Columns

Home Alone is Risky Business

Our youngest son’s move to Texas earlier this month offered me an unusual opportunity – six days home alone.

Sam’s overloaded Oldsmobile meant his road trip would be a father-son-only adventure. Also, I don’t think they wanted to hear me sobbing in the backseat for 1,767 miles.

I’ve never been alone in my house for more than a weekend. When Derek was in the National Guard, he was out of town frequently, but I always had a houseful of boys to wrangle. Honestly, I was looking forward to some solitude.

Here are a few excerpts from my Home Alone journal:

Day one: Knowing I’d have an emotional morning, a friend treated me to lunch. I ordered a large sandwich and put half of it in a to-go container for dinner. Everything was lovely until I forgot it at the restaurant. “It’s Derek’s duty to make sure I don’t leave my leftovers behind!” I wailed. My friend expressed concern about my ability to survive alone.

Needing to shop for some single-lady food, I headed to Trader Joe’s. My purchases may or may not have included a box of wine and three ginormous chocolate bars, but I definitely bought a salad.

Once home, I eyed the two huge zucchini that Derek didn’t have time to grate before he left. I decided to worry about that tomorrow.

Day two: I purchased a food processor because those zucchini weren’t getting any fresher, and there was no way I was going to grate them by hand. Then I went to visit my mom. We had a nice chat until I showed her the picture of Sam in front of the U-Haul the morning he left. Then we had a nice cry.

I might have spent too much time away from home because Walter, our cat, went feral. He slaughtered a fly and ate it in front of me.

This reminded me it was dinner time. I considered the salad I’d bought but opted for making nachos in the microwave. Dinner in hand, I settled into the recliner to watch a movie (you can do things like this when you live alone). That’s when I realized I hadn’t turned on the TV since the guys left and I didn’t know how to find the movie on my watch list. I made it almost 48 hours without a call to tech support (Sam).

Day three: No bacon. Derek usually makes breakfast on the weekends and that usually includes bacon. I eyed the chocolate bars but decided to scramble some eggs, instead.

Then I took a long walk and scheduled a pedicure for later. Weekend days can drag when you’re alone, so I was thankful I had a happy hour with a friend on my calendar.

“How are you doing?” she asked.

“Great!” I replied. “But I am talking to my cats. A lot.”

I gave her some zucchini (small ones) and when I got home I took the food processor out of the box. It had several pieces and a large instruction book. I decided to go to bed early.

Day four: Labor Day. It’s officially OK to drink pumpkin spice coffee now, so I indulged. Then I labored in the yard, the responsibility of keeping everything green and blooming weighed heavily. I miss Derek.

Moving inside, I cleaned the house, which took 10 minutes. That’s a benefit of single life I could get used to. Despite my sparkling home, something smelled funny. I checked the zucchini. They were fine. Then I remembered with Sam gone, I’m responsible for the litter box.

I really miss Sam.

Day five: I interviewed a lady about her rock collection and worked my way through my overflowing inbox. In the afternoon, I went out to the shed and got out the leaf blower to clean off the deck and gazebo. The battery was dead. I called Derek and he told me to take the battery out of his drill and use that. By golly, I figured it out!

That’s not the kind of risky business I envisioned for my week alone. Thankfully, it was time to meet a friend for dinner.

Day six: I hosted my writers group in the gazebo and when they left I decided to water the lawn. I turned on the water and got a blast in the face. I texted Derek, “A leak! The house sprung a major leak!”

It’s hard to text with wet hands, so Derek was relieved that the hose was leaking and not the house.

With his return imminent, I returned to the food processor. I wanted to get those zucchini taken care of. Then I read another bold print section, “Warning! You can be killed or seriously injured if you don’t follow these instructions.”

If I’m going to die or be dismembered, I want my husband with me.

When I picked him up at the airport the next morning, he asked how I enjoyed my week.

“Home alone is fine,” I replied. “But home with you is better.”

Then I handed him the food processor instruction book.

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 on Amazon and bookstores nationwide.

Columns

Zucchini: The Sequel

“We went on vacation – the squash did not,” Cindy Hval said in an email about Tuesday’s harvest, shown. “It’s like the zucchini are mocking me.” (Cindy Hval / The Spokesman-Review) “We went on vacation – the squash did not,” Cindy Hval said about Tuesday’s harvest, shown. “It’s like the zucchini are mocking me.”

Every great adventure deserves and sometimes demands a sequel. Such is the case with my previous column about surplus squash.

When I wrote about the Great Zucchini Invasion of 2017, readers responded with recipes, suggestions of where to donate the surplus, and offers to take some zucchini off my hands – or countertops.

It turned out that reader response to the column was as prolific as, well, zucchini.

The irony was in the few days after the column ran: My harvest trickled down to near nothing. In fact, I almost put away the grater and the freezer bags, but then I blinked. Yep. More zucchini and the giveaway began anew.

A Facebook friend stopped by to take a few. My monthly writers group met at my home – each writer took home helpful critiques, encouraging words. And zucchini.

