Columns

Nothing Doing on My Birthday

This year when my husband asked what I wanted to do for my birthday, I was ready.

“Nothing,” I said. “And I know just the place to do it.”

My reply didn’t have anything to do with pandemic-limited restaurant and entertainment options, and everything to do with needing a break and a change of scenery.

Both of those things are an option thanks to the generosity of my brother-in-law and sister-in-law. They own a cabin at Diamond Lake that they keep open year-round, offering it to family members who want to get away.

Unlike many whose work situations have changed due to COVID-19, I’ve always worked from home. The short commute from my bedroom to my basement work area, with a detour to the kitchen for coffee, is a godsend. The downside is I’m never really away from work. It’s always waiting, just a few steps away.

Also waiting? Hungry men folk, needy cats, baskets of laundry and weekly shopping lists.

I’m not good at ignoring any of those things, which means days off feel pretty much like days on.

After checking the cabin’s availability with my sister-in-law, I took a deep breath. It’s wonderful to have something to look forward to, even if that something is doing nothing.

I called Mom to let her know we’d be out of town for a few days.

“But it’s winter! What’s there to do at Diamond Lake in the winter?” she asked.

“We’re just going to snack, sleep, watch TV, and do a jigsaw puzzle,” I replied.

Mom wasn’t impressed.

“Oh, honey, don’t do THAT! That’s what OLD LADIES do ALL the time!”

I pointed out that I’m in my 50s, and old-age is fast approaching.

“Well, you don’t need to rush into it,” she said.

But being at the lake is the opposite of rushing – it’s resting. From the moment we drove across the crusty snow, through the gate, we both relaxed.

After schlepping supplies from the car, I opened the slider and stood on the deck, bundled up against the cold. The frozen lake glinted in the afternoon sun. In the distance I spotted a lone ice-fishing hut. The deep tones of a wind chime, the only sound.

May be an image of nature, lake and tree

Meanwhile, Derek had set out some snacks and had opened the jigsaw. When we stayed at the lake in November, I had purchased a 1,000-piece puzzle featuring cats and books – two of my favorite things.

“Kittens? Books? Why didn’t you get a puzzle with whiskey and cars?” Derek grumbled.

However, he’d been quickly obsessed with what turned out to be an incredibly challenging puzzle, staying up till the wee hours and rising early to finish it before we had to go home.

We can’t do puzzles at home. For one thing, we have actual cats; for another thing we have no table space.

Mindful of our limited stay, Derek requested that this time I buy a 750-piece puzzle, which I did.

“Cats again!” he said, looking at the box.

I can’t help it if the only 750-piece puzzle I found featured cats. Of course, I didn’t look too hard once I’d spotted it.

May be an image of indoor

Aside from a lovely afternoon in Sandpoint, we spent the next three days cuddled up in the cozy cabin. Noshing on snacks, reading, binge-watching a new Amazon show, napping, and of course working on the puzzle.

The snow-shrouded lake provided a peaceful backdrop. One morning we were watching an ice boat skitter across the frozen expanse, its single sail, taut in the stiff breeze.

No computers, no work calls, no work emails, no cats waking me up demanding breakfast. It was possibly one of the best birthdays in recent memory.

Honestly, I still wrestle with the working mom mentality in which quietness and rest often seem self-indulgent. That’s why sometimes it takes a special occasion for me to give myself permission to do nothing. And when I do it feels blissfully satisfying, like fitting the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle into place.

If Mom’s right and my idea of a fun birthday moves me directly into the old lady category, I’m ready. Bring it on.

May be an image of mountain, nature, lake and tree

Diamond Lake in winter.

Columns

Sometimes you just need Christmas to linger awhile longer

Perplexed, he peers into our dining room from his perch on the deck, a red Christmas ornament dangling from his ear.

Rudy the Reindeer rarely sees this far into January.

That’s because I’m a by-the-book kind of holiday decorator.

In my home, Christmas music, movies, and décor are forbidden until the day after Thanksgiving. That’s when the autumn wreaths go down, and the Christmas greens go up. Our everyday boring, white stoneware dishes are packed away, and my fleet of Pfaltzgraff Winterberry is deployed.

All the artwork on my living room walls is replaced by Santas, skis and holiday prints. I pack away the garland of harvest leaves from atop the piano and unearth evergreen garlands dotted with twinkling white lights.

Out come the Nativities, the Norwegian Christmas candelabra, and of course, the leg lamp replica from our favorite holiday film, “A Christmas Story.”

