Columns

Wedding Gown Memories

I felt like a princess on my wedding day.

My white, satin gown billowed around me. Its high collar and scoop neckline trimmed in lace, with a dozen satin-covered buttons down the back, and more along the sleeves. Yards of tulle swirled from the Juliet cap that anchored my veil.

It was perfect for a late March wedding, and even better I found the Jessica McClintock gown at Frederick & Nelson where I worked, so I got to use my employee discount.

If there’s one day in every woman’s life where she feels absolutely beautiful – it’s her wedding day. Alas, like Cinderella, midnight comes for all of us, and our beautiful gowns become memories.

Some women carefully pack away their dresses to save for future generations, some donate them to programs like Angel Gowns, and the more practical among us, sell them.

After I had my third son, I simply couldn’t imagine why that gown was still in my closet. We were always strapped for cash, so I took it to a consignment store and brought home $75 when it sold. The veil I kept. I reasoned that perhaps veils weren’t as trendy as dresses, and maybe I’d have a daughter-in-law who’d want to wear it.

In my previous column, I invited readers to share their wedding gown stories, and share they did.

“I still have my wedding dress from 1990,” said Lyn Mills. “I’m saving it in hopes that my daughter or one of my relatives will want to wear it as is or remake it for their wedding some day.”

Donna Scripture’s two daughters, Joan and Mary, wore the gown she purchased at the Bon Marche in 1956.

“Mary is short, but she wanted to wear it, so my neighbor, Pat, took the whole gown apart, made the alterations and put it back together,” Scripture said.

Beth Viren wrote, “I hand-sewed my wedding dress back in 1974. I was a senior at Whitworth College and was living in a dorm. The pattern was a very complicated Vogue pattern with full skirt and a train, made of crepe backed ivory satin, and had 36 tucks in the front and back of the bodice with fabric covered buttons, sheer fluffy sleeves with satin cuffs.”

When she made a mistake, her grandmother came to the rescue from Seattle and helped her finish the gown.

Viren and her husband recently downsized, and she came across her gown. She called Marcella Davis, owner of Marcella’s Bridal.

“She said that she actually takes old wedding dresses and hangs on to them,” Viren wrote. “She says that whenever she has a customer who comes in looking for their own special dress, and she knows ‘they may need a little extra attention,’ she goes to her stash of dresses. I loved that idea, and she assured me she would find the perfect person to be able to wear my dress again.”

Tamara Dees has a special plan for her gown.

“My wedding gown will be used to line my mother’s coffin. My mother is pleased, and I am honored,” she wrote.

Sandra Zikiye-Jones wore a lace dress that had been made in England.

“It had an attached train of ruffles, and the sleeves were long and pointed over my hands.”

When Eileen Mabee married in 1972, she wore the gown her mother wore in 1937.

“The dress was made by a friend, Julia Tobias, who was just beginning to design clothes in Omaha, Nebraska,” Mabee wrote. “Julia went on to become a sought-after couture designer in Denver and had her own boutique. Her dresses are in Denver fashion museums. I still have the dress, and I’m sure it will stay in the family.”

Barbara Stimers also had an original design.

In 1970, she went bridal shopping with her parents in Toronto.

“All the dresses were so fancy, and my dad thought they were too expensive,” she recalled.

Seeing she couldn’t find what she wanted, the two ladies who owned the shop stepped in. They ask her what she liked and quickly sketched up a design.

The result? An empire waist gown of white and off-white linen with knotted fabric buttons on the back and the sleeve cuffs.

“I borrowed my sister’s long veil and wore daisies in my hair,” Stimers said. “I still have my dress.”

Isabelle Green’s original wedding gown was lost before she could wear it.

“The Spokesman-Review reported a fire at Arthur’s Bridal Store in downtown Spokane in early 1956. I read the headline at my dorm in Pullman on the WSU campus,” she wrote.

Her wedding dress was in the shop and was lost in the fire.

“They allowed me to choose any gown I wanted to replace it, and since my wedding was not until July of 1956, I had plenty of time to recover. To my knowledge not one customer was without a gown on their special day. The store flew in gowns from all over and made sure every wedding went on without delay,” Green said.

Whether we’ve kept them, sold them, or donated them, memories of our wedding gowns don’t dull or fade like the fabric they were made of.

Instead, they remind us of that magical day when we felt like royalty, and happily ever after seemed guaranteed.

