Columns

Home for the holidays at Hutton Settlement

There’s no place like home for the holidays and for 32 children, Hutton Settlement is the place they call home. Earlier this year, I got to know four of those children.

My friend, Tom McArthur, asked if I’d interview the kids with him for a special edition of the Northwest Profiles television program.

First, a bit of background.

Hutton Settlement was founded by Levi Hutton, a wealthy businessman who made his fortune in the North Idaho mines during the early 1900s. Hutton was an orphan and so was his wife, May Arkwright Hutton. After her death, he decided to use some of his fortune to create a true home for kids like him instead of the institutions that were common at the time.

This year, the settlement celebrated its centennial with a slew of events.

In July, a bronze sculpture by artist Vincent DeFelice was unveiled, and Babe Ruth’s granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, threw out the first pitch at the memorial baseball game.

Babe Ruth, himself an orphan, had heard about the settlement and visited Hutton in 1924 during an off-season with the New York Yankees.

In late October through early November, a play written by Tim Rarick premiered at the Spokane Civic Theatre. “A Place to Call Home” told the story of the settlement’s founding.

And on Oct. 31, Northwest Profiles devoted a half-hour program to the history of Hutton. The program, which aired on KSPS-TV and kicked off the show’s 33rd season, featured the four children I interviewed with McArthur.

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Tom McArthur and Cindy Hval at KSPS-TV studios with Hutton Settlement residents, from left, Gavin McArthur, 16, Roxy Fredericksen, 14, Anthony Buck, 8, and Trinity Kinville, 11.

Gavin McArthur, 16, Roxy Fredericksen, 14, Anthony Buck, 8, and Trinity Kinville, 11, shared their stories of how they came to live at Hutton, and what the settlement means to them.

Gavin said he and his brother were being raised by their dad. One morning when he was about 4 years old, he heard a knock at the door.

“My dad opened it up and a bunch of police officers stormed in. My brother and I were scared. We ran and hid under a bunk bed. It turns out that he (Dad) was arrested for using drugs at the time. I found out later that he suffered from schizophrenia and mental illness.”

After going through several foster homes, the brothers ended up at Hutton.

“I could tell right away these people are here for me — they’re trying to help me, nurture me and take care of me,” he said.

Roxy said her mother and father argued frequently.

“It was really bad. And then one day my mom, she’s like, ‘Oh you’re not gonna be living with me anymore,’ ” Roxy said.

When she was 7, she moved to Hutton and her two younger sisters soon followed.

Anthony said, “So, I kind of had a bad home when I was a baby ’cause of my mom’s friends, and she didn’t treat me right. I moved here when I was 6.”

Trinity had a similar story.

“When I was just little, our father abused me and my mother,” she said.

The abuse continued when her younger siblings arrived.

“When I was 8, my mother died from an overdose. I lived with my grandma and grandpa for a year,” she said. “One day our uncle came and said, ‘I just found this great place online, and I have friends who used to work there. It’s called Hutton Settlement.’ That summer we started visiting, and we ended up moving to Cottage Two, and I’ve lived there since.”

Each of the children shared their memories of going up the long tree-lined drive at the settlement, and of the love and warmth they found with Hutton’s shelter.

When asked what they’d like to say to Levi Hutton, Roxy said, “Thank you for making this place where I can be myself and have a loving caring family. I didn’t have that before.”

Trinity reflected on what she’s learned since coming to the settlement.

“God loves everyone,” she said. “Even when times are tough it can get better. It will get better. And even if you don’t feel like it, someone’s always there by your side.”

In this season of the year when hearts yearn for home and family, the kids at Hutton Settlement are profoundly grateful for the acceptance and love they’ve found.

“Hutton Settlement to me is a place to call home — a place to call family,” Gavin said.

Columns

Go home chicken, you’re drunk

Tears poured from my eyes as I thumbed through the pages. My sides ached with laughter. I snorted. I guffawed. I giggled.

Who would think a cookbook could provoke such hilarity?

Just when I caught my breath, I spotted a recipe for Pheasant- All Drunk and Spunky, and I howled again.

