Columns

Grateful for Trip Before Pandemic Havoc

Earlier this month when we left for Ohio to visit our twin grandsons, there were just two cases of COVID-19 in Spokane – the remaining cruise ship passengers that had been sent to Sacred Heart Medical Center to recuperate. There were no reported cases in Ohio.

By the time we returned home, Ohio’s governor had closed schools, libraries and restaurants, as had Washington’s governor, and coronavirus cases in both states had skyrocketed.

A lot can change in a week.

But the change that happened to me over the course of the week had nothing to do with viruses and everything to do with love.

How to describe the feeling of holding your son’s son in your arms for the first time? The joy of discovering your child’s blue eyes peering at you from a new face or, in our case, faces.

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Adam and Nicholas are identical twins and, in my completely unbiased opinion, worthy of #TheWorldsMostBeautifulBoys hashtag I created for them.

Born 7 1/2 weeks early on Nov. 23, they had a lengthy stay in the neonatal intensive care unit before coming home in January. Thankfully, they are healthy, and did I mention beautiful?

Derek and I rented a small Airbnb house near our son’s home, so we could watch the twins and their big sister, Farrah, 6, as often as Alex and Brooke were willing to part with them.

To our delight, we got to have them every day. We timed our arrival with Brooke’s birthday, and Alex surprised her by taking time off from work so he could ferry the boys back and forth for her.

We wanted her to be able to rest and enjoy some much needed self-care time. I remember well the exhausting days and endless nights of caring for infants who seemed to rarely sleep – and I only had one baby at a time.

After our first stint of babysitting, Derek and I sprawled on the sofa, exhausted.

“How does she do it?” he asked. “How does she do this every day? I mean, she’s by herself when Alex is at work. Look how worn out we are and there’s TWO of us!”

Two of us, whose only agenda was cuddling, feeding, burping and changing our adorable grandsons. Our only other objective was to be able to tell them apart by the time we left. More on that later.

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When the boys napped I cooked meals for the family – another reason I’m so glad we chose an Airbnb over a hotel. But I didn’t have to clean, or tackle laundry, or do any of the myriad things Brooke has to do on a daily basis. We are simply in awe of her.

On our first full day in Ohio, we bundled up the boys and took them on their first walkabout in their double stroller.

It was a new adventure for them, and Adam was not a fan. Nick, however, took in the sights, sounds and smells with equanimity and wonder.

We slowly began to get a sense of their personalities. Alex and Brooke weren’t kidding when they told us their boys are very opinionated and not shy about making their preferences known. We thought it was mighty kind of Adam and Nick to let Nana and Papa know how they like to be held and fed, but the first time they both cried at the same time, we looked at each other, stricken.

Nick hollers, but Adam’s cry is more dramatic and heartbreaking. It quickly became clear my job was to calm any tears, and Derek’s job was to fall asleep with a baby in his arms.

Not much has changed in the 20 years since we had our last baby.

Initially, Brooke dressed them differently, so we knew who was who, but when Alex dropped them off wearing identical outfits, I panicked.

“Which one is which?” I asked.

“Hmm, I’m not sure,” he said.

Then he showed me his dad trick. He swiped his thumb across their foreheads.

“This is Nick,” he said. “He has drier skin.”

That was helpful, but Nana’s no dummy. I quickly popped their labeled pacifiers in their car seats.

The boys have their dad’s beautiful lips and when they smile, it’s like cuddling Alex all over again. They love to “talk,” and enjoy lying next to each other and kicking their legs like crazy.

Of course, I took oodles of photos and videos. Leaving them to come home was incredibly difficult because I know how much they’ll change before we see them again.

And we will see them again.

Coronavirus restrictions and protocols won’t last forever. We’ve already scheduled our next visit for the end of June. Grandparents are optimistic to a fault.

I understand our world has been forever altered by this pandemic, but not all change is bad. For instance, I’ve discovered my heart really can be in two places at once.

Me and my boys

Columns

Can’t do 55?

I stood in the middle of the bedroom and spun in a slow circle.

A few minutes earlier I’d left my desk and rushed upstairs to get something. Something really important. Something I needed immediately. But darn, if I could remember what that something was.

Walter, our tabby kitten, sat on my feet and looked up.

“Meow?” he asked.

“No, I didn’t rush in here to cuddle you,” I replied.

