Don’t Blink: Summer and Childhood Vanish

They marched out of the old Orchard Prairie schoolhouse, eyes alight with excitement.

“Are they done yet?” asked the oldest.

The three boys had been waiting for their mom, the school’s PTO president, to finish an afternoon meeting that I’d just left.

I’d paused to take a picture of the historic schoolhouse when the boys bounded into view.

They’d been busy while they waited.

“We catched a spider!” shouted the littlest boy. “A GINORMOUS spider!”

The middle brother shouldered him out of the way.

“We put it in a Gatorade bottle that I found,” he said.

His older brother held the spider aloft, soldiering on in search of their mother, while the youngest stayed behind, eager to explain his role in the capture.

“I founded it first!” he said. “Back there!”

He pointed behind the building, bouncing with excitement.


Then he hurried to catch up with his brothers.

That encounter brightened a long Monday and memories of my sons tumbled through my mind.

Once upon a time, I had four little boys whose summer adventures frequently included capturing creepy crawlies.

For the record, I’m not a fan of creepy crawlies, but I am a fan of boys and boundless curiosity.

Summer often seems endless when you’re an at-home mom. Endless can equal excruciating when bored boys fight over video games. I worked hard to balance planned activities while leaving room for unstructured play. Anything to keep my busy boys away from electronic devices and spontaneous wrestling matches.

One summer, I grew tired of my Tupperware being used to re-home spiders and insects, so I bought the boys a bug-catching kit. It came with a net, a magnifying glass, tweezers and a plastic container to house their captures.

They spent hours turning over rocks, crawling under decks, and digging through dirt to find new specimens.

We checked out bug books from the library to help identify their finds and to recognize spiders they should avoid.

I realized that backfired when I overheard my middle son saying to his younger brother, “Nope. That’s not a black widow. Keep looking.”

In retrospect, it’s amazing that no one got bit or stung.

I wished I’d been more patient when they careened through the house, shrieking with excitement, holding a newly captured specimen aloft.

Instead, I often feigned interest and wearily reminded them of the “no bugs in the house” rule. In my defense, you can only rave about the coolness of pill bugs a finite number of times.

I just didn’t realize how quickly those summers would pass. Older friends tried to warn me.

“Slow down, enjoy these days, it all goes too fast,” they said.

Sometimes I did slow down enough to savor the sight of four little boys crouching in the driveway, watching a row of ants march across the gravel.

I wish I had a picture of that. But when my sons were small, cellphones didn’t come with cool cameras. Capturing memories meant running back inside the house, trying to unearth a camera.

Summer can seem endless, but it isn’t. You blink and suddenly there’s a chill in the night air and the leaves start to turn.

As I watched the three little boys run across the Orchard Prairie schoolyard with their ginormous spider, I wished I’d taken their photo.

I would have sent it to their mother.

A snapshot of a boyhood that will disappear in the blink of an eye.


The Unhappy Camper

You think you know someone.

You think you can really trust them.

You think they’d never do anything to harm you.

And then they drive you out into the wilderness and dump you. They peel out of the gravel parking lot, leaving you and your small blue suitcase behind – abandoned like a box of unwanted kittens.

At the tender age of 9, I had to confront the harsh reality that my parents no longer loved me. Frantically, I wracked my brain, trying to remember what I’d said or done that resulted in my banishment to the godforsaken wilderness of Silver Lake Bible Camp.

It didn’t matter. It was too late.

“Bye! Have fun!” Mom yelled out the window of the rapidly disappearing car.

Fun? FUN? Who was that woman and what had she done with my real mom?

I’d been dropped off somewhere near Medical Lake with no trail of breadcrumbs to follow to find my way home. Since we lived in Ritzville at the time, it would have taken a lot of bread. But still.

“You’ll love it,” my mother said. “It’s on Silver Lake, just like your favorite book!”

I was a passionate Laura Ingalls Wilder devotee, but this was nothing like “By the Shores of Silver Lake.”

There was no Ma. No Pa. And no one was calling me Half-Pint. Instead, the camp director swept me along with a group of similarly abandoned children and began calling out cabin numbers.

I trudged to the small, wood-framed cabin without air conditioning, my suitcase bumping the gravel as I dragged it along behind me.

