Columns

Happiness Times Two

Absolute joy.

There’s just no other way to describe what it’s like to hold your grandsons in your arms. Though it’s only been three and a half months since our last visit, toddlers grow and change with lightning speed.

When Derek, our youngest son, Sam, and I arrived at the twins’ new home in Newark, Ohio, earlier this month, we wondered if the boys would remember us.

We didn’t wonder long. Sam captured their reactions in a photo. Nick reached for me and buried his head on my shoulder, and Adam gleefully bounded into Derek’s arms. It was so thoughtful of Alex and Brooke to have twins, so each of us gets a boy to hold. And at 20 months, they’re definitely more boys than babies.

Nick has hugs for Nana, while Adam plays with Papa.

In fact, it seems I took more videos than pictures of them this trip because they’re always on the move. One afternoon, as we explored their new town, we decided to let them stroll around the courthouse square. But, just like their father at this age, these guys prefer running to walking.

After all that exertion, we needed to cool down, so we stopped for ice cream. Holding a toddler with an ice cream cone is every bit as messy and as fun as I remembered.

The twins enjoyed exploring the Airbnb home we rented and the wooden blocks we bought were a huge hit. They spent lots of time building block towers and had fun dumping the blocks out of the bucket and putting them back in again.

Speaking of cleaning up, Nick has a passion for sweeping. Every day, he grabbed the broom and made a circuit. Then he went back for the Swiffer. And then the mop. Those wood floors gleamed by the time he was done!

In the evenings we returned to our son’s home for dinner. The house sits on almost an acre and features an in-ground pool. Plenty of room for boys to roam when they get older, but on this visit, the grown-ups cooled off in the big pool while the little ones splashed in their kiddie pool on the gated deck under their mom’s watchful eye.

The days flew by, filled with play, Popsicles and naps, followed by evenings with barbecues and lots of laughter.

I was so delighted that though the twins are busy, active boys, they both enjoy cuddling. They also adored their Uncle Sam. It seems every time he sat down, a twin would run over and climb up on his lap.

Best of all, that snuggling made for perfect story times. As I mentioned in my previous column, I took a stack of board books for the boys with me. Derek gamely packed them in his bag, so I didn’t have to wear the same outfit the entire trip.

Story time with Nana and Adam

We plan one more visit this year before winter and before the twins’ second birthday. I’m already counting down the days – and picking out the books.

Columns

To all the books I’ve loved before…

In my previous column, I wondered if a love of literacy was hardwired in our family DNA. All four of my sons are book lovers like me. I invited readers to share their bookish memories, and it seems that many of you also caught the reading bug young and have no desire to be cured.

Christy Himmelright of the Tri-Cities wrote “I have all the Little Golden Books that my parents bought and read to me. My very favorite was ‘All Aboard!’ about a train trip from home to see Grandma. The protagonist was a girl, and that was almost impossible to find in any adventure story. Also, it appeared that she was an only child (as I am), so identifying with her happened on a very personal level.”

Like me, Himmelright eagerly anticipated trips to the library.

“The best time was summer vacation when I could go to our little town library and check out the maximum number of books that I could read in two weeks. It seems that I was trudging back there often before the two weeks were up and loading up again with the next selection. I also participated in the summer reading contests, and clearly remember the ‘trail’ that wound through the Reading Forest. It started at the checkout desk and meandered along the top of the walls that showed above the box shelves. To go each time I went into the library and find my marker as it moved along the trail was a thrill that I still feel in my long-ago child’s heart.”

Her lifelong love of the written word endures.

“To this day, I have at least two or three books at my living room chair-side, and one on my nightstand for bedtime relaxation,” she wrote. “I cannot imagine life without books, especially the real ones of paper and binding and covers.”

Patricia Garvin of Spokane recalled the magical moment when words came alive for her.

“In 1948, I was in the first grade. We students had a workbook in which there was a story; we were to remove the pages, which folded on dotted lines, into a small booklet. I vividly recall sitting next to my mother and reading the story to her. I still see the line drawings and remember reading to her, ‘…and down the hill came Wee Woman.’ She was as delighted as I!”

