Columns

The Green, Green Grass of Home

Confession: I haven’t mowed a lawn since 2001, and the only time I mowed the lawn prior to that was when my husband was doing his annual training with the Washington Army National Guard.

The summer our oldest son turned 11, he took over lawn-mowing duties. As each of our three younger sons came of age, lawn-mowing was added to their weekly chore list, and my husband had one less thing to worry about.

“I shouldn’t have to mow the lawn again, until I’m almost 60,” Derek calculated, as he watched our capable sons work.

Derek turned 56 this summer. Our third son is getting ready to move out again, and our youngest probably won’t be long behind him.

Suddenly, Derek isn’t so fond of our large, grassy front yard.

When a homeowner in our neighborhood ripped out his entire lawn and replaced it with bark, rocks and plants, Derek nodded in approval.

“That’s the way to do it,” he said. “Low maintenance. Nothing to mow or water.”

It’s called xeriscaping; a landscaping philosophy that uses native, drought-resistant plants and arranges them in efficient, water-saving ways.

I eyed the neighbor’s yard.

“It looks like the entrance to an office building,” I said. “There’s no place to play!”

Derek shook his head.

“How long has it been since anyone played in our front yard?” he asked.

Then last week, Shawn Vestal wrote a column about how much he hates his lawn.

“See?” Derek said, shaking out the newspaper. “All the columnists want to rip out their lawns.”

Talk about your fake news.

Because this columnist loves to look out her front window and see a lush, green lawn.

Yes, I know it’s probably irresponsible water-usage and rampant consumerism or rampant water usage and irresponsible consumerism, and I’m not the one mowing it, but I’ve already given up our backyard to the cause.

Slowly, but steadily, the grass back there is disappearing. First came the construction of the Shed Mahal, then the Great Gazebo, followed by the Delightful Deck and Derek’s Glorious Garden.

There’s barely enough grass left for me to run through the sprinklers on a hot day. Well, I don’t really run. I romp and sometimes I skip, and if my neighbors are out mowing their backyards, they get free entertainment.

Now, Derek’s eyeing my last green space.

Here’s a list of things you can’t do on a xeriscaped yard: play bocce, croquet, or lawn darts. You can’t do somersaults or cartwheels, or spin in circles until you get dizzy and fall down. You can’t play tag, Red Light Green Light, Mother May I or Red Rover. You can’t lie on your back and look at the clouds, and you can’t spread out a blanket and have a picnic.

All of those things happened in our front yard more times than I could possibly count – just not recently.

Perhaps that’s part of my reluctance to let go of grass and embrace wood-chip mulch.

Last night, I sat on our front steps in the cool of the evening as the sprinklers shushed back and forth over the green expanse.

This lawn holds the imprint of chubby baby feet, sweaty soccer cleats and teenage footsteps that always seem to lead away.

It’s cradled me, while I cradled my boys, as we pored over stacks of picture books. It held us as we stretched out and named cloud shapes, and whispered wishes and counted stars.

Others may see our lawn as a wasteful indulgence, but to me it’s a memory-strewn magic carpet, that holds precious memories of the boys who grew to men, while mowing its contours.

And it shines like a green light to beckon those boys home again.

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Columns

Sometimes parenting isn’t so thankless after all

 

IMG_20190623_204219_730.jpgLet’s face it. Parenting can be a thankless job.

But as I sat next to our two youngest sons in the Moore Theatre in Seattle on June 23, I only felt thankful.

Our hardworking, youngest son, Sam, 19, had bought me, Derek and Zach tickets to the Josh Ritter concert.

One of his professors at EWU had played a cover of a Ritter song during a class. Sam was intrigued enough to do some research, and discovered the album “So Runs the World Away,” and he was hooked.

He began buying every recording he could find, and when he heard Ritter’s “Fever Breaks” tour was coming to the Northwest, he was thrilled.

“Want to go to the Seattle show with me?” he asked. “I’m buying.”

When your kid is passionate enough about something that he wants to share it, what parent could say no?

Derek offered to spring for a hotel room, Zach actually scheduled a day off from work, and we wrote the date on our family calendar.

Of course, the week after Sam bought the tickets, Ritter added a show in Spokane.

“Never mind,” I told him. “We’re due for a family road trip.”

In the weeks leading up to the concert, Sam shared Ritter’s albums with us. Zach, a musician himself, was already on board with the artist.

