varmint dashed across the sidewalk in front of us, we saw it wasn’t a kitty, it was a raccoon. He joined his wife and kid under the palm trees and agreeably posed for photos.

A different kind of wildlife awaited us in Vegas the following day. We rented a car and made the 90-minute drive to spend the day on Fremont Street.

Located in the original town site of Las Vegas, Fremont Street is the historic center of the city featuring a five-block stretch of enclosed casinos, shops, bars and restaurants.

Derek prepped me for the visit.

“There’s all kinds of street performers and vendors,” he explained. “Whatever you do, don’t make eye contact, or they’ll try to sell you something or hustle you for tips.”

Of course, I immediately forgot his words when we entered the glittery, bustling avenue. A friendly lady greeted us and asked if we were celebrating our anniversary.

Derek tugged at my hand and kept walking, but I didn’t want to be rude. That’s how I got suckered into a long sales pitch for tickets to a show we didn’t want to see.

“I told you,” he said. “Just keep walking.”

Lesson learned. When a well-muscled shirtless man wearing snug-fitting camo pants asked if I wanted a hug, I only paused for a second.

“He said it’s OK,” the fellow assured, pointing to Derek.

“I get all the hugs I need,” I replied, without breaking my stride. Much.

A visit to the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, aka the Mob Museum, was next on our list.

It proved a fascinating, albeit gruesome jaunt through gangster history. We learned about the Kefauver hearings in the historic courtroom where one was actually held. The hearings led by Tennessee Sen. Estes Kefauver confirmed the existence of a national crime syndicate and revealed lax enforcement.

Other museum highlights included cocktails in an underground speakeasy, and an opportunity to “electrocute” my husband in a replica electric chair.

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Then it was on to dinner at the Heart Attack Grill, a restaurant that celebrates gluttony by offering unlimited free burgers to anyone weighing over 350 lbs.

Waitresses dressed as nurses deliver wine via IV poles and tubing, and if you don’t clean your plate they deliver spankings with a paddle. Seriously.

Derek warned me about that. But what he didn’t tell me is that you have to wear a hospital gown to eat, and there’s a ginormous public weigh-in spot that broadcasts your weight for all visitors along Fremont Street to see.

Within minutes, we witnessed five spankings. Those nurses pack a wallop. I ordered the smallest burger possible and ate every bite. I haven’t been so focused on cleaning my plate since I was a kid and threatened with an early bedtime if I left any peas on my plate.

As night fell, we enjoyed free live music and the Viva Vision light show. The light show video screen is 1,500 feet long, 90 feet wide and suspended 90 feet above Fremont Street’s pedestrian mall.

It was amazing! But all that glitz and glitter made me pine for some natural beauty. A morning boat cruise along the Colorado River was just the ticket.

The cruise aboard the USS Riverside took us along Laughlin’s Riverwalk all the way to Davis Dam and offered great historical perspective about this portion of Nevada.

Did I mention it was 84 degrees in Laughlin on Saturday? That called for some serious sunbathing at the resort’s adult-only pool. We alternated from poolside lounges to comfy river-view couches, soaking up the sun we knew would be in short supply in Spokane.

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And of course we played the slots, but we’re hardly high rollers. We set aside a certain amount of cash for entertainment and don’t spend any more than what we bring.

Derek led me to a machine he knew I’d love – the OMG! Kittens. I quickly found out the OMG! stands for the $40 I quickly dropped just to see adorable kittens speed past me and meow.

Luck wasn’t a lady that night, and it was a little disconcerting to see people my mother’s age still going strong at midnight when, exhausted, we headed for our room.

It was a lovely getaway, but by Sunday we were ready to return. After all, we already hit the jackpot with our own OMG! Kittens and they were waiting for us at home.

Columns

Go home chicken, you’re drunk

Tears poured from my eyes as I thumbed through the pages. My sides ached with laughter. I snorted. I guffawed. I giggled.

Who would think a cookbook could provoke such hilarity?

Just when I caught my breath, I spotted a recipe for Pheasant- All Drunk and Spunky, and I howled again.

But first a little background. My mother collected recipes like there might not ever be another Dorothy Dean column or Campbell’s soup cookbook. She clipped them from newspapers, magazines, flour bags and shortening cans. She filed them in index card boxes and three-ring binders. Cookbooks lined a shelf in her kitchen and filled drawers in her buffet. Even after my dad died and she didn’t have anyone to cook for, she kept on clipping.

Her cookies were legendary. For years, she supplied my boys with enough baked goods to feed a small platoon. Her dessert plates were the first to be emptied at every church potluck.

