All Write

It’s Christmas in October!

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Delighted to have my story “Christmas Miracle” included in Chicken Soup for the Soul’s newest release “The Wonder of Christmas.”

This marks the 11th Chicken Soup for the Soul book to feature one or more of my stories. What makes this one extra special is that “Christmas Miracle” is about our youngest son, Sam. It’s also the first story in the book!

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Even better proceeds from the sale of this volume go to Toys for Tots!

The books are on sale now at stores nationwide, or you can click the link in the title above.

Merry Christmas in October,

Cindy

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Columns

Like the seasons, decorations come and go

It started small.

Several years ago, Mom was downsizing her autumn decorations and gave me a wicker cornucopia and a figurine of a Pilgrim woman carrying a basket of produce on one arm and a pumpkin in the other.

“I don’t know what happened to her Pilgrim husband,” she said. “I’ve been looking everywhere, but I think she’s been widowed.”

My Mom was a serial seasonal decorator. From pilgrims and pumpkins in the fall, to angels, candles and a Christmas village in the winter, followed by roses and greenery in the spring, she marked the change of seasons with change in household decor.

I, on the other hand, confined my home embellishments to decking the halls at Christmas.

That also started out small: a crèche, a nativity calendar, some stockings and of course, a tree.

Those few homey decorations somehow evolved into many large red and green plastic totes filled with wall hangings, wreaths, framed art, pillows, candles and a multitude of heavenly hosts.

Holiday fever spread to my kitchen and dining room with Christmas dishes, stemware, towels and serving pieces.

Then my husband and our youngest son caught the contagion, and now sometime after Thanksgiving, our lawn will be filled with lighted deer, candy canes, a nativity and angels.

I do have some self-restraint. I drew the line at a toilet paper holder that plays Jingle Bells. And even though the Santa bathroom set complete with a chimney on the tank cover tempted, I resisted. I mean, he already knows when I’m sleeping and knows when I’m awake; he doesn’t need to know anything else.

So, I should have known better when I adopted Mom’s harvest decorations. They looked lonely perched atop the piano.

We took the kids to Green Bluff, and I bought a few little pumpkins and corncobs. Then I added a couple vases Sam had made in elementary school. I really liked the autumn look, but the trim still seemed sparse.

Derek suggested we visit Hobby Lobby – a suggestion he has come to regret. For one thing, he didn’t really think I’d go. I have a deep-seated aversion to any type of craft or fabric store.

“They have home decorating stuff,” he said.

What he really meant is they had some cool outdoor decorations for the garden and his shed.

But he was right about the home decor. I browsed the harvest-themed shelves with Thanksgiving in my heart and picked out a few items.

Then I went back later and picked out a few more.

By now my eyes had been opened, and it seemed like every store I visited had some kind of autumn trim. Coasters, candy dishes, tablecloths, lighted garlands. Before I knew it, I’d somehow amassed a bin full of fall decorations, and there was more fall foliage inside our house than outside.

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When I added a welcome mat and a couple outdoor “Welcome Autumn” signs, I felt I’d tied the theme together and vowed not to add anything else.

So far, so good.

Last year Mom moved to a retirement facility, and the transition was difficult. She spent her entire life turning houses into homes as she followed my dad’s Air Force career. Moving from a four-bedroom, two-bath home to an apartment was quite a change. But she rallied, and last week I thought it might be nice to add a few fall touches to her new place.

Of course, this required a quick trip to Hobby Lobby, but I wasn’t distracted in my mission and just picked out a couple of small things for Mom.

She was delighted and asked if I was still using the decorations she’d given me.

“Do you still have the Pilgrim lady?” she asked. “Did you ever find her a husband?”

“No, she’s still unattached,” I replied.

I’m not buying anymore decorations. I really mean it. But don’t you think that poor Pilgrim has been single long enough?

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Columns, War Bonds

I Wish You Light

Bitter cold crept through our coats and scarves as my husband and I waited in a line that stretched the length of the building, but the glittering glow in the Gaiser Conservatory at Manito Park beckoned.

Each year Spokane Parks employees turn the greenhouse into a winter wonderland, decorating tropical and subtropical plants with 30,000 twinkling lights.

Once inside, a blast of warm humid air quickly dissipated the winter chill. Cactuses clad in Christmas lights, a shining snowman waving from his sparkling foliage perch, and a Christmas tree made from scarlet poinsettias, dazzled our eyes. We soaked in the sights, absorbing the radiance before heading out into the pitch-black evening.

