Columns

Procrastination: it’s keeping me waiting

I would tell you how many times I started this column, but somewhere along the way, I lost count.

What no one warns you about working from home is that if you’re prone to procrastination, your house will give you ample opportunities for postponing pesky deadlines.

In more than 15 years in journalism, I’ve never missed a deadline, nor even been significantly late, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t cut it close to the wire.

Not long ago I wrote a column about anticipation, referencing the Carly Simon classic hit song “Anticipation.”

Guess what? That tune works fine if you substitute procrastination for anticipation. (You know you just tried it.)

I hummed that tune as I started a load of laundry after typing the header on this column. Since the washer is next to the freezer, I thought I might as well grab the roast I was planning to cook for dinner.

I set the frozen slab on my desk and typed my byline. Then I checked Facebook and time melted as I scrolled through a friend’s vacation photos. The roast also started melting, so I hustled it upstairs to the kitchen.

Opening a cupboard, I searched for the seasonings I’d need for the roast. Searched, because tall bottles of cooking wine, vinegars and oils had hidden the basil and oregano.

Then I eyed the cupboard with baking supplies. We’re in the middle of zucchini season, and every week I’m churning out breads, cookies and muffins. Why was the baking powder on a shelf so high I had to climb on a chair to reach it?

Obviously, the cabinets desperately needed organizing. I pulled everything out of each cupboard and wiped down the shelves, racks and lazy Susans.

Hysterical meowing broke my cleaning reverie as my cats, Thor and Walter, notified me lunchtime was past due. I filled their bowls and heard the timer on the dryer ringing. When you don’t iron, you can’t afford to let your clothes sit in the dryer.

My blinking monitor reminded me I’d barely started this column, so I sat down and wrote the first sentence. That’s when I noticed my email flag waving. After answering and categorizing a multitude of messages, I realized I’d left everything out on the kitchen counters.

Organizing puts me in an absolute Zen state of mind. The beauty of a well-stocked kitchen delights me. By the time I was done, all of the baking and cooking spices were within easy reach, and I’d rearranged the canned and box goods, too.

It was picture-perfect, so of course, I grabbed my phone and took some photos. I posted the pictures on Instagram and congratulated myself on work well done. Then I remembered my paying job. I’d only written about 50 words. Back to the basement I trudged.

As I finish this, it’s almost time to start dinner. Which has me thinking about my pots and pans. Why are the baking sheets so hard to reach? Wouldn’t the colanders and mixing bowls work better in a larger cupboard?

That’s when I started humming. Feel free to sing along.

Procrastination,

Procrastination

Is making me late

Is keeping me waiting

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.

All Write

Meow! Cat fans demand more!

 I rarely post fan mail, but this one made my day!

Hello, Cindy.

I have been a big fan of your columns for quite a while now, and met you a couple of times when you did a book event at the library, and speaking at Auntie’s some time ago.

When you wrote about Milo’s death, it broke my heart. Over the years, I have lost several cats, and still miss them terribly.

Your update column about Thor being lonely is what prompted me to write. I really hope you adopt another kitty soon. They tend to do better when they aren’t the “only child”. At the moment, I have 2 rescue cats, and once they got over the initial hissing/introduction, they have bonded just fine and make me laugh with their interaction. Honestly, I don’t know how I could live without them. I still miss the ones who are no longer with me, but I have given the 2 new ones a new chance to live and be happy.

I hope you bring home another kitty for Thor (and you). And I hope you write about it. It seems to me that this town is overly dog-crazy, and cats do not get much positive press. Your funny cat adventures have helped many other cats by making them more appealing to potential adopters. Of that I have no doubt, and I look forward to reading more cat stories in the future.

Please keep on writing!!!!!

I forwarded this email to my husband and he replied, “Nice try.” But I believer in keeping my fan base happy.

Stay tuned 😉

 

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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Columns

Some like it hot… especially me

They say you don’t appreciate what you have until you no longer have it.

Take electricity for example. In August we lost power for several hours. It didn’t take long for my family to deeply appreciate the magic that happens when you flip a switch and the lights come on.

