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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Columns

Some like it hot… especially me

They say you don’t appreciate what you have until you no longer have it.

Take electricity for example. In August we lost power for several hours. It didn’t take long for my family to deeply appreciate the magic that happens when you flip a switch and the lights come on.

Apparently, the Universe deemed we needed another lesson in gratitude.

Ten years ago, my husband and his father replaced our aging water heater with a fancy tankless model. Like all Hval projects it was fraught with unforeseen complications. Namely, they couldn’t get the water shut off. But also like all Hval projects, it was worth the wait.

At the time, we had six people living at home, including four active boys. Showering had turned into a competitive sport. No one wanted to be the last one to shower because that’s when the hot water usually ran out. And God help the Mom who threw a load of laundry in while boys were bathing.

After our new tankless system was installed, Derek ran his hand over the compact, gleaming wall-mounted beauty.

“We’ll never run out of hot water, again!” he said.

For a long time, he was right. But a few years ago, the heater began making some ominous noises. We ignored them.

This summer the rattle turned to a roar that echoed all the way outdoors to the Great Gazebo where I sunned myself.

And then the dripping started.

Last month, Derek and I came home after an evening out, and Zach said, “Did you know water is coming out of the hot water heater?”

We did not know this.

After assessing the situation, Derek put a bucket under it.

Within days the trickle became a small but steady stream and the bucket had to be emptied with increasing frequency. We took to turning the water heater off at night.

“I think it’s the heat exchanger,” said Derek.

Then he did something unheard of in the Hval household: He called for professional help.

A plumber visited and confirmed Derek’s suspicion, and recommended replacing the entire unit. The estimated cost was the equivalent of sending one of us to Hawaii while the other stayed home and ate macaroni and cheese for a week.

“I’ll just replace the heat exchanger and I’ll do it myself,” Derek announced.

He watched a YouTube video about the process and ordered the part online.

“It’ll be here in less than a week,” he said.

Of course, that was the day the water heater quit all together.

Theoretically, one can live without hot water. You can wash your hands and your clothes in cold and our dishwasher has its own heating coils. What you cannot do is shower in cold water. At least I can’t.

The four of us scrambled to find bathing options while we waited for the part to arrive. We have a gym membership, so Derek and Sam took hot showers there. I could have done that, too, but I like more privacy when I get ready for my day. Thankfully, I housesit for snowbirds during the fall and winter, and hot showers and my office away from home were just a short drive away.

Which left poor Zachary (who’d let his gym membership lapse) to learn the military discipline of taking an icy shower.

“The key is to keep your feet out of the way of the water,” he informed us.

A chilly week passed before the part arrived. It had some complicated wiring, but Derek easily figured it out and hooked it up in record time.

He switched it on and waited. No rattle. No roar. And unfortunately no hot water.

“I think the dripping water fried the fan,” he said. “I’ll order a new one. It’ll be here in a couple days.”

We are a stoic lot, but the news was hard to take. Our combined groans sounded almost as loud as the defunct water heater used to.

On the appointed day, the fan arrived while we were all at work. Derek hurried home to install it. The rest of us watched our phones, anxiously awaiting word.

Within minutes a text arrived. “We have HOT WATER!”

Such beautiful words!

Zachary got the first shower. He’d earned it.

As for me, when it was my turn to luxuriate under the warm water’s soothing spray, I counted my blessings. Loudly. Just in case the Universe thinks I need any more reminders.

All Write, TV

Runaway

In this week’s Front Porch television segment I ponder how the invention of Velcro might just have changed the course of my life.

  • IMG_20181015_113251

And how history often repeats itself, as it did with my youngest son, Sam.

Sam, kindergarten

Click here to watch this episode and tune in Sunday, the 21 in which I address the necessary evil of conference calls and Milo makes his TV debut!
The Front Porch airs on the Spokane Talks program Sundays at 6 PM on Fox 28 Spokane.

Columns

The Night the Lights Went Out in North Spokane

Our family recently went through a very dark time.

