Columns

Quilts and the ties that bind

 

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Newly retired, Dad waited by the front door to take my mom grocery shopping.

“Tom, you can’t wear that,” Mom exclaimed.

“Why? Don’t I match?” he asked.

A fair question, since Dad was notoriously color-challenged.

But that wasn’t the problem. He’d donned a sport coat and a snazzy red tie with multicolored stripes.

“Sweetheart, you’re retired. You don’t have to wear a tie every day anymore, especially not to the grocery store,” Mom explained.

Disappointed, he removed the tie, but kept the jacket.

Dad loved his neckties.

He grew up picking cotton in Arkansas. As he labored in the sweltering heat, he dreamed of a different life – one that involved a desk job and wearing suits and ties.

His career in the United States Air Force, followed by a career with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, allowed him to achieve his dreams.

When he died in 1995, he’d amassed an amazing collection of neckties. My husband kept a couple, and most of them were donated to a local thrift shop. But I couldn’t part with all of them. I set aside a few dozen and gave them to some dear friends who incorporated them in a beautiful quilt. That quilt hung in my Mom’s bedroom until two years ago when she moved to a retirement facility.

Now, it’s draped over our living room sofa where I can see it every day and think about how blessed I was to have a dad like mine.

It’s also a daily reminder of the friends who took the time to create such a sweet remembrance.

I love quilts, like my dad loved ties. The beauty, artistry and stories behind the patterns fascinate me. Sadly, when it comes to sewing, I’m all thumbs and totally lacking in skill or patience.

Thankfully, I have friends who work magic with fabric, needle and thread.

The necktie quilt isn’t my only memory-filled patchwork. Eleven years ago, our oldest son was struggling through adolescence. His actions and attitudes grieved me. I worried. I fretted. I prayed.

A friend made a lap quilt for me to curl up in when I felt overwhelmed. Because I’d often referred to our firstborn as our “golden child,” she incorporated big golden hearts throughout the design. The border features the worlds of one of my favorite hymns, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

That quilt kept me mindful of my son’s true nature. Every time I wrapped myself in it, I felt cocooned in the comfort of my friend’s love and prayers, evident in each tiny stitch.

My husband has his own special quilt. A diagnosis of osteoarthritis in both hips a few years ago rocked him. A strong, active man, he struggled with the reality of a degenerative disease at a relatively young age.

Bonnie, my sister-in-law, knows that pain all too well. So, she went into her sewing room and crafted a cat-covered quilt for Derek. Using masculine colors for the backing and border, the counterpane delighted both of us – especially when we spotted the cat curled up in a basket that looks just like our Thor.

And recently, a new quilt arrived in the mail, made by an extremely talented, prolific quilter.

Its vibrant colors brighten our bedroom, adding homespun cheer, and the accompanying note warmed my heart.

“Thank you, dear friend, for all your glorious words which help so many,” she wrote.

You can spend hundreds of dollars on beautifully pieced quilts, but the quilts in my home are priceless. Each one is threaded with memories, and has been stitched with prayer and bound with love.

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War Bonds

Empowering Women through Elevating the Conversation

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I was delighted to be a guest on the Whatever Girls podcast “Elevating the Conversation,” though as a journalist it was odd to be on the other side of the Q&A!

Host Erin Bishop and I covered a lot of ground. Her grandparents are the beautiful couple on the cover of War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.

War Bonds Cover Photo

We talked about how the women of that generation revolutionized the workplace and what it takes to have lasting relationships.
Then we talked about writing. How I got started and what’s coming up next. Of course, if you asked me a writing, I’ll talk about reading. The best writers are the best readers!

And then the heart of the podcast– the value of female friendships and how we can empower each other by elevating the conversation.

You can listen to the podcast here.

The-Whatever-Girls

 

 

Columns

When It’s Hard to be Thankful

I stared at my writing calendar in disbelief.

How is it possible? I wondered. The Thanksgiving column, AGAIN!?

In 10-plus years of writing this twice-monthly column, I’m almost positive the Thanksgiving writing duty has mostly fallen in my lap.

Oh, I know colleague Stefanie Pettit has tackled it a time or two – but still, that’s a lot of gratitude, and frankly, I’ve been feeling less than grateful lately.

There’s no rule or commandment that says a column published on Thanksgiving Day must invoke that topic, yet I feel a certain obligation to at least acknowledge the holiday. Imagine having a column run on Christmas Day and writing about cats.

Never mind. I’ve probably done that.

Sighing, I pulled up my files and scanned my list of previous turkey day topics.

Thankful after windstorm? Check.

Eating at the kids’ table? Check.

Black Friday? Check.

