Columns

Don’t Blink: Summer and Childhood Vanish

They marched out of the old Orchard Prairie schoolhouse, eyes alight with excitement.

“Are they done yet?” asked the oldest.

The three boys had been waiting for their mom, the school’s PTO president, to finish an afternoon meeting that I’d just left.

I’d paused to take a picture of the historic schoolhouse when the boys bounded into view.

They’d been busy while they waited.

“We catched a spider!” shouted the littlest boy. “A GINORMOUS spider!”

The middle brother shouldered him out of the way.

“We put it in a Gatorade bottle that I found,” he said.

His older brother held the spider aloft, soldiering on in search of their mother, while the youngest stayed behind, eager to explain his role in the capture.

“I founded it first!” he said. “Back there!”

He pointed behind the building, bouncing with excitement.

“It’s GINORMOUS!”

Then he hurried to catch up with his brothers.

That encounter brightened a long Monday and memories of my sons tumbled through my mind.

Once upon a time, I had four little boys whose summer adventures frequently included capturing creepy crawlies.

For the record, I’m not a fan of creepy crawlies, but I am a fan of boys and boundless curiosity.

Summer often seems endless when you’re an at-home mom. Endless can equal excruciating when bored boys fight over video games. I worked hard to balance planned activities while leaving room for unstructured play. Anything to keep my busy boys away from electronic devices and spontaneous wrestling matches.

One summer, I grew tired of my Tupperware being used to re-home spiders and insects, so I bought the boys a bug-catching kit. It came with a net, a magnifying glass, tweezers and a plastic container to house their captures.

They spent hours turning over rocks, crawling under decks, and digging through dirt to find new specimens.

We checked out bug books from the library to help identify their finds and to recognize spiders they should avoid.

I realized that backfired when I overheard my middle son saying to his younger brother, “Nope. That’s not a black widow. Keep looking.”

In retrospect, it’s amazing that no one got bit or stung.

I wished I’d been more patient when they careened through the house, shrieking with excitement, holding a newly captured specimen aloft.

Instead, I often feigned interest and wearily reminded them of the “no bugs in the house” rule. In my defense, you can only rave about the coolness of pill bugs a finite number of times.

I just didn’t realize how quickly those summers would pass. Older friends tried to warn me.

“Slow down, enjoy these days, it all goes too fast,” they said.

Sometimes I did slow down enough to savor the sight of four little boys crouching in the driveway, watching a row of ants march across the gravel.

I wish I had a picture of that. But when my sons were small, cellphones didn’t come with cool cameras. Capturing memories meant running back inside the house, trying to unearth a camera.

Summer can seem endless, but it isn’t. You blink and suddenly there’s a chill in the night air and the leaves start to turn.

As I watched the three little boys run across the Orchard Prairie schoolyard with their ginormous spider, I wished I’d taken their photo.

I would have sent it to their mother.

A snapshot of a boyhood that will disappear in the blink of an eye.

Columns

Dangerous creatures, Marie Kondo and books

Author Lisa Kleypas famously wrote, “A well-read woman is a dangerous creature.”

If that’s true then there were at least a dozen dangerous creatures at Lilac City Law on Friday night. No, we weren’t seeking legal representation. Our only crime was loving books maybe a little too much.

I blame Marie Kondo. My friend Sarah, fell under the organizing guru’s sway and launched an epic tidy-up, de-clutter spree.

I’m all for jettisoning clothes no longer worn, dated household decor and duplicates of kitchen items. As a newlywed, I was given a piece of advice that has served me well while rearing four sons in a cramped house. My friend told me to follow the “something in, something out” rule. Buy a new blouse? Get rid of an old one. Your kid gets a new toy? Donate one he no longer plays with.

While it’s kept our clutter at a minimum I draw the line at books.

There’s no way the “something in, something out” rule could ever apply to books. Why, choosing which volumes to jettison would be like choosing which kid you no longer love. It seems positively immoral.