He padded over to the closet and sat by his food dish.

“Meow?”

“No, you’ve already had lunch.”

Flummoxed, he hopped onto our bed. That’s when I saw the notebook I’d left near my pillow.

“That’s it!” I said. “Thank you, Walter.”

When you have to rely on a 10-month-old kitten to keep you on task, you know something has shifted.

My husband thinks he knows what it is.

That evening when I told him about my memory lapse, he grinned and started singing, “I can’t drive 55, oh no!”

Knowing his penchant for belting out Sammy Hagar songs, I waited until he’d sung through the chorus twice, and let him get in a few air guitar licks.

“What does my lead foot tendency have to do with why I can’t remember what I went into the bedroom for?” I asked.

Derek pointed to the calendar.

Ah. We’d just celebrated my 55th birthday.

“So. You’re saying I’m old? That I’m having senior moments?”

He wrapped his arms around me.

“Look at it this way, you’re not old, you just need to start shopping at Fred Meyer on Tuesday, so you can get the senior discount.”

Actually, those forgetful moments have been happening to both of us for years. We’ve begun texting shopping lists and errand reminders to each other. Of course, that means we have to remember to check our phones when we’re out.

And lately we’ve become one of those couples who fill in each other’s blanks.

“What was the movie we saw when we were first married?” Derek asked. “It was a part of a horror triple feature with Ronnie McDowall.”

“Fright Night,” I replied. “And it was Roddy McDowall.”

“What was the name of that restaurant where we used to eat at after church?” I asked.

“Rancho Chico,” he said.

“No, before kids.”

“Oh! Mr. Steak.”

Shared memory is one of the perks of a long-term marriage. And speaking of perks, I was really excited to realize I now qualify for the senior discount at the movie theater. When my friend Carol and I went to see “The Call of the Wild” recently, I proudly asked for the discount.

Honestly? I was a bit disappointed the cashier didn’t express surprise at my request, or even ask to see my driver’s license, but the cheap ticket was worth it.

Carol and I headed to the restroom before finding our seats because that’s what you do when you’re 55. As we left the restroom and headed toward the line I reached into my coat pocket for my ticket. No ticket. I checked my other pocket, then my jeans. No ticket!

I went back to the bathroom to see if I’d set it down while washing my hands. Nope. I dug through my purse. Derek calls it the Black Hole for a reason. It’s large with lots of pockets. I scoured it. I shook it. No ticket.

Mortified, I explained my dilemma to the manager.

“And it’s the first time I’ve used the senior discount, too,” I said.

He graciously waved me through.

Meanwhile, Carol was laughing so hard, it’s a good thing she’d already used the restroom.

“Your first senior discount and your first senior moment,” she chortled.

Well, one out of two of those statements was correct.

We took our seats, and as the previews began, I unzipped the cellphone pocket in my purse to ensure my phone was on silent.

“Carol,” I whispered. “Look, I found my ticket.”

Thankfully, we were able to get our hysterical giggles under control before the movie started.

Looks like Sammy Hagar isn’t the only one who has issues with 55.

Columns

What ketchup,The Doobie Brothers, breakfast in bed, and my grandsons have in common

In the late 1970s a classic ketchup commercial captured the attention of television viewers.

Two boys grabbed the condiment to put on their burgers.

“Boy, is your ketchup slow,” says the first boy.

Shocked, the second boy replies, “You mean your mom doesn’t buy you Heinz? Wait till you taste it!”

And wait they do, as the camera zooms in on the thick, tomato-red sauce slowly spilling from bottle to burger while the song “Anticipation” plays.

“The taste that’s worth the wait,” a voice intones at the end of the spot.

Anticipation is a feeling of excitement about something pleasant that you know is going to happen, and it’s just about my favorite feeling in the world.

In a time where much of what we want is instantaneously available with the click of button, or swipe of a finger, waiting for something good is a delicious discipline.

This time of year many folks are anticipating tax returns and thinking about how to spend them. Others are dreaming of summer, reserving campsites or booking hotel rooms. It’s how we get through the gloomy, gray days of February.

But anticipating even small pleasures makes life more enjoyable.

Every morning I groggily open my eyes, fumble for my bathrobe and feed my frantic cats. Then I pour a cup of coffee and take it back to bed.

I look forward to that first sip of hot java. The rich flavor warms me and perks me up enough to pick up my phone and scroll through my calendar.

