Columns

Still afloat on the pond of English 101

I am absolutely not going to tell you how many years ago I took English 101.

For one thing, I’m not good at math – something my college transcript verifies. For another thing, it was a really long time ago. How long ago? Well, let’s just say all of my essays were handwritten. In cursive. In pen. No, not with quill and ink.

Memories of that class were triggered when our youngest son headed out the door to Eastern Washington University last week. He’s not taking 101 – he’s teaching it.

Sam’s first day of teaching English 101/First day of kindergarten.

Sam is in the final year of his graduate degree and is a composition instructor in the English Graduate Student Assistantship Program. His 22nd birthday was Friday, but he’s already teaching a class of 24 students.

He’s relishing his new role, and I’m sure his students will benefit from his enthusiasm. For many of them, English 101 will be just another required class to get out of the way, but perhaps for some the class will trigger a desire to learn more about writing.

That’s exactly what happened to me at Spokane Falls Community College.

At 18, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. The career aptitude tests I took my senior year of high school pointed me toward fashion merchandising. I’m pretty sure that’s just a fancy way to say retail sales clerk, but I could be wrong.

Dad said college would be a better place to discover my aptitudes and paid for my first quarter at SFCC. I’d been the editor of our school newspaper and co-editor of the yearbook, so English classes didn’t scare me. I was far more terrified of classes involving math – a justified fear as evidenced in the above-mentioned transcripts.

I’m sorry to say, I don’t remember the name of my English 101 instructor. I do remember he was also the tennis coach and often wore his tennis whites to class. Maybe fashion merchandising should have been my thing, after all.

Yet, he’s the one who lit the spark of interest – who first made me wonder if perhaps writing was something I could actually be good at. To be sure, 101 is the most basic of college classes. Students typically learn the different stages of writing: gathering material, drafting ideas, revising drafts, editing and proofreading.

Sitting on my desk is one of the first essays I wrote for that class. The title? “From Duckling to Swan,” in which I related my middle school to high school transformation.

Honestly, reading it now is cringe-inducing, but I’ve saved it all these years because of the comment the instructor wrote in pencil on the title page.

“An essay like this can keep you afloat in the pond of 101.”

When that paper landed on my desk, after he first read it to the class, it was an a-ha moment for me. I thought, “This is it! This is what I want to do. I want to write and I want people to read what I’ve written.”

And here we are.

Now, it’s Sam’s turn to make a difference.

Who knows? Maybe someday a writer will sit down to pen a newspaper column or write a book, and remember an English 101 class at EWU, and the instructor who encouraged her to believe that she had a way with words. And perhaps that teacher’s name will be Sam Hval.

It wouldn’t surprise me a bit.

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

My Outlook’s Getting Brighter

I don’t like change.

I like reliable routines, familiar faces, and grocery stores that don’t rearrange their aisles every few months.

I’ve kept the same husband for 36 years, still live in the house we bought in 1993, and use a paper planner and a wall calendar with cute kitten photos to track my days.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Then my email broke, and I couldn’t fix it.

It was a catastrophic computer event that I couldn’t blame on my kids, since I’m the only user of the device.

I’ve used the same email program since before my youngest son was born. My current email address is only my second. (My first was an AOL account. Yes, that’s how old I am.)

If I just used email as an old-fashioned way to stay in touch with folks, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But I use it to track every single story and project on my to-do list.

My newspaper articles are assigned and filed via email, and I schedule interviews and bill clients through it. Without it, I might as well be banging away on a Smith Corona, stuffing envelopes and looking for stamps.

Tech support (my husband) resuscitated the program a couple of times. I’d start the day bright with hope, only to have it fail repeatedly. When you have more than a dozen people waiting for you to schedule their pandemic project story, you really don’t want to lose their names, addresses and the descriptions of their projects.

“The problem is you have way more email than Juno is designed for, and the company hasn’t updated their program in forever,” Derek said. “It’s just no longer sustainable.”

I gasped.

“You mean I can’t use dchval@juno anymore? What will happen to the hundreds of emails in my folders?”

Derek told me not to panic until he did some research. Meanwhile, I panicked anyway and frantically backed up several years of mail. OK, more than several. My earliest saved message is from 2009. But. I really need that note.

“I’ve got good news and bad news,” Derek announced the following day. “There’s a program I can buy that will allow me to save your Juno email, and you can still use that address.”