It’s not even that I buy a lot of books. I don’t. I’m a devoted library groupie and every month I check out a new stack of books. But sometimes I fall in love with a novel and I simply must possess it, so I can read it again.

And as an author, I’m a huge believer in supporting other local authors. I love to line my bookshelves with titles by Inland Northwest authors. Every book purchase says, “Good job! I believe in you! Write another one!”

Of course, friends and family know I’m a bibliophile, and delight in feeding my addiction on my birthday, or Christmas, or sometimes just because they spot something they think I’d enjoy.

I don’t keep every book I buy or that’s given to me. If it’s by an author I didn’t enjoy or something I don’t want to read again, I stick it in the “donate” bag in my closet. But to be honest, few books make it to the bag.

Then Sarah started Kondo-sizing her library by posting photos of her books on Facebook and offering them free to a good home.

Such a great idea! It took the guesswork out of trying to figure out which friends would like which book, it was more personal than a thrift store drop, plus she got to experience the joy of re-homing a volume with someone she knows.

Then her friend Randi Johnson saw the posts and offered to expand the idea to a wider audience by hosting a book swap at her downtown law office and the Well-Read Women Book Swap was born.

The idea was simple. Bring in whatever books you’re willing to part with and maybe discover some you’d like to take home. Whatever books were left would be donated to the Friends of Spokane Public Library.

Friday night we gathered at Lilac City Law. Randi provided light snacks, wine and soda, and well-read women met, mingled and browsed the book table set up in a conference room.

A delightful variety of novels, nonfiction, children’s books, bestsellers and old-favorites spilled across the table.

Though I promised myself I wouldn’t bring anything home, I spotted “The Magpie Murders” by Anthony Horowitz. It’s been on my to-read list since it came out. I had to have it.

Then I picked up “George and Lizzie” a novel by librarian/author Nancy Pearl, who just happens to be coming to Spokane to appear with local author Sharma Shields at the Bing Crosby Theater on March 13.

Finally, I saw “The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath.” I discovered Plath my freshman year of college and her dark, brooding, confessional poetry perfectly resonated with the dark, brooding persona I was trying on at the time.

Sarah, noting the Plath collection in my hand, asked, “Does that spark joy?”

One of Kondo’s most well-known tenets is “The best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one’s hand and ask: ‘Does this spark joy?’ If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it.”

I held the book and remembered my earnest 19-year-old self.

“Yes” I said. “Yes, it does.”

The inaugural “Well-Read Women Book Swap” turned out to be a fabulous event – one I hope dangerous creatures all over the city will replicate.

safe_image[2]

Columns

Finding the true meaning of Dyngus

Sightseeing is thirsty business. After exploring the Christmas Story House and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland last month, we stopped for refreshment at the Tremont Tap House.

Our friendly server asked where we were from and when I said Washington, she asked, “The one by Canada?”

Once we were clear on geography and had our beverages, she asked if we’d be in Cleveland for Dyngus Day.

Now, when I was a kid “dingus” was synonymous with dingbat, dumbbell, doofus, and other not so nice words. Who knew there was a special day set aside to celebrate the dim bulbs among us?

Our waitress quickly disabused me of that notion.

“Dyngus Day is also called Wet Monday,” she explained. “It’s the day after Easter. There’s a parade and polkas and pierogis.”

She grabbed a guidebook off the counter.

“You can read all about it,” she said. “It’s a hoot. We throw water on each other and hit people with pussy willow branches.”

I love a good polka as much as anyone, but having water thrown on me, and being smacked by shrubbery isn’t what I consider a “hoot.”

Alas, I didn’t have opportunity to experience the delight of Dyngus because we flew home just before the holiday.

My curiosity was piqued, though, so this weekend I sat down and perused the booklet describing Cleveland’s biggest polka party. And then I delved deeper into the Dyngus.

First of all we were wrong to use the word as a childhood slur because loosely translated it actually means worthy, proper or suitable.