Rows of bunk beds lined the walls. This was it. The Big House. The Hoosegow. The Home for Unwanted Children.

The other kids didn’t seem to grasp the desperateness of our situation. Giddy, giggling girls vied for bunks. Most of them seemed to know each other. I didn’t know a soul. Finally, just two of us loners remained.

“Hey, girls! Here’s your bunk!” camp counselor Candy said, encircling our drooping shoulders in her tanned, toned arms. “Who wants the top?”

I shrugged. My bunkmate stared at the floor and then threw herself onto the bottom bunk, sobbing.

“Okay!” said perpetually perky Candy. “Cindy gets top bunk!”

It was all downhill from there.

I hated camp. I loathed it with every fiber of my small-for-my-age 9-year-old body.

Recently, I wrote an article about two friends who met at Camp Sweyolakan 60 years ago. They loved camp so much, they are still volunteering there. I enjoyed meeting them and sharing their story, but, honestly, it was like interviewing people from an alien planet. Everything I despised about camp life – these gals adored!

When I shared the story on social media and confessed I was an unhappy camper, I was relieved to find out I wasn’t alone. Response was fairly evenly split between those who thrived at camp and those who wilted.

I definitely languished.

Things I hated most in no particular order: arts and crafts, group activities, lake swimming and pig-kissing. Things I liked: the Snack Shack and chapel.

Let me break it down for you. I am not and never have been an artsy-craftsy person. I rarely colored between the lines. I was incapable of deciphering the correct amount of glue for any given project, and really, who the heck needs a macrame wallet?

Though I loved the water and could swim like a fish, my comfort zone included chlorine and concrete, not murky water through which tonight’s dinner might swim.

And softball, volleyball and obstacle courses? Listen. I was a reader. Not a doer.

Which brings me to the pig. The messiest cabin in camp was designated the Pig Pen, and the inhabitants thereof had to kiss a pig at evening chapel.

Did you know “cleanliness is next to godliness” is not actually anywhere in the Bible? Well, apparently the camp directors did not know this, and one day our cabin wasn’t up to snuff. Each resident had to kiss a pinkish, snorting, whiskery, slobbery pig.

Eventually, I kissed a lot of pigs before finding my Pork, er, Prince Charming, so I guess this was good practice.

I did, however, enjoy the singing at chapel.

“It only takes a spark to get a fire going. And soon all those around can warm up to its glowing.”

It was beautiful. The harmonies were lovely. But then the warm glow of communal worship was traded for the clammy confines of my mom’s sleeping bag on the top bunk, where I cried myself to sleep every single night.

My bunkmate’s parents loved her. She was reclaimed on Day Two of the five-day journey to Hades, leaving me to weep alone, while Candy patted my shoulder, her Close-Up, whiter-than-white teeth gleaming in the dark while she whispered, “Cindy, sweetie, your parents didn’t move while you were here. Of course they’ll come to get you Friday.”

Shows how much Candy knew. My parents did, in fact, take advantage of my absence to move to a new house.

The one remaining joy of Silver Lake Bible Camp was the Snack Shack. Well, it was until Day Two, when the three whole dollars my Depression-era parents gave me ran out.

Giddy with sugar lust and seduced by the name, I sunk my final 25 cents into a Big Hunk – the worst confection known to man.

Which meant when “free time” finally occurred, I had no money for the pay phone and couldn’t call home. I finally resorted to begging for a quarter, but my parents were moving and the phone had been disconnected.

So for every “Camp was the best experience of my life and shaped me into the confident, successful woman I am today,” there’s a tale like mine.

One full of grief, pig-kissing, macrame wallets and a lifelong loathing of Big Hunks.

Contact Cindy Hval at 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 Her previous columns are available online at columnists.

War Bonds

War Bonds as seen in the wild


My oldest son sent this photo of War Bonds as part of a Summer Reading display at Barnes & Noble Northtown in Spokane.

Makes me happy to think someone may pick up a copy for a summer read!

I’d love to see more photos of War Bonds in the wild. Feel free to email me photos at

Meanwhile enjoy your summer reads!



The Great Zucchini


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 previous columns are available online at columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.




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 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 She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Her previous columns are available online at columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.