Columns

Home for the holidays at Hutton Settlement

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

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

First, a bit of background.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roxy said her mother and father argued frequently.

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

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

Trinity had a similar story.

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

The abuse continued when her younger siblings arrived.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Columns

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

Christmas Traditions Grow Along With Kids

10363967_808050315900264_1669020257946437512_n[1]When Tevye and the cast belt out “Tradition” in “Fiddler on the Roof,’ they’re singing my song.

I, especially, love the ritual, familiarity and comfort of holiday traditions. For me, it begins on the day after Thanksgiving. While many folks shop til they drop on Black Friday, I decorate til I drop.

My sons unearth the red and green plastic tubs bulging with garlands, angels, Santas and candles, and lug them to the living room. Then I pop a Christmas CD in the stereo and spend the day awash in memories of Christmas past.

Each item from the Play-Doh nativity set, to the Homer Simpson Santa Claus, to the chipped and scratched snowman dishes has a story.

This year I’m making room for new stories by learning to hold less tightly to treasured traditions.

Actually, the process began a couple of years ago with the Christmas tree. Since our boys were tiny, Derek has taken them to Green Bluff to cut down a tree. But our sons are now 21, 19, 17 and 12. Finding a time when everyone has the day off from work to make the trek to the tree farm became impossible.

Derek eyed fake trees, but the younger boys and I rebelled. We reached a compromise: a freshly cut tree from a local tree lot. We also gave up trying to find a night that everyone would be around to trim the tree. I don’t feel too bad about that. Six people, two cats and one tree can create a lot of Christmas chaos.

Other changes have been more difficult to embrace. For 26 years I’ve celebrated a traditional Norwegian Christmas Eve with my in-laws. The feast is a smorgasbord of Norwegian foods and delicacies, but the real flavor comes from the gathering of extended family.

My father-in-law loved Christmas Eve. He was in his element at the head of the table with his wife by his side, surrounded by his four children, their spouses, and his 14 grandchildren. His booming laugh and warm bear hugs made everyone smile.

This was our first Christmas since his death. Instead of ignoring the empty space his absence has left, family members shared their favorite Papa memories. And in the light that shone from his grandchildren’s eyes – in the echoes of their laughter – Papa’s presence was felt once again.

When we got home, no one mentioned leaving cookies out for Santa. That’s OK, Santa’s trying to slim down. Besides, I’m pretty sure our kitty, Thor, would eat them before Santa got a chance.

Christmas morning is different now, too. Santa still leaves filled stockings outside each boys’ bedroom door, but our oldest has to drive over from his apartment to get his.

In years past, four little boys would clamber on our bed at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning and dump their stocking bounty out for us to see.

I don’t miss the crack of dawn part.

And Sam, 12, informed me last year, “You know we all open our stockings while you’re sleeping and then stuff everything back in and take them to your room. You do know that, don’t you?”

Yes, I know that, because my sister and I did the same thing when we were kids.

The six of us still gather around the tree and read the Christmas story from the Bible before the unwrapping begins, but now there’s less unwrapping. I’ve discovered the older the kids – the smaller the presents. Unfortunately, smaller tends to equal more expensive.

Even so, I don’t really miss hundreds of Legos strewn across the floor, or tiny GI Joe guns getting sucked up the vacuum cleaner.

Clinging to traditions no longer current, is like trying to squeeze a squirming toddler into last year’s snowsuit. It won’t fit and someone will end up in tears.

This new year, I’m going to hold on to traditions that fit our family and let go of the ones we’ve outgrown. I don’t want to cling so tightly to the past that my hands are too full to embrace the present.

This column first ran December 29, 2011

Columns

The Legend of the Christmas Tree Meltdown

??????????In the annals of Hval holiday lore, one story is guaranteed to get trotted out each Christmas. My children call it, “Mom’s Christmas Tree Meltdown.” I call it, “Too Many Children, Not Enough Tree,” but whatever its title, the tale marks an embarrassingly Grinch-like episode in my holiday history. My family finds the story hilarious. I do not.

The exact year of this event is unclear, but I think our sons were 4, 6 and 8 because they all remember it. Thankfully, Sam was not yet born, so he didn’t witness the debacle.