“That’s wonderful!” I said throwing my arms around him. “What’s the bad news?”

“You’re going to have to learn how to use Outlook,” he said.

Outlook is a personal information manager software system from Microsoft. Friends and professional contacts have urged me to use it for years, but I’ve never seen the need. My trusty paper planner and antiquated email provider served me well, until now.

Knowing my propensity to ask, “Is it fixed, yet?” repeatedly whenever he works on my computer, Derek wisely chose a time when I’d be away from my home office for the day.

When I returned, he was working in the backyard.

“Oh, no!” I said. “Is my problem unfixable?”

He grinned.

“Nope. I finished hours ago. Your email is up and running, and I don’t think you lost a thing.”

You see why I keep him? He’s an absolute hero. His heroics, however, only go so far.

“Sam can show you how to use Outlook,” he said.

Our future-college-professor son patiently showed me how to configure my address book, how to send and receive mail, and where to find my folders. That’s when we discovered one of the largest folders had duplicated contents, and another folder was a jumble of old and new contacts and projects, but most important, everything was there.

Obviously, I’ve been saving way too many emails, so now a couple of times a day I poke through a folder and delete items. Sometimes it turns into quite a stroll down memory lane, as I read encouraging notes from former editors and warm letters from readers. But I am resolute in my purging, even though Derek said I no longer have to worry about my email crashing.

I even learned a new trick. I can now categorize my emails and tasks with pretty, little colored flags. Though I’m still figuring out this new-to-me program, I already wonder why I ever balked at using it.

In fact, you could say my Outlook is getting brighter every day.

———

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, Columns

Framing your story

Meme makers had lots of fun with 2020.

To be clear, there is nothing funny about a global pandemic, murder hornets and horrific wildfires, but honestly, it seemed the year was one disaster after another. The great thing about humans is our ability to use humor to diffuse our angst.

Take this meme for example: “2020 is a unique Leap Year. It has 29 days in February, 300 days in March and five years in April.”

Or this one: “If 2020 was a math problem: If you’re going down a river at two m.p.h. and your canoe loses a wheel, how much pancake mix would you need to re-shingle your roof?”

Everyone is hoping 2021 will be better (I refuse to ask how it could be worse), and signs are promising. The vaccine is rolling out. The election is over. And most of us never saw a single murder hornet.

Someday, we’ll be on the other side of COVID-19, and I wonder what stories we will tell our children and grandchildren about our experience.

Maybe something like this:

“Once upon a time, in 2020, a horrible plague swept over the world. Many people died. Many more got sick. We couldn’t go anywhere. We couldn’t hug people, and everyone wore masks. Stores ran out of toilet paper and flour. Schools closed, and most of us learned to work from home.”

It’s a grim narrative, fit for a grim disease, but it’s not the whole story. In 2020, babies were born, businesses launched, books written, bread baked and outdoor treks enjoyed.

For me, one of the best things about the year has been writing the Pandemic Project series for this newspaper.

The idea started simply. A reader wrote, sending pictures of a quilt she’d finally had time to refurbish and she asked, “I wonder what projects others are tackling during this time?”

My editor forwarded me the note.

“Do you think this could be a series?” she asked.

So, I wrote a call out for stories, and the responses flooded my inbox. People eagerly shared how they’ve been using their unexpected down time.

From small needlework projects, to elegant patios and decks. From quilts, to chicken coops. From flower gardens, to greenhouses, to cookbooks, people proved that staying home didn’t stifle creativity. In fact, it unleashed it.

I think the reason these stories struck such a chord is that they stand in stark contrast against the daily roster of things we can’t do.

We can’t go to concerts.

We can’t go to movies.

We can’t visit our parents in retirement homes.

The ever-changing rules and information often results in fear, an unexpected side effect of the virus. Fear isn’t a bad thing. It’s hardwired into humans and warns us of impending danger. It can keep us safe, but it can also cripple us.

I’ve seen fear-induced rants turn to rage on social media. For example: anger at those who balk at the mask mandate, and anger at those who comply with it. The flip side of the same coin.

It reminds me of what I told my sons about anger when they were small.

“It’s OK to feel mad. Everyone gets mad sometimes. It’s what you do with your angry feelings that matters.”

The same thing applies to fear.

