It’s always a bit surreal to be the interviewee instead of the interviewer, but I had fun chatting with Hara Allison on her podcast “See Beneath Your Beautiful.”
See Beneath Your Beautiful podcast is raw and intimate, sometimes funny and always entertaining. With new episodes every Saturday, Hara explores our loves, fears and hopes with a delicious combination of depth and lightness.
We chatteed about writing, parenting, grandparenting and lots of stuff in between.
You can click here https://bit.ly/3okAtTe to listen to the episode, or find it on any podcast streaming service.
There’s just no other way to describe what it’s like to hold your grandsons in your arms. Though it’s only been three and a half months since our last visit, toddlers grow and change with lightning speed.
When Derek, our youngest son, Sam, and I arrived at the twins’ new home in Newark, Ohio, earlier this month, we wondered if the boys would remember us.
We didn’t wonder long. Sam captured their reactions in a photo. Nick reached for me and buried his head on my shoulder, and Adam gleefully bounded into Derek’s arms. It was so thoughtful of Alex and Brooke to have twins, so each of us gets a boy to hold. And at 20 months, they’re definitely more boys than babies.
In fact, it seems I took more videos than pictures of them this trip because they’re always on the move. One afternoon, as we explored their new town, we decided to let them stroll around the courthouse square. But, just like their father at this age, these guys prefer running to walking.
After all that exertion, we needed to cool down, so we stopped for ice cream. Holding a toddler with an ice cream cone is every bit as messy and as fun as I remembered.
The twins enjoyed exploring the Airbnb home we rented and the wooden blocks we bought were a huge hit. They spent lots of time building block towers and had fun dumping the blocks out of the bucket and putting them back in again.
Speaking of cleaning up, Nick has a passion for sweeping. Every day, he grabbed the broom and made a circuit. Then he went back for the Swiffer. And then the mop. Those wood floors gleamed by the time he was done!
In the evenings we returned to our son’s home for dinner. The house sits on almost an acre and features an in-ground pool. Plenty of room for boys to roam when they get older, but on this visit, the grown-ups cooled off in the big pool while the little ones splashed in their kiddie pool on the gated deck under their mom’s watchful eye.
The days flew by, filled with play, Popsicles and naps, followed by evenings with barbecues and lots of laughter.
I was so delighted that though the twins are busy, active boys, they both enjoy cuddling. They also adored their Uncle Sam. It seems every time he sat down, a twin would run over and climb up on his lap.
Best of all, that snuggling made for perfect story times. As I mentioned in my previous column, I took a stack of board books for the boys with me. Derek gamely packed them in his bag, so I didn’t have to wear the same outfit the entire trip.
We plan one more visit this year before winter and before the twins’ second birthday. I’m already counting down the days – and picking out the books.
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.
“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.”
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.
If I’m ever included in Guinness World Records it will likely be for most times singing “The Wheels on the Bus” complete with hand motions.
It’s not the most scintillating song, but when it’s your grandson’s favorite, you will sing it to infinity and beyond because it makes him happy.
Earlier this month we visited our twin grandsons, Adam and Nick, in Ohio. We last saw them in October. It’s been a long five months, but we’ve been chatting with them via Skype almost every week. Perhaps “chatting” isn’t accurate. Derek blows raspberries, I sing “Wheels on the “Bus,” and we both wave a lot, but mostly we watch their busy bodies scoot, crawl, climb, toddle and lately run.
When we left them in October, Nick was just taking his first independent steps and Adam was thinking about it. Now at 16 months old Nick runs everywhere at full speed, and Adam is walking independently. In other words, we left babies and returned to find toddlers.
We hoped those Skype visits would ensure The World’s Most Beautiful Boys would remember us. All worries about that were banished the minute we walked into their living room. Adam’s delighted grin lit up the room, and Nick was so excited he giggled and did a happy dance.
As usual, we rented a nearby Airbnb, and our son dropped them off each day, and because it was spring break their big sister Farrah, 7, got to join us.
Like many of us since COVID-19 hit, Alex works from home. Brooke has to keep the twins entertained and out of Daddy’s hair in their two-bedroom townhouse.
Working from home with active toddlers isn’t ideal, but our son said he wouldn’t trade a minute of it. An unexpected pandemic benefit is that he hasn’t missed a moment of the twins’ first year.
They’re in the process of buying their first home, so by our next visit the kids will have a big backyard to explore.
Knowing how much I love holding babies, Derek cautioned me before we left.
“Don’t expect them to want to cuddle. They’re li’l dudes, not babies.”
When naptime arrived on our first full day with the boys, Derek snored on one end of the couch with Nick asleep in his arms, while Adam curled up in mine, sound asleep.
No cuddling, indeed.
Of course, they’re mostly on the go. We blew bubbles outside and walked to a nearby park to give them their first experience on a swing.