Beverly Gibb of Spokane still has a copy of the first book she remembers her mother reading to her.

“My first reading experience was Mom reading me ‘Winnie the Pooh.’ We both loved Piglet the best,” she wrote. “My favorite books were ‘Anne of Green Gables.’ I’m guessing your boys didn’t read those!”

She guessed correctly. My sons didn’t embrace Anne, but on Christmas morning a couple of years ago, my oldest gave me the complete “Anne of Green Gables” collection. He knows how to delight his mama.

Sometimes literature love leads to book-custody issues. That’s what happened to Bernadette Powers of Helena.

She recalled parents joining the Weekly Readers Book Club, which delivered books directly to their door.

“I was in hog heaven getting books in the mail. I still have most of them including my all-time favorite, ‘Half Magic’ by Edward Eager,” she wrote. “The story is delightful and the illustrations are amazing. It also became a favorite of my son, Gannon. He appropriated it when he went off to college. When I went to visit him I appropriated it back. We’ve been stealing it back and forth ever since. He moved from Seattle to California a few years ago. There’s a small part of me that suspects he made the move so it would be harder for me to steal my book.”

Joan Becker, who grew up in Spokane, wrote of her eagerness to start first grade, so she could learn to read. Her best friend was a year older and would read comics to her as long as they were getting along, but if they disagreed? No more comics for Joan.

When she could decipher words by herself, the material the school provided proved disappointing.

“Dick and Jane stories comprised the love and hate relationship of others selecting my reading agenda,” she wrote. “After Dick and Jane made their debut, their interactions were way too repetitive to be captivating. I couldn’t wait to purchase my own comic books and go to the library.”

All who responded still retain their passion for the written word.

“As my 90th birthday approaches, I remember as a 9- or 10- year- old growing up in Capitol Hill in Seattle, going on the bus by myself downtown to the library. In those days there were no branch libraries, and it also seemed OK for a little girl to go alone on the bus,” wrote Muriel Rubens. “My parents read to me as I was growing up, as did my two older brothers and sister. I learned to read at an early age, and I loved it and haven’t stopped since,”

As I write, my suitcase sits open beside me. I’m packing for a trip to Ohio to see my twin grandsons, aka “The World’s Most Beautiful Boys.”

My husband glanced at the mound of stuff I intend to pack. Board books for the boys and a paperback for their big sister lay scattered among clothes. My own stack of reading material teetered nearby.

“You’re never going to fit all that in your suitcase,” he said.

He may be right.

However, one thing is certain, even if I have to wear the same outfit every day for a week; the books are coming with me.

Columns

Raising Readers

Hval boys

The photo tells the story.

“Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss opens across Alex’s lap. He beams because he’s the designated reader. Ethan clutches 6-week-old Sam. Ethan smiles because he’s the chosen baby-holder. With neither baby nor book to hold, Zach sits glumly chin in hand, pondering his new role as middle child.

As far as I can tell, it’s the earliest picture with all four of our sons together – and of course, someone is holding a book.

Lest you worry about Zach, another snapshot shows he’s finally achieved story-reader status. A toddler Sam leans against him as Zach reads, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

Sam and Zach

Bookish moms tend to have bookish kids, which led to unforeseen consequences. More on that later.

Perhaps a love of reading is genetic, imprinted in our DNA. All I know is my parents were readers and my siblings are readers. As soon as we could print our names we all got library cards.

I still remember the thrilling moment when I realized I could read. I huddled in the children’s area of the South Hill Library with a picture book in my lap. Suddenly, the letters became words. I was reading! I was reading “Fun with Dick and Jane!” I haven’t been without a book nearby since.

Few things are as magical as picking up a good book and finding yourself transported to another world, another time, another life.

From the moment I knew I was expecting, I read to my unborn children. I wasn’t hoping for a baby Einstein, I just wanted them to learn the rhythm and flow of language.

Cloth books and board books filled our nursery – as indispensable as the stacks of diapers and wipes on the changing table.

Bedtime rituals always included stories, songs and prayers – each offering a different experience of the wonder of words.

