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.

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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

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?

All Write, TV

Check out the Front Porch on YouTube!

54409184_2264170203837556_1334691813428035584_n[1]That handy little button at the top of my homepage will take you to my new YouTube channel.

That’s where you can find all the Front Porch episodes that air each week on the Spokane Talks television show on Fox 28 Spokane.

You know. In case you aren’t tuning in at 8 AM Saturday morning 🙂

I hope you’ll check out these segments and I look forward to hearing what you think!

 

 

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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All Write

Meow! Cat fans demand more!

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

Hello, Cindy.

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

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

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

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

Please keep on writing!!!!!

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

Stay tuned 😉

 

Columns

Sunrise and the San Francisco Writers Conference

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The rooster’s hoarse crows were sounding desperate and none of us knew what to do.

There are a lot of things you expect to hear when packed into an airplane, but a rooster crowing isn’t one of them.

On Valentine’s Day I boarded a flight to San Francisco to attend the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, a three-day event filled with classes, workshops, literary agents, publishers and hundreds of authors.

I was seated next to a young mother and her adorable 2 1/2-year-old son.

“Did you hear that?” she asked, as we settled in, awaiting takeoff. “It’s a rooster!”

Barely awake, I put down my book and listened. Sure enough a faint cock-a-doodle-do echoed throughout the cabin.

“It must be someone’s phone,” I replied.

But the crowing continued and grew more frantic as the minutes passed.

“I hope they’re not serving chicken sandwiches,” said a lady across the aisle. “That’s taking farm-to-table a little too far!”

We tittered but the crowing continued as the engines revved.

“It’s probably someone’s emotional support rooster,” announced the gentleman behind me.

Alas, we’ll never know, because once we fastened our seat belts and were airborne, the crowing ceased.

“If he’s in the cargo hold, his nuggets are frozen solid,” I said.

“Nuggets? Want nuggets!” the toddler next to me demanded.

Thankfully, he was satisfied with the Goldfish crackers his mother gave him.

It was my first visit to the Bay area, and I was delighted to leave Spokane’s frigid February and arrive in a city with temperatures in the balmy 50s.

Due to flight delays, I had to hit the ground running to make it to my first workshop. I checked into my hotel in the Embarcadero, directly across from the iconic Ferry building, and gathered my credentials.

“Hi Cindy, Happy Valentine’s Day,” said a stranger in the lobby.

“Er. Thank you,” I replied.

“Hey, Cindy! How are you today?” another gentleman asked, moments later.

These people are so friendly, I thought, but how do they know me?

Then I looked down at the credentials hanging from a lanyard around my neck, my first name written in super-sized font. Apparently, my fame had not preceded me.

I wasn’t the only one. I’d noticed the attendees had white nametags, and the volunteers had orange ones. In the elevator I asked a fellow sporting an orange nametag if he was helping at the conference.

“I’m presenting,” he said.

Turns out it was Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, the leading distributor of indie ebooks.

Moving on.

After several classes, I had just enough time to dash across the street to pick up a sandwich for dinner.

“Ma’am where’s your jacket? It’s freezing!” the concerned doorman asked, as I scouted nearby restaurants.

“It’s 53 degrees!” I replied. “When I left Spokane it was 17! This is tropical!”

He shook his head, huddled in his heavy overcoat.

“At least take an umbrella,” he said, offering one from the hotel’s stash.

The umbrella was necessary that night, but I never used one again – not even during a sunrise photography walk, sponsored by the Writer’s Workshop.

That’s right. I may be notoriously anti-morning, but I saw the sun rise from a pier near the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. I wasn’t about to pass up a chance to explore the area with a professional photographer as a guide.

51920729_2191659600872655_2118461617678057472_n[1]However, the morning got off to a rocky start when I discovered my hotel room had only decaf coffee. Thankfully, by the time I’d returned the front desk had sent up a stash of the real thing.

But the coffee didn’t prevent my next elevator faux pas.

“Are you here for the writer’s conference?” I asked a fellow, as we descended to the meeting rooms.

“No, I’m here for a conference on thinking,” he replied.

“Writers think, too,” I said. And then I silently vowed to stop speaking to strangers on elevators.

Speaking of mornings, I took comfort in the words of keynote speaker Jane Friedman. “With a little self-awareness you can compete with morning people,” she said.

I knew she was one of my tribe even before that because she shared a photo of a kitty she frequently cat-sits. I quickly got out my phone and shared a photo of Thor with my tablemate, which prompted the other writers at the table to share pictures of their own cats.

It must be hard to be taken seriously as an author if you don’t have a cat.

Sunday morning I watched the sun rise over the bay and listened to the clang of the cable car as it rounded the corner in front of the hotel. I drank in the view of palm trees and the waterfront. It was time to fly home to the land of snow and ice.

I was tired and I missed my family, but Tony Bennett and I now have something in common. I. too, left my heart in San Francisco.

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Columns

Lonely tabby’s love weighs heavy

Sometimes love can feel oppressive, even suffocating, especially when it weighs 14 pounds and is sitting on your chest.

I’m speaking of Thor, our tabby cat, and his deep devotion to me. He’s always been a mama’s boy, but when our tuxedo cat, Milo, died in November, Thor’s adoration intensified.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not even his first love. Thor’s heart actually belongs to whatever comes out of the refrigerator, pantry or kitchen cupboards. He has a food fixation, and since I’m the primary provider of meals, his passions are twofold.

He doggedly follows me throughout the house, like I’m littering cat treats in my wake. It’s sweet, but it’s also dangerous. I’ve tripped over him many times, and I’ve often trodden on his tail.