I hosted my annual Great Gazebo Girlfriend Gathering and sent the ladies home with a squash or two, except for one friend who sneaked out without taking her fair share. That’s OK. I know where she lives.

And, of course, we celebrated National Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbor’s Porch day on Aug. 8. We may have celebrated a bit too much as most of our neighbors are still avoiding us.

Yet the zucchini just kept on coming. An online commenter offered this solution: “Cindy, if you put your surplus crop in a box at curbside with a FREE label, no one will take them. But if you label the zucchini $1 each, someone will steal them after dark. Problem solved.”

Others requested some of the recipes I mentioned in the column, so I’ve included a few of those here.

Speaking of recipes, a reader offered to send me a recipe for zucchini relish and pickles. Both sound wonderful, but the recipe requires canning and I’m not quite that desperate. Yet.

One reader offered to trade farm fresh eggs for zucchini, and I just may take her up on that.

Others suggested nonprofit organizations that might welcome fresh produce.

Mary Ellen Gaffney-Brown said Meals on Wheels gives out fresh produce every Wednesday. I called the organization to confirm and discovered that they often welcome veggie donations, but cautioned readers to call first.

Barbara Hill notified me of a wonderful program run by Refugee Connections. These folks actually come to your garden, glean it, and then donate the produce to the East Central Community Center.

Another fun way to share garden goodness is to take it to your local library for a produce swap. The summer bounty program sponsored by Spokane County Library District invites folks to bring their extra fresh produce to select branches, and take home something different from another garden. Leftovers are taken to a local food bank and the produce swaps continue in September.

So if you find yourself swimming in surplus squash, don’t despair. It turns out there are plenty of ways to share the wealth. That said, sequels are fine, but I’m really hoping the Great Zucchini Invasion won’t become a trilogy.

Columns

The Great Zucchini

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Unfortunately, the most valuable life lessons are often learned the hard way. This summer I’ve been schooled in the veracity of the adage “be careful what you wish for.”

Last year my husband experimented in the Glorious Garden. He tried growing zucchini, vertically, in pallets. The experiment failed, and I was disappointed.

“Next year, I want zucchini. LOTS of zucchini,” I told my hardworking spouse.

He heard me. Boy, did he hear me.

Two weeks into this summer’s zucchini season had me yelling for mercy – praying for drought, pestilence or plague. No such luck. Our bumper squash crops shows no sign of slowing down.

It’s come to this – last week, I went to a party. I took zucchini as a hostess gift.

I returned my sister-in-law’s baking dish – with a squash tucked inside. Our relatives are starting to avoid me.

Our teenager used to eagerly ask, “What’s for dinner?”

Now, he hesitates.

In the last few weeks I’ve made zucchini cornbread casserole, cheesy zucchini, zucchini and rice, zucchini fritters, zucchini chips, zucchini stuffing casserole – and that’s just for dinner.

I’ve also baked dozens of zucchini chocolate chip muffins and many loaves of chocolate zucchini bread.

I have bags of shredded frozen zucchini in the freezer, and Derek recently bought a spiralizer. He wants to try zucchini spaghetti, but I’m not sure I’m ready to make the vegetable-in-place-of-pasta leap. Ask me next week.

And yes, I should know better, because many years ago, I used to write for a now defunct section of this newspaper, called HOME, and one of my assignments was to cover ‘The Great Zucchini War’ between two Spokane Valley neighbors.

It was actually more of a story of the gift that kept on giving. In the 2006 article, I chronicled the tale of a super-sized squash that made its way from bench, to birdbath, to treetop, as two neighbors escalated the art of re-gifting.

The Pedens and the Fairhursts took the squash war to unheard of heights. The much maligned vegetable was camouflaged in orange, black and silver and set afloat in a koi pond. It was transformed into a replica of a Flying Tiger fighter plane. Sporting wings, tail fins and the snarling teeth of a tiger, it perched in the upper branches of a walnut tree where it remained until a ladder tall enough to reach it could be found.

When last seen, it was Halloween and the re-gifted gourd was growing soft in the middle. It had been painted white, covered in ghostly draperies and encased in concrete – on a neighbor’s porch.

That was 11 years ago, and one can only hope the extra-large zuch was given a decent burial somewhere, or at least turned into enough bread to feed the ’hood.

Which brings me back to my squash stash. I’ve been trying to make eye contact with my next-door neighbors, but surprisingly they always seem to be in a hurry to peel out of their driveways or slam shut the sliding doors on their decks.

I’ve pondered placing the surplus squash in a box in our front yard with a “free to good home,” sign, but I worry they will rot in the hot summer sun before they are adopted.

There’s always Craigslist, but I don’t relish getting caught in some kind of undercover sting operation. I can just picture a jaded cop in a deserted parking lot mocking me. “You thought you’d get cash – for squash!?”

Last week I interviewed a longtime greengrocer who told me, “If you have to buy zucchini at a store, you must not have any friends.”

Well, at the rate my freezer is filling, I won’t have any need for zucchini or friends until roughly, 2020.

Listen to me dear readers; be careful what you wish for – especially if it involves produce.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.