Columns

Silver linings in cloudy COVID-19 world

My doorknobs and light switches have never been cleaner.

The banister absolutely gleams.

Four months into the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m working hard at counting my blessings, and having much-touched areas of our home that rarely got a wipe-down, sparkling is one of them.

With no end in sight to restrictions and shutdowns, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by daily helpings of bad news.

I still haven’t been able to visit my mother. If I’d known when I saw her in February how many months would pass before I could see her again, I would have moved her spring and summer clothes to the front of her closet, so she could easily find them.

“Getting dressed every day is hard when I can’t go anywhere,” she said. “But I’m not staying in my bathrobe.”

And I’d looked forward to a quick break out of town when Derek had to go to the Tri-Cities on business. Last summer, I lounged by the pool when he worked, and we visited wineries and enjoyed a river cruise when he was done.

When I called the hotel to make the reservation, I was told the hotel pool and all its restaurants were closed.

I stayed home while Derek traveled to COVID Central and back.

Such small complaints when compared to those who’ve been sick, or lost jobs, or loved ones because of the virus.

So, I’m committed to counting my blessings, even though a recent grocery store visit vexed me.

How the heck do you open those darn plastic produce bags without licking your finger first? I spent most of my shopping trip trying to open them. I even rubbed them between my hands, but all I got was wrinkly bags.

When I posted my lament on social media, a friend suggested swiping my finger across damp lettuce or celery.

I tried it on my next shopping trip. Success! It worked like a charm, but I’m sure the produce clerks wondered why I was fondling the lettuces without buying any. Also, this is why you should always, always, wash your produce at home.

On the same outing my irreverent sense of humor caused me some embarrassment when a woman across the aisle from me sneezed. At home, I’ve taken to saying “Corona” instead of “Bless you,” when someone sneezes. Luckily, my mask muffled my response, and hopefully her mask muffled her sneeze.

Also, I learned the hard way that folks can get somewhat panicky when you say you’re not going somewhere because you feel a bit “corona-y.”

One of the biggest complaints about COVID-19 restrictions is folks feeling stuck or trapped at home. This is where introverts like me have it made. I love being at home – especially when I have it all to myself. Our son has been back at work for the past month, and Derek’s business is essential, so now at least a couple of days a week I have stretches of solitude.

When I’m done with work, I take my daily walk, and then relax in our backyard gazebo. Then I harvest zucchini, radishes, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries from our garden. Soon there’ll be tomatoes, green beans, beets and carrots.

Our garden goodies fill our plates every Sunday when our three sons join us for supper – and since corona we’ve revived our family game night tradition.

Another coronavirus blessing is library curbside pick up.

I’ve always selected my books online and then picked them up at the library, but now I don’t even have to leave my car! It’s like a literary drive-thru.

While I am doing more in-person interviews for work, I still do a lot more phone interviews than before. The time saved on driving is a boon.

In fact, I actually picked up a new hobby – the daily crossword. My mom always did the newspaper puzzles and had books of crosswords, but I never felt like I had the time.

Now, I take the puzzle page with me out to the gazebo every afternoon. No New York Times in ink for me – just the Daily Commuter. It’s easy enough to finish quickly, which makes me feel accomplished and smart.

The daily puzzle reawakened my love for pencils. I hadn’t used a pencil since I was in college, and it’s such a delight to rediscover the joy of good old No. 2’s. Even better, the Chic and Shab shop on North Monroe has a whole line of pencils with edgy sayings etched on them.

The beautiful thing about pencils is that anything can be erased – mistakes, misspelled words, incorrect answers.

It’s really too bad 2020 wasn’t written in pencil.

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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.