Historically a Polish tradition, Dyngus Day celebrates the end of the observance of Lent and the joy of Easter. It dates back to the baptism of Prince Mieszko I on Easter Monday in 966 A.D. The water symbolized purification, hence “Wet Monday.”

Cleveland is just one of many cities throughout the U.S. that hosts parties and parades in honor of Easter Monday. The largest celebration is in Buffalo, New York, where a local paper once proclaimed, “Everybody is Polish on Dyngus Day!”

Traditions abound, including wearing red and white, the colors of the Polish flag. But perhaps the most well-known Dyngus Day tradition is that in which single boys try to splash water on single girls as an expression of interest. Rooting from the baptism of the prince, the water represents cleansing, purification and fertility.

Men and women can also flirt with pussy willows, which are among the first plants to bud in the spring. The young men may lightly hit women on their legs to show they are interested.

That’s why my Cleveland guide lists the following as Dyngus Day essential items; pussy willows, squirt guns and polka pants.

Apparently, squirt gun fights and pussy willow whacks add up to a really good time.

Not everyone has been a fan of the celebration. The Bishop of Pozan’ tried to derail Dyngus Day in 1410. He forbade it, instructing residents not to “pester or plague others in what is universally called Dingus.”

Obviously, the prohibition didn’t stick. Probably because other activities include sampling Polish foods like pierogis, kielbasa and stuffed cabbage and drinking pints of piwo (beer).

Polka music is the heart and soul of the party, which means roving accordion bands and plenty of room for dancing.

In Cleveland the celebration culminates with the crowning of Miss Dyngus Day, followed by a parade featuring the “Frankie Yankovic accordion head float.”

I cannot believe we missed an ACCORDION HEAD FLOAT.

Which leaves me to wonder if Spokane has a large enough Polish community to pull of our own party and parade?

In any case, I’ve already planned our next trip to Ohio. I’m practicing my polka because we’ll be back on April 29, 2019 – Dyngus Day.

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.

Columns

A Trip to Remember

I’m not going to lie. I cried when I hugged him. And then I laughed when he grabbed his father and hoisted him off the ground in a bear hug.

Derek is 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds. No one picks him up – except his second-born son who is an inch shorter and considerably lighter.

Recently, we spent a week in Columbus, Ohio, with our son Alex, his fiancee Brooke and her 4-year-old daughter, Farrah.

We’d planned the trip months ago, hoping to arrive when our grandson was a few weeks old. Sadly, Ian was stillborn on Feb. 23.

I’d wanted to fly out immediately, but now I’m so glad we waited. Alex and Brooke needed that time alone to grieve, to rest and to begin to process the devastating loss.

Our first day together happened to be the one-month anniversary of Ian’s death. We spent time looking at some photos of the baby that we hadn’t seen. Holding the tiny hat he’d worn. Shedding tears over the impossibly light container that held his remains.

“Will we have another Baby Ian?” Farrah asked. “With chubby, red cheeks?”

“Maybe,” Alex answered. “Maybe.”

I was relieved to find how naturally Ian’s name was mentioned – that Alex and Brooke are able to talk about him. While their broken hearts will never be fully mended, talking about their son and his death shows they’re grieving in a healthy way and that will help the healing.

Of course, our visit wasn’t all sad. Derek got to meet Farrah for the first time.

After a few minutes of observation and conversation, she announced, “I love you, Papa Derek.”

The feeling was definitely mutual.

As planned, one of the first things I did was bake an apple pie for my son. It’s been four years since he moved from Spokane – way too long for a boy to go without his favorite treat.

While Brooke rested, and Alex and Derek caught up, Farrah helped me in the kitchen.

She giggled as I sifted flour into the mixing bowl.

“It’s snowing in the kitchen!” she squealed.

And when I rolled out the crust, she eagerly helped “squish” it.

