Columns

To all the books I’ve loved before…

In my previous column, I wondered if a love of literacy was hardwired in our family DNA. All four of my sons are book lovers like me. I invited readers to share their bookish memories, and it seems that many of you also caught the reading bug young and have no desire to be cured.

Christy Himmelright of the Tri-Cities wrote “I have all the Little Golden Books that my parents bought and read to me. My very favorite was ‘All Aboard!’ about a train trip from home to see Grandma. The protagonist was a girl, and that was almost impossible to find in any adventure story. Also, it appeared that she was an only child (as I am), so identifying with her happened on a very personal level.”

Like me, Himmelright eagerly anticipated trips to the library.

“The best time was summer vacation when I could go to our little town library and check out the maximum number of books that I could read in two weeks. It seems that I was trudging back there often before the two weeks were up and loading up again with the next selection. I also participated in the summer reading contests, and clearly remember the ‘trail’ that wound through the Reading Forest. It started at the checkout desk and meandered along the top of the walls that showed above the box shelves. To go each time I went into the library and find my marker as it moved along the trail was a thrill that I still feel in my long-ago child’s heart.”

Her lifelong love of the written word endures.

“To this day, I have at least two or three books at my living room chair-side, and one on my nightstand for bedtime relaxation,” she wrote. “I cannot imagine life without books, especially the real ones of paper and binding and covers.”

Patricia Garvin of Spokane recalled the magical moment when words came alive for her.

“In 1948, I was in the first grade. We students had a workbook in which there was a story; we were to remove the pages, which folded on dotted lines, into a small booklet. I vividly recall sitting next to my mother and reading the story to her. I still see the line drawings and remember reading to her, ‘…and down the hill came Wee Woman.’ She was as delighted as I!”

Beverly Gibb of Spokane still has a copy of the first book she remembers her mother reading to her.

“My first reading experience was Mom reading me ‘Winnie the Pooh.’ We both loved Piglet the best,” she wrote. “My favorite books were ‘Anne of Green Gables.’ I’m guessing your boys didn’t read those!”

She guessed correctly. My sons didn’t embrace Anne, but on Christmas morning a couple of years ago, my oldest gave me the complete “Anne of Green Gables” collection. He knows how to delight his mama.

Sometimes literature love leads to book-custody issues. That’s what happened to Bernadette Powers of Helena.

She recalled parents joining the Weekly Readers Book Club, which delivered books directly to their door.

“I was in hog heaven getting books in the mail. I still have most of them including my all-time favorite, ‘Half Magic’ by Edward Eager,” she wrote. “The story is delightful and the illustrations are amazing. It also became a favorite of my son, Gannon. He appropriated it when he went off to college. When I went to visit him I appropriated it back. We’ve been stealing it back and forth ever since. He moved from Seattle to California a few years ago. There’s a small part of me that suspects he made the move so it would be harder for me to steal my book.”

Joan Becker, who grew up in Spokane, wrote of her eagerness to start first grade, so she could learn to read. Her best friend was a year older and would read comics to her as long as they were getting along, but if they disagreed? No more comics for Joan.

When she could decipher words by herself, the material the school provided proved disappointing.

“Dick and Jane stories comprised the love and hate relationship of others selecting my reading agenda,” she wrote. “After Dick and Jane made their debut, their interactions were way too repetitive to be captivating. I couldn’t wait to purchase my own comic books and go to the library.”

All who responded still retain their passion for the written word.

“As my 90th birthday approaches, I remember as a 9- or 10- year- old growing up in Capitol Hill in Seattle, going on the bus by myself downtown to the library. In those days there were no branch libraries, and it also seemed OK for a little girl to go alone on the bus,” wrote Muriel Rubens. “My parents read to me as I was growing up, as did my two older brothers and sister. I learned to read at an early age, and I loved it and haven’t stopped since,”

As I write, my suitcase sits open beside me. I’m packing for a trip to Ohio to see my twin grandsons, aka “The World’s Most Beautiful Boys.”

My husband glanced at the mound of stuff I intend to pack. Board books for the boys and a paperback for their big sister lay scattered among clothes. My own stack of reading material teetered nearby.

“You’re never going to fit all that in your suitcase,” he said.

He may be right.