As I review my daily and weekly tasks, Walter jumps into bed with me, lays his head on my pillow and scoots close for his morning cuddle. At nine months, this kitten is growing fast, so I welcome his furry affection while it lasts.

Dread is the opposite of anticipation. It’s what happened last week when I saw I’d booked a dental appointment and an eye exam the same week. Thankfully, I’d sandwiched Happy Hour with a friend squarely between those two not-fun activities.

Anticipation is all about planning. If I didn’t schedule time to spend with friends, it simply wouldn’t happen.

Derek and I look forward to our weekly date nights. It rarely happens on the same day, but that’s the fun of it. And the dates don’t have to be pricey.

When I’m covering an evening or weekend event, he often comes along and I take him to dinner afterward. We keep a running list of things we’d like to do or see. It can be trekking to an unfamiliar city park, trying a new restaurant or taking in a discount movie.

I also look forward to Saturdays, because Derek almost always brings me breakfast in bed. It wouldn’t be such a treat if it happened every morning, (though I wouldn’t object if it did).

A few times a year, we schedule big events like a concert or getaway. It’s fun to look at our calendars and see the Doobie Brothers concert coming up, or even more exciting – trips to Ohio to visit our twin grandsons.

Since our third son moved out, I’ve added a weekly family dinner to my rotation of anticipation. While I’ve always enjoyed cooking, when my house was full it often felt like one more chore at the end of a busy day. Now, I look forward to setting the table for five and to feeding my boys their favorite dishes.

Carly Simon sang, “Anticipation, anticipation … it’s keeping me waiting.”

And that’s not a bad thing. More than just the taste of good ketchup – the best things in life are worth the wait.

Columns

Word Trouble: I don’t think that means what you think it means

I’ve been told I have a way with words.

After all, I’ve spent many years making a living writing them. But this summer I learned I’d apparently lost my way – at least when it comes to contemporary euphemisms.

Each year I host a gathering of friends in our backyard gazebo. The Great Gazebo Girlfriend Gathering provides a way for me to bring friends from varying parts of my life together to reflect, reminisce and laugh.

It’s also quite an educational event.

My friend, Judi, told us about her stay at a cute bed-and-breakfast with interesting room names.

“I saw that on Facebook!” I said. “I thought it was cool that your room was ‘Netflix and chill.’ ”

A brief silence fell.

Then someone giggled. Someone else tittered. Judi’s eyes got big.

“What?” I asked.

“Cindy, don’t you know what ‘Netflix and chill’ means?” my friend Sarah asked.

Puzzled, I gazed at her.

“Of course, I do,” I replied. “It means you’re going to watch a movie and relax.”

I’m pretty sure the resulting howls of laughter could be heard for miles.

Apparently, somehow, when I wasn’t looking, that innocently descriptive phrase has morphed into meaning something entirely different.

Here’s the Wikipedia definition: Netflix and chill, as a distinct phrase, means to watch Netflix with a romantic prospect with the eventual expectation of sexual activity.

And that’s the most family-friendly definition.

Reader, I beg of you, do not look this up in the Urban Dictionary.

Horrified, I gazed at my laughing friends.

A blush spread over my face and deepened to a reddish hue as I recalled my response when a much younger colleague asked what Derek and I had planned for the weekend.

“Oh, we’re going to Netflix and chill all weekend long. I can’t wait!” I replied.

He grinned.

“Good for you!” he said.

Then I remembered how I’d told the grocery store cashier the same thing. He paused in the midst of scanning my items, smiled and winked at me.

“Awesome,” he said.

I endured my friends’ good-natured ribbing for the rest of the party, but honestly, I hoped they were pulling my leg (definition: to make someone believe something that is not true as a joke, which I looked up to be sure that meaning hadn’t changed).

When they left, I turned to my trusted youngest son.

“Sam, what does ‘Netflix and chill’ mean?”

Peering at me, he cautiously replied. “What do you think it means?”

That’s how I knew my friends were telling the truth, and I was mortified all over again.

I hoped this was something only teenagers, young adults and their parents knew, but recently that hope was dashed.

When we met my friend Jill and her husband for dinner, the subject of my embarrassment came up again. (Honestly, I’ll be 70 before I live this down.)

