Columns

Missing Milo

He joined our family on a beautiful spring evening. Nine years later, he left us on a cold November morning.

None of us have gotten used to the silence his absence left behind.

Milo James, a svelte tuxedo cat, was our family’s first pet – unless you count sea monkeys and goldfish.

We’d intended to adopt an older female cat. Preferably a white, fluffy, princess-y type feline, because I’d grown tired of being the only girl in our house.

But a hyperactive ball of dusty gray fluff caught my eye at the pet adoption event. He was literally bouncing off the walls.

“My goodness!” I said. “This little guy needs Ritalin.”

He jumped. He hopped. He spun in circles. In short, he was just like the rest of the boys in my house.

“No,” Derek said. “Not that one.”

I dutifully looked at the other cats, but I couldn’t help wondering if all Milo’s frantic activity was just a desperate plea for attention.

“I want to hold him,” I said.

“Not a good idea,” Derek replied.

But a store employee unlocked Milo’s cage. I picked him up, fully expecting him to squirm, or scratch, or climb up my hair, but instead he laid his head on my shoulder and sighed.

“Let’s go pick out a bed for our new cat,” Derek told the boys.

That playful kitten grew into a sleek, bossy cat who quickly took charge of the household. He was a creature of order and habit. He expected breakfast to be on time, at the same time every morning, and the ruckus he raised if it wasn’t, was impossible to sleep through.

When it was bedtime, all I had to say was, “Night night, Milo,” and he ran downstairs to the boy’s room he’d chosen as his own.

He never slept in that fancy cat bed. Not once. Why would he when the other beds in the house were bigger and contained warm humans to snuggle with?

Milo appointed himself the household greeter. His was the first face each of us saw when we returned from work or school.

Milo James (2)

But he did have some less charming habits.

He was a committed and dedicated swiper, and he focused his attention on my desk. Anything left unsecured was fair game. Most mornings I come down to my desk and find my notebooks, calendar, pens, post-it notes and mouse on the floor.

Sam would catch him in the act and yell, “Milo! Leave Mom’s desk alone!”

Milo would gaze at him, unblinking, and proceed to knock everything to the floor.

He was also a prodigious and sloppy sneezer. Few things are more disgusting than stepping on a spot of cat snot in your bare feet first thing in the morning.

For someone with sneezing issues, he was mightily offended if anyone in his vicinity did the same. A sneeze from one of us prompted a loud yowling lecture, followed by an annoyed exit.

He didn’t like change of any kind. Re-arranging the furniture elicited anxious mutterings, so imagine his reaction seven years ago when we brought home a tiny tabby kitten named Thor.

Milo sulked for days. He hid under our bed and refused to come out, until hunger finally made slink downstairs.

Thor became his devoted, annoying acolyte, and Milo eventually tolerated his presence.

Two weeks ago Milo got sick. Really sick. I rushed him to the vet and was told his bladder was completely blocked. Urinary problems are common in boy cats who only eat dry food, and Milo turned up his nose at wet food or treats. He was a stubborn creature of habit.

His illness resulted in a four-night stay at the Pet Emergency Hospital. He seemed to rally, and we brought him home on a Monday evening.

He made his rounds. Cuddled with each of us, and spent the night on the couch curled up with Thor. But in the morning he was worse. Much worse. He hid under Zach’s bed or in his laundry basket. He refused to eat.

A miserable week passed, with daily trips to the vet. It was too much for Milo, who hated any kind of disruption to his schedule.

He grew silent. We grew sad.

And one evening the four of us made the choice to let him go. It was an agonizing decision, but Milo let us know he was done. He was sick. He was tired. He wanted to go.

So, on a Friday morning we gathered around him in the vet’s office. We held him. Kissed him. Told him how much we loved him.

He laid his head in my hand as the vet gave him the first injection. My face was the last thing he saw and the last thing he heard was my voice telling him what a good boy he was.

Turns out Milo didn’t have nine lives. He only had one. And we are forever grateful that he spent it with us.

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All Write, TV

Of cats and conference calls

This week’s Front Porch segment is bittersweet. It features Milo, my tuxedo cat and the embarrassment he caused me during a business call.

The episode was taped last month. Sadly, Milo passed away this week, so he missed his network debut on Spokane Talks on Fox 28.

But I doubt he would have been interested. Milo was very difficult to impress.

Click here to watch this week’s segment.