The next day we treated Alex and Brooke to a date night, featuring dinner, a movie, and a long nap, and Derek and I earned our grandparenting gold stars by taking Farrah to Chuck E. Cheese.

When she was pizza’d and soda’d up, we took her back to our hotel for a swim.

Let’s just say Miss Farrah, Nana Cindy and Papa Derek all slept extremely well that night.

Then we hit the road with Alex for a day trip to Cleveland.

Our first stop was the “Christmas Story House,” the actual house where our family’s favorite holiday movie, “A Christmas Story,” was filmed.

The home has been restored to its movie splendor, complete with the leg lamp, shining in the window. Visitors can pick up Ralphie’s official Daisy Red Ryder BB gun that’s tucked behind the Christmas tree, and climb into Randy’s hiding spot under the kitchen sink.

Alex, 25, handled the BB gun without shooting his eye out, and squeezed into Randy’s cupboard. However, he declined to taste the Lifebuoy soap that rested in the bathroom soap dish.

Having experienced his own soap-in-the-mouth experience as a child (Irish Spring), he didn’t feel inclined to risk soap poisoning again.

From there we drove to the iconic Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, located on the shores of Lake Erie. We wandered through several floors of exhibits highlighting the history of rock ’n’ roll and celebrating the artists who influenced its development.

My most pressing question (besides why Bon Jovi doesn’t have its own wing) remained unanswered until I returned home to Google it. Why is there a giant hot dog suspended in the middle of the museum?

Turns out the 15-foot flying frankfurter was used as a prop by the band Phish.

It must have wielded a strong influence over Derek. How else to explain why the following day he ordered the Big Dawg at the famed Thurman Cafe in Columbus? The 1-pound footlong Coney Island features the cafe’s Coney sauce – a secret family recipe that’s been homemade since 1942.

Yes, he ate the whole thing, and didn’t even have heartburn later.

On our last night in Columbus, I made Alex’s most requested birthday dinner – white chicken chili. The fragrance of garlic, onion and cumin filled the townhouse.

“When Nana Cindy’s cooking in the kitchen I am starving!” Farrah said.

All too soon it was time to say goodbye.

We had laughed. We had cried. We’d made memories.

I can’t think of a better way to honor Ian.

28954662_1730225217016098_7987378535082610729_o

Alex on top of the “E” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Columns

Strengthened by Sympathy

28472077_1705227636182523_9011458611638900202_n

 

Within hours after my most recent column ran, notes began to trickle into my inbox. The trickle soon became a flood as kind readers wrote to express their sympathy at the loss of our infant grandson, Ian.

Scores of people responded on social media. Dozens sent cards.

The messages echoed: “We are so sorry.” “You and Alex, Brooke and Farrah are in our thoughts.” “We are praying for you.”

Each one felt like a warm embrace.

Of special comfort – the notes that mentioned Ian by name. To see his name written on cards and emails made me feel that however fleeting his tenure was on this Earth, he mattered.

He will always be Alex and Brooke’s firstborn son. He will always be our first grandchild.

Jaded journalist that I am, I still was profoundly moved by a postcard informing me that the Congressional Prayer Caucus was praying for our family.

I’d never heard of the organization. But it’s an official, bicameral caucus of Congress focused on the role that faith and prayer play in our life and history. Each week the members gather in Room 219 of the Capitol and pray for the nation and for specific prayer requests.

The card read, “We just wanted you to know that we prayed for you this evening. You will remain in our thoughts and prayers.”

Representatives from several states signed the back.

As a person of faith, the knowledge that others are lifting our family up in prayer during this time of sorrow makes the burden of loss seem a bit lighter. It helps to know we aren’t alone in our grief.

My heartfelt gratitude goes out to all who wrote. Your kind thoughts help the healing process, and I sent many of your notes on to Alex and Brooke.

Of course, I’d trade every thought and every prayer to hold Ian in my arms. To watch his eyes flicker open. To hear his cry.

Many who wrote used the words “brave” and “courageous” to describe the column. I didn’t feel brave when I wrote it. I felt broken.