However, one thing is certain, even if I have to wear the same outfit every day for a week; the books are coming with me.

Columns

Raising Readers

Hval boys

The photo tells the story.

“Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss opens across Alex’s lap. He beams because he’s the designated reader. Ethan clutches 6-week-old Sam. Ethan smiles because he’s the chosen baby-holder. With neither baby nor book to hold, Zach sits glumly chin in hand, pondering his new role as middle child.

As far as I can tell, it’s the earliest picture with all four of our sons together – and of course, someone is holding a book.

Lest you worry about Zach, another snapshot shows he’s finally achieved story-reader status. A toddler Sam leans against him as Zach reads, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

Sam and Zach

Bookish moms tend to have bookish kids, which led to unforeseen consequences. More on that later.

Perhaps a love of reading is genetic, imprinted in our DNA. All I know is my parents were readers and my siblings are readers. As soon as we could print our names we all got library cards.

I still remember the thrilling moment when I realized I could read. I huddled in the children’s area of the South Hill Library with a picture book in my lap. Suddenly, the letters became words. I was reading! I was reading “Fun with Dick and Jane!” I haven’t been without a book nearby since.

Few things are as magical as picking up a good book and finding yourself transported to another world, another time, another life.

From the moment I knew I was expecting, I read to my unborn children. I wasn’t hoping for a baby Einstein, I just wanted them to learn the rhythm and flow of language.

Cloth books and board books filled our nursery – as indispensable as the stacks of diapers and wipes on the changing table.

Bedtime rituals always included stories, songs and prayers – each offering a different experience of the wonder of words.

As the boys grew, storytime at the Shadle and later Indian Trail libraries became a weekly outing we all eagerly anticipated. Soon my sons could sound out words, choose books by themselves, and discover favorite authors and series independently.

Even as the three oldest approached adolescence and outgrew the bedtime ritual, I’d frequently read aloud to them after dinner. When Sam discovered Patricia Polacco books and brought home “Pink and Say” from the school library, I read it to the family. The book is based on a true story of two teenage boys, one Black and one white, who fought during the Civil War. Every single one of us cried at the ending – even the teenagers.

That’s the power of reading aloud – it offers a shared experience that television and movies cannot replicate.

Often the boys would read to me, especially Ethan and Sam. In fact, Sam 21, and I recently read “A Monster Calls” aloud together as he prepared a lesson plan on the book for a college class. He loves literature so much; he’s halfway through earning a master’s degree in English at EWU.

All of our adult sons are readers, which resulted in the aforementioned consequences – they tell me about books they’ve enjoyed and loan them to me. Now, a stack of their recommendations teeters next to my pile of library books.

When I mentioned I wanted to read “Talking to Strangers” by Malcolm Gladwell, Ethan said, “I have it. You can borrow it.”

Zach read a book about modern media he thought I’d enjoy and brought it over. Derek started reading it before I got to it.

Sam buys books like the printed page might grow obsolete. My son-stack grew when he added another book by Patrick Ness, the author of “A Monster Calls,” and a book of short stories by Ted Chiang.

With twin toddler sons, Alex doesn’t have much time to read, but he loved Stephen King’s “11/22/63,” so I’m currently 100 pages into the 849-page volume.

I couldn’t have imagined all those Dr. Seuss books ago, that my grown-up sons would aid and abet my reading addiction, but at this rate my to-read stack won’t shrink any time soon. And that’s a consequence I’m happily enjoying.

Columns

Wedding Gown Memories

I felt like a princess on my wedding day.

My white, satin gown billowed around me. Its high collar and scoop neckline trimmed in lace, with a dozen satin-covered buttons down the back, and more along the sleeves. Yards of tulle swirled from the Juliet cap that anchored my veil.

It was perfect for a late March wedding, and even better I found the Jessica McClintock gown at Frederick & Nelson where I worked, so I got to use my employee discount.

If there’s one day in every woman’s life where she feels absolutely beautiful – it’s her wedding day. Alas, like Cinderella, midnight comes for all of us, and our beautiful gowns become memories.

Some women carefully pack away their dresses to save for future generations, some donate them to programs like Angel Gowns, and the more practical among us, sell them.