To prove the phrase wasn’t known to merely the younger set, Jill asked our server, “Do you know what ‘Netflix and chill’ means?”

“Yes,” she replied. “And I only do that with my husband.”

Lesson learned. The next time someone asks what my plans are for the evening I will reply, “My husband and I are going to watch a movie via an online streaming service and relax.”

Or, because truthfulness is important to me, I might just smile and say, “We’re going to Netflix and chill.”

Columns

With 20/20 clarity, I see change ahead

I don’t remember ever having 20/20 vision. I got my first pair of glasses in fourth grade, my first pair of contacts at 15, and my eyesight continues to decline.

That’s why I’m really looking forward to this new year – I can finally see 2020! And every time I glimpse the date in my new calendars and planners, I smile. There’s just something exciting about turning a page.

2019 brought change to our household. In the fall, our third son moved into his own place, and we’re officially down to just one kid at home. That kid will graduate from college in the spring, and while he’ll likely stay with us while pursuing a second degree – our empty nest years are looming.

So far, meal planning has been the most challenging thing about our shrinking household. Because Sam works mainly evenings, I foresaw a lot of cooking for two in my future. As usual, my vision was faulty, because at least once a week there are five at my table.

When Zach moved out, I told him I hoped he’d join us for a weekly family meal. Our oldest son also lives nearby, and if I’m cooking for four, it’s certainly no stretch to make dinner for five.

The result? I now get to have my three in-town sons around my table on a regular basis, and nothing makes this mama’s heart happier. Besides, I haven’t yet mastered the art of cooking for three, let alone two.

The holidays revealed more opportunities for adapting. In recent years, our two youngest sons have been in charge of tree decorating. My penchant for holiday décor seems to grow each year, so it’s nice to leave the Christmas tree in their capable hands. However, this year, varying work schedules proved problematic.

I’m all about problem solving, so for the first time in at least 25 years, Derek and I trimmed the tree by ourselves. What might have been melancholy became delightful. We took a lovely, romantic stroll down memory lane as we hung ornaments and remembered Christmases past.

Then came the cookie-decorating conflict.

In 2011, Sam made us a book featuring his treasured Christmas memories. In it he wrote, “I love making and decorating Christmas cookies with you.”

That was then.

This is now.

As usual, I baked dozens of sugar cookies, and then checked with our sons to see when they’d be available to frost and decorate them. Sam seemed ambivalent and told me to check with Zach.

I’ve never wanted to try to squeeze my sons into traditions that no longer fit, so I texted Zach, “How strongly do you feel about decorating Christmas cookies? I can leave them out for you guys to do when you come over Wednesday, or Dad and I can just do them tonight.”

He replied, “I don’t feel strongly either way.”

So for the first time in our 33-year marriage, Derek got to be part of the Christmas cookie fun. He’s artistically inclined, so our cookies looked fabulous. And honestly, I don’t much miss the Cyclops angels or graphically anatomically correct snowmen that our sons were inclined to include.IMG_20191216_194208217

Derek and I further simplified our holidays by skipping stuffing stockings for each other. Less shopping equaled less stress and more fun.

As someone who cherishes the familiar, and relishes ritual and tradition, I’ve been surprised at how readily I’ve adapted to this new season of our lives, and how eagerly I’m anticipating the unknowns that await.

Because whatever 2020 brings, the one thing I can clearly see ahead is change. And instead of dreading it, I’m choosing to embrace it.

Columns

Loafing around with the bread thief

The rustling sound gave me pause.

Taking a sip of coffee, I lowered the newspaper and looked around the bedroom.

Crackle. Crackle. Jingle. Jingle.

The bell gave him away, because it’s too early for one of Santa’s reindeer.

I flung my cozy quilt aside, knelt on the floor, and lifted the bed skirt.

That’s where I found Walter manhandling (cathandling?) a half-loaf of bread. His sharp teeth had punctured tiny holes in the bag, and the bread was mostly squished.

“Walter!” I yelled. “Bad kitty!”

This wasn’t our 7-month-old kitten’s first foray into bread theft.

Some weeks earlier I’d awoken to a similar scenario. Derek had surprised me with a lovely breakfast in bed before he left for work. It was still too early for me to get up, so I dozed off after enjoying it. Apparently, wanting to demonstrate that he, too, was capable of serving me breakfast, Walter dragged an entire loaf of bread to the bedroom.