Making our way down the South Hill, we stopped at Cowley Park just below Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital. That’s where the team from Spokane Winter Glow Spectacular set up a shimmering display complete with an enchanted forest, a gingerbread house and of course, the North Pole.

Children laughed and shouted around us as we walked through the park, their faces illuminated by a multicolored luster.

We returned home to our own festive outdoor display. Derek and our teenage son had worked hard to arrange the deer, candy canes, angel and trees in our yard.

This year more than ever, I crave the glow of Christmas lights. They are a beautiful way to defy the ever encroaching darkness.

December 21 marks Winter Solstice in Spokane. It’s the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Some refer to it as the longest night. It’s also the darkest day as the North Pole is tilted farthest from the sun.

It’s fascinating that this year Hanukkah – the Jewish Festival of Lights – is also observed just when the nights are the longest and darkest.

Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after a group of Jewish warriors defeated the occupying Greek armies. The festival celebrates the triumph of light over darkness.

For eight days, Jewish families lit a candle in a menorah, remembering the ancient miracle of a small vial of oil found by the Maccabees meant to last only a day, but instead lasted for eight.

I think many of us long for a celebration of light in the depths of December. Darkness isn’t always simply a physical absence of light.

A scripture passage our pastor read recently resonates.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2.

As I write, the sun sets, though it’s barely 4 p.m. I slip away from my desk to turn on our outdoor display. In the living room, I plug in the Christmas tree’s twinkling lights, and then make my way from candle to candle, switching on 13 tiny, flickering battery-operated votives in their translucent holiday globes. Lastly, I strike a match and breathe in the fragrance of a cinnamon-scented candle.

Tonight my husband and sons won’t need to follow a star to find a miracle. Instead, they’ll return to a home that’s filled with warmth and welcome. Sometimes that’s miraculous enough.

Soon every day will be just a little bit brighter, the sun will rise a tad earlier.

And that’s my holiday wish for you. May your darkness always be dispelled by light.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5.

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. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.24909782_1617427588295862_1306281224400973122_n[1]

War Bonds

Slinging Books and Shopping Small

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Take a group of authors. Give them name badges. Turn them loose in a bookstore. That’s the recipe for Indies First held each year on Small Business Saturday.

The event brings together authors, readers, and publishers in support of independent bookstores. Authors and local celebrities volunteer at events across the country, and publishers offer special terms on books and exclusives.

I had a blast as usual at Auntie’s Bookstore. Chatting with readers, helping them find great gift ideas and catching up with these great authors is always fun.

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Sam Ligon, Kate Lebo, Cindy Hval, Jack Nisbet

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Stephanie Oakes, Cindy Hval, Sharma Shields

One Spokesman Review reader said she came in just to see Jack Nisbet and me, but she walked out with Shop Small shopping bag filled with books. That’s the danger and delight of hanging out in a bookstore!
Another reader stopped by to make sure I was alright. My Thanksgiving column about sometimes finding it hard to be grateful, prompted her concern.

At the end of my shift I rewarded myself with a copy of the delightful anthology Pie & Whiskey: Writers under the Influence of Butter & Booze. My husband and I are reading it aloud every night before bed. It’s a hoot. Honestly, Sam Ligon’s whiskey cocktail recipes are my favorite part. Some drink recipes call for things like a soul, a pistol, a Bible and a sword, but you can still make the drinks without them.

Indies First offers a great way to get customers into independent bookstores, but it’s even more important to support local businesses and Shop Small all year long.

After all, Santa does!

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Columns

Decorations hold decades of memories

She’s still radiant at 65. Her blue satin dress shimmers, matching the glint of her round cerulean eyes. Silvery wings arch above a crown that has a distinct tinfoil gleam. A slim silver belt circles her waist and a glittering star adorns her collar. Her prim red lips are pursed in permanent pucker.

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My parents bought the angel at a downtown drugstore for their first Christmas in 1951. They purchased a tree at a nearby lot, and Dad hefted it over his shoulder and they walked the few blocks to their first apartment on Pine Street.

Several weeks ago our youngest son, Sam, helped Mom unearth her decorations. She stopped putting up a tree when Dad died, but she still displays the angel every Christmas. Sam hung lights around her front window while she regaled him with the angel anecdote and tales of Christmas past.

I’ve been thinking about those stories while preparing to pack away my own decorations. What goes up must come down, including Christmas trees – especially fresh trees. The needles are starting to fall and it’s time to take the tree to the curb. But I linger over the ornaments – it seems each one tells a story.