More photos at https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2021/jun/10/front-porch-wedding-gown-memories/

Angel Gown update

Peggy Mangiaracina and RoxAnn Walker are still accepting dresses for the Angel Gown program. They take donated wedding dresses and create gowns for stillborn infants or babies who die soon after birth.

If you’d like to donate your gown please email spokaneangelgowns@yahoo.com

Columns

Grace and the Angel Gowns

For someone who never opened her eyes or drew a breath, Grace Susie Bain, continues to make a difference in the world she didn’t get to explore.

On June 1, 2003, my friend, Sarah Bain, gave birth to Grace, knowing the baby had died in her womb on May 29.

Two years ago, I wrote a column about how Sarah marked what would have been Grace’s 16th birthday, by having her wedding dress made into “angel gowns.”

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.

In Spokane, retired registered nurse and health care executive Peggy Mangiaracina, has been making tiny gowns, tuxedos and cocoons since 2017. Sarah asked me to be present when she gave her wedding dress to Mangiaracina, and shared Grace’s story.

That column prompted an amazing response. Since its publication on May 16, 2019, Mangiaracina has received 56 donated dresses, and turned them into 1,600 angel gowns.

“Sixty percent of those donating the dresses have lost a child,” Mangiaracina said. “And most had never heard about angel gowns until your column came out.”

She said Sarah’s story has resonated with many.

“They told me, ‘Sarah’s story allowed me to feel and share my own.’ ”

Mangiaracina told of a man in Puyallup, who came across the column. His wife died, and he decided to donate her wedding dress.

“They’d lost a daughter long ago, and he could relate to Sarah’s experience of all the birthdays and special events they didn’t get to share with their child,” said Mangiaracina.

Hospitals in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene welcome the gowns, but Mangiaracina is also supplying them to hospitals in California, Texas, Oregon, Minnesota, Montana and Colorado.

“I get as much out of doing this as the parents who choose the gowns, or the people who donate their dresses,” she said. “I’ve found my niche.”

And soon she’ll have more help in this labor of love.

RoxAnn Walker, of Spokane, started making angel gowns in 2019. She made the first one for her granddaughter, Madelina.

“My daughter had a baby with a terminal birth defect and had to end her pregnancy at 20 weeks,” said Walker. “Madelina was too small for any outfit, so I went online and stumbled onto Angel Gowns.”

Walker bought a wedding dress at a thrift store and made a gown for her granddaughter. Her daughter lives in Texas, so Walker asked the hospital there if they’d like to receive angel gowns. They welcomed her gift, and she’s made 80 gowns, so far.

She has wanted to make gowns for Spokane area hospitals, too, but didn’t know whom to contact. I put her in touch with Mangiaracina, and the women plan to pool their talents and expertise.

“I like making something that’s helping make the worst situation in the world better,” Walker said. “The gowns say ‘You’re a little person. You’re here and you’re important.’”

So many lives had been touched by Sarah’s willingness to share Grace’s story. But Grace’s legacy is more than angel gowns

“When Grace was born we were told we couldn’t file a birth certificate because she hadn’t been born breathing. However, we were required by the state to file a death certificate,” Sarah recalled. “The first words out of my mouth and the mouths of so many other mothers who give birth to a stillborn baby were: How can you require me to file a death certificate for my daughter yet you won’t allow her to have a birth certificate? How is this even possible?’ ”

For grieving families, it often feels like one more cruel blow.

In 2005, Sarah, along with many others, embarked on a journey to ensure stillborn children receive birth certificates in Washington state. Finally, after seemingly endless hurdles and delays, on April 6, the state Senate passed HB 1031 allowing the issuance of a certificate of birth resulting in stillbirth. The governor signed it into law on April 16.

Because of the pandemic and resulting backlog, the certificates won’t be available for families to request until October 2022. They will be retroactive, so families can request one for a child that died in years past.

Sarah said the psychological implications of this are huge.

“Before, the state of Washington basically said: We won’t give you a birth certificate because your baby wasn’t born living. but since your baby was born dead, you must file a death certificate. Now they say. ’We see you, we acknowledge you, we honor your child,’ ” said Sarah. “After 18 years with a death certificate tucked away in a drawer for my daughter, I can soon request her birth certificate. Grace matters.”

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.

Columns

My Entry for Guinness World Records

If I’m ever included in Guinness World Records it will likely be for most times singing “The Wheels on the Bus” complete with hand motions.

It’s not the most scintillating song, but when it’s your grandson’s favorite, you will sing it to infinity and beyond because it makes him happy.