To me, courage describes the parents whose souls are forever seared by grief. The mothers and fathers whose joy and excitement vanishes in the silence of an inexplicably stilled heartbeat.

The members of this tribe are more numerous than I imagined. Many mothers and grandparents wrote, generously sharing their own stories.

Each story mirrored the sadness that my family feels, but also offered words of hope and encouragement.

With her permission, I’m concluding with a note I received from reader Donna Peterson. Her son was stillborn many years ago and her reflections offered great insight and comfort.

She wrote, “I can’t know how you feel, but I have been there, too, with my own child. I am 65 now, so medicine was not as advanced with prenatal issues at the time I lost my son. I had no idea why it happened.

“My daughter, who was 4 at the time said, ‘God took him to heaven and will make him better. Then He will send him back.’

“In 1980 I gave birth to another son. When my daughter looked at him for the first time, she said, ‘See Momma! God sent him back to us!’

“As I read your words I cried again. I grieved a little again – with you – for you and your precious wee one and family.

“Then I remembered my healing moment.

“I had a dream about a poem. I woke up and got my pen to write it down before I forgot the words. For some reason I wanted to share them with you. They are not as eloquent as yours always are, but maybe they might help a tiny bit.”

He would call me Mother

And call his father DAD!

He would be a bright boy …

A handsome, clever lad.

The days passed by so quickly

As joy grew deep within

Then all too soon he left us …

The tiny light grew dim.

Although I’ll always miss him

I will not be sad

For a light will always shine inside

For the son I almost had.

 

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 http://www.spokesman.com/staff/cindy-hval/ Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

Columns

Painting over art-shaming scars

My reaction might have been a little over the top.

“I would rather have my eyelashes plucked out one by one while listening to alpine yodeling and drinking beet juice mixed with cod liver oil,” I said.

My friend raised her hands in surrender.

“Wow! OK then. We’ll skip paint night and just go to happy hour someplace.”

Some people might think a suggestion to have a glass of wine and create art with a good friend sounds delightful.

I’m not those people, and I have Mrs. Pendergast to thank for that.

Mrs. Pendergast was my second-grade teacher. While my reading skills soared under her tutelage, my art skills plummeted.

I dreaded art time more than I dreaded dodge ball during PE, and that’s saying something. My undiagnosed nearsightedness meant I never saw that pink rubber ball coming till it smacked me silly.

When Mrs. P. directed us to don our paint shirts, I groaned. Wearing my dad’s old button-down dress shirt was mortifying. It was dirty for heaven’s sake! It was crusty and stained, and it didn’t match my carefully coordinated outfit!

Of course, the reason it was stained was because I could never seem to gauge the right amount of paint. I would think I had just the right quantity of yellow for my sun, only to watch in dismay as golden globs streaked down the paper and smeared into my already-crusty sleeves.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake!” Mrs. P. scolded. “Your sun is bleeding all over your paper!”

With that she snatched my art attempt off the easel, crumpling it in disgust, commanding me to start over.

Her bleeding-sun comment inspired me.

I dipped my brush into what I hoped was just the right amount of scarlet, and painted a red sun, dripping droplets of blood from the sky.

“Good grief!” shouted Mrs. P. “That is disgraceful! What is the matter with you!?”

My classmates tittered as once again she ripped my paper from the easel.

When the class went out to recess, I stayed behind, waiting for the paint to dry so I could place my painting at the bottom of the stack, safe from mocking eyes.

So, you can see why my reaction to a friend’s suggestion of paint night was a tad vehement.

But a couple of years passed, and recently my husband came home and announced that we’d been invited to go to Pinot’s Palette with some friends.

Much to his surprise, I agreed.

It was time to silence the shaming voice of Mrs. Pendergast once and for all. My painting might stink, but at least I’d have a glass of wine to ease the sting.

On Jan. 26, I donned a paint-spattered apron, sat at an easel and picked up a brush.