And no wonder. Zach loves folk music, and Ritter is known for his Americana style and narrative lyrics. In 2006, Ritter was named one of the “100 Greatest Living Songwriters” by Paste magazine.

A native of Moscow, Idaho, the prolific songwriter’s vocal stylings sound a bit Bob Dylan-esque with a dose of Tom Waits.

We got more excited about seeing him in person as the date grew closer. And then disaster struck.

Vocal issues prompted a string of canceled dates including shows in Boise, Vancouver and Spokane.

“Boy, I’m glad I didn’t buy tickets for his Spokane show!” Sam said.

He anxiously followed Ritter’s social media feed.

“Don’t worry,” I told him. “If the concert is canceled, we’ll just spend a day on the waterfront.”

But the show went on and it was Ritter’s first performance after his doctor-ordered vocal rest.

He didn’t disappoint.

From the upbeat “Getting Ready to Get Down” to the plaintive “Wings,” which features references to Coeur d’Alene, Harrison and Wallace, Idaho, each song was a wonderful blend of lyrical narrative and masterful musicianship.

Take the lyrics to “Old Black Magic,” for example:

“True love to true love

And rust to rust

I let the others cast stones

While I drew in the dust

I tried to be a good man.”

Even the opening act, Penny & Sparrow proved delightful.

“We know,” intoned Andy Baxter, half of the Texas duo. “We’re all that stands between you and Josh Ritter.”

While the duo was enjoyable enough for me to purchase their CD at the break, Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band owned the show.

Ritter’s aching acoustic rendition of “All Some Kind of Dream” proved a fitting finale.

“I saw my brother in a stranger’s face

I saw my sister in a smile

My mother’s laughter in a far off place

My father’s footsteps in each mile

I thought I knew who my neighbor was

We didn’t need to be redeemed

Oh, what could I have been thinking of?

Was it all some kind of dream?”

If and when he reschedules his Spokane appearance, you won’t be disappointed if you go.

“Thanks for a magical evening,” Ritter said as he left the stage.

And it really was.

Thanks in large part to a son with a generous heart who wanted to share something he loves with his family.

Columns

Mystery, Murder and Mayhem on the Columbia

We’d barely finished our appetizers when Jimmy “the Gyp” got bashed in the back of the head. I clutched my champagne glass as Crusher, the Don’s bodyguard, rushed past our table.

Turns out that was just the first fatality of many aboard ship.

“I told you business trips are more exciting when you bring me,” I said to my husband.

He tipped his fedora.

“Everything is more exciting when you’re along,” Derek replied.

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Last month he mentioned he had to go to Yakima and Tri-Cities to see some customers, and was considering spending a day in Walla Walla if I would join him.

What I heard was, “Want to go on an epic adventure with me? I’ll be traveling to the Palm Springs of Washington and then to the site of a decommissioned nuclear production facility. We could add an overnight in wine country, if you want.”

So, of course, I agreed.

Thanks to WiFi I can work from anywhere, and if anywhere includes a chaise lounge beside a pool, so much the better.

Our overnight in Yakima was quick, but we knew we’d be spending a couple days in the Tri-Cities. That’s when I remembered some friends had texted us about the fun they had aboard a murder mystery cruise on the Columbia River.

We found the Water2Wine website and booked a pair of tickets. Our purchase included a 2 1/2-hour cruise on the Columbia, complimentary glasses of champagne, a four-course dinner, and a murder mystery presented by the Desert Dahlias theater group.

On a sparkling summer evening, we boarded the 96-foot Chrysalis luxury yacht. Programs listing the cast of characters for “Mafia Murders” waited at our table. We were instructed to interact with the cast, ask questions and perhaps even solve the mystery. Many of the guests wore vintage 1920s-style clothing, which added to the fun.

As plots go, this one was as thin as the paper the program was printed on. A “Babyface” Don, a jealous older brother, a hijacked liquor shipment, a moll, a troubled sister, a violent bodyguard, a mafia accountant and his twin brother, and a long-suffering Italian auntie.

Oh yeah, and lots of murder and mayhem.

Deft servers delivered food and drink while the melodrama evolved around us. The mighty Columbia provided a beautiful backdrop.

Between courses, we spent some time on deck, enjoying the warm evening on the water.