As the boys grew, storytime at the Shadle and later Indian Trail libraries became a weekly outing we all eagerly anticipated. Soon my sons could sound out words, choose books by themselves, and discover favorite authors and series independently.

Even as the three oldest approached adolescence and outgrew the bedtime ritual, I’d frequently read aloud to them after dinner. When Sam discovered Patricia Polacco books and brought home “Pink and Say” from the school library, I read it to the family. The book is based on a true story of two teenage boys, one Black and one white, who fought during the Civil War. Every single one of us cried at the ending – even the teenagers.

That’s the power of reading aloud – it offers a shared experience that television and movies cannot replicate.

Often the boys would read to me, especially Ethan and Sam. In fact, Sam 21, and I recently read “A Monster Calls” aloud together as he prepared a lesson plan on the book for a college class. He loves literature so much; he’s halfway through earning a master’s degree in English at EWU.

All of our adult sons are readers, which resulted in the aforementioned consequences – they tell me about books they’ve enjoyed and loan them to me. Now, a stack of their recommendations teeters next to my pile of library books.

When I mentioned I wanted to read “Talking to Strangers” by Malcolm Gladwell, Ethan said, “I have it. You can borrow it.”

Zach read a book about modern media he thought I’d enjoy and brought it over. Derek started reading it before I got to it.

Sam buys books like the printed page might grow obsolete. My son-stack grew when he added another book by Patrick Ness, the author of “A Monster Calls,” and a book of short stories by Ted Chiang.

With twin toddler sons, Alex doesn’t have much time to read, but he loved Stephen King’s “11/22/63,” so I’m currently 100 pages into the 849-page volume.

I couldn’t have imagined all those Dr. Seuss books ago, that my grown-up sons would aid and abet my reading addiction, but at this rate my to-read stack won’t shrink any time soon. And that’s a consequence I’m happily enjoying.

Columns

My Entry for Guinness World Records

If I’m ever included in Guinness World Records it will likely be for most times singing “The Wheels on the Bus” complete with hand motions.

It’s not the most scintillating song, but when it’s your grandson’s favorite, you will sing it to infinity and beyond because it makes him happy.

Earlier this month we visited our twin grandsons, Adam and Nick, in Ohio. We last saw them in October. It’s been a long five months, but we’ve been chatting with them via Skype almost every week. Perhaps “chatting” isn’t accurate. Derek blows raspberries, I sing “Wheels on the “Bus,” and we both wave a lot, but mostly we watch their busy bodies scoot, crawl, climb, toddle and lately run.

When we left them in October, Nick was just taking his first independent steps and Adam was thinking about it. Now at 16 months old Nick runs everywhere at full speed, and Adam is walking independently. In other words, we left babies and returned to find toddlers.

We hoped those Skype visits would ensure The World’s Most Beautiful Boys would remember us. All worries about that were banished the minute we walked into their living room. Adam’s delighted grin lit up the room, and Nick was so excited he giggled and did a happy dance.

As usual, we rented a nearby Airbnb, and our son dropped them off each day, and because it was spring break their big sister Farrah, 7, got to join us.

Like many of us since COVID-19 hit, Alex works from home. Brooke has to keep the twins entertained and out of Daddy’s hair in their two-bedroom townhouse.

Working from home with active toddlers isn’t ideal, but our son said he wouldn’t trade a minute of it. An unexpected pandemic benefit is that he hasn’t missed a moment of the twins’ first year.

They’re in the process of buying their first home, so by our next visit the kids will have a big backyard to explore.

Knowing how much I love holding babies, Derek cautioned me before we left.

“Don’t expect them to want to cuddle. They’re li’l dudes, not babies.”

When naptime arrived on our first full day with the boys, Derek snored on one end of the couch with Nick asleep in his arms, while Adam curled up in mine, sound asleep.

No cuddling, indeed.

Of course, they’re mostly on the go. We blew bubbles outside and walked to a nearby park to give them their first experience on a swing.

We also watched a lot of “Cocomelon” on Netflix. It’s a television show featuring big-eyed babies, and nursery rhymes and songs. I’m sure it’s very educational, but I’d rather sing “Wheels on the Bus” 99 times in a row. Honestly, J.J. and his family kind of creep me out.