In recent years, she tried to downsize. I’m not sure which sibling ended up with her battered copy of Irma Rombauer’s “The Joy of Cooking,” but she gave me my grandmother’s vintage “Good Housekeeping Cookbook” and her own copy of “Better Homes and Garden Cookbook,” which I still haul out every time I bake apple pies.

My recipe box is filled with her handwritten recipe cards.

When she moved into a retirement home, the cookbooks and clipping collection had to go. I didn’t have time to sort through her recipe-filled envelopes, but somehow I snagged a cookbook and brought it home before her house sold.

With the holidays approaching, I finally sat down to go through it. The 270-page cookbook has no cover, no back and no title. I have no idea who produced it. I think I grabbed it because it features Mom’s handwritten commentary. Some recipes had checkmarks or stars. Some said “try,” and others had “good!” written next to them.

The source of my amusement came from the many, many recipes that called for some kind of booze.

Mom is such a stringent teetotaler that she’s never even purchased cooking wine or sherry. She certainly never had the ingredients for Drunk Chicken, or Bourbon-Pecan cake, or New Bacardi Chocolate Rum cake. And even if she had the ingredients for Beer and Sauerkraut Fudge Cake, I can’t imagine that she’d inflict that on anyone.

It’s wasn’t only the alcohol-laden recipes that gave me giggles, just the names of some of the recipes induced mirth.

Creeping Crust Cobbler anyone? How about some Liver Surprise? (Spoiler alert, the surprise is cinnamon, or maybe it’s the applesauce.) Beef Birds with Olive Gravy gave me pause, but Carrot Loaf- a Meat Substitute made me queasy for hours. The recipe calls for rice, carrots, eggs, milk and peanut butter!

Not every recipe proved as stomach-churning. Amazed, I discovered the original source for Mom’s Five-Hour Stew, her Busy Day Chicken and Rice, and the zucchini fritter recipe I’d assumed was my grandmother’s. The titleless cookbook is proving to be a treasure.

My husband enjoys my culinary escapades, but he was a bit bewildered last week when he called and asked about our dinner plans.

“I thought about making Pheasant- All Drunk and Spunky,” I said.”But catching a pheasant and getting it drunk, seemed like a lot of work. And how can you tell if a pheasant’s spunky?”

“Uh…” Derek murmured.

“Nevermind,” I continued. “We had some poultry in the freezer, but you’d better come home soon.”

“Why?” he asked.

“Because the chicken’s already drunk,” I replied.

Unlike my mother, I cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the recipe.

Columns

Beware Banana-Toting Bandits

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When our train pulled into the tiny whistle-stop station at Dalkena, Washington, I spotted some unsavory types milling around the tracks.

A pint-size pirate, wearing a bandana over her face, clutched her grandpa’s hand and boarded the car in front of us.

Then the door to our carriage slid open, and a mean-looking hombre swaggered down the aisle. Her black cowboy hat was a dead giveaway. Everyone knows only outlaws wear them. Sure enough, within minutes the desperado barked, “All right, hand it over – gimme yer money!”

She flourished her weapon wildly at men, women and even small children.

I’d never been “robbed” at banana-point before, but I hastily stuffed some cash into her bag, and tried not to make eye contact.

Thankfully, we’d been warned in advance that train robberies frequently occur on the Scenic Pend Oreille River Train. Even better, the cash collected goes to support the many community projects of the Newport/Priest River Rotary Club, which operates the ride.

The little girl in front of us wasn’t feeling quite as generous.

When she realized the robbery wasn’t real, she turned to her mom.

“I want my money back!”

But when the whistle blew and the train lurched forward, she pressed her nose to the window, captivated like the rest of us by the autumn beauty that shone brightly despite the rain.

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“I’m so glad we did this,” my husband said, as we settled back into our seats, watching the deep green of the forest, give way to golden fields surrounded by russet maples and amber birches.

We’d been so disappointed when in 2016, the North Pend Oreille Valley Lions Club had to end the excursion train ride between Ione and Metaline Falls that they’d operated for 35 years. The ride was an item on our bucket list that we’d never got around to.

In 2017, the Newport/Priest River Rotary Club partnered with the Pend Oreille Valley Railroad to operate a new excursion ride. This time we weren’t going to miss out.

Starting in Newport, Washington, the 9-mile, 90-minute ride, follows the Pend Oreille River to Dalkena (where train “robberies” occur) and back to Newport.