Thankful for appliances? Check.

Empty chairs around the table? Check.

I poured another cup of coffee and pondered the problem. A slippery slope, because rumination opened a floodgate of negativity as I recalled the difficult past few weeks.

I’d rather write about the things I’m NOT thankful for, I thought.

And the column took shape in my mind.

I’m not thankful for a deeply personal betrayal and the resulting loss and grief.

I’m not thankful for a health scare that knocked me for a loop and made me miserable.

I’m not thankful for a change in finances that put upcoming travel plans in jeopardy.

I’m not thankful for another trip to the emergency room with my ailing mother.

I’m not thankful that the above issues resulted in me putting my Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer work on hold.

Typing this list made me feel worse.

Abandoning the column-in-progress, I did what I so often do when stymied by a project. I laced up my walking shoes and headed out the door into a dank, gray November drizzle that perfectly reflected my mood.

Here’s the deal: I’ve never thought of myself as an optimist or a pessimist; I’m solidly in the realist camp. What is is, and feelings don’t change facts.

Yet as I shuffled through soggy leaves, I kept finding bits of gold and copper that gleamed against the asphalt, despite the dreary day. The juxtaposition sparked a glint of joy.

My mood lifted, my thoughts cleared and I mentally reviewed and reframed my list of woes.

That hurtful betrayal opened a door to healing in other, far more important relationships.

Dealing with a miserable illness made me realize just how blessed I’ve been with good health, and how easily I take that for granted.

The financial changes allowed Derek and me to reconsider our long-range plans, and we decided to pay off our mortgage. It felt amazing to walk out of the bank debt-free.

This ER visit with Mom had a profound difference. Not only did she check out fine, but instead of returning to an empty house, she returned to a safe community filled with kind people who watch over her.

Letting go of my volunteer responsibilities for a while has freed me to focus on family, and on friendships that are essential to surviving hard times.

I trudged on. The clouds didn’t magically part. The rain didn’t lessen. Yet I was overcome with gratitude.

Like finding bits of gold in soggy November leaves, discovering joy in the midst of sadness changes perception and opens your heart to new possibilities.

And I have never been more thankful for the privilege of writing another Thanksgiving column.

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

Looking Ahead at an Empty Nest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your finances will be more stressed than ever.

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

They won’t call at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com.

Columns

Family, friends, foes and Facebook: Election 2016

There’s a reason I keep my Facebook page politics-free, and it has little to do with being a journalist.

I don’t like conflict. I don’t like name-calling, and I really, really don’t like intolerance and ignorance.

Sadly, there’s nothing like a contentious election season to bring out all of the above. But I purposely keep my political views to myself. In fact, for someone who’s written a column about her underwear, I’m actually an intensely private person. Imagine my surprise when I found myself unfriended by a family member following the election.

My apparent offense? I “liked” a comment another family member had left that repudiated a label often used during passionate political posts. The label? “Privileged white male.” The PWM in question explained why he was tired of his opinions being dismissed with this label and I liked his explanation.

Bam. Apparently, hitting the like button on that comment exceeded her tolerance level. Keep in mind I’d never disagreed or argued with anything this person had posted.

I’m not alone in my experience. A friend was banished from Facebook friendship by a family member because he admitted he’d left the presidential spot blank on his ballot. He couldn’t stomach either option, so he did what he felt was honorable.

He was accused of being a sexist, racist jerk and told that he should … well, I can’t print the rest of the rant in a family newspaper.

When imagined incorrect interpretations are applied to Facebook likes, when rage and rhetoric rule the day, how then can our country and our community move forward? Is it possible to stand and fight for causes and people we’re passionate about without dipping buckets into wells of hatred and splattering others with venom and vitriol?

I’d like to think it is. Perhaps part of the solution is getting to know the “other” among us.

In the weeks preceding the election I had coffee with a friend who said she honestly didn’t know anyone who would vote for Donald Trump. She was joyfully planning a small voting victory party for election night.

That same week I had lunch with a friend who said she didn’t know anyone who would actually vote for Hillary Clinton. “Of course, that doesn’t mean she won’t win,” my friend said. “It’s just that I can’t imagine anyone I know choosing her.”

My reticence renders me like Switzerland, so both of these friends felt comfortable tossing around labels about people who would vote for the candidates they opposed.

“Underclass, undereducated, sexist bigots,” my liberal friend opined.

“Sensitive snowflakes, elitists and whiny millennials,” my conservative friend asserted.

And therein lays the problem. The minute we apply a blanket label to anyone who may vote differently from us, we’ve ensured our bubble is intact. We have become so comfortable in our social and political isolation that we have lost touch with the wider world.