A commotion broke out behind us as we returned to our table. Crusher, the bodyguard, collapsed, his throat slit.

Surprisingly, nothing whets the appetite like a dead body on the floor behind you. However, as Derek sliced into his perfectly prepared steak, the Sneak approached him.

“You there. Youse look like a big guy. We need a bodyguard, see. Crusher, he got whacked, and we can’t leave the Don unprotected.”

Derek, obliging, flexed his biceps.

“Yeah, not bad. Stand up. What would you do if I had a gun in this hand, here?”

My husband’s 24-year military career did include some hand-to-hand combat instruction, so he rather expertly “disarmed” the Sneak, all the while grinning at me.

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While he could strip an imaginary gun from the hand of an assailant, he couldn’t prevent what happened next.

As dessert was served, Babyface drank a poisoned cocktail and collapsed at our feet. Before Derek could be berated, or beheaded for his lapse in duty, shots were fired and the Sneak fell in a crumpled heap.

“No offense, honey, but I think it’s best if you stay in the industrial tooling business,” I said, patting Derek’s arm.

He grinned and dug into his strawberry-topped cake.

As to whodunit? I’m not one to spoil a mystery. You’ll have to book your own cruise to find the answer.

The sun set as the Chrysalis sailed toward the dock.

“I think I should take you on all my business trips,” Derek said, putting his arm around me.

And who am I to argue with a former mafia bodyguard?

Columns

Gowns for Grace

She should be turning 16 on June 1.

She should be clutching her newly minted driver’s license and deciding if she wants a big Sweet 16 bash, or to just hang out with family.

She should be so many things, but most important, she should be here. But she isn’t.

Grace Susie Bain died May 29, 2003. She was delivered June 1, 2003.

How do you mark this kind of milestone?

Sarah Bain, Grace’s mom, thought long and hard about ways to honor her daughter’s brief passage through this world. Then she got her wedding gown out of her closet and called Peggy Mangiaracina.

Mangiaracina had a long career in health care, from starting as a labor and delivery nurse to retiring 35 years later as executive director of Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital and vice president of women’s services.

When she retired, she got out her sewing machine and began making “angel gowns” for babies like Grace, who never come home from the hospital.

The Angel Gown program has chapters and affiliates across the U.S. Volunteer seamstresses take donated wedding dresses and create gowns for stillborn infants or babies who die soon after birth.

“I remember being a labor and delivery nurse and not having anything for these babies,” Mangiaracina said. “Parents would ask me what I wrapped their baby in. They wanted to know.”

Last week, Sarah invited me to be with her when she gave her wedding dress to Mangiaracina.

First, the talented seamstress showed us examples of how she used the donated dresses. From a bin she pulled out gowns fit for a princess’ christening and tiny satin tuxedos with velvet bow ties – each creation, like each child, unique.

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Wedding gown trim like tiny seed pearls, satin-covered buttons and delicate lace make each gown a work of art.

“Oh, I would have loved a gown for Grace,” Sarah said.

In addition to wedding wear, Mangiaracina has used prom gowns, handkerchiefs and high-quality linens. She also uses soft, carefully lined flannel to make little “cocoons” for the tiniest and most fragile babies.

At the hospital, nurses offer grieving parents a small selection of gowns to choose from. Infants can wear them for photos and to the funeral home.

Mangiaracina gives the parents of the baby a memory square with a swatch of fabric from their child’s gown, a silver heart charm and a card that reads, “Babies are innocence on earth, a link between angels and man.”

Each woman who donates a gown also receives a memory square, as well as photographs of the gowns made from their donated dress.

Friends help Mangiaracina with the sewing. A group of ladies in Coeur d’Alene knit tiny hats to go with the gowns. Then they are distributed to nine hospitals across the region.

Now, it was Sarah’s turn. Her beautiful ivory satin gown with puffed sleeves, elaborate beadwork and a scalloped lace train hadn’t been taken from the box since her wedding 24 years ago.

She knew the dress wasn’t to her 18-year-old daughter Sophia Bain’s taste, so she decided to use it to honor Grace.

59708414_2312918792080068_1957199751925465088_n[1]Her eyes filled with tears as we opened the box.

“I wore this before I knew babies died,” she said. “This is like donating an organ, like pieces of my heart are being spread out across the community.”