The loaf was bigger than he, and he couldn’t hoist it onto the bed, so he decided to squeeze it beneath.

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I loudly expressed my displeasure.

Baffled, Walter cocked his head, gazed at me with sorrowful eyes, and gave a small chirp which I interpreted as, “How come Dad gets kisses when he brings you food in bed, and I get yelled at?”

With no room on our kitchen counters for a bread box, we store bread on top of our refrigerator. After all, none of our other cats had ever ventured up there.

Of course, none of our other cats have decided to jump on our ceramic stove to watch our son cook macaroni and cheese.

Thankfully, Walter wasn’t burned, but Sam was pretty traumatized. I suggested in the future he should stay by the stove while the water boils, just in case.

In addition to on top of the fridge, we’ve taken to storing our bread in the microwave – anything to keep Walter’s paws off our loaves.

Evidently, he’s addicted to the crinkling sound of plastic, because he’s also smuggled an entire bag of miniature marshmallows to our bedroom. When I caught him with the marshmallows, I discovered his stash of plastic grocery bags under our bed.

But our furry Jean Valjean still prefers to focus his thievery on bread.

I spent Sunday making sausage with my sisters-in-law. When I returned home, Walter met me at the top of the stairs, licking his chops.

I hustled to the microwave and opened the door. The bread was still there. Then Thor, our senior tabby, strolled into the kitchen, also licking his whiskers.

They watched me to see if treats were forthcoming, but I was not in a treat-dispensing mood.

“Walter,” I said. “What have you done?”

He gave a pleased little trill and sauntered toward the bedroom with his tail held high. I followed and found a trail of crumbs leading to a Ziploc bag of mangled cornbread.

He’d managed to climb on top of the refrigerator, snatch the Saturday supper leftovers, take the bag to our bedroom, tear a hole in it, and share the spoils with Thor.

Who knew cats like cornbread?

“Walter,” I muttered. “You are working your way to the top of Santa’s naughty list.”

Rubbing his head on my ankles, he purred and stretched out on top of my feet. Apparently, he’s of the opinion that being utterly adorable automatically earns you a spot on the nice list.

However, his hopes to find his stocking stuffed with a loaf of bread may be dashed on Christmas morning. At this rate, all Walter’s getting is a lump of coal.

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Columns

Home for the holidays at Hutton Settlement

There’s no place like home for the holidays and for 32 children, Hutton Settlement is the place they call home. Earlier this year, I got to know four of those children.

My friend, Tom McArthur, asked if I’d interview the kids with him for a special edition of the Northwest Profiles television program.

First, a bit of background.

Hutton Settlement was founded by Levi Hutton, a wealthy businessman who made his fortune in the North Idaho mines during the early 1900s. Hutton was an orphan and so was his wife, May Arkwright Hutton. After her death, he decided to use some of his fortune to create a true home for kids like him instead of the institutions that were common at the time.

This year, the settlement celebrated its centennial with a slew of events.

In July, a bronze sculpture by artist Vincent DeFelice was unveiled, and Babe Ruth’s granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, threw out the first pitch at the memorial baseball game.

Babe Ruth, himself an orphan, had heard about the settlement and visited Hutton in 1924 during an off-season with the New York Yankees.

In late October through early November, a play written by Tim Rarick premiered at the Spokane Civic Theatre. “A Place to Call Home” told the story of the settlement’s founding.

And on Oct. 31, Northwest Profiles devoted a half-hour program to the history of Hutton. The program, which aired on KSPS-TV and kicked off the show’s 33rd season, featured the four children I interviewed with McArthur.

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Tom McArthur and Cindy Hval at KSPS-TV studios with Hutton Settlement residents.

Gavin McArthur, 16, Roxy Fredericksen, 14, and Trinity Kinville, 11, shared their stories of how they came to live at Hutton, and what the settlement means to them.

Gavin said he and his brother were being raised by their dad. One morning when he was about 4 years old, he heard a knock at the door.

“My dad opened it up and a bunch of police officers stormed in. My brother and I were scared. We ran and hid under a bunk bed. It turns out that he (Dad) was arrested for using drugs at the time. I found out later that he suffered from schizophrenia and mental illness.”

After going through several foster homes, the brothers ended up at Hutton.

“I could tell right away these people are here for me — they’re trying to help me, nurture me and take care of me,” he said.