But guess what? When it’s your grandsons’ favorite show, you watch it with them, especially when you get to cuddle them while doing so.

Thankfully, there was plenty of time to zoom toy cars across the coffee table and practice stacking big plastic Duplo blocks, and Nana Cindy always brings new books to read.

We even got to eat pizza with them and watch the Zags’ amazing win over UCLA.

Nick and Adam cheering on the Zags.

All too soon, it was time to return home. Every time we say goodbye, it gets harder. It’s not much fun to have your only grandchildren on the opposite side of the country.

But as our plane taxied down the runway in Columbus, my blue mood lightened when I thought about how incredibly blessed we are that Adam and Nick, born seven weeks premature, are so healthy and strong.

Not everyone who longs to be a grandparent gets to be one.

Somewhere around 25,000 feet, my sadness turned to gratitude, and as Derek dozed next to me, I softly hummed “The Wheels on the Bus,” one more time.

———

Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com. Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available locally at Auntie’s Bookstore, Barnes & Noble locations and on Amazon.

All Write

Children’s Author Donates First Book Proceeds to Feed Out-of-School Kids

What do you do when your debut children’s novel is released during a pandemic?
If you’re my nephew, Jake Burnett, you  find a way to use the launch to help hungry kids.

Jake and his publisher are donating 100% of of the novel’s proceeds through April 30th to the Food Bank of Eastern & Central North Carolina (https://foodbankcenc.org/).

I’m incredibly proud of my nephew. Read more about the book in the press release below and please consider purchasing The Chaos Court. You’ll be helping launch a fabulous book and feeding hungry kids. What could be better?

RALEIGH, NC—Like most of us, Jake Burnett didn’t expect to have his world turned upside down by a pandemic. His first children’s novel, The Chaos Court, was scheduled for release this month from start-up publisher South Window Press.

“I was running in a dozen different directions,” Burnett says, “figuring out how to do a launch party, a book tour, school visits.”

Then COVID-19 hit.

Schools are closed. Book signings are off. Social distancing is the hot new thing.

“My first reaction was to put it all on hold,” Burnett continues. “But, weird as it sounds, I knew my heroine Patience Fell wouldn’t stand for that kind of thing. She’d want to do something to help people.”

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Patience is a lowly 12-year-old servant girl who uncovers an ancient conspiracy of fairies to tear down her town. No one else stands up to them, so she decides to fight by herself—armed only with a kitchen broom.

“It’s a story about being brave in the face of the unknown. About doing what you can, where you are, with what you’ve got,” Burnett explains.

School closures threaten school lunch programs and the students who depend on those lunches. So that’s why Burnett decided to act. He and South Window Press are donating 100% of the novel’s proceeds through April 30th to the Food Bank of Eastern & Central North Carolina (https://foodbankcenc.org/).

“Books are food for the mind,” Burnett says, “but first you have to feed the body. No kid—no person—should have to go hungry. I’m proud to be able to support the great work the Food Bank does.”

The Chaos Court is available from Amazon March 20 (https://www.amazon.com/Chaos-Court-Whosebourne-Chronicles/dp/1734664207/). Stay tuned at http://www.southwindowpress.com/ for bookstore availability as the current situation develops.

Jake Burnett is also available for remote school visits (contact information at: http://jakeburnett.com/contact/).

All Write

Goodreads Giveaway: Virgil Wander

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I’m sure the neighbors heard my excited whoop when I found out I’d won a Goodreads Giveaway copy of “Virgil Wander” by Leif Enger!

His novel “Peace Like a River” is on my top ten favorite books list, and I was in the audience when he visited Whitworth University in 2004.

I’m so excited to dive into his latest novel! Review to follow.

Have you ever won received a Goodreads Giveaway book?

Columns

Childhood Pleasures vs. Adult Perks

She breezed by me, her skinny legs pumping hard, her hair, untethered by a helmet, flew straight behind her like Superman’s cape.

As she leaned into a turn, I caught the flash of her grin before she became a blip on my horizon.

Just a girl on a bike on a sunny spring day, but she took my breath away.