And she told Mangiaracina her story. About the sorrow and trauma that came with the news that her baby had died while safely snuggled under her heart. About the scant few hours she had to hold her. About how the loss of Grace forever changed her and her family.

She also talked about her wedding day, and how she’d felt like a princess in that gown.

“Every dress has a story,” Mangiaracina said.

The story of Sarah’s wedding dress isn’t over. Sometime in the next year, grieving parents will carefully dress their baby in a bit of ivory satin. Tears will likely dampen delicate beadwork. And the gown that Sarah wore with such joy will bring them a measure of comfort and the sweetest whisper of Grace.

All Write, Columns

Losing my heroes

Ray, Milt, Dean, Harold.

Their names are as old-fashioned as the values they held dear – patriotism, service, commitment and lifelong love.

In the past few months, four members of the Greatest Generation died. Three of them are featured in my book, “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.”

“I’m losing all my heroes,” I said to my husband.

“But aren’t you glad you found them?” he replied.

Actually, most of them found me whether through the newspaper or mutual friends. And one by one they shared their stories with me and with my readers. Stories of war, wounds, absence and loss, as well as tales of love found, new generations birthed, homes built and communities enriched.

Ray Garland’s recent death generated a lot of media coverage and rightly so. He was the last surviving military member of the Lilac City Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivor’s Association. His eyewitness account of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and his compelling memories of surviving brutal battles and freezing cold during the Korean War are a vital part of our historical narrative.

On the day the story I wrote about Ray’s death was published, I got a note from a pastor in Coeur d’Alene telling me about the death of Milt Stafford.

Stafford, who before the war had never set foot outside of Idaho, served in Africa and Italy during World War ll. In “War Bonds,” he recalled the invasion of Sicily – the first time he saw dead bodies strewn across a battlefield.

“I saw a lot of stuff I didn’t want to see,” he said. “It was hell on wheels.”

But it wasn’t battle memories that made the combat vet cry, it was the memory of a little girl.

“Her parents had been killed by the Germans, and she came to the camp begging for food,” Stafford recalled.

He thought she was about 3 or 4 years old, and he and his buddy Willard “adopted” her. They fed her, clothed her and when the shelling started (which it did most every day) they made sure she was in the foxhole with them. They never knew her name.

When the war ended, Stafford took her to the U.S. embassy in Milan. He never saw her again, but she haunted him.

“I think about her every day,” he told me. “I wonder, did she find a family? Is she alive?”

Chpt 2 Milt with little girl, Italy, 194

Milt Stafford with little girl. Italy 1944.

I would have been honored to attend Stafford’s memorial, but I had another funeral to attend that day.

Dean Ratzman, another “War Bonds” alum, had died.

Spending time with Ratzman and his wife, Betty, always involved lively banter and engaging conversation.

Several bouts of dengue fever while serving in the South Pacific had damaged Dean’s heart, and when he proposed to Betty, he told her that doctors said he likely wouldn’t live past middle age.

“He told me the doctors said he wouldn’t live past 40,” Betty recalled. “Then he asked me to marry him. I told him, ‘You’re not going to get out of it that easily!’”

As I hugged Betty at the funeral, I could only imagine the enormity of her loss. The couple would have celebrated their 74th wedding anniversary in June.

CHpt 18 Dean Ratzman 1943

Dean Ratzman, 1943

Some months earlier, I’d read about the death of Harold Smart.

When I interviewed Harold and Peggy Smart in their Pullman home, Harold was still so smitten with her, that even after 70 years together, he didn’t let go of her hand, and frequently interrupted our conversation to say, “Isn’t she beautiful?”

Sadly, Peggy died before “War Bonds” was published. Harold was nervous about loaning me their photos to copy for use in the book.

“You’ll bring them right back?” he asked. “They’re precious to me.”

Reading his obituary, I was delighted to discover a sweet connection. When Harold had moved to Orchard Crest in Spokane, he met Louise McKay, a “War Bonds” widow, and they became friends.

Chpt 22 Harold Smart, 1943Harold Smart, 1943

How wonderful to know these two with so much in common had found comfort in their friendship.

While the loss of these men saddens me, I know how lucky I’ve been to have met them. Heroes can be hard to find, but I’ve been blessed to know so many.

Columns

Quilts and the ties that bind

 

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Newly retired, Dad waited by the front door to take my mom grocery shopping.