But first a little background. My mother collected recipes like there might not ever be another Dorothy Dean column or Campbell’s soup cookbook. She clipped them from newspapers, magazines, flour bags and shortening cans. She filed them in index card boxes and three-ring binders. Cookbooks lined a shelf in her kitchen and filled drawers in her buffet. Even after my dad died and she didn’t have anyone to cook for, she kept on clipping.

Her cookies were legendary. For years, she supplied my boys with enough baked goods to feed a small platoon. Her dessert plates were the first to be emptied at every church potluck.

In recent years, she tried to downsize. I’m not sure which sibling ended up with her battered copy of Irma Rombauer’s “The Joy of Cooking,” but she gave me my grandmother’s vintage “Good Housekeeping Cookbook” and her own copy of “Better Homes and Garden Cookbook,” which I still haul out every time I bake apple pies.

My recipe box is filled with her handwritten recipe cards.

When she moved into a retirement home, the cookbooks and clipping collection had to go. I didn’t have time to sort through her recipe-filled envelopes, but somehow I snagged a cookbook and brought it home before her house sold.

With the holidays approaching, I finally sat down to go through it. The 270-page cookbook has no cover, no back and no title. I have no idea who produced it. I think I grabbed it because it features Mom’s handwritten commentary. Some recipes had checkmarks or stars. Some said “try,” and others had “good!” written next to them.

The source of my amusement came from the many, many recipes that called for some kind of booze.

Mom is such a stringent teetotaler that she’s never even purchased cooking wine or sherry. She certainly never had the ingredients for Drunk Chicken, or Bourbon-Pecan cake, or New Bacardi Chocolate Rum cake. And even if she had the ingredients for Beer and Sauerkraut Fudge Cake, I can’t imagine that she’d inflict that on anyone.

It’s wasn’t only the alcohol-laden recipes that gave me giggles, just the names of some of the recipes induced mirth.

Creeping Crust Cobbler anyone? How about some Liver Surprise? (Spoiler alert, the surprise is cinnamon, or maybe it’s the applesauce.) Beef Birds with Olive Gravy gave me pause, but Carrot Loaf- a Meat Substitute made me queasy for hours. The recipe calls for rice, carrots, eggs, milk and peanut butter!

Not every recipe proved as stomach-churning. Amazed, I discovered the original source for Mom’s Five-Hour Stew, her Busy Day Chicken and Rice, and the zucchini fritter recipe I’d assumed was my grandmother’s. The titleless cookbook is proving to be a treasure.

My husband enjoys my culinary escapades, but he was a bit bewildered last week when he called and asked about our dinner plans.

“I thought about making Pheasant- All Drunk and Spunky,” I said.”But catching a pheasant and getting it drunk, seemed like a lot of work. And how can you tell if a pheasant’s spunky?”

“Uh…” Derek murmured.

“Nevermind,” I continued. “We had some poultry in the freezer, but you’d better come home soon.”

“Why?” he asked.

“Because the chicken’s already drunk,” I replied.

Unlike my mother, I cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the recipe.

Columns

Beware Banana-Toting Bandits

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When our train pulled into the tiny whistle-stop station at Dalkena, Washington, I spotted some unsavory types milling around the tracks.

A pint-size pirate, wearing a bandana over her face, clutched her grandpa’s hand and boarded the car in front of us.

Then the door to our carriage slid open, and a mean-looking hombre swaggered down the aisle. Her black cowboy hat was a dead giveaway. Everyone knows only outlaws wear them. Sure enough, within minutes the desperado barked, “All right, hand it over – gimme yer money!”

She flourished her weapon wildly at men, women and even small children.

I’d never been “robbed” at banana-point before, but I hastily stuffed some cash into her bag, and tried not to make eye contact.

Thankfully, we’d been warned in advance that train robberies frequently occur on the Scenic Pend Oreille River Train. Even better, the cash collected goes to support the many community projects of the Newport/Priest River Rotary Club, which operates the ride.