After I had my third son, I simply couldn’t imagine why that gown was still in my closet. We were always strapped for cash, so I took it to a consignment store and brought home $75 when it sold. The veil I kept. I reasoned that perhaps veils weren’t as trendy as dresses, and maybe I’d have a daughter-in-law who’d want to wear it.

In my previous column, I invited readers to share their wedding gown stories, and share they did.

“I still have my wedding dress from 1990,” said Lyn Mills. “I’m saving it in hopes that my daughter or one of my relatives will want to wear it as is or remake it for their wedding some day.”

Donna Scripture’s two daughters, Joan and Mary, wore the gown she purchased at the Bon Marche in 1956.

“Mary is short, but she wanted to wear it, so my neighbor, Pat, took the whole gown apart, made the alterations and put it back together,” Scripture said.

Beth Viren wrote, “I hand-sewed my wedding dress back in 1974. I was a senior at Whitworth College and was living in a dorm. The pattern was a very complicated Vogue pattern with full skirt and a train, made of crepe backed ivory satin, and had 36 tucks in the front and back of the bodice with fabric covered buttons, sheer fluffy sleeves with satin cuffs.”

When she made a mistake, her grandmother came to the rescue from Seattle and helped her finish the gown.

Viren and her husband recently downsized, and she came across her gown. She called Marcella Davis, owner of Marcella’s Bridal.

“She said that she actually takes old wedding dresses and hangs on to them,” Viren wrote. “She says that whenever she has a customer who comes in looking for their own special dress, and she knows ‘they may need a little extra attention,’ she goes to her stash of dresses. I loved that idea, and she assured me she would find the perfect person to be able to wear my dress again.”

Tamara Dees has a special plan for her gown.

“My wedding gown will be used to line my mother’s coffin. My mother is pleased, and I am honored,” she wrote.

Sandra Zikiye-Jones wore a lace dress that had been made in England.

“It had an attached train of ruffles, and the sleeves were long and pointed over my hands.”

When Eileen Mabee married in 1972, she wore the gown her mother wore in 1937.

“The dress was made by a friend, Julia Tobias, who was just beginning to design clothes in Omaha, Nebraska,” Mabee wrote. “Julia went on to become a sought-after couture designer in Denver and had her own boutique. Her dresses are in Denver fashion museums. I still have the dress, and I’m sure it will stay in the family.”

Barbara Stimers also had an original design.

In 1970, she went bridal shopping with her parents in Toronto.

“All the dresses were so fancy, and my dad thought they were too expensive,” she recalled.

Seeing she couldn’t find what she wanted, the two ladies who owned the shop stepped in. They ask her what she liked and quickly sketched up a design.

The result? An empire waist gown of white and off-white linen with knotted fabric buttons on the back and the sleeve cuffs.

“I borrowed my sister’s long veil and wore daisies in my hair,” Stimers said. “I still have my dress.”

Isabelle Green’s original wedding gown was lost before she could wear it.

“The Spokesman-Review reported a fire at Arthur’s Bridal Store in downtown Spokane in early 1956. I read the headline at my dorm in Pullman on the WSU campus,” she wrote.

Her wedding dress was in the shop and was lost in the fire.

“They allowed me to choose any gown I wanted to replace it, and since my wedding was not until July of 1956, I had plenty of time to recover. To my knowledge not one customer was without a gown on their special day. The store flew in gowns from all over and made sure every wedding went on without delay,” Green said.

Whether we’ve kept them, sold them, or donated them, memories of our wedding gowns don’t dull or fade like the fabric they were made of.

Instead, they remind us of that magical day when we felt like royalty, and happily ever after seemed guaranteed.

More photos at https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2021/jun/10/front-porch-wedding-gown-memories/

Angel Gown update

Peggy Mangiaracina and RoxAnn Walker are still accepting dresses for the Angel Gown program. They take donated wedding dresses and create gowns for stillborn infants or babies who die soon after birth.

If you’d like to donate your gown please email spokaneangelgowns@yahoo.com

Columns

My Outlook’s Getting Brighter

I don’t like change.

I like reliable routines, familiar faces, and grocery stores that don’t rearrange their aisles every few months.