“Tom, you can’t wear that,” Mom exclaimed.

“Why? Don’t I match?” he asked.

A fair question, since Dad was notoriously color-challenged.

But that wasn’t the problem. He’d donned a sport coat and a snazzy red tie with multicolored stripes.

“Sweetheart, you’re retired. You don’t have to wear a tie every day anymore, especially not to the grocery store,” Mom explained.

Disappointed, he removed the tie, but kept the jacket.

Dad loved his neckties.

He grew up picking cotton in Arkansas. As he labored in the sweltering heat, he dreamed of a different life – one that involved a desk job and wearing suits and ties.

His career in the United States Air Force, followed by a career with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, allowed him to achieve his dreams.

When he died in 1995, he’d amassed an amazing collection of neckties. My husband kept a couple, and most of them were donated to a local thrift shop. But I couldn’t part with all of them. I set aside a few dozen and gave them to some dear friends who incorporated them in a beautiful quilt. That quilt hung in my Mom’s bedroom until two years ago when she moved to a retirement facility.

Now, it’s draped over our living room sofa where I can see it every day and think about how blessed I was to have a dad like mine.

It’s also a daily reminder of the friends who took the time to create such a sweet remembrance.

I love quilts, like my dad loved ties. The beauty, artistry and stories behind the patterns fascinate me. Sadly, when it comes to sewing, I’m all thumbs and totally lacking in skill or patience.

Thankfully, I have friends who work magic with fabric, needle and thread.

The necktie quilt isn’t my only memory-filled patchwork. Eleven years ago, our oldest son was struggling through adolescence. His actions and attitudes grieved me. I worried. I fretted. I prayed.

A friend made a lap quilt for me to curl up in when I felt overwhelmed. Because I’d often referred to our firstborn as our “golden child,” she incorporated big golden hearts throughout the design. The border features the worlds of one of my favorite hymns, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

That quilt kept me mindful of my son’s true nature. Every time I wrapped myself in it, I felt cocooned in the comfort of my friend’s love and prayers, evident in each tiny stitch.

My husband has his own special quilt. A diagnosis of osteoarthritis in both hips a few years ago rocked him. A strong, active man, he struggled with the reality of a degenerative disease at a relatively young age.

Bonnie, my sister-in-law, knows that pain all too well. So, she went into her sewing room and crafted a cat-covered quilt for Derek. Using masculine colors for the backing and border, the counterpane delighted both of us – especially when we spotted the cat curled up in a basket that looks just like our Thor.

And recently, a new quilt arrived in the mail, made by an extremely talented, prolific quilter.

Its vibrant colors brighten our bedroom, adding homespun cheer, and the accompanying note warmed my heart.

“Thank you, dear friend, for all your glorious words which help so many,” she wrote.

You can spend hundreds of dollars on beautifully pieced quilts, but the quilts in my home are priceless. Each one is threaded with memories, and has been stitched with prayer and bound with love.

Columns

Childhood Pleasures vs. Adult Perks

She breezed by me, her skinny legs pumping hard, her hair, untethered by a helmet, flew straight behind her like Superman’s cape.

As she leaned into a turn, I caught the flash of her grin before she became a blip on my horizon.

Just a girl on a bike on a sunny spring day, but she took my breath away.

I remember riding my bike just like that. Tearing off after school, standing to pump my legs faster, and flinging my bike down in a friend’s front yard for an afternoon of play.

The girl reminded me of a question my friend Sarah had posted on Facebook: What do you miss most about your childhood? What do you love about adulthood?

Sarah, who grew up in Southern California, misses the ocean.

I replied that what I miss most about childhood is having time to read. Actually, what I really miss is having time – that delicious feeling of hours stretching before you, waiting to be filled with books. Or bikes.

It’s funny how as teenagers we chafe under parental restrictions and pine for the freedom of adulthood. It seems to me there’s a lot of freedom in childhood. At least there was in mine.

Oh, I had to go to school. There was homework and some chores. But mostly there was time to play. Growing up in the ’70s we didn’t have organized play dates. Mom was an at-home mother who didn’t drive, so my friends mostly lived in my neighborhood. After school – and a quick snack– I’d hop on my bike. No cellphone. No helmet. Just the unbreakable rule to be home by 5 p.m. because that’s when Dad got home.