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All Write, TV

In Which I Run Around and Thor Makes His Television Debut

IMG_20181003_180928Whew! TV is hard work!

In this recent Front Porch segment on Fox28 Spokane, I tell about the time I accidentally went for a run.

Speaking of exercise, my tubby tabby Thor makes his network television debut in this episode.

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Click here to watch the whole sordid story and tune in to Spokane Talks Sunday, October 7 to hear about my encounter with the PC Police at the grocery store!

Columns

A Rose by any other name is Henry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samuel Kristian has had some experience with this.

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

Our current cats are Milo James and Thor Hyerdahl.

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

His response to my suggested fix?

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

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

Terry would not budge.

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

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

Terry was unswayed.

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

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

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

Colleague Pia Hallenberg weighed in.

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

Now that’s a great cat name.

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

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

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

I liked Rose better.

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

Columns

Looking Ahead at an Empty Nest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your finances will be more stressed than ever.

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

They won’t call at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com.

Columns

Real? Fake? The great tree debate continues.

Dazzled, I gazed at the 7-foot pine trimmed with glittering lights that switched from colored to white with the flip of a switch.

“Isn’t it gorgeous?” my husband enthused.

I prodded the prickly branches, testing their strength. In a surreal almost out-of-the-body moment, I heard my voice as if from a great distance.

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I like it. I think I’m ready.”

Derek beamed. He’s been lobbying for an artificial tree for years, but the boys and I have been unwilling to compromise our Christmas cheer. They have fond memories of traipsing through deep snow out in Green Bluff to find the perfect fir. When they got too busy to devote a day to tree-fetching, they happily agreed to spend an hour with their dad at our neighborhood tree lot.

But when Zachary moves to Nashville this spring, we’ll lose our designated tree-picker. Zach has the gift of the perfect pick. From forest, to farm, to tree lot, he’s always been able to discover a symmetrically pleasing pine – one that’s just the right height and width, with branches that will bear heavier ornaments and no unsightly holes to hide.

Derek rushed to get a cart before I could change my mind. He didn’t rush fast enough. Thoughts of our third son gave me pause.

“Wait,” I said. “We should talk with the boys, first.”

Sighing, he put the cart back.

It was a good thing too, because Zach was horrified at the thought.

“This is probably my last Christmas at home,” he said. “You can get a fake tree when I leave.”

His younger brother sighed.

“Great. I’ll be the kid who gets to pull a tree out of a box every year,” Sam muttered.

I knew we’d made the right call when the three of them came home with a stunning natural beauty. Our home filled with the glorious smell of pine.

Then we heard a slurping noise.

“Thor!” Derek yelled. “Quit drinking the tree water!’

Thor is a connoisseur of fine water. Nevermind that he has an actual cat water fountain that continually splashes fresh water into his bowl. No, Thor prefers more exotic refreshment. The bathroom sink is his preferred source of liquid, until the Christmas tree arrives. Then he is obsessed with drinking pine-scented water from the tree stand.

At first, we were sure he would die from his unseemly addiction. We tried wrapping the bowl in foil, plastic wrap, etc. But no matter what method of prevention we used, Thor found a way to satisfy his thirst. It’s been five Christmases and he’s still here, so I guess it’s not a deadly habit. It’s just annoying.

After the tree was decorated, we plugged in the lights, turned off the house lights and sat down to enjoy its splendor. Then we heard a chewing sound.

“Who’s eating in the living room?” I asked.

We all looked at each other. No candy canes, no chips, no snacks, but still a steady munching sound filled the room.

“Milo!” Derek shouted. “Stop eating the tree!”

Sure enough our older cat seems to have developed a taste for tree. Maybe he needs more fiber in his diet.

Cat irritations aside, the next afternoon as I began my holiday baking, I filled my lungs with the wonderful scent of freshly cut tree.

“Take a deep breath,” I said to Derek. “A fake tree won’t smell like this.”

He shrugged. “So, we’ll put out a couple bowls of Pine Sol.”

Horrified, I said/shrieked, “Pine Sol is a disinfectant! It smells like hospitals or toilet bowls!”

Undaunted, Derek replied, “OK. Get a bunch of those pine tree car air fresheners. We can hang them from our tree.”

I refused to dignify this with a response, but as I worked in the kitchen rolling out sugar cookie dough, the words that escaped my tightly clamped lips sounded remarkably like the Old Man in the “Christmas Story” movie, as he battled a recalcitrant furnace.