The train features three classic railroad coaches and three open-air cars. The excursion operates rain or shine, and there was plenty of rain Saturday. The drizzle didn’t daunt the 300-some hearty travelers who waited to board the 1 p.m. ride.

Seating is first come, first served, so Derek and I were glad we snagged seats in “The Logger,” an enclosed coach on loan from the Spokane Railroad Historical Society.

Many came prepared with blankets and quilts, and chose the chilly seats because they offer better views than peering at the scenery through rain-streaked windows.

But no matter where you sit, the views are still spectacular.

The train runs on a historic railroad that’s one of the last short lines still operating. The track was built between 1907 and 1910 by Frederick Blackwell to transport people, logs, lumber and cement.

As we chugged along the Pend Oreille River, we saw hundreds of pilings from the long-defunct Dalkena Mill sprouting from the water. The pilings once held acres of logs. Now they provide perches for ospreys and eagles.

We traveled away from the river and across Highway 20 through forests and pastures. Sharp eyes can spot a variety of wildlife including coyotes, moose, bears, deer and turkeys.

The beautiful scenery and fresh air made us hungry, so after the ride we drove to Priest River, Idaho, and enjoyed a delicious meal at The Settlement Kitchen and Craft Tavern.

Who knew I’d have to travel to Idaho to sample my first watermelon radish? The colorful and tasty veggie was part of an appetizer featuring pumpkin hummus.

There’s still time for you to catch the train. The Scenic Pend Oreille River Train’s final excursions of the season are this weekend.

Bundle up and enjoy the ride, but beware of black-hatted, banana-toting bandits.

For more information about SPORT (Scenic Pend Oreille River Train Rides), visit sporttrainrides.com, or call (877) 525-5226.

Columns

Sitting Around

Three seconds.

That’s about how long it takes me to tell if a couch is comfortable.

My husband and I have spent the past two weekends sitting around. It wasn’t laziness that caused this loafing; it was the need for new furniture.

When our son, Zachary, told us he’d found an apartment and was moving out in early October, we offered him our living room set. It’s at least 10 years old, and despite rigorous use by us and our four sons, it’s held up pretty well.

Zach was pleased to take it, and we were pleased at the thought of updating our living room. That pleasure faded about five furniture stores into our search.

Turns out sofa-shopping isn’t nearly as much fun as couch-surfing, and I’m here to tell you that there are more than 50 shades of gray. A lot more.

We shopped everywhere, from big chains to small, locally owned stores. We knew what we didn’t want. No leather, no large overstuffed pieces and, ultimately, no gray. That was the easy part. Finding what we did want proved more challenging.

But first a word about pillows. If you want folks to purchase a spendy sofa why, oh why, do you cover it with pillows the size of Oregon, making it impossible to actually sit on?

I hope throw pillows are actually meant to be thrown, because I tossed more this weekend than a 10-year-old during a pillow fight at a sleepover.

Our customer service experience varied widely from overbearing to nonexistent to the Goldilocks happy medium of just right.

At two stores no one greeted us at all. At one store, a nice young woman followed us from couch to couch, taking surreptitious notes about our preferences. I finally had to tell her we’d like to discuss our purchase in private. Still, she was a fountain of information when we did have questions.

Knowing we’d quickly lose track of where we’d seen the furniture we liked, we photographed the most promising sets, noting the price and location.

I became the designated sitter, because after 33 years of marriage I know my husband’s comfort needs. If I felt the couch warranted a second opinion, Derek plopped down beside me and we evaluated the firmness of the support, the quality of the fabric, and the ease by which we could extricate ourselves.

By far the most interesting place we visited was Consign Furniture and Jewelry in Liberty Lake. If you’re in the market for dead animals to decorate your den, this is the place for you. They had everything from a ginormous elephant head to a taxidermic mountain lion pouncing on an unsuspecting Big Horn sheep.

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Desks, dining sets, beds and bookcases mingled with artwork, lamps and end tables. They also had lots of couches, but I was quickly distracted by a solid wood phone booth (phone included) and an amazing Wurtlitzer jukebox that came with a box of 45s.

Finally on Sunday, I put out a call on social media asking friends where they’d purchased their last living room set. Lo and behold, there were actually two stores we’d missed during our citywide search.

Within minutes of entering the first store, we discovered the sofas we’d been looking for. The helpful sales associate found we could get a better deal by ordering from the company online, and quickly placed the order for us. The delicious complimentary cookies offered at the entryway only sweetened the deal.

Our new furniture should arrive at the end of the month. Soon we’ll be able to sit around all weekend in our own home.