The little girl in front of us wasn’t feeling quite as generous.

When she realized the robbery wasn’t real, she turned to her mom.

“I want my money back!”

But when the whistle blew and the train lurched forward, she pressed her nose to the window, captivated like the rest of us by the autumn beauty that shone brightly despite the rain.

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“I’m so glad we did this,” my husband said, as we settled back into our seats, watching the deep green of the forest, give way to golden fields surrounded by russet maples and amber birches.

We’d been so disappointed when in 2016, the North Pend Oreille Valley Lions Club had to end the excursion train ride between Ione and Metaline Falls that they’d operated for 35 years. The ride was an item on our bucket list that we’d never got around to.

In 2017, the Newport/Priest River Rotary Club partnered with the Pend Oreille Valley Railroad to operate a new excursion ride. This time we weren’t going to miss out.

Starting in Newport, Washington, the 9-mile, 90-minute ride, follows the Pend Oreille River to Dalkena (where train “robberies” occur) and back to Newport.

The train features three classic railroad coaches and three open-air cars. The excursion operates rain or shine, and there was plenty of rain Saturday. The drizzle didn’t daunt the 300-some hearty travelers who waited to board the 1 p.m. ride.

Seating is first come, first served, so Derek and I were glad we snagged seats in “The Logger,” an enclosed coach on loan from the Spokane Railroad Historical Society.

Many came prepared with blankets and quilts, and chose the chilly seats because they offer better views than peering at the scenery through rain-streaked windows.

But no matter where you sit, the views are still spectacular.

The train runs on a historic railroad that’s one of the last short lines still operating. The track was built between 1907 and 1910 by Frederick Blackwell to transport people, logs, lumber and cement.

As we chugged along the Pend Oreille River, we saw hundreds of pilings from the long-defunct Dalkena Mill sprouting from the water. The pilings once held acres of logs. Now they provide perches for ospreys and eagles.

We traveled away from the river and across Highway 20 through forests and pastures. Sharp eyes can spot a variety of wildlife including coyotes, moose, bears, deer and turkeys.

The beautiful scenery and fresh air made us hungry, so after the ride we drove to Priest River, Idaho, and enjoyed a delicious meal at The Settlement Kitchen and Craft Tavern.

Who knew I’d have to travel to Idaho to sample my first watermelon radish? The colorful and tasty veggie was part of an appetizer featuring pumpkin hummus.

There’s still time for you to catch the train. The Scenic Pend Oreille River Train’s final excursions of the season are this weekend.

Bundle up and enjoy the ride, but beware of black-hatted, banana-toting bandits.

For more information about SPORT (Scenic Pend Oreille River Train Rides), visit sporttrainrides.com, or call (877) 525-5226.

Columns

Sitting Around

Three seconds.

That’s about how long it takes me to tell if a couch is comfortable.

My husband and I have spent the past two weekends sitting around. It wasn’t laziness that caused this loafing; it was the need for new furniture.

When our son, Zachary, told us he’d found an apartment and was moving out in early October, we offered him our living room set. It’s at least 10 years old, and despite rigorous use by us and our four sons, it’s held up pretty well.

Zach was pleased to take it, and we were pleased at the thought of updating our living room. That pleasure faded about five furniture stores into our search.

Turns out sofa-shopping isn’t nearly as much fun as couch-surfing, and I’m here to tell you that there are more than 50 shades of gray. A lot more.

We shopped everywhere, from big chains to small, locally owned stores. We knew what we didn’t want. No leather, no large overstuffed pieces and, ultimately, no gray. That was the easy part. Finding what we did want proved more challenging.

But first a word about pillows. If you want folks to purchase a spendy sofa why, oh why, do you cover it with pillows the size of Oregon, making it impossible to actually sit on?

I hope throw pillows are actually meant to be thrown, because I tossed more this weekend than a 10-year-old during a pillow fight at a sleepover.

Our customer service experience varied widely from overbearing to nonexistent to the Goldilocks happy medium of just right.