I’ve finally embraced the artificial – our tree goes up when our sons join us for post-Thanksgiving Turkey Noodle Soup. We appreciate having all hands on deck to trim the tree, not to mention hefting heavy holiday bins from the basement.

The hanging of the greens occurs outdoors as well, with lighted garlands and small wreaths draped along our stair railing and around the front door, a small lighted tree replacing my cat figurine on the front steps, and a wreath with a burgundy bow bedecking the door.

After hanging the snowflake garland above the backdoor slider, Derek affixes Rudy the reindeer to his watchful post on the deck.

But what goes up must come down. Preferably on Jan. 2, and certainly no later than the Feast of Epiphany (Jan. 6 this year for those keeping track at home).

Like I said, I’m a stickler for rules and am counted among those who groan when my neighbors leave limp holiday inflatables in their yards well past the New Year.

However, as 2020, blessedly drew to a close, I surveyed the glimmering green and red warmth of our home. Our sons had untrimmed the tree before the New Year chimed, but I was left to dismantle the rest of Christmas alone, and frankly, for the first time I can remember, I wasn’t done with Christmas.

I wasn’t ready to dim the evergreen lights and quench the candelabra. I love our ski-themed wall, with the cross-country Santa figurine, swooshing on the table below.

And to my surprise, the leg lamp has grown on me, and I enjoy switching it on as darkness falls, knowing Derek will see “the soft glow of electric sex” welcoming him home when he pulls into the driveway.

Since our oldest son’s birthday is Jan. 8, I always keep the Winterberry dishes out until after his cake has been cut. That way he can eat birthday cake from a plate that says, “Joy” or “Cheer” or “Wish.”

But this year, Ethan enjoyed his birthday dinner among all the other Christmas decorations I hadn’t begun removing.

After his celebration, I slowly filled the green and red bins. Walter, our junior tabby, inspected each bin from within, as I carefully wrapped candles, glassware and greenery.

Derek was even slower to remove the outdoor décor, not that there was much to take down. Our youngest son, his usual holiday helper, was busy with work and school this year, so no lighted candy canes, reindeer or trees dotted our front yard. Even so, he was reluctant to remove the garlands and wreaths.

We didn’t talk about it much.

He didn’t complain about the bins stacked in the dining room, even though he knows I’m a creature of order, not clutter.

I didn’t mention the outdoor lighting that lingered until this past week.

Honestly? I think this year with the world so filled with discord, disharmony and despair, had left us drained. But the beauty that is Christmas, reflected in simple lights and cheery decorations, offered a much-needed lift to sagging spirits.

As I write, the holiday bins are neatly stacked in the basement, the greenery gone from the front door. But Rudy still peeks at us from the deck each evening as we sit down to dinner, and I smile when I close the blinds.

To heck with rules.

Rudy can stay as long as he wants.

Columns

Illness, injury, indignity & inspiration

Sometimes when it rains, it blizzards. At least in Spokane, anyway.

This past month of endless precipitation was echoed by a round of illness and injury for me. It’s worth noting that I only get sick once a year – always in February. I tolerate my yearly cold as a minor disruption and a gentle reminder to slow down a bit.

It’s also worth noting that I routinely ignore gentle reminders.

What became an epic stream of misfortune started with a trickle – from my nose. One Friday morning, I woke up sniffly. My throat was scratchy and my head ached, but I’d just signed up for 30 hours of training to become a court-appointed special advocate – or CASA/guardian ad litem – for Spokane County Juvenile Court, and there was no way I was going to let an inconvenient cold interfere. I slurped down some orange juice, grabbed a packet of Emergen-C and set out.

By Saturday, it seemed like everyone was speaking underwater, and when I croaked out a question, I sounded like Darth Vader.

I tried to take it easier during the week, and when Friday rolled around again I was feeling much better. Perhaps because I’d gifted my cold to my friend Sarah.

Mindful of the need to take it easy, I collapsed in bed when I got home, fully expecting to bounce out of bed after my nap with my vitality and vigor restored. But when I woke and tried to sit up, a shooting pain exploded from somewhere in my midback. There would be no bouncing. Apparently, I pulled a muscle while sleeping. I didn’t even know that was possible.

Having never before experienced a back injury, I did the only sensible thing – I took two ibuprofen and asked for advice on social media. Hey, I said I was generally healthy, not universally smart.

I received a wide range of guidance regarding back pain and promptly followed what I now know to be a piece of spectacularly ill-conceived advice. This is what happens when you seek medical help on Facebook. Despite that setback, the pain gradually subsided over the weekend. This was great, because by Tuesday I was having difficulty seeing out of my right eye.