I’ve kept the same husband for 36 years, still live in the house we bought in 1993, and use a paper planner and a wall calendar with cute kitten photos to track my days.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Then my email broke, and I couldn’t fix it.

It was a catastrophic computer event that I couldn’t blame on my kids, since I’m the only user of the device.

I’ve used the same email program since before my youngest son was born. My current email address is only my second. (My first was an AOL account. Yes, that’s how old I am.)

If I just used email as an old-fashioned way to stay in touch with folks, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But I use it to track every single story and project on my to-do list.

My newspaper articles are assigned and filed via email, and I schedule interviews and bill clients through it. Without it, I might as well be banging away on a Smith Corona, stuffing envelopes and looking for stamps.

Tech support (my husband) resuscitated the program a couple of times. I’d start the day bright with hope, only to have it fail repeatedly. When you have more than a dozen people waiting for you to schedule their pandemic project story, you really don’t want to lose their names, addresses and the descriptions of their projects.

“The problem is you have way more email than Juno is designed for, and the company hasn’t updated their program in forever,” Derek said. “It’s just no longer sustainable.”

I gasped.

“You mean I can’t use dchval@juno anymore? What will happen to the hundreds of emails in my folders?”

Derek told me not to panic until he did some research. Meanwhile, I panicked anyway and frantically backed up several years of mail. OK, more than several. My earliest saved message is from 2009. But. I really need that note.

“I’ve got good news and bad news,” Derek announced the following day. “There’s a program I can buy that will allow me to save your Juno email, and you can still use that address.”

“That’s wonderful!” I said throwing my arms around him. “What’s the bad news?”

“You’re going to have to learn how to use Outlook,” he said.

Outlook is a personal information manager software system from Microsoft. Friends and professional contacts have urged me to use it for years, but I’ve never seen the need. My trusty paper planner and antiquated email provider served me well, until now.

Knowing my propensity to ask, “Is it fixed, yet?” repeatedly whenever he works on my computer, Derek wisely chose a time when I’d be away from my home office for the day.

When I returned, he was working in the backyard.

“Oh, no!” I said. “Is my problem unfixable?”

He grinned.

“Nope. I finished hours ago. Your email is up and running, and I don’t think you lost a thing.”

You see why I keep him? He’s an absolute hero. His heroics, however, only go so far.

“Sam can show you how to use Outlook,” he said.

Our future-college-professor son patiently showed me how to configure my address book, how to send and receive mail, and where to find my folders. That’s when we discovered one of the largest folders had duplicated contents, and another folder was a jumble of old and new contacts and projects, but most important, everything was there.

Obviously, I’ve been saving way too many emails, so now a couple of times a day I poke through a folder and delete items. Sometimes it turns into quite a stroll down memory lane, as I read encouraging notes from former editors and warm letters from readers. But I am resolute in my purging, even though Derek said I no longer have to worry about my email crashing.

I even learned a new trick. I can now categorize my emails and tasks with pretty, little colored flags. Though I’m still figuring out this new-to-me program, I already wonder why I ever balked at using it.

In fact, you could say my Outlook is getting brighter every day.

———

Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com. Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available locally at Auntie’s Bookstore, Barnes & Noble locations and on Amazon.

All Write, Columns, War Bonds

Diminished by their loss, bolstered by their legacy

On a chilly November afternoon, I said goodbye to another veteran featured in my book “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.”

James Loer died on Oct. 17. His wife, Helen, preceded him in death four years earlier.

Just as I’d done at her service, I read their chapter “From Sailor to Preacher” at his funeral.

The author at James Loer’s funeral, November 2020.

Theirs was a simple story of plain people who worked hard and served every community they lived in with quiet devotion. As James said in our first interview, “I can tell you right now this isn’t going to be romantic!”

Indeed, romantic might be too flowery a word to describe their lifelong bond. They married in 1948 in a small ceremony at the home of their pastor while James was attending Bible school.

He’d felt called to the ministry after surviving several harrowing skirmishes when he served in the Navy during World War II. The 13 battle stars on the cap he always wore told more of story than James liked to discuss.

During his funeral, the pastor, used a flag, a hammer, a Bible, and a seed to tell James’ story. The flag for the country he loved, the hammer for the work he did as a carpenter, the Bible for the God he served and the seed that represented his farmer’s heart, as well as all that he’d sown into lives during his many years as a pastor.