It came on suddenly, without warning. One minute we were relaxing after dinner, taking respite from the heat of the day in our cool air-conditioned home, discussing our Netflix pick of the evening, and the next minute our world stopped.

My reading lamp flicked off. The fans and air-conditioner stilled, and the wails from downstairs let us know our sons’ electronics had been disrupted.

Power outages are rare in our neighborhood. The power lines are underground, so when outages do occur it’s usually something on Avista’s end and we’re quickly back online.

Neither Ice Storm 1996 nor any of the recent windstorms disrupted our happy home. While all over the city food spoiled in freezers and propane lanterns flew of the shelves at sporting goods stores, we merrily went on our well-lit way.

So. Nobody panicked Thursday evening.

I mean, the most recent blip in our grid lasted all of a minute.

We peered out the window and saw our neighbors’ porch lights were off, and no lights shone from any windows. Our street lamp was out.

“Looks like it’s the whole neighborhood,” my husband said.

Feeling confident that the outage had been called in, the four of us gathered in the living room to await the resumption of our normal routines.

It was 7:45.

Thirty minutes later, Sam, 18, said, “Well. This sucks.”

His brother sighed. “I just got my new guitar pedal set up.”

We scanned our phones for Twitter posts about the outage, but nothing appeared.

I updated my Facebook status.

“No power in North Spokane. We’ve been forced to sit in our living room and talk to each other. #HELP!”

My friend, Beth, replied, “Surely your phones have some charge left in them.”

“Obviously,” I replied. “But we’re conserving our batteries for social media. #priorities”

The thought of being cut off from the world chilled us. We hastily checked the charges on our phones and Kindles and reported the results.

“We should be OK for a few hours,” Derek, my husband, said.

Slowly the Twitter and Facebook responses trickled in from other North Side folks. Apparently, our little corner of Spokane was the only area affected.

As the sun started to set in the smoky sky, I gathered candles and piled them on the dining table.

And not a moment too soon. Darkness fell quickly. Our son, Zack, put new batteries in my three pillar candles, as I fumbled in the dark cabinet for candleholders for my motley collection of wax tapers and votives.

Flickering candles don’t emit much heat, but it had been a really hot day. The house grew stuffy. We opened the windows, but there was no breeze, just smoke.

“Everybody to the gazebo,” I announced. “If the power’s still out at 10, we’ll make s’mores.”

This mom always has s’mores ingredients on hand during the summer months, and suddenly the boys were rooting for continued darkness.

Derek had wisely installed solar lights along our deck and stairs, so nobody stumbled on the way to the gazebo.

I remembered we had a battery-operated light that can be attached to outdoor umbrellas. Using our cellphone flashlights, we ransacked the storage room until we found it. Derek went out to light the fireplace while I gathered chocolate bars, marshmallows, graham crackers, paper plates and napkins.

We roasted marshmallows and enjoyed our sticky snacks as music from Zack’s iPhone filled the night. Our flickering fireplace was an oasis of light in a neighborhood shrouded in dark.

A big truck rumbled past, and we hurried to the front yard to see an Avista crew examining the box across the street. After a few minutes they got back in the truck and drove away.

We were still in the dark, but no one wanted to go to bed without some information.

At 10:45, I finally called Avista.

A nice man confirmed that they were aware of the outage and had sent a truck out, but the crew had to return for supplies to fix the problem.

The reason I hadn’t seen anything on social media is because only 45 homes had been affected.

“We estimate power should be restored in two to three hours,” he said.

The boys and Derek were ready for bed, but I had a problem. I can’t go to sleep unless I read for at least 30 minutes.

We’d recently bought a rocking chair for the deck. I scooted it over to the solar light on the railing, and Derek affixed the umbrella lamp low enough on the stand so I could see the pages of my novel.

Around midnight, I went indoors, carefully snuffing out the few candles still lit. I brushed my teeth in the dark and climbed into bed.

An hour or so later, the blinding glare of my reading lamp jolted me awake, and the rumble of the air conditioner filled the house.

We had survived the Great Spokane Power Outage of 2018 with marshmallows to spare.

I think our pioneer ancestors would be proud.