That’s why I enjoy writing the Pandemic Project series so much. Every week I get to talk with people who’ve channeled their worry, their fear, their sadness, into creating something new, or trying something they didn’t have time to pursue until a pandemic slowed their pace.

Perhaps one day I’ll tell my grandchildren this:

“Once upon a time, in 2020, a horrible plague swept over the world. Many people died. Many more got sick. We couldn’t go anywhere. We couldn’t hug people, and everyone wore masks.

But every week we had family dinner, and I fed your uncles the meals they loved when they were little. We watched movies, played cards and made memories.

I couldn’t visit great-grandma Shirley, but we waved at each other from windows while we talked on the phone.

Papa went to work every day, so people could buy the tools they needed to build and fix things, and I wrote stories about the wonderful things people did with their time at home.

It was scary, but in the quiet and slowness of a careful world, we finally had time to appreciate the small things – things that in the busy, noisy times, seemed to slip through our fingers.”

So much of a story is in how it’s framed. Beautiful things shine all the brighter against the darkest backgrounds. Every breath offers an opportunity to add to our story. What will you add to yours?

All Write, Columns

Readers make writer’s job enjoyable

While tidying up end-of-the-year paperwork, I dislodged an overflowing folder from the top of the filing cabinet.

It was my reader feedback folder, filled with printed emails, cards and letters I’ve received from newspaper readers this year.

Sifting through them, I’m amazed anew at how columns pounded out from my windowless, basement home office, find their way to readers across the region and prompt response.

Before COVID-19, I did a fair number of writing workshops and speaking events, and at almost every one I’m asked, “Where do you get the ideas for your column?”

After all these years, I still haven’t found a pithy answer, because writing a personal column is well, pretty personal. That’s why it’s such a joy to find something I’ve written resonates with others.

Thumbing through the notes, I found a response to a column I’d written when I discovered what the phrase “Netflix and Chill” means in contemporary culture.

The note was from Dean, 73, who said, “You rascal, you!”

I’ve never been called a rascal before. It was epic!

An email from Stan, a fellow author, and former teacher, said, “You really know your vowels and consonants.”

I immediately forwarded that one to my editor, whom I’m sure has wondered at times.

A column about anticipation drew this response from Gina, who said, “I do have the feeling of your words in my soul today.”

No writer could wish for more.

Publishing a segment of my quarantine diary prompted a comparison to Erma Bombeck that absolutely thrilled me.

When I bemoaned in print that the shutdown order had limited my wardrobe to gray yoga pants or gray sweatpants, Bob wrote, “I look forward to Thursday’s for your articles. Please don’t ever stop. Stay healthy and wear whatever you want at home.”

I’m confident, Bob would approve of today’s usual deadline attire – a fluffy pink bathrobe and matching bunny slippers.

Sometimes reader mail offers important validation on critical issues. When I wrote of my horror at discovering my husband had used MY MONDAY MUG, Marcia wrote, “By the way, the mug thing made sense to me.”

I forwarded that one to Derek.

He didn’t reply, but he hasn’t used my Monday mug since.

Cards and letters sent to me at the newsroom are now forwarded to me at home.

When I wrote about a benefit of pandemic life was discovering the joy of the newspaper crosswords, a thoughtful reader enclosed a pencil with her card.

An elegant typewritten note on gold-trimmed stationery proved delightful, especially since it was written in response to a column about my cats.

Arlene wrote, “When there is so much sadness in these difficult times, you brightened my day on October 22 with your cleverly written article about Thor and Walter Scott.”

I don’t know if the column was clever, but I do know that my cats are.

Jan sent an email that made me smile.

“Thanks for your column – one of the few items I can BELIEVE IN THE SPOKESMAN!! (caps courtesy of the writer). Hang in there.”

I’m hanging in there, and I hope Jan is, too.

Bombeck once wrote, “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.”

It’s a line I’m privileged to walk twice a month.

In fact, the column that generated the most feedback this year blurred those lines a bit.

I wrote about my first masked, socially distant outdoor visit with my 89-year-old mom. She lives in a retirement facility just blocks from my home, but six months had passed since I’d been able to see her in person.

Readers shared their own stories of being separated from family members during the pandemic.

Bill wrote he’d been apart from his bride of 53 years for 22 weeks.