At two stores no one greeted us at all. At one store, a nice young woman followed us from couch to couch, taking surreptitious notes about our preferences. I finally had to tell her we’d like to discuss our purchase in private. Still, she was a fountain of information when we did have questions.

Knowing we’d quickly lose track of where we’d seen the furniture we liked, we photographed the most promising sets, noting the price and location.

I became the designated sitter, because after 33 years of marriage I know my husband’s comfort needs. If I felt the couch warranted a second opinion, Derek plopped down beside me and we evaluated the firmness of the support, the quality of the fabric, and the ease by which we could extricate ourselves.

By far the most interesting place we visited was Consign Furniture and Jewelry in Liberty Lake. If you’re in the market for dead animals to decorate your den, this is the place for you. They had everything from a ginormous elephant head to a taxidermic mountain lion pouncing on an unsuspecting Big Horn sheep.

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Desks, dining sets, beds and bookcases mingled with artwork, lamps and end tables. They also had lots of couches, but I was quickly distracted by a solid wood phone booth (phone included) and an amazing Wurtlitzer jukebox that came with a box of 45s.

Finally on Sunday, I put out a call on social media asking friends where they’d purchased their last living room set. Lo and behold, there were actually two stores we’d missed during our citywide search.

Within minutes of entering the first store, we discovered the sofas we’d been looking for. The helpful sales associate found we could get a better deal by ordering from the company online, and quickly placed the order for us. The delicious complimentary cookies offered at the entryway only sweetened the deal.

Our new furniture should arrive at the end of the month. Soon we’ll be able to sit around all weekend in our own home.

Columns

Toddlers, Teens and Sir Walter Scott

Question: What do you get when you combine the terrible 2s of toddlerhood with the terrifying tenure of teenage years?

Answer: A kitten. Specifically, Sir Walter Scott.

I recently read this quote: “Dogs prepare you for babies, cats prepare you for teenagers,” and boy, is that true. At 4 1/2 months, our tabby is still more toddler than teen, but I swear he just rolled his eyes at me.

Since I sat down to write this column, Walter has knocked every pen off my desk, gotten stuck on top of the filing cabinet and waged war on his own tail.

I just heard a huge crash from Sam’s room, but at this rate I’ll never make deadline, so that investigation will have to wait. (And people say working from home must be so much easier.)

Walter is a whirlwind of energy and enthusiasm. He adores jumping, galloping, wrestling and exploring. Unfortunately, Thor, our middle-aged tabby, is often the focus of Walter’s enthusiasms.

Thor does not play.

He never has. He’s a strictly low-key, lounge-around-the-house lap cat. Unless there’s food involved, then he’s energetic, bordering on obnoxious. He is not amused or entertained by Walter, but the rest of us sure are.

Walter keeps a busy schedule. After our son feeds him an early-morning breakfast, he gallops to our bedroom to ensure I’m awake. Of course, I’m not. So he hops onto my chest and nudges my cheeks with his cold nose, and softly pats my eyes with his paws until I open them.

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Early morning wake up call.

I stagger to the kitchen, grab my coffee and the newspaper and return to bed, where Walter has thoughtfully kept my spot warm.

Here’s the sad part. Walter hates The Spokesman-Review. The minute I shake out the pages, he goes into attack mode. He slinks to the foot of the bed, wiggles his behind and leaps into the newspaper. If he can successfully grab a section from my hands, he’ll proceed to shred it with his tiny sharp teeth and claws.

This makes it difficult to read the paper and dangerous to drink my coffee.

Walter also has animosity for my cellphone. He’ll squirm between my phone and my face and smack it until I put it down.

Perhaps it’s not so much the paper and the phone but that they come between him and my undivided attention.

When he’s received his expected amount of adoration, he’s off to share the love with Thor.

As previously noted, Thor does not want the love.

Toddlers, teens and kittens all suffer from poor impulse control. How else to explain the 2-year-old touching a hot stove, the 13-year-old careening down a steep hill on his skateboard and Walter’s mistaken belief that Thor enjoys being ridden around the house like a pony.