Earlier this month we visited our twin grandsons, Adam and Nick, in Ohio. We last saw them in October. It’s been a long five months, but we’ve been chatting with them via Skype almost every week. Perhaps “chatting” isn’t accurate. Derek blows raspberries, I sing “Wheels on the “Bus,” and we both wave a lot, but mostly we watch their busy bodies scoot, crawl, climb, toddle and lately run.

When we left them in October, Nick was just taking his first independent steps and Adam was thinking about it. Now at 16 months old Nick runs everywhere at full speed, and Adam is walking independently. In other words, we left babies and returned to find toddlers.

We hoped those Skype visits would ensure The World’s Most Beautiful Boys would remember us. All worries about that were banished the minute we walked into their living room. Adam’s delighted grin lit up the room, and Nick was so excited he giggled and did a happy dance.

As usual, we rented a nearby Airbnb, and our son dropped them off each day, and because it was spring break their big sister Farrah, 7, got to join us.

Like many of us since COVID-19 hit, Alex works from home. Brooke has to keep the twins entertained and out of Daddy’s hair in their two-bedroom townhouse.

Working from home with active toddlers isn’t ideal, but our son said he wouldn’t trade a minute of it. An unexpected pandemic benefit is that he hasn’t missed a moment of the twins’ first year.

They’re in the process of buying their first home, so by our next visit the kids will have a big backyard to explore.

Knowing how much I love holding babies, Derek cautioned me before we left.

“Don’t expect them to want to cuddle. They’re li’l dudes, not babies.”

When naptime arrived on our first full day with the boys, Derek snored on one end of the couch with Nick asleep in his arms, while Adam curled up in mine, sound asleep.

No cuddling, indeed.

Of course, they’re mostly on the go. We blew bubbles outside and walked to a nearby park to give them their first experience on a swing.

We also watched a lot of “Cocomelon” on Netflix. It’s a television show featuring big-eyed babies, and nursery rhymes and songs. I’m sure it’s very educational, but I’d rather sing “Wheels on the Bus” 99 times in a row. Honestly, J.J. and his family kind of creep me out.

But guess what? When it’s your grandsons’ favorite show, you watch it with them, especially when you get to cuddle them while doing so.

Thankfully, there was plenty of time to zoom toy cars across the coffee table and practice stacking big plastic Duplo blocks, and Nana Cindy always brings new books to read.

We even got to eat pizza with them and watch the Zags’ amazing win over UCLA.

Nick and Adam cheering on the Zags.

All too soon, it was time to return home. Every time we say goodbye, it gets harder. It’s not much fun to have your only grandchildren on the opposite side of the country.

But as our plane taxied down the runway in Columbus, my blue mood lightened when I thought about how incredibly blessed we are that Adam and Nick, born seven weeks premature, are so healthy and strong.

Not everyone who longs to be a grandparent gets to be one.

Somewhere around 25,000 feet, my sadness turned to gratitude, and as Derek dozed next to me, I softly hummed “The Wheels on the Bus,” one more time.

———

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.

Columns

Together again, time with Mom a priceless gift

When my brother told me our mom could have a designated emotional support person, all I could picture was a fluffy service dog wearing a bright orange vest.

At the end of February, the governor allowed for one individual to be able to visit their loved ones in assisted living facilities. While my brother takes care of Mom’s finances and doctor’s appointments, I attend to her personal needs. In other words, I’m her toilet paper, toothpaste, soap and lotion gal.

Since Mom could only have one ESP, it made sense for that person to be me. Plus, I look better in orange.

Actually, I was relieved to learn I wouldn’t have to wear the vest or remain on a leash. All that was required was the completion of a fair amount of paperwork, and an introduction to the automated sign-in process. At every visit I fill out a health questionnaire and take my temperature. Surgical masks are required at all times, even though Mom is fully vaccinated.

Small price to pay to be able to see my mother again.

On Feb. 24, I walked through the doors of my mother’s apartment for the first time in a year.

“Surprise!” I said. “Do you recognize me with this surgical mask?”

She laughed and reached for me.

“Of course, I do!” she said. “You’re my baby girl!”

And then we cried because that’s what we do when we’re happy.

“I’m your ESP,” I explained.

She shook her head.

“Now, honey, you know we don’t believe in things like that.”

I grinned.

“Well, believe it or not I’m going to come see you every week,” I said.

Then I got busy checking her cupboards to see what she needed. Alzheimer’s has decimated Mom’s short term memory. As she likes to put it, “My short term memory is – very short!”