“If some of my friends read your article, they may now have a better understanding of what I’m experiencing,” he said.

Humans weren’t made to live in isolation. This year more than ever, I value the feedback of faithful newspaper readers.

Thank you for reminding me that even in the midst of a global pandemic, our stories can still connect us.

Here’s to a brighter, better, and healthier New Year.

Columns

Sir Walter Scott’s Work Life

Sir Walter Scott, 15 months, takes his responsibilities seriously.

When you’re the junior feline in the family and in charge of entertainment, mischief and cuddles, it’s a full-time job and then some.

Knowing that Thor, the senior tabby in the clan, keeps a scornful eye on him, Walter adheres to a strict daily schedule.

His first job of the day is to assist Thor in obtaining breakfast. Around 7:30 a.m., they take their positions outside my bedroom door and commence polite requests for food. If none is forthcoming, Thor ratchets up the volume and intensity, while Walter sticks his paws under the door and grabs at the carpet. If that doesn’t work, they take turns scratching and banging on the door.

When I emerge, they both enter manic mode, careening through the house and dashing around the kitchen table. Then comes the wrestling.

I have to feed them in separate rooms, because Thor will wolf down his breakfast and finish Walter’s, too, and Walter will just sit and sadly watch his food disappear. Though he passively lets Thor take charge of food once it’s served, before it appears is another matter. As I dish up their kibble, Walter pounces on Thor, attempting epic takedowns.

Thor is a lover, not a fighter, so it’s a good thing he’s bigger and has a longer reach. While Walter sizes up the best way to pin him, Thor bats him away. Undaunted, Walter stretches up into full Godzilla mode and tackles. Thor hisses, which scares both of us.

I’m not sure why Walter decided this was his job, but Thor is not thrilled to find himself headlining these twice-daily bouts.

Walter’s next self-appointed chore of the day is sweeter – morning cuddles with me.

I return to bed after feeding them, because I mean, it’s 7:30 (or 8, but still). By this time, Derek is getting ready for work, so Walter has me all to himself. He jumps up on the bed, lays his head next to mine on my pillow and curls up in my arms. He purrs contentedly, while kneading his sharp little claws under my chin. Usually, he falls asleep and sometimes so do I.

Morning cuddles with Mom

We take turns deciding when it’s time to get out of bed. If I don’t have a deadline or an appointment, I doze until Walter brings me a toy and pats my face to let me know it’s playtime. If I get up first, I bring my coffee and my phone back to bed and check emails and messages. Walter fetches a toy because playtime is next on his agenda.

He usually brings a small white mouse with a rattle and bats it around until I throw it down the hall. Then he tears off and brings it back. Walter is a fetch champion until he gets bored.

After I’m ready to face the day, Walter follows me to work in my downstairs office. His favorite thing is stalking the printer and waiting for it to whir to life. He doesn’t grab the paper, he just likes the hunt.

He takes his editorial responsibilities seriously and prefers to plant himself in front of my screen or on my keyboard.

Obviously, this is not an ideal working situation, at least not for me. I repeatedly scoop him up and put him on the floor until he gets the hint and wanders off to nap.

Walter, the editor

I’m usually out in the afternoon, so Walter takes advantage of my absence to forage for carbs. I’ve previously written about his carb addiction, and I’m sad to report he’s had a relapse. We’ve taken to storing our bread in the microwave and securing any open chips, rolls or baked goods in a cupboard he can’t open. All was well until one afternoon when I went to the pantry for dinner ingredients and found a bag of barbecue potato chips scattered on the floor.

It seems Sam had left the shopping bags on the floor instead of putting the items on the shelves, and Walter got the munchies. He tore open the bag, sampled a few chips, but evidently didn’t care for their tang.

Bedtime brings a nightly dilemma.

My husband likes to sleep with me. So does Walter. I’m usually in bed first, so Walter saunters in and makes himself comfortable. Then Derek arrives.

“Okay, buddy, time to go,” he says.

Walter rolls over on his back and looks at Derek. Upside-down kitty is universally irresistible, but Derek is made of sterner stuff.

Upside down kitty fails to impress Dad

“Night, night, Walter, out you go,” he says.

Walter stretches, then curls up next to me.

Finally, Derek scoops him up and takes him to the living room.

Just as we turn off the light, we hear a faint scratching at the door and the saddest, most forlorn meows.