Apparently, the Universe deemed we needed another lesson in gratitude.

Ten years ago, my husband and his father replaced our aging water heater with a fancy tankless model. Like all Hval projects it was fraught with unforeseen complications. Namely, they couldn’t get the water shut off. But also like all Hval projects, it was worth the wait.

At the time, we had six people living at home, including four active boys. Showering had turned into a competitive sport. No one wanted to be the last one to shower because that’s when the hot water usually ran out. And God help the Mom who threw a load of laundry in while boys were bathing.

After our new tankless system was installed, Derek ran his hand over the compact, gleaming wall-mounted beauty.

“We’ll never run out of hot water, again!” he said.

For a long time, he was right. But a few years ago, the heater began making some ominous noises. We ignored them.

This summer the rattle turned to a roar that echoed all the way outdoors to the Great Gazebo where I sunned myself.

And then the dripping started.

Last month, Derek and I came home after an evening out, and Zach said, “Did you know water is coming out of the hot water heater?”

We did not know this.

After assessing the situation, Derek put a bucket under it.

Within days the trickle became a small but steady stream and the bucket had to be emptied with increasing frequency. We took to turning the water heater off at night.

“I think it’s the heat exchanger,” said Derek.

Then he did something unheard of in the Hval household: He called for professional help.

A plumber visited and confirmed Derek’s suspicion, and recommended replacing the entire unit. The estimated cost was the equivalent of sending one of us to Hawaii while the other stayed home and ate macaroni and cheese for a week.

“I’ll just replace the heat exchanger and I’ll do it myself,” Derek announced.

He watched a YouTube video about the process and ordered the part online.

“It’ll be here in less than a week,” he said.

Of course, that was the day the water heater quit all together.

Theoretically, one can live without hot water. You can wash your hands and your clothes in cold and our dishwasher has its own heating coils. What you cannot do is shower in cold water. At least I can’t.

The four of us scrambled to find bathing options while we waited for the part to arrive. We have a gym membership, so Derek and Sam took hot showers there. I could have done that, too, but I like more privacy when I get ready for my day. Thankfully, I housesit for snowbirds during the fall and winter, and hot showers and my office away from home were just a short drive away.

Which left poor Zachary (who’d let his gym membership lapse) to learn the military discipline of taking an icy shower.

“The key is to keep your feet out of the way of the water,” he informed us.

A chilly week passed before the part arrived. It had some complicated wiring, but Derek easily figured it out and hooked it up in record time.

He switched it on and waited. No rattle. No roar. And unfortunately no hot water.

“I think the dripping water fried the fan,” he said. “I’ll order a new one. It’ll be here in a couple days.”

We are a stoic lot, but the news was hard to take. Our combined groans sounded almost as loud as the defunct water heater used to.

On the appointed day, the fan arrived while we were all at work. Derek hurried home to install it. The rest of us watched our phones, anxiously awaiting word.

Within minutes a text arrived. “We have HOT WATER!”

Such beautiful words!

Zachary got the first shower. He’d earned it.

As for me, when it was my turn to luxuriate under the warm water’s soothing spray, I counted my blessings. Loudly. Just in case the Universe thinks I need any more reminders.

All Write

It’s Christmas in October!

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Delighted to have my story “Christmas Miracle” included in Chicken Soup for the Soul’s newest release “The Wonder of Christmas.”

This marks the 11th Chicken Soup for the Soul book to feature one or more of my stories. What makes this one extra special is that “Christmas Miracle” is about our youngest son, Sam. It’s also the first story in the book!

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Even better proceeds from the sale of this volume go to Toys for Tots!

The books are on sale now at stores nationwide, or you can click the link in the title above.

Merry Christmas in October,

Cindy

All Write

Register now: The Art of the Interview

 

I’m delighted to be presenting “The Heart of the Matter: The Art of the Interview,” at the 4th annual Spokane Writer Conference, Saturday October 20 at 10:15.