Of course, there were rules I hated. A ridiculously early bedtime, limited television viewing, my mother being in charge of my wardrobe, and worst of all no reading in bed after 9. That’s why flashlights were invented and probably why I have terrible vision today.

One of the best things about being an adult is being able to read in bed as long as I want. The irony is now I often find myself nodding off before midnight.

Which brings me to the second part of Sarah’s question: What do you love most about adulthood?

My answer? I enjoy having meaningful work and the lifelong love of a truly good man – both things I dreamed of as a child.

Motherhood has been my most meaningful work by far. For many years, nurturing four baby boys to adulthood consumed my heart and my hours.

My sons still consume my heart, but the remaining two under my roof no longer require much nurturing. They do require feeding, and seem to enjoy an occasional hug, and sometimes conversations about goals, hopes and dreams. But they’re independent souls who get themselves to work and to school without assistance.

I’m so thankful that my work that earns a paycheck is also meaningful. Local news matters now more than ever. It’s a privilege to share community stories whether about lasting marriages, new businesses, successful students, or great nonprofits.

And despite a deadline-driven work life, my husband and I have more time together. After years of heavy-duty parenting, it’s wonderful to discover how much we still enjoy each other’s company. Weekend getaways, weekly date nights or just hanging out at home, have helped us anticipate, instead of dread, the empty nest.

It’s not quite the same feeling as riding your bike through the neighborhood without a care in the world, but it’s nice just the same.

I think sometimes we find ourselves so bent under the weight of adult responsibilities that we lose our capacity for joy, for wonder, for play.

Childhood pleasures versus adult perks? Perhaps we can have both.

I haven’t owned a bike since childhood. Maybe it’s time to ride again.

Your turn.
What do you miss most about childhood? What do you love most about being an adult?

Columns

Rosie and other turn ons

Each fall and winter, I’m blessed to use the home of snowbird friends as a writing retreat. When they left Spokane in September, they left behind a new member of the household – Rosie the iRobot Roomba.

Basically, it’s a vacuum cleaner. A vacuum that can be controlled by my friends’ iPhones, meaning if they wanted to, they could turn Rosie on from the safety of the southern climes and terrify the writer typing away in the solitude of their home.

Thankfully, so far, they’ve resisted temptation.

Last month with the homeowners’ return imminent, I decided to let Rosie do her thing and clean up any sandwich crumbs or M&M’s I may have lost track of.

I read the introductory note they’d left for me and approached Rosie with confidence. A push of the button and she roared to life.

Startled by the sound I took a step back. Rosie followed.

“Hey, girl,” I said. “You go do your thing.”

Obediently, she scooted under the coffee table, while I retreated to the safety of my desk.

Fascinated, I watched her zig and zag across the carpet. Her pattern was impossible to decipher. After a few passes in front of the fireplace, she headed toward a nearby bedroom, where she spent an inordinate amount of time under the bed.

I texted my friend.

“I’m letting Rosie chase me around. Does she work on hard surfaces? I haven’t seen her in the bathroom yet.”

My friend replied, “Yes, she will do it all. But she has her ways that to us mortals may seem absurd.”

No kidding. Rosie would never pass a field sobriety test. When she emerged from the bedroom, she spent several dizzying minutes cleaning under a chair before weaving down the hall like she’d had one too many martinis.

But she did a fantastic job and safely docked herself in her charging port. I then took her upstairs and set her free.

I was engrossed in my manuscript when I heard something that sounded like an alarm. My friend had warned me Rosie was prone to getting stuck under the living room sofa.

I dashed upstairs, following the pinging sound, and then heard the plaintive refrain.

“Roomba is in distress! Roomba is in distress!”

Poor Rosie. I hauled her out from under the couch.

“You silly girl,” I said, and gave her a quick pat.

It seems Rosie and Thor, my cat, have a lot in common, though Thor makes more messes than he cleans up.

I reported the successful suck-up operation to my husband when I got home. Derek is so app-averse; I knew he’d never fall for any techno gizmos.

Turns out I was wrong.

This weekend he announced, “Hey, honey, guess what I can turn on with my phone?”

None of the replies I thought of seemed appropriate.

He beckoned me to our darkened living room and pulled out his phone.

“Watch this!” he said.

Suddenly a lamp lit up.

“And I can dim it too, for mood lighting,” Derek enthused, and proudly demonstrated.