Last year, I was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration. It’s bad enough to have poor vision, but to tack “age-related” in front of it is just mean. Anyway, a large floater suddenly appeared in my right eye. I guess having one in my left eye wasn’t enough. Because this can sometimes be a sign of a detached retina, I had to schedule an emergency eye exam.

Thankfully, the new floater was nothing serious, just annoying. Vitamins have been shown to reduce or slow the affects of the disease, so I redoubled my commitment to healthy eyesight and even added a supplement my husband assured me would help.

I should note that my husband is not a doctor. He doesn’t even play one on TV. But he’s well-read and has done a lot of research about the effects of supplements on certain ailments.

Sadly, I woke up violently ill in the middle of the night. Even worse, it just happened to by my birthday. I couldn’t believe after surviving a cold, a back injury and an eye problem, I now had the stomach flu. The health downpour had reached flood stage, so I was hopeful the waters would recede.

They didn’t.

On Valentine’s Day, I prepared a lovely meal for my family. Shortly before Derek came home, I diligently took my vitamin and supplement for the first time since my birthday. Within an hour I was desperately sick.

“Did you take out life insurance on me?” I wailed at my husband. “Those supplements are poisoned!”

Distressed at how ill I was, he Googled the ingredients in the supplement. Turns out one of them, “curcumin,” affects a small percent of the population the way it did me.

Lesson learned – the hard way.

As I write, heavy snow falls once again. I wish I’d taken a picture of the grass I’d spotted peeking out from the edge of our lawn Sunday. However, no matter what it seems like, winter really doesn’t last forever. Cold and flu season passes, too.

Crocuses and daffodils wait patiently beneath the frozen ground, biding their time. They will bloom. They always do. Sunshine and fresh air clears stuffy heads and brightens tired eyes.

And sometimes, it takes a long, bleak winter and a bout of illness to renew our appreciation for beautiful spring bulbs, and to revel in clear nasal passages that can breathe in their fragrance.

 

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

Columns

Soup’s On

Trying to count my blessings during our current Snowpocalypse has been, well, trying. I got my white Christmas, but now I am so over snow.

The one good thing about Snowmageddon is that it’s perfect soup and stew weather.

There’s nothing more soothing on a snowy day than slicing and dicing an array of vegetables or meat, concocting a savory broth, and then letting it bubble on the back of the stove or in the depths of the crockpot.

Delicious aromas fill the house and serving the hungry hoards is simple. All you need is a bowl, a spoon, and a side of crusty sourdough, flaky biscuits or tasty cornbread.

At least I thought this was a good thing, but the other night, Sam, 17, asked what we were having for dinner.

“Steak soup,” I replied.

“You sure have been making a lot of soup, lately,” he said, sighing.

In my defense, January is national soup month. Also, I’ve been working hard on two book projects, so planning five-course menus is a bit of a stretch.

And honestly, the only time soup doesn’t sound good to me is on a 90-degree summer day when we’re dining on the Delightful Deck, and even then a chilled cucumber soup tastes yummy.

The other night as white chicken chili simmered on the stove, I thought of our son Alex who lives in Ohio.

I texted him, “Guess what’s for dinner?”

“Oh, man!” he replied. “I LOVE your white chicken chili. I miss it so much.”

Which I interpreted as, “Oh, Mom! I love you and I miss you so much!”

My heart was as warm as my tummy during dinner that night.

In fact, Alex enjoys that soup so much, it was what he always asked me to make for his birthday dinner. His birthday is in April, and my chicken chili and from-scratch apple pie isn’t exactly seasonal, but it’s his favorite meal. Cooking my kid’s favorite meals makes this mom happy, so it’s a win-win.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I asked my firstborn what he wanted for his birthday dinner on Sunday, and he replied, “Potato soup!”

“You want soup for your birthday?” I asked. “Not steak or ribs?”

“Nope,” he replied. “I want your homemade potato soup and chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.”

So, that’s what he got, plus a container of soup to take home with him. Single guys need all the homemade food they can get.

Though Sam professes to be weary of soup, he’ll always clean up a pot of my beef chili. While technically not a soup, it’s still a one-pot, slow-simmer meal. A bowl of it topped with corn chips, olives, cheddar and chopped onions can satisfy even an always-hungry teen.

Zachary looks forward to Thanksgiving, not so much for the turkey and trimmings but for the huge vat of turkey noodle soup I make the next day.