Maybe you have this amazing grandfather who served in WWll and you want to preserve his story, but he gives you one-word answers. Perhaps you know a fabulous woman who is quietly helping homeless teens, but she’s loath to talk about herself. We’ll discuss interviewing methods that focus on having conversations that allow the speakers’ natural light to shine. In this workshop, we’ll discuss how to ask the questions that will give you the information you need. And you’ll learn how to glean information from body language and how to use the context of a story to  help you pinpoint the direction you’d like to go.

There are only a few spots left! Did I mention it’s FREE?

I’d love to see you at this class, so don’t delay. Click here to register today.

 

All Write, Columns, TV

Telling a story in 150 seconds

They say learning new things keeps your mind sharp. Or is that sharpening things keeps you learning?

At any rate, when the producer of a new half-hour television show, “Spokane Talks,” on Fox28 Spokane asked if I’d be willing to do a short commentary at the close of each weekly broadcast, I agreed.

I’ve never been a television personality or a news anchor, but I did study radio and TV broadcasting at Newtech Skill Center (formerly Spokane Vocational Skills Center).

Granted that was in 1983, but hey, I got straight A’s.

Plus, the precarious state of dead tree journalism makes me think I’d better expand my skill set, just in case someday no one wants to “Wake Up and Read It.”

To that end, the one stipulation I had is that this newspaper gets mentioned in the opening credits of my segments. Who knows, maybe television viewers can be newspaper readers, too.

OK, I did have other stipulations regarding hair, wardrobe, snacks in the green room and limo service, but apparently those emails went missing.

When I told my sons about my new venture, I said, “It will be like Andy Rooney on ‘60 Minutes,’ only with better eyebrows.”

“Who’s Andy Rooney?” they asked.

“He’s that really short actor that was married like, 12 times,” my husband replied.

Which is when I realized TV news programs are probably teetering on the brink of extinction, as well.

We found some “60 Minute” clips on YouTube.

My sons were not impressed, but they agreed my brows were better groomed and thought I probably had a superior wardrobe.

Moving on.

The folks at “Spokane Talks” created a cool introduction, featuring the dulcet voice of Tom McArthur.

The segments, like this column, are called the “Front Porch,” and writing the tag line, (That’s the view from my front porch) was a breeze.

Coming up with weekly segments, no longer than two-and-a-half minutes in length?

Not so breezy.

I mean, I have sneezes that last longer.

In newspaper journalism, we’re told to write tight, that if it takes you more than 1,000 words to tell a story, you’re probably using too many adjectives. Or worse. Adverbs.

But telling a story with a beginning, middle and end in a 150-second frame proved tricky. Especially since my only audience during the taping is a couple of unblinking television cameras and Vinnie, whom I can’t see because he’s in the booth.

It’s like talking to yourself while someone is eavesdropping. I decided my entourage should accompany me to the studio.

Unfortunately, my cats don’t travel well, so I roped my manager into going with me. I had to promise to buy him dinner afterward, but he’s got a vested interest in my career and is usually a good sport. A well-fed good sport.

“You’re in charge of wardrobe malfunctions,” I told him.

“Causing them or preventing them?” he asked.

It’s tough when your manager is your husband, but if Celine Dion did it, then so can I. Not that I plan to do any singing on television. At least not intentionally.

In fact, Derek has been trying to manage me for years. He says some days it feels like a full-time job, but the benefits are pretty nice.

Six weeks into the program, I haven’t been censored by the FCC, groped any interns or appeared on television with lipstick on my teeth, so I think it’s going OK.

I asked my sons what they thought.

“Uh. This is on YouTube, right?” they asked.

No wonder Andy Rooney was a curmudgeon.

I’m not sure if my mind is any sharper, but I’m figuring out how to cut excess verbiage, make use of camera angles and use a teleprompter app on my husband’s Kindle.

Now, I’m working on not grimacing on camera. Seeing still shots from the shows revealed I have a very expressive face. Unfortunately, many of those expressions should not be seen on network TV.

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but maybe this old columnist can learn something new.

Stay tuned.

On the air

“Spokane Talks” airs Sundays at 6 p.m. on KAYU Fox 28 Spokane. To see previously aired “Front Porch” segments go to https://spokanetalksmedia.com/ and click the Front Porch tab.