A laminated blue star features a kindergarten-era, gap-toothed smiling Sam. Next to it dangles a silvery orb with a photo of 6th grade Sam – his childhood documented in decorations.

Zachary’s snowflakes are suspended next to a bejeweled ball, each gem affixed with copious amounts of glue. Zach’s always been an if a little bit is good, a lot is better kind of guy.

Alexander and Ethan angels hang with a multitude of heavenly hosts near the top of the tree, and speaking of angels, our tree is topped by one in a gold-trimmed burgundy gown.

Unlike Mom, I no longer have our original angel. One year when the boys were small, our tree topper threw herself from the tree to the stairs below, cracking her head beyond repair. The boys insist they saw her fly, it was just the landing she failed to nail.

Her aborted flight came a few days before Christmas, and we needed an angel ASAP. In haste, my husband and sons decamped to the Dollar Store and returned with a replacement. This golden gal was lovely to behold, but when Derek plopped her atop the tree, our oldest son burst into laughter and pointed out with glee, “She has two left hands!”

Indeed, she did.

Her awkward appendages distracted me, so during the post-holiday sales, I bought our current, more anatomically accurate, angel. However, I wrapped her afflicted sister in tissue, and the next time all the boys are home for Christmas I plan to give her another shining moment at the top.

Many of our ornaments reflect our interests, like my stack of antique books suspended from a blue satin ribbon. And one that always gets front-of-the-tree honor – a string of gingerbread hearts that reads NOEL. It’s the only craft I actually completed during the many years I was a member of a Moms of Preschoolers group. I’m craft-impaired and glue gun-challenged, so this was a major accomplishment.

Derek’s cross-country skier and a ball featuring the Norwegian flag honor his heritage and his love of the slopes. For some reason he always forgets to hang his 2007 ornament that proudly proclaims “Real men like cats.”

I hang it for him in a prominent spot, preferably where the light can catch it. I’m thoughtful like that.

Mindful of these memories, I’ve been taking lots of photos of decorations cradled in piney boughs before I pack them away for another year.

More than dated ornaments dangling from a tree, it’s the reminders of Christmases past they represent that add joy to the present and brings hope for Christmas future.

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. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

 

 

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

War Bonds

Christmas in October!

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I LOVE Christmas and I received an early gift when the UPS man dropped off this box of books!

I’m thrilled that two of my stories “Christmas Glow” and “Wishing for a Silent Night” have been included in the latest addition to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series: The Joy of Christmas.

My work has been featured in 10 volumes of this wonderful franchise and I’m happy to be part of a series that offers words of inspiration and affirmation to readers all over the globe.

Pick up a copy today and spread the “Joy of Christmas”!

Columns

My Christmas Miracle

In today’s column for the Spokesman Review, I remember a very special Christmas miracle.
Merry Christmas!

Christmas is all about miracles – about the unexpected showing up in the middle of the ordinary.

Angelic proclamations, a virgin birth, heavenly hosts and a bright shining star beckoning wise men from afar.

For doubters and dissenters, for skeptics and cynics, the ability to embrace the miraculous eludes, but even the most ardent believers need a reminder now and again.

Snow falls as I write, and the white-shrouded world reminds me of another December, 16 years ago, when I received my own much-needed reminder.

Our fourth son had arrived three months earlier. Sam was born with congenital diaphragmatic hernia. A hole had formed in his diaphragm during gestation, allowing his stomach and intestines to move into his chest cavity, crowding his heart and lungs. In Sam’s case, this prevented his left lung from developing.

When he was 3 days old, he underwent surgery to repair the hole in his diaphragm. After a three-week stay in the neonatal intensive care unit at Sacred Heart, we brought him home. He needed no medication, no supplemental oxygen, nursed like a greedy piglet and had none of the dreaded complications or additional health problems common with CDH.

He also had only one lung.

He did have bits of tissue where his left lung would have grown and doctors told us that lungs continue to grow into a child’s early teens. Even if that didn’t happen for Sam, we were assured it’s possible to live with one lung.

But I worried.

Night after night I sat vigil on the floor next to his cradle, watching his chest rise and fall, counting his respiration rate, often dozing off with my hand on his chest.

Exhausted, I did my best to care for his three older brothers, 10, 8 and 5. When December dawned, I decorated and baked in a fog of fatigue.

We reached a milestone on Dec. 23 – Sam’s final post-op visit. Snow fell heavily as I packaged a plate of Christmas cookies for the surgeon’s office.

Each visit began with a series of chest X-rays, and I’d grown adept at deciphering the shadowy shapes in my son’s chest cavity.