At 96, James Billy Loer had lived a full, rich life, and longed to be reunited with his bride.

And then, on the first day of the New Year, another “War Bonds” reunion took place.

Zelma Garinger joined her beloved husband of 65 years, David, who passed away in 2014, before “War Bonds” was published.

Unlike James Loer, David Garinger was an avowed romantic.

In fact, this is how he described the first time he kissed Zelma on Valentine’s Day 1947.

“I had my arm around Zelma, sitting close. I smelled her sweetness. Her dark shining hair and sparkling blue eyes worked their magic on me. Our lips met for the very first time … it seemed so right. Truly she was my Valentine.”

David had served in the Marine Corps during World War II, and after returning home and marrying Zelma, he became a pastor, and later a master carpenter and contractor. He loved art, music, poetry and most of all, Zelma. Each morning, he’d deliver a cup of coffee to her bedside.

The years without him had been long. Zelma had chronic respiratory issues and suffered with chronic back pain, but she still made it to a reading of “War Bonds” at the South Hill Library in 2015.

Zelma Garinger with the author, 2015

After Zelma’s death, her daughter, Janice, wrote me a beautiful letter, sharing memories of her mom.

Zelma had returned to college and earned a teaching degree when Becky, her youngest daughter was little.

Janice wrote, “During hard times teaching children of migrant workers in California’s Central Valley, she shared with us that all her efforts were worth it if she could make a difference in the life of even one child. She was always more than just their teacher. She prayed for them and quietly reached out when there was need. Many books and supplies were personally purchased to enrich her students.

We vividly remember a tiny first-grader who was rescued many nights from her alcoholic mother, then put to bed in our parents’ home, so she could attend school the next day.”

Reading Janice’s memories of Zelma and hearing the pastor speak of James Loer’s life of service at his funeral, brought home just how much we lose as a society when another member of the Greatest Generation leaves us.

The lives they led filled with hard work, hope, courage and sacrifice are simply irreplaceable. We would do well to honor their memories by following the examples they set.

I think the inscription on James’ headstone beautifully sums up both he and Zelma’s lives.

“Life’s work well done.”

All Write, Columns

Readers make writer’s job enjoyable

While tidying up end-of-the-year paperwork, I dislodged an overflowing folder from the top of the filing cabinet.

It was my reader feedback folder, filled with printed emails, cards and letters I’ve received from newspaper readers this year.

Sifting through them, I’m amazed anew at how columns pounded out from my windowless, basement home office, find their way to readers across the region and prompt response.

Before COVID-19, I did a fair number of writing workshops and speaking events, and at almost every one I’m asked, “Where do you get the ideas for your column?”

After all these years, I still haven’t found a pithy answer, because writing a personal column is well, pretty personal. That’s why it’s such a joy to find something I’ve written resonates with others.

Thumbing through the notes, I found a response to a column I’d written when I discovered what the phrase “Netflix and Chill” means in contemporary culture.

The note was from Dean, 73, who said, “You rascal, you!”

I’ve never been called a rascal before. It was epic!

An email from Stan, a fellow author, and former teacher, said, “You really know your vowels and consonants.”

I immediately forwarded that one to my editor, whom I’m sure has wondered at times.

A column about anticipation drew this response from Gina, who said, “I do have the feeling of your words in my soul today.”

No writer could wish for more.

Publishing a segment of my quarantine diary prompted a comparison to Erma Bombeck that absolutely thrilled me.

When I bemoaned in print that the shutdown order had limited my wardrobe to gray yoga pants or gray sweatpants, Bob wrote, “I look forward to Thursday’s for your articles. Please don’t ever stop. Stay healthy and wear whatever you want at home.”

I’m confident, Bob would approve of today’s usual deadline attire – a fluffy pink bathrobe and matching bunny slippers.

Sometimes reader mail offers important validation on critical issues. When I wrote of my horror at discovering my husband had used MY MONDAY MUG, Marcia wrote, “By the way, the mug thing made sense to me.”

I forwarded that one to Derek.

He didn’t reply, but he hasn’t used my Monday mug since.

Cards and letters sent to me at the newsroom are now forwarded to me at home.