To my joy I discovered we were going to replicate a painting of the northern lights. No sun in sight. And a perfect choice since we’d invited Derek’s sister and her Norwegian husband to join us. They’ve actually seen the northern lights.

I listened carefully to the instructor.

“The first lesson is you must learn the difference between your wine glass and your water glass,” she said.

That was easy. My wine glass was the one without any paintbrushes in it. Yet.

The next lesson covered what to do if we accidentally got paint on our clothes. It seemed like the instructions were tailored just for me.

In the event of a paint emergency, our teacher told us to, “Run to the sink, scream, flail, and use Murphy’s Oil Soap.”

She paused. “But if it’s been more than 15 minutes you have a new outfit.”

With that we were ready to begin.

I panicked a bit. But my husband’s friend said, “Just dip your brush into your wine and drink your water.”

I did the opposite, and soon I was well on my way.

My brother-in-law wandered over to check out my progress.

“Cindy, you are a born artist!” he exclaimed.

He is a bit of a hogwash artist, but his encouragement was appreciated nonetheless.

“By now your canvas is covered with paint,” the instructor said.

And mine was. I’d followed instructions. I’d mixed blue and green and made teal. And I hadn’t dipped my sleeve in my palette. Yet.

Shades of doubt seeped in when I had trouble blending the first swooshes of white into the night sky, but soon we were on to stippling stars and my true talents emerged.

“I am the BEST at stars,” I proclaimed.

Of course, one glass of wine had turned into two at this point, but isn’t that why they call it liquid courage?

At the end of the evening my evergreens were a bit wonky, and I hadn’t mastered blending, but by golly, my stars sparkled.

I sat at the easel and lifted my glass in silent salute.

Good night Mrs. Pendergast, wherever you are.

artist_Hval

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 http://www.spokesman.com/staff/cindy-hval/ Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

Columns

All alone, but not lonely at all

I heard them before I saw them. A small group of kids on the playground, laughing, shouting, jostling as they let off steam in the afternoon chill.

As I walked past the schoolyard, a solitary figure on the swings caught my eye. The boy scuffed at the gravel with his shoes and the swing barely moved.

Slowing my stride, I took in the scene and I wondered at the social dynamics at work. Was the boy on the lower rungs of the grade school popularity ladder? Had he been deemed to have “cooties” by the others? Or was he just grabbing a quiet spot – overwhelmed by the sheer volume a small amount of kids can make during a brief recess?

When I was his age, I could relate to both scenarios.

Because we moved frequently due to my dad’s career, I was always the new kid. The daunting task of finding a spot at the lunch table and navigating new social networks and established hierarchies meant loneliness was a constant companion until we settled in Spokane when I was a teen. I didn’t even have the built-in companionship of siblings because my brothers and sister were much older, and all out of the house by the time I was 12.

That upbringing created a resiliency that has served me well in adulthood. I learned how to adapt, how to forge new connections and how to turn strangers into friends. I also learned self-sufficiency and how to be content with my own company.

There’s a profound difference between being alone and being lonely. Alone is a state of being, while loneliness describes a pain, a sadness, a feeling that something is missing.

I learned to love being alone and have developed a profound need for solitude. That’s something that’s proven hard to come by when married to an extrovert and raising four sons.

As my writing career grew, solitude became even more imperative. I’ve become adept at creating it, whether by renting an office or borrowing a friend’s house.

The writing I do from my friends’ home while they travel south for the winter is different than the writing I do at my desk in the family room at home.

I hammer out columns and news stories at home while family members come and go, the landline rings, the doorbell peals, the cats clamor to be fed. But in my friend’s empty, silent house, books are born, short stories submitted and my craving for solitude is satiated.

My weekly walks are another way of creating quiet for my mind and soul. I was contemplating this when two days later; I again encountered the solitary child.

It was the same time, same place and same scene. A group of kids shouting, laughing and tossing a basketball back and forth. The boy alone on a swing.