When I pulled a batch of nicely-browned cookies from the oven, I called to Derek.

“Don’t these cookies smell divine?”

He followed his nose and snatched one off the cooling rack.

“Mmm …” he said as he munched. “There’s nothing like the smell or the taste of your homemade sugar cookies.”

I smiled.

“I’m glad you’re enjoying them. Next year, I think I’ll just buy some at the grocery store. After all, with just three of us home, why go to all the hassle.”

He choked on the cookie.

I handed him a glass of eggnog.

“I know store-bought cookies won’t taste the same, but I can buy a Christmas cookie scented candle.”

Warming to my theme, I continued, “And I’ll hang a few vanilla scented car air fresheners on the fake tree. Really, you won’t know the difference.”

Derek sighed and grabbed another cookie.

“So, are you thinking pine or Noble fir next year?” he asked.

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

Columns

So, this is August?

In my most recent column, I bemoan the fleeting days of summer. And what happened to July anyway?

Apparently, I blinked and missed July. How can a month with 31 days just vanish? I feel like I’m in an alternate version of a John Lennon song: “So this is August and what have you done? Another month over and a new one just begun.”

I spent much of last summer out of town for “War Bonds” readings or events, so this summer I planned to make the most of the longer days. My list of things to conquer seemed so manageable back in June. But now it’s August and I still haven’t even worn the swimsuit that arrived too late for our Hawaii anniversary trip in March.

June was a blur of end-of-school activities, and by the time we celebrated Sam’s stellar report card and Zack’s graduation from Spokane Falls Community College, the month was mostly gone. But July stretched languorously out before me and I’d planned to squeeze the most out of those summer hours.

At the top of the to-do list? Get braces for Sam, which seemed a simple enough task. After all, I’ve been down the orthodontia route with his oldest brother. But the orthodontist we used back then has long since retired. Finding time to take him to visit at least three specialists to get quotes has proved impossible.

 Sam’s been busy stripping and painting his grandmother’s deck and volunteering at the North Spokane Library. When I have time – he doesn’t. When he has time – I don’t.

At this rate, he’ll be in college by the time his teeth are straightened. Actually, he will be in college because while we haven’t done the orthodontic visits, we did enroll him at Eastern Washington University. This fall he’ll be a Running Start student at his dad’s alma mater.

I’d hoped to take day trips around the area, but the farthest I’ve ventured is my backyard. Why waste gas when the garden is glorious, the flowers in bloom and hours drift by while I devour a great “beach read” beneath the Great Gazebo’s generous shade?

Instead of exploring area day hikes, I’ve stuck to my regular neighborhood walking route, despite the challenge of navigating massive roadwork projects.

The other day as I approached some work in progress, a kind flagger escorted me across the street. Apparently, I look like the type of person who might fall into a 5-foot crater, even though it was filled with three guys in hard hats and marked by orange traffic cones.

Taking the cats to the vet is always on my summer list. Because I’m no glutton for punishment, I always schedule separate visits and insist one of the boys accompany us. Milo and Thor have plenty of time for a car ride. Zack and Sam do not.

Last year at this time, we were inundated with zucchini. In anticipation of this year’s bounty, I spent quite a bit of time finding and organizing recipes to showcase our squash crop. My mouth watered with thoughts of zucchini casserole, cookies, breads and fritters. But so far our zucchini crop has been a bust. We’re awash in tomatoes, carrots and onions, but nary a squash.

Writing during the summer is always difficult. My rarely quiet home gets even noisier with kids and company. I’d hoped to be to the halfway point on the first draft of my second book, but, alas, I’m nowhere close to making that goal.

I did however record several episodes of my new podcast “Life, Love & Raising Sons,” which debuts next week at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. The program shares the title of my second book, so I count it as progress.

Even more fun, Zack and Sam joined me for the first two episodes. If you’ve ever wondered what a Hval family dinner table conversation sounds like, you can tune in or download the podcast once it’s posted.

So this is August and what have you done? Me? I just ripped up that pesky summer to-do list and put on my new swimsuit. The month is looking sunnier already.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

Columns

Front Porch: When the tubby tabby’s on a diet, life is hard

Note: Cindy Hval is on vacation this week. Milo, her personal assistant and the senior cat of the Hval house, is filling in for this week’s column.