When I wrote about a benefit of pandemic life was discovering the joy of the newspaper crosswords, a thoughtful reader enclosed a pencil with her card.

An elegant typewritten note on gold-trimmed stationery proved delightful, especially since it was written in response to a column about my cats.

Arlene wrote, “When there is so much sadness in these difficult times, you brightened my day on October 22 with your cleverly written article about Thor and Walter Scott.”

I don’t know if the column was clever, but I do know that my cats are.

Jan sent an email that made me smile.

“Thanks for your column – one of the few items I can BELIEVE IN THE SPOKESMAN!! (caps courtesy of the writer). Hang in there.”

I’m hanging in there, and I hope Jan is, too.

Bombeck once wrote, “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.”

It’s a line I’m privileged to walk twice a month.

In fact, the column that generated the most feedback this year blurred those lines a bit.

I wrote about my first masked, socially distant outdoor visit with my 89-year-old mom. She lives in a retirement facility just blocks from my home, but six months had passed since I’d been able to see her in person.

Readers shared their own stories of being separated from family members during the pandemic.

Bill wrote he’d been apart from his bride of 53 years for 22 weeks.

“If some of my friends read your article, they may now have a better understanding of what I’m experiencing,” he said.

Humans weren’t made to live in isolation. This year more than ever, I value the feedback of faithful newspaper readers.

Thank you for reminding me that even in the midst of a global pandemic, our stories can still connect us.

Here’s to a brighter, better, and healthier New Year.

Columns

Sir Walter Scott’s Work Life

Sir Walter Scott, 15 months, takes his responsibilities seriously.

When you’re the junior feline in the family and in charge of entertainment, mischief and cuddles, it’s a full-time job and then some.

Knowing that Thor, the senior tabby in the clan, keeps a scornful eye on him, Walter adheres to a strict daily schedule.

His first job of the day is to assist Thor in obtaining breakfast. Around 7:30 a.m., they take their positions outside my bedroom door and commence polite requests for food. If none is forthcoming, Thor ratchets up the volume and intensity, while Walter sticks his paws under the door and grabs at the carpet. If that doesn’t work, they take turns scratching and banging on the door.

When I emerge, they both enter manic mode, careening through the house and dashing around the kitchen table. Then comes the wrestling.

I have to feed them in separate rooms, because Thor will wolf down his breakfast and finish Walter’s, too, and Walter will just sit and sadly watch his food disappear. Though he passively lets Thor take charge of food once it’s served, before it appears is another matter. As I dish up their kibble, Walter pounces on Thor, attempting epic takedowns.

Thor is a lover, not a fighter, so it’s a good thing he’s bigger and has a longer reach. While Walter sizes up the best way to pin him, Thor bats him away. Undaunted, Walter stretches up into full Godzilla mode and tackles. Thor hisses, which scares both of us.

I’m not sure why Walter decided this was his job, but Thor is not thrilled to find himself headlining these twice-daily bouts.

Walter’s next self-appointed chore of the day is sweeter – morning cuddles with me.

I return to bed after feeding them, because I mean, it’s 7:30 (or 8, but still). By this time, Derek is getting ready for work, so Walter has me all to himself. He jumps up on the bed, lays his head next to mine on my pillow and curls up in my arms. He purrs contentedly, while kneading his sharp little claws under my chin. Usually, he falls asleep and sometimes so do I.

Morning cuddles with Mom

We take turns deciding when it’s time to get out of bed. If I don’t have a deadline or an appointment, I doze until Walter brings me a toy and pats my face to let me know it’s playtime. If I get up first, I bring my coffee and my phone back to bed and check emails and messages. Walter fetches a toy because playtime is next on his agenda.

He usually brings a small white mouse with a rattle and bats it around until I throw it down the hall. Then he tears off and brings it back. Walter is a fetch champion until he gets bored.

After I’m ready to face the day, Walter follows me to work in my downstairs office. His favorite thing is stalking the printer and waiting for it to whir to life. He doesn’t grab the paper, he just likes the hunt.

He takes his editorial responsibilities seriously and prefers to plant himself in front of my screen or on my keyboard.

Obviously, this is not an ideal working situation, at least not for me. I repeatedly scoop him up and put him on the floor until he gets the hint and wanders off to nap.