And I wondered if instead of listless and lonely, he was enjoying a moment of respite from the noise and crush of elementary school. As he toed at the gravel, perhaps the slight movement of the swing soothed him and allowed him time to think – to dream. Maybe this child, like me, wasn’t lonesome, he was simply alone and relishing it.

This time I paused at the fence and lifted my hand to wave. Just in case he did feel isolated and invisible, I wanted him to know I’d seen him. I’d noticed his existence.

I waited mid-wave until he looked up and saw me. He slowly lifted his hand in acknowledgment, a small smile tilting at the corners of his mouth.

Then I continued my walk while he sat in the gently swaying swing. Two solitary souls – alone, but maybe not lonely.

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 http://www.spokesman.com/staff/cindy-hval/ Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.


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]

Columns

Moving Mom

The For Sale sign swung wildly in the blustery October wind, and though I’d known it was coming, the sign startled me.

I pulled over in front of what used to be my house and let the memories wash over me.

Growing up in a military family, I moved a lot. Nine houses in 16 years, until we finally returned to Spokane to stay.

This house represented permanence to my parents, who’d grown weary of years of moving. It welcomed my best friends and high school sweethearts. My first day of college photo was taken on its front steps.

On my wedding day, I woke in my twin bed, in my blue bedroom with the switch plate that reads “Cindy’s Room.” The switch plate is still there, though it hasn’t been my room for 31 years.

A few years later, a photo taken in the entryway shows my dad proudly holding my firstborn son – his namesake, Ethan Thomas. It was Ethan’s first visit to what was now known as Grandma’s house.

Dad is wearing a sportcoat and tie, so he must be home for lunch. After he retired from the Air Force, he went to work for the Department of Social and Health Services, and his office was within walking distance – a huge selling point when they bought the house.

By the time our sons Alex and Zach were born, Dad had retired, and my husband and I had bought a home nearby. Dad delighted in dropping in to “check on the babies.” I always thought he meant my sons, but chances are he meant me, too.

When he died 22 years ago, my mom remained in their home – happy to know I was close. And when after several years of widowhood, our last son arrived, she was especially glad she’d stayed in the neighborhood.

Grandma’s house became a rite of passage. When boys anxious for independence wanted to venture from my nest, unsupervised – it was to her house they went. Sometime after the magic age of 10, I’d let them walk the six blocks to her house. This was long before every kid had a cellphone, so the kid had to first call Grandma to let her know he was on the way, then immediately call me when he arrived, and then call me again when he left.

Freedom had a laborious cost back in the day.

As Mom aged, the split-level design of the house proved daunting, and one spring she took a tumble down the stairs, breaking her ankle.

Still she wouldn’t move. Wouldn’t hear of it. This was her home – the place she and Dad ceased their wanderings, and besides, I lived just a few blocks away.

We worried that when the time finally came for her to move, she wouldn’t be able to help us choose her new home. And that’s just what happened.

This summer her mental and physical health failed at an alarming rate. Suddenly, my siblings and I had to make major decisions with no input from Mom.

Thankfully, my brother David and his wife, Becky, had retired to Spokane several years ago. They were able to find Mom a nice apartment in an assisted living facility, arrange for movers and an estate sale, and last week they sold the house.

Mom is 86, and doing better than she was this summer, but she’s still confused about what happened to her home, to her things.

Her new residence is just two blocks from her old one, so the landscape of her neighborhood is familiar. Her grandsons visit more frequently, now that she doesn’t have to come down any stairs to open the door. And when they visit they talk about the happiness and love they always found at Grandma’s house. The location may have changed, but the love hasn’t.

I pull away from the house, and I don’t think I’ll drive by again for a while.

It’s someone else’s turn to make memories on Standard Street. My own are locked safely in my heart, and there isn’t a house anywhere big enough to contain them.