Thor does not enjoy being used as a racehorse with a pint-sized jockey on his back. He has demonstrated his feelings repeatedly by hissing, growling and smacking Walter silly.

To Walter, it’s all part of the fun.

Toddlers, teens and kittens also have inflated beliefs about their own mortality. That’s why toddlers dart into traffic, teens text and drive, and kittens climb things like bookcases and entertainment cabinets. It’s also why parents and cat owners get gray hair.

I know Walter is edging toward his teens because he’s angling for more screen time. He enjoys watching football and soccer on television. Unfortunately, he prefers to be part of the action. He parks himself in front of the screen and tries to intercept the passes.

My husband prefers to watch sports sans kitten. He actually downloaded the Cat Alone app on his tablet so Walter can chase bugs and flies on the screen while Derek watches the game in peace.

There’s another troubling sign that Walter’s teen years are near. On Saturday morning, he was even more manic than usual. He could not seem to settle down.

Then Derek discovered a small baggie behind the couch.

It was Walter’s stash.

Somehow, he’d gotten the catnip out of the cupboard, punctured the plastic and had himself a party. We’ve locked up the catnip and are hoping to avoid an intervention.

For all his boundless energy, Walter is extremely affectionate and a world champion cuddler. In fact, right now he’s sprawled across my desk, snoozing. Unfortunately he’s lying on my arms, which makes typing difficult, but he just sighed and made that adorable kitty chirp, so I’m not inclined to dislodge him.

Sweet moments like these are why we love our toddlers, our teens and our kittens.

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Classic case of writer’s block.

Columns

Don’t Blink: Summer and Childhood Vanish

They marched out of the old Orchard Prairie schoolhouse, eyes alight with excitement.

“Are they done yet?” asked the oldest.

The three boys had been waiting for their mom, the school’s PTO president, to finish an afternoon meeting that I’d just left.

I’d paused to take a picture of the historic schoolhouse when the boys bounded into view.

They’d been busy while they waited.

“We catched a spider!” shouted the littlest boy. “A GINORMOUS spider!”

The middle brother shouldered him out of the way.

“We put it in a Gatorade bottle that I found,” he said.

His older brother held the spider aloft, soldiering on in search of their mother, while the youngest stayed behind, eager to explain his role in the capture.

“I founded it first!” he said. “Back there!”

He pointed behind the building, bouncing with excitement.

“It’s GINORMOUS!”

Then he hurried to catch up with his brothers.

That encounter brightened a long Monday and memories of my sons tumbled through my mind.

Once upon a time, I had four little boys whose summer adventures frequently included capturing creepy crawlies.

For the record, I’m not a fan of creepy crawlies, but I am a fan of boys and boundless curiosity.

Summer often seems endless when you’re an at-home mom. Endless can equal excruciating when bored boys fight over video games. I worked hard to balance planned activities while leaving room for unstructured play. Anything to keep my busy boys away from electronic devices and spontaneous wrestling matches.

One summer, I grew tired of my Tupperware being used to re-home spiders and insects, so I bought the boys a bug-catching kit. It came with a net, a magnifying glass, tweezers and a plastic container to house their captures.

They spent hours turning over rocks, crawling under decks, and digging through dirt to find new specimens.

We checked out bug books from the library to help identify their finds and to recognize spiders they should avoid.

I realized that backfired when I overheard my middle son saying to his younger brother, “Nope. That’s not a black widow. Keep looking.”

In retrospect, it’s amazing that no one got bit or stung.

I wished I’d been more patient when they careened through the house, shrieking with excitement, holding a newly captured specimen aloft.

Instead, I often feigned interest and wearily reminded them of the “no bugs in the house” rule. In my defense, you can only rave about the coolness of pill bugs a finite number of times.

I just didn’t realize how quickly those summers would pass. Older friends tried to warn me.

“Slow down, enjoy these days, it all goes too fast,” they said.

Sometimes I did slow down enough to savor the sight of four little boys crouching in the driveway, watching a row of ants march across the gravel.