Roxy said her mother and father argued frequently.

“It was really bad. And then one day my mom, she’s like, ‘Oh you’re not gonna be living with me anymore,’ ” Roxy said.

When she was 7, she moved to Hutton and her two younger sisters soon followed.

Trinity had a similar story.

“When I was just little, our father abused me and my mother,” she said.

The abuse continued when her younger siblings arrived.

“When I was 8, my mother died from an overdose. I lived with my grandma and grandpa for a year,” she said. “One day our uncle came and said, ‘I just found this great place online, and I have friends who used to work there. It’s called Hutton Settlement.’ That summer we started visiting, and we ended up moving to Cottage Two, and I’ve lived there since.”

Each of the children shared their memories of going up the long tree-lined drive at the settlement, and of the love and warmth they found with Hutton’s shelter.

When asked what they’d like to say to Levi Hutton, Roxy said, “Thank you for making this place where I can be myself and have a loving caring family. I didn’t have that before.”

Trinity reflected on what she’s learned since coming to the settlement.

“God loves everyone,” she said. “Even when times are tough it can get better. It will get better. And even if you don’t feel like it, someone’s always there by your side.”

In this season of the year when hearts yearn for home and family, the kids at Hutton Settlement are profoundly grateful for the acceptance and love they’ve found.

“Hutton Settlement to me is a place to call home — a place to call family,” Gavin said.

Columns

What happens in Vegas…

Whoever said what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, is obviously not a newspaper columnist.

My husband and a buddy usually hit Vegas via Laughlin, Nevada, for an annual guys getaway. This year his friend jetted to Maui, so Derek asked me if I’d like to go.

The folks at Don Laughlin’s Riverside Resort Hotel and Casino sweetened the deal by offering us a buy-one, get-one-free deal for airline travel and resort stay. On Thursday we drove to Lewiston to catch a chartered flight aboard Laughlin’s Sun Country Airlines.

A couple of hours later, we landed in Bullhead City, Arizona, where a resort bus met us and drove us across the Colorado River to Laughlin.

Crossing three states, two time zones, and one river makes you hungry. After checking in, we stretched our legs along the Riverwalk in pursuit of dinner.

“Look! A cat!” Derek said, pointing toward a nearby garbage can.

As the varmint dashed across the sidewalk in front of us, we saw it wasn’t a kitty, it was a raccoon. He joined his wife and kid under the palm trees and agreeably posed for photos.

A different kind of wildlife awaited us in Vegas the following day. We rented a car and made the 90-minute drive to spend the day on Fremont Street.

Located in the original town site of Las Vegas, Fremont Street is the historic center of the city featuring a five-block stretch of enclosed casinos, shops, bars and restaurants.

Derek prepped me for the visit.

“There’s all kinds of street performers and vendors,” he explained. “Whatever you do, don’t make eye contact, or they’ll try to sell you something or hustle you for tips.”

Of course, I immediately forgot his words when we entered the glittery, bustling avenue. A friendly lady greeted us and asked if we were celebrating our anniversary.

Derek tugged at my hand and kept walking, but I didn’t want to be rude. That’s how I got suckered into a long sales pitch for tickets to a show we didn’t want to see.

“I told you,” he said. “Just keep walking.”

Lesson learned. When a well-muscled shirtless man wearing snug-fitting camo pants asked if I wanted a hug, I only paused for a second.

“He said it’s OK,” the fellow assured, pointing to Derek.

“I get all the hugs I need,” I replied, without breaking my stride. Much.

A visit to the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, aka the Mob Museum, was next on our list.

It proved a fascinating, albeit gruesome jaunt through gangster history. We learned about the Kefauver hearings in the historic courtroom where one was actually held. The hearings led by Tennessee Sen. Estes Kefauver confirmed the existence of a national crime syndicate and revealed lax enforcement.

Other museum highlights included cocktails in an underground speakeasy, and an opportunity to “electrocute” my husband in a replica electric chair.

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Then it was on to dinner at the Heart Attack Grill, a restaurant that celebrates gluttony by offering unlimited free burgers to anyone weighing over 350 lbs.

Waitresses dressed as nurses deliver wine via IV poles and tubing, and if you don’t clean your plate they deliver spankings with a paddle. Seriously.