“I don’t understand. We don’t have iPhones. How does it work?”

It seems a friend had given Derek a Smart Wi-Fi LED light bulb for his birthday last summer, and my experience with Rosie had prompted him to install it.

“Isn’t it great?” he said.

“I guess so, but I’m standing right here. I can turn it on without a phone,” I replied.

He shook his head.

“I know, but I can turn it on when I pull in the driveway, or I can dim it when we watch movies. Pretty cool new technology, huh?”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him the technology was hardly new. Why all over the city, there were probably dozens of people using the Clapper to clap on/clap off their lights.

Wisely, I remembered how nice it had been to have Rosie clean the house while I worked. Then I snuggled next to Derek on the couch, while he dimmed the lights.

Our future’s looking “Rosier” all the time.

Columns

Dangerous creatures, Marie Kondo and books

Author Lisa Kleypas famously wrote, “A well-read woman is a dangerous creature.”

If that’s true then there were at least a dozen dangerous creatures at Lilac City Law on Friday night. No, we weren’t seeking legal representation. Our only crime was loving books maybe a little too much.

I blame Marie Kondo. My friend Sarah, fell under the organizing guru’s sway and launched an epic tidy-up, de-clutter spree.

I’m all for jettisoning clothes no longer worn, dated household decor and duplicates of kitchen items. As a newlywed, I was given a piece of advice that has served me well while rearing four sons in a cramped house. My friend told me to follow the “something in, something out” rule. Buy a new blouse? Get rid of an old one. Your kid gets a new toy? Donate one he no longer plays with.

While it’s kept our clutter at a minimum I draw the line at books.

There’s no way the “something in, something out” rule could ever apply to books. Why, choosing which volumes to jettison would be like choosing which kid you no longer love. It seems positively immoral.

It’s not even that I buy a lot of books. I don’t. I’m a devoted library groupie and every month I check out a new stack of books. But sometimes I fall in love with a novel and I simply must possess it, so I can read it again.

And as an author, I’m a huge believer in supporting other local authors. I love to line my bookshelves with titles by Inland Northwest authors. Every book purchase says, “Good job! I believe in you! Write another one!”

Of course, friends and family know I’m a bibliophile, and delight in feeding my addiction on my birthday, or Christmas, or sometimes just because they spot something they think I’d enjoy.

I don’t keep every book I buy or that’s given to me. If it’s by an author I didn’t enjoy or something I don’t want to read again, I stick it in the “donate” bag in my closet. But to be honest, few books make it to the bag.

Then Sarah started Kondo-sizing her library by posting photos of her books on Facebook and offering them free to a good home.

Such a great idea! It took the guesswork out of trying to figure out which friends would like which book, it was more personal than a thrift store drop, plus she got to experience the joy of re-homing a volume with someone she knows.

Then her friend Randi Johnson saw the posts and offered to expand the idea to a wider audience by hosting a book swap at her downtown law office and the Well-Read Women Book Swap was born.

The idea was simple. Bring in whatever books you’re willing to part with and maybe discover some you’d like to take home. Whatever books were left would be donated to the Friends of Spokane Public Library.

Friday night we gathered at Lilac City Law. Randi provided light snacks, wine and soda, and well-read women met, mingled and browsed the book table set up in a conference room.

A delightful variety of novels, nonfiction, children’s books, bestsellers and old-favorites spilled across the table.

Though I promised myself I wouldn’t bring anything home, I spotted “The Magpie Murders” by Anthony Horowitz. It’s been on my to-read list since it came out. I had to have it.

Then I picked up “George and Lizzie” a novel by librarian/author Nancy Pearl, who just happens to be coming to Spokane to appear with local author Sharma Shields at the Bing Crosby Theater on March 13.

Finally, I saw “The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath.” I discovered Plath my freshman year of college and her dark, brooding, confessional poetry perfectly resonated with the dark, brooding persona I was trying on at the time.

Sarah, noting the Plath collection in my hand, asked, “Does that spark joy?”

One of Kondo’s most well-known tenets is “The best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one’s hand and ask: ‘Does this spark joy?’ If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it.”

I held the book and remembered my earnest 19-year-old self.

“Yes” I said. “Yes, it does.”

The inaugural “Well-Read Women Book Swap” turned out to be a fabulous event – one I hope dangerous creatures all over the city will replicate.

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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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