Soup can be served in celebration, but it’s also appropriate when solace is needed.

After I miscarried our first child I couldn’t eat. Nothing would go past the lump of grief in my throat. Then my mother brought over a container of homemade soup. Suddenly, my appetite returned. I slowly spooned a mouthful, its taste a bit saltier for my tears, and I knew my mom had probably shed a few of her own as she chopped, sliced and simmered. I ate an entire bowl and understood the true meaning of comfort food.

In fact I often think when there’s a death in a family, instead of the flood of fried chicken and casseroles people tend to bring – a big pot of soup might be more palatable.

As I write, the ingredients for tonight’s hamburger soup are ready on the kitchen counter. Sometime between now and deadline, I’ll assemble the soup, and while I finish today’s assignments it will slowly simmer on the back of the stove.

That’s another wonderful thing about soup; it may be labor intensive on the front end, but once it’s cooking you can sit back and let the flavors mingle and evolve on their own, until it’s time to sit down and enjoy the results.

Just like raising children.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

Columns

Falling For You

This column first ran in the Spokesman Review November 12, 2009

I made a painful discovery on Spokane’s mean streets a couple of weeks ago. You might say it just hit me: Falling down hurts a lot more at 44 than it does at 4.

Now, I’ve been walking and talking, sometimes even while chewing gum, for quite a few years. I don’t mean to boast, but it’s a skill I’ve worked hard to develop, and I’m pretty darn good at it. Yet, as my editor and I left a downtown coffee shop, I suddenly found myself facedown in the middle of the street.

After hearing about my accident, a journalist friend shook his head and said, “Well. That’s one way to trim the newspaper budget.” But I think I would have noticed a hard shove.

All I know is one minute I was walking and talking and the next I was flying. Kind of. My takeoff was good, but my landing needs a bit of work.

When I described what happened, a young friend exclaimed, “Oh, not the run-fall!” Apparently, the run-fall, as opposed to the stumble-fall, slip-fall or windmill-arms-almost-fall, is the most embarrassing kind of public tumble. Who knew?

In the few seconds it took for me to launch myself from sidewalk to street I had time for one thought: I hope I don’t spill my coffee. It was good coffee.

Alas, my coffee and I both splattered on Cedar Street. As I scrambled to my feet, I could hear my mother’s voice echoing inside my head. “Pride goes before a fall, dear.” I hadn’t realized it until that moment, but I was very proud of my ability to simultaneously walk and converse. Mom is always right.

My editor rushed forward, horrified. “Are you all right? You hit hard! You need ice!”

Actually, I felt OK at the time, just a bit shaken. “Am I bleeding?” I asked. But aside from a sore knee and a rapidly swelling cheekbone, the only blood appeared to be a few spots on my lips. Which were also rapidly swelling. Asphalt works even more quickly than Botox, but the application is probably more painful.

“I’m OK,” I said. “I’ve got an appointment.” And off I tottered to my car. After checking the damage in my rearview mirror, I decided to heed my editor’s advice to get some ice. I canceled my meeting and drove home.

Then the fun really started. Apparently, I was wearing the ladies version of Toughskin jeans, because my pants had nary a nick. My knee however, was a bloody, bruised mess. While that hurt, examining my face in the mirror was far more excruciating.

My new Angelina Jolie lips sported scuff marks around the edges and the swelling along my cheekbone was growing more colorful by the minute.

After swallowing several ibuprofen tablets, I applied ice everywhere I could and lay down. I felt like a fresh salmon packed for shipping. I then called everyone I knew to report my misfortune, but it’s hard to talk with a bag of ice on your mouth. Frustrated and bored, I decided to get back up. That’s when I discovered I hurt all over. I wondered if I’d been hit by a truck while prone on the pavement.

When my husband and kids got home I received appropriate amounts of sympathy and even a kiss from one of my teenagers, which almost made the fall worth it – almost. In the following days, my facial swelling receded, but my shiner sported an ever-changing rainbow of colors.

I grew used to pitying glances in the supermarket and snarky cage-fighting comments from friends. One quipped, “Well, no one can say you’re just another pretty face.” Interestingly, my husband managed to avoid appearing in public with me for an entire week.

So, now I’m mostly healed and have resumed walking and talking at the same time. I’m not yet brave enough to chew gum, but that will come.

Meanwhile, readers might want to say a prayer that I’ll stay properly balanced as snow-and-ice season continues. I don’t want to have to chronicle another mishap. After all, columns like this can give journalism a black eye.