“Go to sleep, Walter,” Derek says.

And eventually he does. After all, he knows he has a full slate of responsibilities awaiting him in the morning.

Columns

A mugful of Monday

Bewildered, I stared through sleep-fogged eyes at the rack above the kitchen sink.

I saw Sam’s Star Wars cup, Derek’s Three Stooges mug, and a few others, but my Monday mug was missing.

One of the advantages of working from home is that there are no co-workers to steal your coffee cup or pilfer your lunch. (Well, there was that time in 2014, that Zachary ate the last piece of leftover meatloaf I’d saved for a sandwich. But I’m mostly over it, and only mention it every time I make meatloaf.) So, I was puzzled by the absence of my personalized Spokesman-Review mug.

I checked the dishwasher, but I’d emptied it the night before.

At the kitchen table, Derek shook out the newspaper and took a slurp of coffee.

“Have you seen my Monday mug?” I asked.

He glanced at the cup in his hand.

“You mean this one?”

Sure enough, he was sipping java from a pinwheel-decorated cup with my name on it.

I’d worried that anarchy might rear its ugly head during this time of pandemic, but I never expected the decline of civilization to begin in my own home.

“That’s my deadline day cup!” I sputtered. “It’s got my NAME on it! How can I be expected write newspaper copy without coffee in my Monday mug?”

IMG_20200504_114944113_MP

My husband frowned and pointed to a cup with a cat and a newspaper on it.

“Can’t you use that one?”

Horrified and uncaffeinated, I gasped, “That’s my SATURDAY mug!”

Before he could inquire about the other days of the week, I pointed to my “But first coffee” cup and my Wonder Woman mug.

“Those are for Tuesdays,” I explained. “I vary depending on my workload.”

Sighing, Derek poured his coffee into another cup and handed me my mug.

As someone who leaves the house every day and goes to an office, he doesn’t understand the sanity-saving sanctity of a well-established routine for those of us who work from home.

I swiped the newspaper and headed back to bed, coffee in hand. That’s when I stepped in a puddle of cat barf and went puke-skating down the hallway.

Apparently, Thor had upchucked his breakfast while I was explaining mug protocol to Derek. I was able to stop my slide by hitting the wall with a resounding thud. I didn’t fall, and more important, I didn’t spill my coffee.

“Nice save,” Derek said.

He got to scrub the floor while I cleaned bits of cat vomit from between my toes. Suddenly, he seemed anxious to get to work.

“Don’t forget our new mattress will be delivered today,” he said on his way out.

And I didn’t forget, exactly. I just got engrossed in my work. So, when the doorbell rang I was still in my bathrobe.

No worries. A pandemic plus is having a kid at home all day.

Sam obligingly answered the door and began to wrestle the mattress-in-a-box inside. It quickly became apparent that this was a two-person job, and I was the only other person present. I wasn’t strong enough to pull the box up the stairs, so I got pushup duties. Which is how I ended up on my front porch in my pink plush bathrobe at 1 in the afternoon.

Apparently, most of our neighbors are “staying home, staying healthy,” because there was quite an audience to observe our progress.

The box was heavy, but on the small side for something containing a queen-size mattress.

“I think it explodes or something when you open it,” I explained to Sam. “Let’s not touch it till Dad gets home.”

My last phone call of the day involved hashing out a complicated medical story. Thankful to be able to discuss it with a colleague, I said, “It really helps to have two brains.”

She quickly ended the call.

When Derek got home, Sam helped him unpack the new mattress. It didn’t explode; it just kind of sighed and got fluffy. When I described the scenario on Facebook, a friend said, “Just kind of sighed and got fluffy – the story of my quarantine.”

Pretty apt description for many of us.

Late that night, Derek and I stretched out on our new mattress. I was almost asleep when he nudged me.

“Tomorrow’s Tuesday,” he whispered. “Can I use your Monday mug?”

 

Columns

My Corona Diary

Unlike many writers, I don’t journal. I write for a living, so by the end of the day I’m all out of words.

However, we’re living in extraordinary times, and frankly since the governor issued the stay-home order, I seem to have a bit more time, and a bit more difficulty keeping track of it. Jotting journal notes seems like a good way to commemorate this unprecedented era, or at least help me track the days of the week.

Here are a few excerpts from my quarantine diary.