Derek warned me about that. But what he didn’t tell me is that you have to wear a hospital gown to eat, and there’s a ginormous public weigh-in spot that broadcasts your weight for all visitors along Fremont Street to see.

Within minutes, we witnessed five spankings. Those nurses pack a wallop. I ordered the smallest burger possible and ate every bite. I haven’t been so focused on cleaning my plate since I was a kid and threatened with an early bedtime if I left any peas on my plate.

As night fell, we enjoyed free live music and the Viva Vision light show. The light show video screen is 1,500 feet long, 90 feet wide and suspended 90 feet above Fremont Street’s pedestrian mall.

It was amazing! But all that glitz and glitter made me pine for some natural beauty. A morning boat cruise along the Colorado River was just the ticket.

The cruise aboard the USS Riverside took us along Laughlin’s Riverwalk all the way to Davis Dam and offered great historical perspective about this portion of Nevada.

Did I mention it was 84 degrees in Laughlin on Saturday? That called for some serious sunbathing at the resort’s adult-only pool. We alternated from poolside lounges to comfy river-view couches, soaking up the sun we knew would be in short supply in Spokane.

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And of course we played the slots, but we’re hardly high rollers. We set aside a certain amount of cash for entertainment and don’t spend any more than what we bring.

Derek led me to a machine he knew I’d love – the OMG! Kittens. I quickly found out the OMG! stands for the $40 I quickly dropped just to see adorable kittens speed past me and meow.

Luck wasn’t a lady that night, and it was a little disconcerting to see people my mother’s age still going strong at midnight when, exhausted, we headed for our room.

It was a lovely getaway, but by Sunday we were ready to return. After all, we already hit the jackpot with our own OMG! Kittens and they were waiting for us at home.

Columns

Go home chicken, you’re drunk

Tears poured from my eyes as I thumbed through the pages. My sides ached with laughter. I snorted. I guffawed. I giggled.

Who would think a cookbook could provoke such hilarity?

Just when I caught my breath, I spotted a recipe for Pheasant- All Drunk and Spunky, and I howled again.

But first a little background. My mother collected recipes like there might not ever be another Dorothy Dean column or Campbell’s soup cookbook. She clipped them from newspapers, magazines, flour bags and shortening cans. She filed them in index card boxes and three-ring binders. Cookbooks lined a shelf in her kitchen and filled drawers in her buffet. Even after my dad died and she didn’t have anyone to cook for, she kept on clipping.

Her cookies were legendary. For years, she supplied my boys with enough baked goods to feed a small platoon. Her dessert plates were the first to be emptied at every church potluck.

In recent years, she tried to downsize. I’m not sure which sibling ended up with her battered copy of Irma Rombauer’s “The Joy of Cooking,” but she gave me my grandmother’s vintage “Good Housekeeping Cookbook” and her own copy of “Better Homes and Garden Cookbook,” which I still haul out every time I bake apple pies.

My recipe box is filled with her handwritten recipe cards.

When she moved into a retirement home, the cookbooks and clipping collection had to go. I didn’t have time to sort through her recipe-filled envelopes, but somehow I snagged a cookbook and brought it home before her house sold.

With the holidays approaching, I finally sat down to go through it. The 270-page cookbook has no cover, no back and no title. I have no idea who produced it. I think I grabbed it because it features Mom’s handwritten commentary. Some recipes had checkmarks or stars. Some said “try,” and others had “good!” written next to them.

The source of my amusement came from the many, many recipes that called for some kind of booze.

Mom is such a stringent teetotaler that she’s never even purchased cooking wine or sherry. She certainly never had the ingredients for Drunk Chicken, or Bourbon-Pecan cake, or New Bacardi Chocolate Rum cake. And even if she had the ingredients for Beer and Sauerkraut Fudge Cake, I can’t imagine that she’d inflict that on anyone.

It’s wasn’t only the alcohol-laden recipes that gave me giggles, just the names of some of the recipes induced mirth.

Creeping Crust Cobbler anyone? How about some Liver Surprise? (Spoiler alert, the surprise is cinnamon, or maybe it’s the applesauce.) Beef Birds with Olive Gravy gave me pause, but Carrot Loaf- a Meat Substitute made me queasy for hours. The recipe calls for rice, carrots, eggs, milk and peanut butter!