Walter, the editor

I’m usually out in the afternoon, so Walter takes advantage of my absence to forage for carbs. I’ve previously written about his carb addiction, and I’m sad to report he’s had a relapse. We’ve taken to storing our bread in the microwave and securing any open chips, rolls or baked goods in a cupboard he can’t open. All was well until one afternoon when I went to the pantry for dinner ingredients and found a bag of barbecue potato chips scattered on the floor.

It seems Sam had left the shopping bags on the floor instead of putting the items on the shelves, and Walter got the munchies. He tore open the bag, sampled a few chips, but evidently didn’t care for their tang.

Bedtime brings a nightly dilemma.

My husband likes to sleep with me. So does Walter. I’m usually in bed first, so Walter saunters in and makes himself comfortable. Then Derek arrives.

“Okay, buddy, time to go,” he says.

Walter rolls over on his back and looks at Derek. Upside-down kitty is universally irresistible, but Derek is made of sterner stuff.

Upside down kitty fails to impress Dad

“Night, night, Walter, out you go,” he says.

Walter stretches, then curls up next to me.

Finally, Derek scoops him up and takes him to the living room.

Just as we turn off the light, we hear a faint scratching at the door and the saddest, most forlorn meows.

“Go to sleep, Walter,” Derek says.

And eventually he does. After all, he knows he has a full slate of responsibilities awaiting him in the morning.

Columns

My Corona Diary

Unlike many writers, I don’t journal. I write for a living, so by the end of the day I’m all out of words.

However, we’re living in extraordinary times, and frankly since the governor issued the stay-home order, I seem to have a bit more time, and a bit more difficulty keeping track of it. Jotting journal notes seems like a good way to commemorate this unprecedented era, or at least help me track the days of the week.

Here are a few excerpts from my quarantine diary.

Stay Home Day One: Tightening the belt on my bathrobe, I slip my feet into my bunny slippers, grab a cup of coffee, and make the morning commute to my downstairs office. In other words, it’s just like every deadline morning I’ve had for the past 15 years.

Day Three: As the designated shopper, I venture out to forage for food. I’m an introvert, so I adore the 6-foot distance guidelines and the taped X’s that mark where to wait with your cart. One store has the cashiers back away from the register while you swipe your debit card. Push cart up. Back away. Unload cart. Back away. Swipe card, cashier backs away. It’s like the shopping Hokey Pokey. I wanted to “shake it all about,” but I settled for “turning myself around.”

Day Five: Having an ample flour/sugar supply on hand I begin baking in earnest. Chocolate chip cookies, Texas sheet cake, banana bread. Though my men folk consume the bulk of it, I start to worry about my own bulk. I’m thankful for the lovely weather and my well-established walking routine.

Day Seven: I’ve worn nothing but yoga pants for a week, so I take a pair of jeans out of my closet just to make sure I can still button them. Success!

Day Nine-ish: I apologize to Derek for being annoyed with him earlier this year when he bought two Heritage pigs and half a cow from a local farmer. We’ve got plenty of pork chops, sausage and steak in the freezer, but it’s time to trek to Costco to buy the essentials: jelly beans, peanut butter whiskey and salted caramel chocolates.

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Day Eleventy-five: What fresh hell is this? My hair salon isn’t considered an essential business? I peer into the mirror at my overgrown bangs. Then I phone a friend. “Talk me down! I’ve got scissors and Cousin Itt bangs!”

She reminds me of the Great Hair Hack of 2013, and asks if she needs to call Derek or one of the kids to hide the scissors from me.

Day 666: Mother Nature has turned her back on us – snow, hail, rain and an earthquake.

“Did you feel that? My desk was shaking!” I said to my son, Sam.

“I didn’t feel anything. You’re probably having a stroke,” he replied.

Day Something: Desperate times call for desperate measures. Horrible walking weather and a shutdown gym means I have to exercise at home. I dig out my Jill Ireland and Richard Simmons workout videos. The next day I’m incredibly sore.

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“I can’t even sweat to the oldies,” I tell Derek. “No way can I do ‘Buns of Steel.’”

“That’s OK, honey,” he says. “I prefer buns of cushiness anyway.”

We are still married.