When our boys were little, our tree-trimming tradition was that they decorated the bottom and backside of the tree. In my opinion this strategy was sheer genius. It allowed the boys to participate and hang their nonbreakable ornaments, while I got to create my imagined Martha Stewart-like perfection on top.

I’m not sure what happened that fateful year. Boys on a sugar-fueled high induced by candy canes, frosted Christmas cookies and marshmallow-topped cocoa may have had something to do with it. I’m sure belated bedtimes because of winter break contributed. And it’s possible that I might have taken on a little too much in order to create the Best Christmas Ever for my children.

In fact, it may well be that this Mama was running on too little sleep, not enough caffeine and disastrously high self-expectations. Whatever the cause, the meltdown occurred (though I quibble with the term “meltdown,” it was more of a momentary lapse of sanity).

The boys and I had lugged boxes of ornaments upstairs and each son was poring over his collection of paper snowflakes, toilet paper tube angels and crookedly cut candles. Derek, having untangled the lights and garland, was supposed to photograph this festive holiday tradition. Thankfully, in the chaos that ensued, he forgot, so there is no photographic record of me shrieking red-faced at my startled offspring.

As the boys rushed to find prime spots for their handmade creations, some shoving ensued. Allegations flew.

“Hey! He moved my angel!”

“I did not! It fell down by itself!”

“Don’t touch my snowflake! MOM! HE TOUCHED MY SNOWFLAKE AND NOW IT’S TORN!”

I tried to stay on top of the escalating situation by assigning ornament stations. “Ethan, you decorate the top backside of the tree. Alex you do the middle. Zack you can hang your ornaments of the front bottom branches.”

This didn’t go over well.

“Hey! How come Zack gets to put his in the front?” Alex yelled.

“Yeah,” Ethan said. “Why do ours get stuck in the back?”

“Mine are the beautifulist,” Zack opined.

A barrage of “are not’s” and “are too’s” evolved into more shoving, which morphed into wrestling. The tree tottered and began to sway. Someone yelled, “DOG PILE!”

And that’s when I lost it.

“Stop it! Just stop it!” I screeched. “BACK AWAY FROM THE TREE, NOW!”

At this point the narrative gets muddied. Some say I canceled Christmas and told the children Santa wasn’t coming. Others say I threatened to take every toy in the house and donate them all to the Goodwill. Another version has me informing my offspring that I brought them into to this world, and by golly, I can take them out.

All I know is at the end of my rather impassioned speech a silence fell.

“Um, boys why don’t you go play in your rooms for a bit,” Derek suggested. Three pajama-clad boys shuffled quietly from the room.

“Honey,” began Derek. I glared at him. He too, shuffled silently from the room.

I finished hanging my Victorian ornaments, but the Christmas spirit had left the room along with my family.

Mortified, I hoped we all could forget this episode ever happened. That hope vanished that Sunday as I checked kids into the church nursery. One of my husband’s friends dropped off his daughter. “Hey Cindy,” he said. “Heard you had quite the Christmas meltdown the other night.”

That’s right; my husband had shared the story with a few “close” friends. It couldn’t have spread any faster if I’d written a column about it.

Now, the tale of “Mom’s Christmas Tree Meltdown” has achieved legendary status. I guess I should be thankful “meltdown” is used in the singular tense.

Much has changed in the intervening years. Sam’s arrival meant four boys trimming the tree. The addition of two cats added to the excitement. But now, there are only two boys left at home to decorate the tree.

This year, I surprised them. “Why don’t you guys do the whole tree,” I said.

“Really?” Sam asked. “Even your ornaments?”

“Yep,” I said.

“Are you sure?” Zack asked.

I nodded and they set to work. They didn’t group the angels at the top like I do. And the dated ornaments aren’t in sequence, but you know what? I wasn’t even tempted to rearrange a thing. In fact, I think it just might be the beautifulist tree we’ve ever had.

It’s taken me awhile, but I’ve finally learned a perfect Christmas isn’t about the synchronicity and symmetry of the ornaments on the tree and it certainly isn’t about the gifts beneath it.

For me, the Best Christmas Ever is about treasuring each moment with the hands that made the ornaments, the arms that wrap me in warm embraces and the hearts that still love me – Christmas Tree Meltdown and all.

This column first appeared in the Spokesman Review, December 26, 2013