This past week I’ve seen an outpouring of grieving and gloating on social media, and while the hateful rhetoric of some shocked and saddened me, I was relieved that my closest circle of friends had more measured thoughtful reactions.

Whether frightened or hopeful about the next few years, I hope the path forward will include listening and learning from those who differ from us. Hatred can never be part of the solution.

Violence won’t beget tolerance or peace. Rage doesn’t lead to enlightenment.

Our children are watching. They’re listening to our words. They’re reading our posts on social media. If we truly want to create a safe world for them to thrive in, we owe it to them to forge ahead with courage and to take every opportunity to choose love.

The words of Martin Luther King Jr. have never been more apt, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

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, War Bonds

Let Me Entertain You

In today’s Spokesman Review column, I write about the simple joy of breaking bread with friends. I hope entertaining isn’t a lost art. Do you enjoy having people over?

You can call it “company,” “having people over,” or even the loftier “entertaining,” but I just call it fun.

I grew up in a hospitable family. Our dining table had leaves to extend it and those leaves were frequently in use – especially on Sundays. Mom and Dad often brought someone home after church for Sunday supper, and Sunday game nights were a staple of my childhood.

In fact, I honed the waitress skills I used in college playing “restaurant” when my parents hosted a game night. I’d make the rounds with my “magic coffee pot” and offer refills to my parents’ obliging guests. I even earned tips, until I outgrew plastic dishes and was pressed into dishwashing. That wasn’t nearly as fun.

I married an extrovert who loves a houseful of people. Soon, we had a slew of friends who were also young parents and we’d all take turns hosting game nights. These weren’t fancy parties. Everybody brought a snack to share and we’d play Pit, Taboo or Charades for hours. It was worth every penny spent on baby sitters.

 Even when the kids were small, messy and ever-present, I made time to host book clubs, Bible studies or small dinner parties in our home.

“Company’s coming!” was a battle cry, and I enlisted even the littlest ones in a game of clean up and hide stuff.

The whole clean house thing can be off-putting for some. Recently, a friend confessed the reason she dreaded having guests was the time it took to clean out all her closets.

Astonished, I asked. “You clean your CLOSETS before people come over? Why?”

She launched into an extremely far-fetched scenario about what if someone went upstairs looking for a bathroom and accidentally opened a closet door, and discovered that her towels weren’t organized by color and size.

Stunned by the fact that color coding bath towels is apparently a thing, I shook my head and admitted, “Honestly, I just clean my kitchen, living room and bathroom and call it good.”

Seriously, if someone sneaks a peek into a closet and is hit on the head by falling junk while judging my bath towel organization skills, well, that’s their own fault – not mine. And there’s a reason the bedroom door is shut. That’s where I stash everything when I’m cleaning. Open at your own risk.

Another friend hated to entertain because she felt she lacked culinary skills.

“I can’t cook,” she said. “Really, I’m terrible at it, so I can never ask anyone over for dinner.”

Apparently, she believed that only the Rachael Rays or Paula Deens of the world host dinner parties.

I quickly disabused her of that notion.

“You don’t have to be a good cook to entertain,” I said. “Go to Costco. Buy pre-made lasagna, a bag of salad, some garlic bread and a dessert. No cooking needed!”

She was skeptical, but a few weeks later I was thrilled when she invited us over and served the meal I’d suggested. We had a fabulous time and so did our hostess. She’d even upped the ante and used paper plates. No cleanup and nobody minded a bit.

But as our kids grew I was dismayed that dinner parties, game nights and barbecues became few and far between. For one thing, many of us who were at-home moms returned to work once our kids were in school. It was a struggle just to keep up with work and care for our families, let alone plan parties. And sporting events and band concerts gobbled up any elusive spare time.

For several years, entertaining consisted of planning snack schedules for soccer practice and huddling under shared quilts at football games.

But change is in the wind again. Slowly our nests are emptying. The kids still at home can drive or have plans of their own – plans that rarely include their parents.

So, I’m shaking out the tablecloths and dusting off the serving platters. This summer they’ve seen plenty of use.

At a recent gathering, more than a dozen guests filled our backyard. From my vantage point on the Delightful Deck, I paused and watched the smiling faces (some smeared with barbecue sauce) and listened to the happy buzz of laughter and conversation.

That sound reminded me why I love entertaining.

The food doesn’t have to be fancy. The gathering doesn’t have to be large. Paper plates are more practical than china, and plastic cups can hold expensive wine or cheap soda. Those are just the trimmings. All that matters is that people feel welcome and relaxed enough to sit down and stay awhile.

The real feast is in the friendship.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.13615339_1111644075540885_6352834767034135152_n[1]