The day after whatever day that was: In the darkened bedroom I decide to try on my jeans again. I reach into the closet and grab a pair. They slide on effortlessly. In fact, I’m swimming in them. I’ve done the impossible! I’ve actually lost weight in the midst of quarantine!

I flip the light switch.

I’m wearing Derek’s jeans.

Days later: Panic sets in. Who cares about toilet paper – I’m down to three library books! Then I remember my nightstand is chock-full of books I either haven’t read or want to read again. Also, we have three overflowing bookcases. Crisis averted. Panic wasted.

Another day: Everyone on social media is posting about wearing their jammie pants all day. I’ve never owned pajamas. Choosing between gray yoga pants or gray sweatpants is getting old. I open a tab on my browser, but quickly close it when Derek walks in. He may like cushy buns, but I don’t want him to catch me googling flannel.

Apocalypse Day: Pulling my hair back into a now necessary ponytail, I decide to use a hair clip to get my bangs out of my eyes. That’s when I notice my untended eyebrows edging toward catastrophic caterpillarlike configuration. Salon shutdowns mean no access to my aesthetician with her handy hot wax.

From the far reaches of the bathroom cabinet, I pull out an old hot wax kit. My hair keeps slipping into my eyes and I realize hot wax and overgrown bangs are a bad combination. My fate is sealed. Taking a deep breath, I pick up the scissors.

Some may bemoan the extension of the stay-home order. Not me. I’m hoping by May 4, my hacked-off bangs will be long enough to hide what I did to my eyebrows.

All Write

Children’s Author Donates First Book Proceeds to Feed Out-of-School Kids

What do you do when your debut children’s novel is released during a pandemic?
If you’re my nephew, Jake Burnett, you  find a way to use the launch to help hungry kids.

Jake and his publisher are donating 100% of of the novel’s proceeds through April 30th to the Food Bank of Eastern & Central North Carolina (https://foodbankcenc.org/).

I’m incredibly proud of my nephew. Read more about the book in the press release below and please consider purchasing The Chaos Court. You’ll be helping launch a fabulous book and feeding hungry kids. What could be better?

RALEIGH, NC—Like most of us, Jake Burnett didn’t expect to have his world turned upside down by a pandemic. His first children’s novel, The Chaos Court, was scheduled for release this month from start-up publisher South Window Press.

“I was running in a dozen different directions,” Burnett says, “figuring out how to do a launch party, a book tour, school visits.”

Then COVID-19 hit.

Schools are closed. Book signings are off. Social distancing is the hot new thing.

“My first reaction was to put it all on hold,” Burnett continues. “But, weird as it sounds, I knew my heroine Patience Fell wouldn’t stand for that kind of thing. She’d want to do something to help people.”

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Patience is a lowly 12-year-old servant girl who uncovers an ancient conspiracy of fairies to tear down her town. No one else stands up to them, so she decides to fight by herself—armed only with a kitchen broom.

“It’s a story about being brave in the face of the unknown. About doing what you can, where you are, with what you’ve got,” Burnett explains.

School closures threaten school lunch programs and the students who depend on those lunches. So that’s why Burnett decided to act. He and South Window Press are donating 100% of the novel’s proceeds through April 30th to the Food Bank of Eastern & Central North Carolina (https://foodbankcenc.org/).

“Books are food for the mind,” Burnett says, “but first you have to feed the body. No kid—no person—should have to go hungry. I’m proud to be able to support the great work the Food Bank does.”

The Chaos Court is available from Amazon March 20 (https://www.amazon.com/Chaos-Court-Whosebourne-Chronicles/dp/1734664207/). Stay tuned at http://www.southwindowpress.com/ for bookstore availability as the current situation develops.

Jake Burnett is also available for remote school visits (contact information at: http://jakeburnett.com/contact/).

All Write

Goodreads Giveaway: Virgil Wander

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I’m sure the neighbors heard my excited whoop when I found out I’d won a Goodreads Giveaway copy of “Virgil Wander” by Leif Enger!

His novel “Peace Like a River” is on my top ten favorite books list, and I was in the audience when he visited Whitworth University in 2004.

I’m so excited to dive into his latest novel! Review to follow.

Have you ever won received a Goodreads Giveaway book?