All I wanted was a snack. I mean, is that so much to ask considering the starvation rations I’ve been placed on because of Thor’s weight issues? He gets fat and I have to suffer. It’s just not right.

I called to her from the hallway. “Meeeeow!” I said. She didn’t even look up from the computer. So rude! So, I asked again more forcefully.

No response. Just the clicking of her fingers on the keyboard.

Maybe her hearing is going. I sat next to her ankles and explained the situation. “Meeeow, meow, MEOW!” I said.

“Be quiet,” she replied. “I’m on deadline – and you just ate.”

The nerve! Obviously, she wasn’t getting my message.

I jumped up on her desk and looked her in the eye while explaining my dire dietary needs. She just put me on the floor and patted my head. So patronizing. I then jumped on the food tub and knocked the measuring cup to the floor. It toppled with a satisfying clatter.

“I’m starving here,” I said. “I’m gonna faint! I need food NOW!”

She sighed and snapped, “Fine. Then YOU can write this week’s column!”

And off she went – without feeding me.

Like I don’t have enough responsibilities around this place. I am busy from morning till night. My day starts early because I have to rouse Zack and Sam. One of them is supposed to feed Thor and me, so I wake both of them because it doubles our chances of getting fed in a timely manner.

Then I have to tell her that I’ve been fed. Usually she’s still in bed, so I sit on her chest and give her the morning update. I throw in a few kisses and tickle her ears with my whiskers. I have to do this or she just falls back asleep.

By this time Thor is acting sleepy, so I chase him around the house. Upstairs, downstairs, under beds, on top of tables. For a chunky cat, he sure can run. He thinks I’m trying to kill him, but I’m not. I just need to remind him who’s in charge around here.

I’ll never forget the day they brought him home. The shock is seared in my memory.

The family had been out for the evening and I’d kept watch over the house like usual. They think I’m sleeping on the back of the sofa, but I’m not. I keep one eye open on the bird situation – also the dog situation and the strange cat situation.

It’s a lot of work. Every so often a dog comes in our yard and I have to run all over the place from window to door to window to alert everyone to the intruder.

Even worse is when the mangy Manx from up the street comes over. He saunters into my backyard like he owns it. Even though I’m not allowed to go outside, it’s still MY yard! He thinks he’s all that because he’s an indoor/outdoor cat, but he’s not. He’s just scruffy and dirty and has a terrible attitude.

Anyway, I’d just relaxed when the family returned and they’d brought me a present – a huge carpeted tree for me to climb on! I was so excited! I jumped up to the top and surveyed my domain and that’s when I saw him – a tiny ball of tabby-striped fluff.

I couldn’t believe it. I jumped down to the floor and he bounded up to me and tried to kiss me. He actually put his paw on my face.

I ran over to her and climbed into her lap. “You’re not serious, are you?” I asked. “You’re not going to let this kitten-thing stay. It’s just a joke, right?”

She rubbed my cheeks and scratched my chin and said, “Oh, look! Milo is so happy to get a little brother!” It’s like she doesn’t even know me.

He’s NOT my brother. I had brothers and they were not tabbies of below-normal intelligence, like this thing called Thor.

I slipped into the bedroom and hid under the bed. I stayed there a good long while, hoping they’d get rid of that thing. But they didn’t. And I got hungry, so I came out.

But I digress. Trying to slim down Thor by chasing him all over the house is just another one of the jobs added to my already overfilled schedule.

Probably my most important job is ensuring Dad gets enough attention. I don’t know where he lives during the day, but he’s gone for hours and hours. When he comes back, I rush to the door to greet him.

When he gets ready for bed, I jump up and give him extra head rubs. After he’s settled, I curl up on his head. The poor guy has so little fur up there, I worry he will catch cold. So even though he pushes me and says stuff like, “Knock it off, Milo!” I stay in position. I want to keep him around because when she starts talking about kittens, he says, “No more cats.”

Obviously, he and I are the only ones with any sense around here.

Oh, look, she’s back and she’s opening the food tub!

I should just ignore her. I should just sit in her chair and pretend I don’t hear the rattling of food as it pours into my bowl. But if I do that then Thor will eat all of his and mine, too. I can’t let that happen – fat cats die young and I actually kind of like the tubby tabby. Let’s keep that just between us, OK?

This Front Porch column originally appeared in The Spokesman Review on July 19, 2014.