This made it difficult to discern what personal supplies she needed via phone calls. For a while she would try to go through her cupboards while I was on the phone with her, but that worsened her anxiety.

For months I’ve had to guess how much toilet paper she had, or if she was out of deodorant. That caused me anxiety. However, I was relieved to find I’d done a pretty good job guesstimating.

I was wrong about her candy stash, though. Every week she’d tell me she was out, but I assumed she’d forgotten some still in the cupboard. Nope. Mom’s sweet tooth is impressive.

As I sorted, tidied and organized, I paused in front of her wall calendar. It was still on March 2020. The world stopped for a lot of us that month, but not as completely as it did for our elders in assisted-living facilities.

Gratefully, I hung her new calendar.

I wanted to take a picture of us, so I fetched Mom’s hairbrush.

“My goodness!” I said. “Your brush is missing a lot of bristles.”

She nodded.

“Yeah, it’s losing teeth as fast as I am.”

I brushed her hair, and told her I’d bring her a new one. Then I dabbed a touch of lipstick on her and snapped a few photos.

Cindy Hval with her mom. February 2021

“How come you’re taller than me now?” she asked. “I was always taller than you.”

I assured her the only growth spurt I’d had was COVID-19 pounds.

She shrugged.

“Must be gravity.”

The next week I showed up with the biggest size bag of her favorite Wintergreen Life Savers I could find.

“Oh, my goodness! I’m going to have fresh breath until I die!” Mom said.

I pointed out I bought her the party-size bag, and she said, “Honey, if they find out we’re partying they aren’t going to let you come see me anymore!”

But they will, and now that we’re in Phase 3 she can have additional visitors, not just her designated emotional support person.

I unwrapped her new hairbrush and slid it through her silver hair while she reminisced about babysitting my boys when they were little.

She caught my hand and held it to her cheek.

“I’m glad you didn’t forget me,” she said.

It doesn’t take ESP to understand how precious these visits are for both of us.

Columns

Take Your Husband to Work Day

I’m not one to complain, but the pandemic put a real crimp in my dating life – even though I’ve been dating the same guy since 1985.

Get dressed up and attend the symphony? Not this year.

Groove to the Doobie Brothers? Postponed.

Enjoy the smash Broadway hit, “Hamilton”? Not going to happen for a while.

Even dinner in a restaurant followed by a movie at a theater wasn’t possible until recently.

Derek and I had already perfected date night at home long before that was our only option. Mainly because for many years as parents of four, living on one income, it WAS our only option.

We’d put the boys to bed at 8 p.m. He’d grill steaks, while I set the table, lit the candles, and popped a Michael Buble CD in the stereo. Then we’d watch whatever movie we’d picked up at Blockbuster.

Yes. This was back in the olden times before music streamed to your phone and movies to your television. Back in the days when you had to plan ahead if you didn’t want to get stuck renting “The Aristocats” because the latest “Terminator” movie was long gone by 5 on a Friday night.

With one kid left at home, we’d been enjoying stretching our wings, until COVID-19 clipped them, but good.

We’re profoundly grateful that neither of our jobs were impacted by the shutdowns. In fact, we’ve both been busier than ever, which makes having fun together an even bigger priority.

That’s why earlier this month I announced it was “Take Your Husband to Work Day.”

Derek owns his business, so he has some flexibility. When I told him I was driving out to Cheney for an assignment about urban chickens, he sighed.

“I’ve always wanted chickens,” he said.

“There’s some kind of chicken tractor involved, too,” I said. “Why don’t you take the afternoon off and come with me?”

The chicken tractor sealed the deal, and the game was afoot.

“I have an interview across from Northern Quest after the chicken interview,” I told him. “How ‘bout I drop you off at the casino, and then meet you for dinner when I’m done?”

He grinned.

“It’s a date!”

Derek enjoyed talking chicks with the flock owners, and as an avid gardener he loved learning about the permaculture environment the father-daughter duo was creating in their backyard.

I had just enough time to drop him off at Northern Quest before my next interview. Knowing he rarely carries cash, I gave him $40 and told him I’d text him to get us a table at Epic when I was on the way. I figured he’d be fine for the hour my assignment would take.

Which is what I told the photographer, as he worked to shoot the photos of the couple I was interviewing.

“I dunno, Cindy,” he said shaking his head. “I think this assignment is going to cost you more than you’ll make on it.”

Ha ha! Photojournalists are such kidders.

The interview ended up taking a bit longer, so I wasn’t surprised when I texted Derek, and he said he was already seated. When I joined him, he confessed that he’d gone through the $40 in 45 minutes.