I wish I had a picture of that. But when my sons were small, cellphones didn’t come with cool cameras. Capturing memories meant running back inside the house, trying to unearth a camera.

Summer can seem endless, but it isn’t. You blink and suddenly there’s a chill in the night air and the leaves start to turn.

As I watched the three little boys run across the Orchard Prairie schoolyard with their ginormous spider, I wished I’d taken their photo.

I would have sent it to their mother.

A snapshot of a boyhood that will disappear in the blink of an eye.

Columns

Picking Perfect Paint Problematic

It’s amazing how a fresh coat of paint and updated décor improves a home’s entryway.

It’s equally amazing how challenging it can be to find the perfect color of paint.

Several years ago, my husband ripped up the brown carpet in our living room and installed beautiful hardwood floors. We chose Hazy Jade paint for the walls. The warm green offered the perfect accent to the oak floors.

We finished the project just in time for the holidays, and Derek said we’d tackle the entryway in the spring.

Spring came and went, but when a new round of holidays approached, we set off for the paint store.

We wanted something that would complement, but not detract from our Hazy Jade living room and hallway. Something off-white perhaps?

I’m here to tell you that finding a whiter shade of pale proved pretty near impossible.

We took home samples of Chantilly Lace, Dove Wing and Sea Pearl – all too white for the high walls of our split-entry doorway.

“Maybe we should go toward yellows?” I wondered.

Samples of Cornbread, Hawthorne and Philadelphia Cream came home.

None of them were right.

Finally, we settled on what promised to be a soft cream with yellow undertones.

Out came the ladder.

Derek painted the topmost edges.

“Look good?” he asked.

I hesitated.

“It’s hard to tell from down here.”

The next day Derek painted around the door and halfway down the largest wall.

Turns out, that once applied, soft cream looks more like butter. Bright, yellow, sunshiney butter.

I hated it. Derek didn’t like it either.

For the first time in our marriage, I actually asked him to NOT finish a project.

We hosted holiday gatherings with half the wall painted and the other wall primed.

Actually, we hosted several holiday gatherings that way, because Derek had moved on to other projects; a retaining wall in the backyard, window boxes for the deck, a fence-repair in progress.

This spring when Mother’s Day approached, I told him I only wanted one thing: the entryway paint job finished.

“You know you’ll have to look at paint samples, again,” he warned.

(For me, looking at paint samples ranks right up there with going to the dentist.)

I nodded. I was heartily sick of looking at half-painted yellow walls.

My husband, having had several years to think about what went wrong, said he thought we should look at more earth-toned palettes.

He was right! It only took two visits to the paint store to decide Wheat Toast would perfectly complement Hazy Jade.

Derek and our son went to pick up the paint. Unfortunately, they left the sample card with the paint name at home.

“I picked up a gallon of Burnt Toast,” Derek texted.

Thankfully, he was teasing.

The entryway was finished shortly after Father’s Day, and we are thrilled with the color. Of course, now we needed new décor to tie everything together.

A friend had recently given me a beautiful quilt, and I thought it would look lovely in the entryway. We pulled out my hanging quilt rack from the basement and back up the ladder Derek went.

The quilt was perfect.

“What are we going to hang over the door?” he asked. “How ’bout a wreath?”

I’ve heard there are husbands who aren’t interested in such things. Not mine. Derek has an artist’s eye for color and space, and he’s much handier with a hammer (and scaling scary ladders) than I’ll ever be.

For several weekends we scoured home stores, and I decided I wanted a sign with our last name under whatever wreath we found.

I knew we (actually, he) would have to make it because Hval isn’t a common last name. We sorted through bins of wooden and metal letters and discovered V is for Very, as in very hard to find.

Finally, all the pieces came together and our entryway is done. It’s warm and inviting, just the way we want our home to feel.

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“We make a good team,” Derek said, as we gazed at the finished results.

I agreed.

“You know,” I said. “It’s been a long time since we painted the living room. Maybe it’s time to update that, too?”

Derek didn’t say a word, but his complexion took on a greenish hue that looked distinctly Hazy Jade.

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.

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.