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.

Columns

Zucchini: The Sequel

“We went on vacation – the squash did not,” Cindy Hval said in an email about Tuesday’s harvest, shown. “It’s like the zucchini are mocking me.” (Cindy Hval / The Spokesman-Review) “We went on vacation – the squash did not,” Cindy Hval said about Tuesday’s harvest, shown. “It’s like the zucchini are mocking me.”

Every great adventure deserves and sometimes demands a sequel. Such is the case with my previous column about surplus squash.

When I wrote about the Great Zucchini Invasion of 2017, readers responded with recipes, suggestions of where to donate the surplus, and offers to take some zucchini off my hands – or countertops.

It turned out that reader response to the column was as prolific as, well, zucchini.

The irony was in the few days after the column ran: My harvest trickled down to near nothing. In fact, I almost put away the grater and the freezer bags, but then I blinked. Yep. More zucchini and the giveaway began anew.

A Facebook friend stopped by to take a few. My monthly writers group met at my home – each writer took home helpful critiques, encouraging words. And zucchini.

I hosted my annual Great Gazebo Girlfriend Gathering and sent the ladies home with a squash or two, except for one friend who sneaked out without taking her fair share. That’s OK. I know where she lives.

And, of course, we celebrated National Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbor’s Porch day on Aug. 8. We may have celebrated a bit too much as most of our neighbors are still avoiding us.

Yet the zucchini just kept on coming. An online commenter offered this solution: “Cindy, if you put your surplus crop in a box at curbside with a FREE label, no one will take them. But if you label the zucchini $1 each, someone will steal them after dark. Problem solved.”

Others requested some of the recipes I mentioned in the column, so I’ve included a few of those here.

Speaking of recipes, a reader offered to send me a recipe for zucchini relish and pickles. Both sound wonderful, but the recipe requires canning and I’m not quite that desperate. Yet.

One reader offered to trade farm fresh eggs for zucchini, and I just may take her up on that.

Others suggested nonprofit organizations that might welcome fresh produce.

Mary Ellen Gaffney-Brown said Meals on Wheels gives out fresh produce every Wednesday. I called the organization to confirm and discovered that they often welcome veggie donations, but cautioned readers to call first.

Barbara Hill notified me of a wonderful program run by Refugee Connections. These folks actually come to your garden, glean it, and then donate the produce to the East Central Community Center.

Another fun way to share garden goodness is to take it to your local library for a produce swap. The summer bounty program sponsored by Spokane County Library District invites folks to bring their extra fresh produce to select branches, and take home something different from another garden. Leftovers are taken to a local food bank and the produce swaps continue in September.

So if you find yourself swimming in surplus squash, don’t despair. It turns out there are plenty of ways to share the wealth. That said, sequels are fine, but I’m really hoping the Great Zucchini Invasion won’t become a trilogy.

Columns

The Great Zucchini

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Unfortunately, the most valuable life lessons are often learned the hard way. This summer I’ve been schooled in the veracity of the adage “be careful what you wish for.”

Last year my husband experimented in the Glorious Garden. He tried growing zucchini, vertically, in pallets. The experiment failed, and I was disappointed.

“Next year, I want zucchini. LOTS of zucchini,” I told my hardworking spouse.

He heard me. Boy, did he hear me.

Two weeks into this summer’s zucchini season had me yelling for mercy – praying for drought, pestilence or plague. No such luck. Our bumper squash crops shows no sign of slowing down.

It’s come to this – last week, I went to a party. I took zucchini as a hostess gift.

I returned my sister-in-law’s baking dish – with a squash tucked inside. Our relatives are starting to avoid me.

Our teenager used to eagerly ask, “What’s for dinner?”

Now, he hesitates.

In the last few weeks I’ve made zucchini cornbread casserole, cheesy zucchini, zucchini and rice, zucchini fritters, zucchini chips, zucchini stuffing casserole – and that’s just for dinner.

I’ve also baked dozens of zucchini chocolate chip muffins and many loaves of chocolate zucchini bread.

I have bags of shredded frozen zucchini in the freezer, and Derek recently bought a spiralizer. He wants to try zucchini spaghetti, but I’m not sure I’m ready to make the vegetable-in-place-of-pasta leap. Ask me next week.

And yes, I should know better, because many years ago, I used to write for a now defunct section of this newspaper, called HOME, and one of my assignments was to cover ‘The Great Zucchini War’ between two Spokane Valley neighbors.

It was actually more of a story of the gift that kept on giving. In the 2006 article, I chronicled the tale of a super-sized squash that made its way from bench, to birdbath, to treetop, as two neighbors escalated the art of re-gifting.