“I felt so bad, I got you $20 out of the cash machine,” he said, sliding the bill across the table.

We enjoyed our meal, and then I took his $20 into the casino, where I quickly won my $40 back, plus $8.47.

Stunned, by my speedy recoup, Derek just shook his head. So, I gave him the $8.47. It only took him 5 minutes to lose $8.

Still, a good time was had by all. I came home with the $40 I left with, and Derek has a voucher for 47 cents in his wallet.

I’m also relieved that we’re moving into Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan this week. Creative dating probably isn’t sustainable on a freelance journalist’s income.

One thing is certain: The next time it’s Take Your Husband to Work Day, I think we’ll avoid casinos.

A date at an Eastern Washington University Football game. Hope to be able to do that again, soon!
All Write, Columns, War Bonds

Diminished by their loss, bolstered by their legacy

On a chilly November afternoon, I said goodbye to another veteran featured in my book “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.”

James Loer died on Oct. 17. His wife, Helen, preceded him in death four years earlier.

Just as I’d done at her service, I read their chapter “From Sailor to Preacher” at his funeral.

The author at James Loer’s funeral, November 2020.

Theirs was a simple story of plain people who worked hard and served every community they lived in with quiet devotion. As James said in our first interview, “I can tell you right now this isn’t going to be romantic!”

Indeed, romantic might be too flowery a word to describe their lifelong bond. They married in 1948 in a small ceremony at the home of their pastor while James was attending Bible school.

He’d felt called to the ministry after surviving several harrowing skirmishes when he served in the Navy during World War II. The 13 battle stars on the cap he always wore told more of story than James liked to discuss.

During his funeral, the pastor, used a flag, a hammer, a Bible, and a seed to tell James’ story. The flag for the country he loved, the hammer for the work he did as a carpenter, the Bible for the God he served and the seed that represented his farmer’s heart, as well as all that he’d sown into lives during his many years as a pastor.

At 96, James Billy Loer had lived a full, rich life, and longed to be reunited with his bride.

And then, on the first day of the New Year, another “War Bonds” reunion took place.

Zelma Garinger joined her beloved husband of 65 years, David, who passed away in 2014, before “War Bonds” was published.

Unlike James Loer, David Garinger was an avowed romantic.

In fact, this is how he described the first time he kissed Zelma on Valentine’s Day 1947.

“I had my arm around Zelma, sitting close. I smelled her sweetness. Her dark shining hair and sparkling blue eyes worked their magic on me. Our lips met for the very first time … it seemed so right. Truly she was my Valentine.”

David had served in the Marine Corps during World War II, and after returning home and marrying Zelma, he became a pastor, and later a master carpenter and contractor. He loved art, music, poetry and most of all, Zelma. Each morning, he’d deliver a cup of coffee to her bedside.

The years without him had been long. Zelma had chronic respiratory issues and suffered with chronic back pain, but she still made it to a reading of “War Bonds” at the South Hill Library in 2015.

Zelma Garinger with the author, 2015

After Zelma’s death, her daughter, Janice, wrote me a beautiful letter, sharing memories of her mom.

Zelma had returned to college and earned a teaching degree when Becky, her youngest daughter was little.

Janice wrote, “During hard times teaching children of migrant workers in California’s Central Valley, she shared with us that all her efforts were worth it if she could make a difference in the life of even one child. She was always more than just their teacher. She prayed for them and quietly reached out when there was need. Many books and supplies were personally purchased to enrich her students.

We vividly remember a tiny first-grader who was rescued many nights from her alcoholic mother, then put to bed in our parents’ home, so she could attend school the next day.”

Reading Janice’s memories of Zelma and hearing the pastor speak of James Loer’s life of service at his funeral, brought home just how much we lose as a society when another member of the Greatest Generation leaves us.

The lives they led filled with hard work, hope, courage and sacrifice are simply irreplaceable. We would do well to honor their memories by following the examples they set.

I think the inscription on James’ headstone beautifully sums up both he and Zelma’s lives.

“Life’s work well done.”

Columns

Nothing Doing on My Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mom wasn’t impressed.

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

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

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

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

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

May be an image of nature, lake and tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May be an image of indoor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diamond Lake in winter.

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?

Columns

Sometimes you just need Christmas to linger awhile longer

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

Rudy the Reindeer rarely sees this far into January.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We didn’t talk about it much.

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

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

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

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

To heck with rules.

Rudy can stay as long as he wants.