Stay Home Day One: Tightening the belt on my bathrobe, I slip my feet into my bunny slippers, grab a cup of coffee, and make the morning commute to my downstairs office. In other words, it’s just like every deadline morning I’ve had for the past 15 years.

Day Three: As the designated shopper, I venture out to forage for food. I’m an introvert, so I adore the 6-foot distance guidelines and the taped X’s that mark where to wait with your cart. One store has the cashiers back away from the register while you swipe your debit card. Push cart up. Back away. Unload cart. Back away. Swipe card, cashier backs away. It’s like the shopping Hokey Pokey. I wanted to “shake it all about,” but I settled for “turning myself around.”

Day Five: Having an ample flour/sugar supply on hand I begin baking in earnest. Chocolate chip cookies, Texas sheet cake, banana bread. Though my men folk consume the bulk of it, I start to worry about my own bulk. I’m thankful for the lovely weather and my well-established walking routine.

Day Seven: I’ve worn nothing but yoga pants for a week, so I take a pair of jeans out of my closet just to make sure I can still button them. Success!

Day Nine-ish: I apologize to Derek for being annoyed with him earlier this year when he bought two Heritage pigs and half a cow from a local farmer. We’ve got plenty of pork chops, sausage and steak in the freezer, but it’s time to trek to Costco to buy the essentials: jelly beans, peanut butter whiskey and salted caramel chocolates.

Porch_-_Hval_snacks_t1200

Day Eleventy-five: What fresh hell is this? My hair salon isn’t considered an essential business? I peer into the mirror at my overgrown bangs. Then I phone a friend. “Talk me down! I’ve got scissors and Cousin Itt bangs!”

She reminds me of the Great Hair Hack of 2013, and asks if she needs to call Derek or one of the kids to hide the scissors from me.

Day 666: Mother Nature has turned her back on us – snow, hail, rain and an earthquake.

“Did you feel that? My desk was shaking!” I said to my son, Sam.

“I didn’t feel anything. You’re probably having a stroke,” he replied.

Day Something: Desperate times call for desperate measures. Horrible walking weather and a shutdown gym means I have to exercise at home. I dig out my Jill Ireland and Richard Simmons workout videos. The next day I’m incredibly sore.

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“I can’t even sweat to the oldies,” I tell Derek. “No way can I do ‘Buns of Steel.’”

“That’s OK, honey,” he says. “I prefer buns of cushiness anyway.”

We are still married.

The day after whatever day that was: In the darkened bedroom I decide to try on my jeans again. I reach into the closet and grab a pair. They slide on effortlessly. In fact, I’m swimming in them. I’ve done the impossible! I’ve actually lost weight in the midst of quarantine!

I flip the light switch.

I’m wearing Derek’s jeans.

Days later: Panic sets in. Who cares about toilet paper – I’m down to three library books! Then I remember my nightstand is chock-full of books I either haven’t read or want to read again. Also, we have three overflowing bookcases. Crisis averted. Panic wasted.

Another day: Everyone on social media is posting about wearing their jammie pants all day. I’ve never owned pajamas. Choosing between gray yoga pants or gray sweatpants is getting old. I open a tab on my browser, but quickly close it when Derek walks in. He may like cushy buns, but I don’t want him to catch me googling flannel.

Apocalypse Day: Pulling my hair back into a now necessary ponytail, I decide to use a hair clip to get my bangs out of my eyes. That’s when I notice my untended eyebrows edging toward catastrophic caterpillarlike configuration. Salon shutdowns mean no access to my aesthetician with her handy hot wax.

From the far reaches of the bathroom cabinet, I pull out an old hot wax kit. My hair keeps slipping into my eyes and I realize hot wax and overgrown bangs are a bad combination. My fate is sealed. Taking a deep breath, I pick up the scissors.

Some may bemoan the extension of the stay-home order. Not me. I’m hoping by May 4, my hacked-off bangs will be long enough to hide what I did to my eyebrows.

Columns

Sunrise and the San Francisco Writers Conference

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The rooster’s hoarse crows were sounding desperate and none of us knew what to do.

There are a lot of things you expect to hear when packed into an airplane, but a rooster crowing isn’t one of them.

On Valentine’s Day I boarded a flight to San Francisco to attend the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, a three-day event filled with classes, workshops, literary agents, publishers and hundreds of authors.