We also watched a lot of “Cocomelon” on Netflix. It’s a television show featuring big-eyed babies, and nursery rhymes and songs. I’m sure it’s very educational, but I’d rather sing “Wheels on the Bus” 99 times in a row. Honestly, J.J. and his family kind of creep me out.
But guess what? When it’s your grandsons’ favorite show, you watch it with them, especially when you get to cuddle them while doing so.
Thankfully, there was plenty of time to zoom toy cars across the coffee table and practice stacking big plastic Duplo blocks, and Nana Cindy always brings new books to read.
We even got to eat pizza with them and watch the Zags’ amazing win over UCLA.
All too soon, it was time to return home. Every time we say goodbye, it gets harder. It’s not much fun to have your only grandchildren on the opposite side of the country.
But as our plane taxied down the runway in Columbus, my blue mood lightened when I thought about how incredibly blessed we are that Adam and Nick, born seven weeks premature, are so healthy and strong.
Not everyone who longs to be a grandparent gets to be one.
Somewhere around 25,000 feet, my sadness turned to gratitude, and as Derek dozed next to me, I softly hummed “The Wheels on the Bus,” one more time.
Cindy Hval can be reached at email@example.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.
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.
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.
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.
My doorknobs and light switches have never been cleaner.
The banister absolutely gleams.
Four months into the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m working hard at counting my blessings, and having much-touched areas of our home that rarely got a wipe-down, sparkling is one of them.
With no end in sight to restrictions and shutdowns, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by daily helpings of bad news.
I still haven’t been able to visit my mother. If I’d known when I saw her in February how many months would pass before I could see her again, I would have moved her spring and summer clothes to the front of her closet, so she could easily find them.
“Getting dressed every day is hard when I can’t go anywhere,” she said. “But I’m not staying in my bathrobe.”
And I’d looked forward to a quick break out of town when Derek had to go to the Tri-Cities on business. Last summer, I lounged by the pool when he worked, and we visited wineries and enjoyed a river cruise when he was done.
When I called the hotel to make the reservation, I was told the hotel pool and all its restaurants were closed.
I stayed home while Derek traveled to COVID Central and back.
Such small complaints when compared to those who’ve been sick, or lost jobs, or loved ones because of the virus.
So, I’m committed to counting my blessings, even though a recent grocery store visit vexed me.
How the heck do you open those darn plastic produce bags without licking your finger first? I spent most of my shopping trip trying to open them. I even rubbed them between my hands, but all I got was wrinkly bags.
When I posted my lament on social media, a friend suggested swiping my finger across damp lettuce or celery.
I tried it on my next shopping trip. Success! It worked like a charm, but I’m sure the produce clerks wondered why I was fondling the lettuces without buying any. Also, this is why you should always, always, wash your produce at home.
On the same outing my irreverent sense of humor caused me some embarrassment when a woman across the aisle from me sneezed. At home, I’ve taken to saying “Corona” instead of “Bless you,” when someone sneezes. Luckily, my mask muffled my response, and hopefully her mask muffled her sneeze.
Also, I learned the hard way that folks can get somewhat panicky when you say you’re not going somewhere because you feel a bit “corona-y.”
One of the biggest complaints about COVID-19 restrictions is folks feeling stuck or trapped at home. This is where introverts like me have it made. I love being at home – especially when I have it all to myself. Our son has been back at work for the past month, and Derek’s business is essential, so now at least a couple of days a week I have stretches of solitude.
When I’m done with work, I take my daily walk, and then relax in our backyard gazebo. Then I harvest zucchini, radishes, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries from our garden. Soon there’ll be tomatoes, green beans, beets and carrots.
Our garden goodies fill our plates every Sunday when our three sons join us for supper – and since corona we’ve revived our family game night tradition.
Another coronavirus blessing is library curbside pick up.
I’ve always selected my books online and then picked them up at the library, but now I don’t even have to leave my car! It’s like a literary drive-thru.
While I am doing more in-person interviews for work, I still do a lot more phone interviews than before. The time saved on driving is a boon.
In fact, I actually picked up a new hobby – the daily crossword. My mom always did the newspaper puzzles and had books of crosswords, but I never felt like I had the time.
Now, I take the puzzle page with me out to the gazebo every afternoon. No New York Times in ink for me – just the Daily Commuter. It’s easy enough to finish quickly, which makes me feel accomplished and smart.
The daily puzzle reawakened my love for pencils. I hadn’t used a pencil since I was in college, and it’s such a delight to rediscover the joy of good old No. 2’s. Even better, the Chic and Shab shop on North Monroe has a whole line of pencils with edgy sayings etched on them.
The beautiful thing about pencils is that anything can be erased – mistakes, misspelled words, incorrect answers.
It’s really too bad 2020 wasn’t written in pencil.
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.”
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.”