Columns

Squirrels Gone Bad

In the annals of feuding you may recall the Hatfields and McCoys or the Capulets and Montagues. Soon historic records may include the tale of the Hvals and the Squirrels.

The long-simmering conflict between Norwegians and rodents shows signs of heating up again.

“Gosh-dang, flippin’ dangin’ squirrels!” my husband recently hollered from the Delightful Deck. “Leave my garden alone!”

I’m not censoring his language. That’s an exact quote.

It seems the squirrels that run along our fence line, taunting our indoor kitties, have gotten bolder and are tiptoeing through the garden, leaving a trail of holes in their wake. They don’t even have the courtesy to take a zucchini or two with them when they scamper off.

When a freshly picked cucumber tasted bitter, Derek blamed the squirrels.

“I bet they’re peeing on my plants,” he said.

He’s not the only Hval engaged in rodent warfare. Several years ago his brother bought a lake cabin. His wife thought the squirrels that skittered and chattered among the pines near the deck were adorable.

“We fed them,” she recalled. “Then they started eating our beach towels.”

Well, that wasn’t cute.

They stopped feeding them, but the squirrels called squatter’s rights to their deck. And their roof. And their beach towels.

So, my brother-in-law got some humane traps, and they launched the Hval Catch and Release Rodent Relocation program.

It turned out to be a full-time job, which wasn’t ideal since they are part-time lake dwellers.

“The squirrels came back with their cousins and their friends and screamed at us for trapping them,” my sister-in-law said.

Things escalated the year they returned to open the cabin for the summer and found squirrels had gnawed their way through the bathroom ceiling.

The pesky varmints had chewed up the drywall – and the bath towels.

“They destroyed the bathroom,” my sister-in-law said. “Thank God we’d shut the door, and they couldn’t get into the rest of the house!”

That was the last straw.

Armed with BB guns, my brother-in-law and his sons declared war on squirrel. I won’t go into the gory details, but let’s just say squirrel hunting became something of a family hobby.

You’d think the message would have been clear, yet each year the squirrels spend several days berating and taunting my in-laws when they return to the cabin.

Property damage is one thing, but personal damage is quite another.

Recently, a Facebook friend related a terrifying tale of a squirrel gone bad at Manito Park.

Heather Rose Clarke was taking an early morning Sunday stroll through the park on a paved path when she saw a squirrel off to the side. She stopped to take a picture and the squirrel approached her.

“I thought it was really cute! It went behind me and grabbed my ankle, so I turned with my upper body to take a pic,” she wrote. “That’s when it locked its claws and started biting me! I was so surprised. I tried to shake it off, but it was really attached. I reached to grab it off and that’s when it clamped onto my right arm and wouldn’t let go.”

In a few terrifying minutes the squirrel left her a bitten, bloody and scratched-up mess. A friend took her to minor emergency, where the doctor allayed her fears about rabies, cleaned up her wounds and gave her a prescription for an antibiotic. He told her he sees this a couple times a year.

“The one thing I want to stress is that I did not antagonize the squirrel to make it attack me. It literally came up to me, and at no time did I move toward it or threaten it,” Clarke said. “It totally took me off guard. I have walked in Manito hundreds of times and never had an incident.”

According to Fianna Dickson, a spokeswoman for the parks department, Clarke is not alone.

“We’ve received reports of two squirrel attacks recently, and have called out a wildlife management contractor to provide advice,” Dickson wrote in an email. “As I’m sure you’ve read, some wildlife experts speculate the squirrel who attacks may have been hand-fed by someone, and then seeks food again from humans and is frantic when it doesn’t receive food. We continue to ask the public to please refrain from feeding wildlife in parks.”

So, no matter how photogenic you think those furry, brown-eyed rodents are – don’t be lured into offering them a snack, unless you don’t mind being an appetizer on their menu, or having your beach towels served up as the main course.

I, for one, agree with Carrie Bradshaw, a character in the television show “Sex and the City,” who said: “A squirrel is just a rat with a cuter outfit.”

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.