Not every recipe proved as stomach-churning. Amazed, I discovered the original source for Mom’s Five-Hour Stew, her Busy Day Chicken and Rice, and the zucchini fritter recipe I’d assumed was my grandmother’s. The titleless cookbook is proving to be a treasure.

My husband enjoys my culinary escapades, but he was a bit bewildered last week when he called and asked about our dinner plans.

“I thought about making Pheasant- All Drunk and Spunky,” I said.”But catching a pheasant and getting it drunk, seemed like a lot of work. And how can you tell if a pheasant’s spunky?”

“Uh…” Derek murmured.

“Nevermind,” I continued. “We had some poultry in the freezer, but you’d better come home soon.”

“Why?” he asked.

“Because the chicken’s already drunk,” I replied.

Unlike my mother, I cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the recipe.

Columns

Beware Banana-Toting Bandits

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When our train pulled into the tiny whistle-stop station at Dalkena, Washington, I spotted some unsavory types milling around the tracks.

A pint-size pirate, wearing a bandana over her face, clutched her grandpa’s hand and boarded the car in front of us.

Then the door to our carriage slid open, and a mean-looking hombre swaggered down the aisle. Her black cowboy hat was a dead giveaway. Everyone knows only outlaws wear them. Sure enough, within minutes the desperado barked, “All right, hand it over – gimme yer money!”

She flourished her weapon wildly at men, women and even small children.

I’d never been “robbed” at banana-point before, but I hastily stuffed some cash into her bag, and tried not to make eye contact.

Thankfully, we’d been warned in advance that train robberies frequently occur on the Scenic Pend Oreille River Train. Even better, the cash collected goes to support the many community projects of the Newport/Priest River Rotary Club, which operates the ride.

The little girl in front of us wasn’t feeling quite as generous.

When she realized the robbery wasn’t real, she turned to her mom.

“I want my money back!”

But when the whistle blew and the train lurched forward, she pressed her nose to the window, captivated like the rest of us by the autumn beauty that shone brightly despite the rain.

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“I’m so glad we did this,” my husband said, as we settled back into our seats, watching the deep green of the forest, give way to golden fields surrounded by russet maples and amber birches.

We’d been so disappointed when in 2016, the North Pend Oreille Valley Lions Club had to end the excursion train ride between Ione and Metaline Falls that they’d operated for 35 years. The ride was an item on our bucket list that we’d never got around to.

In 2017, the Newport/Priest River Rotary Club partnered with the Pend Oreille Valley Railroad to operate a new excursion ride. This time we weren’t going to miss out.

Starting in Newport, Washington, the 9-mile, 90-minute ride, follows the Pend Oreille River to Dalkena (where train “robberies” occur) and back to Newport.

The train features three classic railroad coaches and three open-air cars. The excursion operates rain or shine, and there was plenty of rain Saturday. The drizzle didn’t daunt the 300-some hearty travelers who waited to board the 1 p.m. ride.

Seating is first come, first served, so Derek and I were glad we snagged seats in “The Logger,” an enclosed coach on loan from the Spokane Railroad Historical Society.

Many came prepared with blankets and quilts, and chose the chilly seats because they offer better views than peering at the scenery through rain-streaked windows.

But no matter where you sit, the views are still spectacular.

The train runs on a historic railroad that’s one of the last short lines still operating. The track was built between 1907 and 1910 by Frederick Blackwell to transport people, logs, lumber and cement.

As we chugged along the Pend Oreille River, we saw hundreds of pilings from the long-defunct Dalkena Mill sprouting from the water. The pilings once held acres of logs. Now they provide perches for ospreys and eagles.

We traveled away from the river and across Highway 20 through forests and pastures. Sharp eyes can spot a variety of wildlife including coyotes, moose, bears, deer and turkeys.

The beautiful scenery and fresh air made us hungry, so after the ride we drove to Priest River, Idaho, and enjoyed a delicious meal at The Settlement Kitchen and Craft Tavern.

Who knew I’d have to travel to Idaho to sample my first watermelon radish? The colorful and tasty veggie was part of an appetizer featuring pumpkin hummus.

There’s still time for you to catch the train. The Scenic Pend Oreille River Train’s final excursions of the season are this weekend.

Bundle up and enjoy the ride, but beware of black-hatted, banana-toting bandits.

For more information about SPORT (Scenic Pend Oreille River Train Rides), visit sporttrainrides.com, or call (877) 525-5226.