Dr. Randall Holland examined Sam, moving his stethoscope over his chest, listening intently while my baby grabbed his hair and blew spit bubbles. Scratching his head, Holland stood, and then once again bent over Sam, listening, listening …

Then he tickled Sam’s three chins and turned to scrutinize the latest X-rays while I wrestled the wriggly baby back into his winter layers and waited for the surgeon to speak.

But he didn’t say a word. Instead, he let out a low whistle, peering at the images. Running his fingers through his hair, he whistled again, and then said, “Cindy, I’d like you to take a look at these.”

And my heart sank.

This was it. The moment I’d dreaded since the hours following Sam’s diagnosis. The moment when I’d learn the nightmare hadn’t ended. The other shoe had dropped and I didn’t know if I could bear it.

Seeing my stricken face, Holland beckoned me closer.

“What’s that?” he asked, pointing to the image.

“That’s Sam’s right lung,” I answered.

He nodded and pointed to the other side of the image.

“And what’s that?”

“That’s Sam’s left lung,” I dutifully replied.

Silence. Apparently, lack of sleep was making me hallucinate.

“Except he doesn’t have a left lung …” I mumbled.

“He didn’t,” Holland agreed. “But he does now.”

He traced the outline with his finger. “A fully-functioning left lung.”

And the surgeon beamed.

I clutched Sam and sank down into a chair, tears falling, dampening his downy blond head like melting snowflakes.

“I don’t understand. Is this a miracle?”

Still smiling, Holland shrugged. “We don’t like to use that word, but I’ve honestly never seen anything like this before.”

Dazed, I left his office, trying to process the news.

That night as usual, I sat at Sam’s cradle feeling his lungs (lungs!) expand, watching my hand on his chest rise and fall. The clock ticked its way to Christmas Eve and I finally climbed into bed, where for the first time since Sam’s birth, I slept – truly slept.

Today at some point, my 6-foot, 1-inch baby boy will bend down and wrap his arms around me. I’ll lay my head on his chest and feel it rise and fall, grateful for the reminder.

Christmas has always been about miracles.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

War Bonds

Santa and War Bonds

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This weekend I had my first book signing event on a military base. The folks at Fairchild AFB were great to work with and as you can see I had a great location at the Base Exchange entrance.

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Santa was also there just a few feet away.

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This was the real deal. Turns out authors top his nice list! And Santa tops mine. Another author was doing a signing nearby. He told us that teenage his granddaughter had recently died in a horrible car accident. A scholarship fund had been established in her name. They wanted to have Santa attend the fundraiser, but were told he’d charge $100 per hour.

This Santa took the author’s card and said, “Let me know the day and time of next year’s event and I’ll be there. No charge.”

Now that’s the Christmas spirit.

Speaking of,  books make great presents! Wrap up a copy of War Bonds today:-) Available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Independent booksellers nationwide.

 

 

Columns, War Bonds

War not a word to be take lightly… especially today

Today is Veteran’s Day. Tomorrow’s Front Porch column is already available online at the Spokesman Review, so I thought I would share it here as well.

I am heartily sick of the so-called “war on Christmas.”  Read below to find out why.

Words matter to me.

I make my living crafting them. Whether writing a column, a news story or a book, I spend my days weighing and measuring them – searching for the best turn of phrase to communicate a thought, an idea or a fact.

Sometimes I play with them. Juggling them, nudging them to create content that elicits a reaction, a smile or a tear.

Even when handled lightly, I understand their power on a printed page. And while not all words are meant to be taken literally, I think some should be.

War is one of them.

Yesterday was Veterans Day – a day we as country set aside to honor the men and women who have served or continue to serve in our armed forces.

I’ve lost count of the veterans I’ve interviewed over the years, but their faces and their stories are seared into my soul – especially the stories of combat veterans, those who faced loss of life and limb during their time of service.

I’ve lost count of the veterans I’ve interviewed over the years, but their faces and their stories are seared into my soul – especially the stories of combat veterans, those who faced loss of life and limb during their time of service.

So just to be clear, here’s Webster’s definition of war: A state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations or a period of such armed conflict.

Other definitions may have made their way into our reference books and cultural consciousness, but the original meaning of war is armed conflict.

The kind of conflict Wes Hixon faced in 2008 in Iraq when the Stryker vehicle he was riding in hit an IED. “Four people were killed outright,” he said. “The rest were injured. Me and another soldier were paralyzed. Most of them were pretty good friends of mine.”

I interviewed Hixon, then 24, in 2009 as he sat in a wheelchair. He knows what war is.

Read full column here.