I was seated next to a young mother and her adorable 2 1/2-year-old son.

“Did you hear that?” she asked, as we settled in, awaiting takeoff. “It’s a rooster!”

Barely awake, I put down my book and listened. Sure enough a faint cock-a-doodle-do echoed throughout the cabin.

“It must be someone’s phone,” I replied.

But the crowing continued and grew more frantic as the minutes passed.

“I hope they’re not serving chicken sandwiches,” said a lady across the aisle. “That’s taking farm-to-table a little too far!”

We tittered but the crowing continued as the engines revved.

“It’s probably someone’s emotional support rooster,” announced the gentleman behind me.

Alas, we’ll never know, because once we fastened our seat belts and were airborne, the crowing ceased.

“If he’s in the cargo hold, his nuggets are frozen solid,” I said.

“Nuggets? Want nuggets!” the toddler next to me demanded.

Thankfully, he was satisfied with the Goldfish crackers his mother gave him.

It was my first visit to the Bay area, and I was delighted to leave Spokane’s frigid February and arrive in a city with temperatures in the balmy 50s.

Due to flight delays, I had to hit the ground running to make it to my first workshop. I checked into my hotel in the Embarcadero, directly across from the iconic Ferry building, and gathered my credentials.

“Hi Cindy, Happy Valentine’s Day,” said a stranger in the lobby.

“Er. Thank you,” I replied.

“Hey, Cindy! How are you today?” another gentleman asked, moments later.

These people are so friendly, I thought, but how do they know me?

Then I looked down at the credentials hanging from a lanyard around my neck, my first name written in super-sized font. Apparently, my fame had not preceded me.

I wasn’t the only one. I’d noticed the attendees had white nametags, and the volunteers had orange ones. In the elevator I asked a fellow sporting an orange nametag if he was helping at the conference.

“I’m presenting,” he said.

Turns out it was Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, the leading distributor of indie ebooks.

Moving on.

After several classes, I had just enough time to dash across the street to pick up a sandwich for dinner.

“Ma’am where’s your jacket? It’s freezing!” the concerned doorman asked, as I scouted nearby restaurants.

“It’s 53 degrees!” I replied. “When I left Spokane it was 17! This is tropical!”

He shook his head, huddled in his heavy overcoat.

“At least take an umbrella,” he said, offering one from the hotel’s stash.

The umbrella was necessary that night, but I never used one again – not even during a sunrise photography walk, sponsored by the Writer’s Workshop.

That’s right. I may be notoriously anti-morning, but I saw the sun rise from a pier near the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. I wasn’t about to pass up a chance to explore the area with a professional photographer as a guide.

51920729_2191659600872655_2118461617678057472_n[1]However, the morning got off to a rocky start when I discovered my hotel room had only decaf coffee. Thankfully, by the time I’d returned the front desk had sent up a stash of the real thing.

But the coffee didn’t prevent my next elevator faux pas.

“Are you here for the writer’s conference?” I asked a fellow, as we descended to the meeting rooms.

“No, I’m here for a conference on thinking,” he replied.

“Writers think, too,” I said. And then I silently vowed to stop speaking to strangers on elevators.

Speaking of mornings, I took comfort in the words of keynote speaker Jane Friedman. “With a little self-awareness you can compete with morning people,” she said.

I knew she was one of my tribe even before that because she shared a photo of a kitty she frequently cat-sits. I quickly got out my phone and shared a photo of Thor with my tablemate, which prompted the other writers at the table to share pictures of their own cats.

It must be hard to be taken seriously as an author if you don’t have a cat.

Sunday morning I watched the sun rise over the bay and listened to the clang of the cable car as it rounded the corner in front of the hotel. I drank in the view of palm trees and the waterfront. It was time to fly home to the land of snow and ice.

I was tired and I missed my family, but Tony Bennett and I now have something in common. I. too, left my heart in San Francisco.

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All Write, TV

Of cats and conference calls

This week’s Front Porch segment is bittersweet. It features Milo, my tuxedo cat and the embarrassment he caused me during a business call.

The episode was taped last month. Sadly, Milo passed away this week, so he missed his network debut on Spokane Talks on Fox 28.

But I doubt he would have been interested. Milo was very difficult to impress.

Click here to watch this week’s segment.

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