The Pedens and the Fairhursts took the squash war to unheard of heights. The much maligned vegetable was camouflaged in orange, black and silver and set afloat in a koi pond. It was transformed into a replica of a Flying Tiger fighter plane. Sporting wings, tail fins and the snarling teeth of a tiger, it perched in the upper branches of a walnut tree where it remained until a ladder tall enough to reach it could be found.

When last seen, it was Halloween and the re-gifted gourd was growing soft in the middle. It had been painted white, covered in ghostly draperies and encased in concrete – on a neighbor’s porch.

That was 11 years ago, and one can only hope the extra-large zuch was given a decent burial somewhere, or at least turned into enough bread to feed the ’hood.

Which brings me back to my squash stash. I’ve been trying to make eye contact with my next-door neighbors, but surprisingly they always seem to be in a hurry to peel out of their driveways or slam shut the sliding doors on their decks.

I’ve pondered placing the surplus squash in a box in our front yard with a “free to good home,” sign, but I worry they will rot in the hot summer sun before they are adopted.

There’s always Craigslist, but I don’t relish getting caught in some kind of undercover sting operation. I can just picture a jaded cop in a deserted parking lot mocking me. “You thought you’d get cash – for squash!?”

Last week I interviewed a longtime greengrocer who told me, “If you have to buy zucchini at a store, you must not have any friends.”

Well, at the rate my freezer is filling, I won’t have any need for zucchini or friends until roughly, 2020.

Listen to me dear readers; be careful what you wish for – especially if it involves produce.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

 

 

Columns

So, this is August?

In my most recent column, I bemoan the fleeting days of summer. And what happened to July anyway?

Apparently, I blinked and missed July. How can a month with 31 days just vanish? I feel like I’m in an alternate version of a John Lennon song: “So this is August and what have you done? Another month over and a new one just begun.”

I spent much of last summer out of town for “War Bonds” readings or events, so this summer I planned to make the most of the longer days. My list of things to conquer seemed so manageable back in June. But now it’s August and I still haven’t even worn the swimsuit that arrived too late for our Hawaii anniversary trip in March.

June was a blur of end-of-school activities, and by the time we celebrated Sam’s stellar report card and Zack’s graduation from Spokane Falls Community College, the month was mostly gone. But July stretched languorously out before me and I’d planned to squeeze the most out of those summer hours.

At the top of the to-do list? Get braces for Sam, which seemed a simple enough task. After all, I’ve been down the orthodontia route with his oldest brother. But the orthodontist we used back then has long since retired. Finding time to take him to visit at least three specialists to get quotes has proved impossible.

 Sam’s been busy stripping and painting his grandmother’s deck and volunteering at the North Spokane Library. When I have time – he doesn’t. When he has time – I don’t.

At this rate, he’ll be in college by the time his teeth are straightened. Actually, he will be in college because while we haven’t done the orthodontic visits, we did enroll him at Eastern Washington University. This fall he’ll be a Running Start student at his dad’s alma mater.

I’d hoped to take day trips around the area, but the farthest I’ve ventured is my backyard. Why waste gas when the garden is glorious, the flowers in bloom and hours drift by while I devour a great “beach read” beneath the Great Gazebo’s generous shade?

Instead of exploring area day hikes, I’ve stuck to my regular neighborhood walking route, despite the challenge of navigating massive roadwork projects.

The other day as I approached some work in progress, a kind flagger escorted me across the street. Apparently, I look like the type of person who might fall into a 5-foot crater, even though it was filled with three guys in hard hats and marked by orange traffic cones.

Taking the cats to the vet is always on my summer list. Because I’m no glutton for punishment, I always schedule separate visits and insist one of the boys accompany us. Milo and Thor have plenty of time for a car ride. Zack and Sam do not.

Last year at this time, we were inundated with zucchini. In anticipation of this year’s bounty, I spent quite a bit of time finding and organizing recipes to showcase our squash crop. My mouth watered with thoughts of zucchini casserole, cookies, breads and fritters. But so far our zucchini crop has been a bust. We’re awash in tomatoes, carrots and onions, but nary a squash.

Writing during the summer is always difficult. My rarely quiet home gets even noisier with kids and company. I’d hoped to be to the halfway point on the first draft of my second book, but, alas, I’m nowhere close to making that goal.

I did however record several episodes of my new podcast “Life, Love & Raising Sons,” which debuts next week at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. The program shares the title of my second book, so I count it as progress.

Even more fun, Zack and Sam joined me for the first two episodes. If you’ve ever wondered what a Hval family dinner table conversation sounds like, you can tune in or download the podcast once it’s posted.

So this is August and what have you done? Me? I just ripped up that pesky summer to-do list and put on my new swimsuit. The month is looking sunnier already.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.