I remember riding my bike just like that. Tearing off after school, standing to pump my legs faster, and flinging my bike down in a friend’s front yard for an afternoon of play.

The girl reminded me of a question my friend Sarah had posted on Facebook: What do you miss most about your childhood? What do you love about adulthood?

Sarah, who grew up in Southern California, misses the ocean.

I replied that what I miss most about childhood is having time to read. Actually, what I really miss is having time – that delicious feeling of hours stretching before you, waiting to be filled with books. Or bikes.

It’s funny how as teenagers we chafe under parental restrictions and pine for the freedom of adulthood. It seems to me there’s a lot of freedom in childhood. At least there was in mine.

Oh, I had to go to school. There was homework and some chores. But mostly there was time to play. Growing up in the ’70s we didn’t have organized play dates. Mom was an at-home mother who didn’t drive, so my friends mostly lived in my neighborhood. After school – and a quick snack– I’d hop on my bike. No cellphone. No helmet. Just the unbreakable rule to be home by 5 p.m. because that’s when Dad got home.

Of course, there were rules I hated. A ridiculously early bedtime, limited television viewing, my mother being in charge of my wardrobe, and worst of all no reading in bed after 9. That’s why flashlights were invented and probably why I have terrible vision today.

One of the best things about being an adult is being able to read in bed as long as I want. The irony is now I often find myself nodding off before midnight.

Which brings me to the second part of Sarah’s question: What do you love most about adulthood?

My answer? I enjoy having meaningful work and the lifelong love of a truly good man – both things I dreamed of as a child.

Motherhood has been my most meaningful work by far. For many years, nurturing four baby boys to adulthood consumed my heart and my hours.

My sons still consume my heart, but the remaining two under my roof no longer require much nurturing. They do require feeding, and seem to enjoy an occasional hug, and sometimes conversations about goals, hopes and dreams. But they’re independent souls who get themselves to work and to school without assistance.

I’m so thankful that my work that earns a paycheck is also meaningful. Local news matters now more than ever. It’s a privilege to share community stories whether about lasting marriages, new businesses, successful students, or great nonprofits.

And despite a deadline-driven work life, my husband and I have more time together. After years of heavy-duty parenting, it’s wonderful to discover how much we still enjoy each other’s company. Weekend getaways, weekly date nights or just hanging out at home, have helped us anticipate, instead of dread, the empty nest.

It’s not quite the same feeling as riding your bike through the neighborhood without a care in the world, but it’s nice just the same.

I think sometimes we find ourselves so bent under the weight of adult responsibilities that we lose our capacity for joy, for wonder, for play.

Childhood pleasures versus adult perks? Perhaps we can have both.

I haven’t owned a bike since childhood. Maybe it’s time to ride again.

Your turn.
What do you miss most about childhood? What do you love most about being an adult?

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.

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All Write

Goodreads Giveaway Equals Happiness

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Like most writers I’m an avid reader. I’m never without a stack of books on my nightstand and usually have a book in my car or purse, too.

When you read a lot, it can be hard to keep of what you’ve read and what you want to read.

Enter Goodreads. It’s a delightfully easy way to track your reading, keep up with your favorite authors and discover new authors.

Goodreads also offers frequent book giveaways. Publishers  ship the book directly to the winner and there’s no obligation to read or review.

I only enter giveaways if the book is something I really want to read or it’s by a favorite author. I’ve entered a lot of giveaways and last month I was notified that I’d won a copy of “Aunt Dimity & The King’s Ransom” by Nancy Atherton. I was beyond thrilled!

The “Aunt Dimity” books are exceptionally well-crafted, delightful British cozies and I haven’t missed one.

This week my doorbell rang and the UPS man handed me my copy of “The King’s Ransom.”

I admit it.

I hugged it.  (At least I didn’t  hug the UPS man.) Then I whooped. And might have hollered.

My teenager rolled his eyes, but I didn’t care. Books make me happy. And free books make me even happier!

If you haven’t joined Goodreads yet, you really should. You can follow your favorite authors *hint*  Cindy Hval and connect with other readers.

Who knows? You may even win a free book

 

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.

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