Love hurts, but occasionally it’s just annoying.

For example, I love to start my morning by curling up in bed with a hot cup of coffee and the newspaper. Thor likes to start his morning by curling up under my chin for a serious round of petting and affirmation. Coffee and a newspaper are no deterrent to a feline in purr-suit of affection. After he’s had enough chin-scratches, he moseys down to my feet and naps.

He’s already had breakfast because our son, Zach, is the first one up in the morning, and the first one awake has to feed Thor. Otherwise, the rest of us won’t be allowed to sleep.

Sometimes the mix of a full tummy and cuddles zonks him out while he’s still on my chest. Thor is a heavy sleeper. Literally. It’s very hard to dislodge 14 pounds of purr.

When I manage to get up and start my day, he follows me to the bathroom to supervise my ablutions. He used to drink from the bathroom sink, but once he didn’t dodge quickly enough when I was brushing my teeth and we both discovered Thor is not a fan of mint toothpaste on his whiskers.

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If I’m working from home, he follows me downstairs to my desk. We bypass his food dish on the way, and Thor sees his food dish is empty. Since it’s been at least two hours since breakfast, Thor assumes he’s starving and launches into a piteous round of meows and complaints, which I ignore.

He sidles up next to my desk chair and nudges me till I pet him, just to show there are no hard feelings. Then he heads over to a nearby recliner to resume napping.

I swear he sleeps with one eye open because any movement from me convinces Thor I’m on my way to give him lunch.

I think he misses Milo most after lunch. Most afternoons following their noon meal, Milo would go cat-crazy and chase Thor up and down the stairs and all over the house.

Now and then Thor does the runabout on his own, but it’s not the same if you’re not in fear of a pouncing from your furry friend.

When I prepare dinner, Thor supervises, and his supervisory skills have gotten overbearing. He’s a micromanager when it comes to food prep, especially if there’s meat involved. He bats his paws at the cutting board and loudly demands a portion of whatever I’m cooking. If nothing I’m preparing is suitable for cats, I’ll give him a couple of treats.

He sits next to my chair during dinner. Just in case I feel like slipping him a morsel.

Since he’s so food-motivated, I’ve taught him to sit up, to beg, and occasionally he’ll even roll over for a treat. Playing dead? Well, he does that for hours at a time, with no treat needed.

I usually read for awhile before bedtime, and Thor drapes himself over me, lest I get cold. Or in case I decide to get up for a snack.

When Derek joins me, Thor will often try to suffocate him with affection, too, but we all know it’s just a ploy to get Derek to let him sleep with us.

Derek commands him to leave. Thor ignores him. Ignoring is prominent in his skill set. This irks my husband to no end, because when I get up to shut our bedroom door, I say, “Night, Night, Thor,” and Thor immediately jumps down and scoots out the door. This cat knows which side of his tuna is buttered.

His steadfast, fixated devotion to me may stem in part from loneliness. Thor has never been an only-cat. He came from a litter of four, and when we adopted him, he came home to Milo.

Perhaps it’s time to adopt a furry friend for our tubby tabby. I’m more than willing to share the spotlight of Thor’s saucer eyes.

Stay tuned.

Columns

Fans Keep on Lovin’ REO Speedwagon

He stood like a lonely Statue of Liberty, holding his lighter aloft, its flame flickering in the darkness. An actual cigarette lighter, not a pale imitation cellphone flashlight.

You should have seen by the look in my eyes, baby

There was something missin’

He swayed. Silent. Stoic.

You should have known by the tone in my voice, maybe

But you didn’t listen

The Thursday night crowd at Northern Quest Resort and Casino had already come unglued as REO Speedwagon unleashed “In Your Letter “ and “Keep Pushin’,” but something tells me the fan with the lighter had been waiting for “Keep on Loving You.”

Like any iconic rock band, REO Speedwagon knew fans had come to hear their hits and to bask in the memories that their music brings. And Lighter Guy, lost in his own world, was as my kids say, feeling “all the feels.”

And I’m gonna keep on lovin’ you

’Cause it’s the only thing I want to do

I don’t want to sleep, I just want to keep on lovin’ you

By the time the chorus rolled around, most of the sold-out crowd, including Derek and I, stood with Lighter Guy, belting out the lyrics.

When my husband saw REO Speedwagon was coming to Northern Quest, he quickly scooped up tickets. After all, the band was at its zenith when Derek graduated from high school in 1981. There’s nothing like a blast of music from the past to make you feel young again.

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With evangelistic zeal, lead singer Kevin Cronin whipped the middle-aged crowd into a frenzy – especially the super fan across the aisle from us. She whooped. She hollered. She pogo-jumped up and down and her air guitar skills were impressive.

“Rock ’n’ roll will keep you young forever!” Cronin hollered.

“Or else it kills you,” Derek said, shouting in my ear.

That was the last thing I actually heard him say for quite a while. It was the first time I’d wished for earplugs at a concert since Def Leppard played the Spokane Arena in 2017. Everything sounded like I was underwater no matter how many times I tried to pop my ears.

About four songs into the evening, things began to sound clearer.

“I think my ears are adjusting,” I said.

“What?” Derek replied. “I can’t hear you. They are really loud!”

Despite the decibel level, the band sounded great, but it was the crowd that truly made the show. In addition to Lighter Guy and Air Guitar Lady, Baseball Cap Gal, in front of us, was a hoot to watch.

With her curly hair pulled through the back of her ball cap, she looked to be having the time of her life. She rocked. She bounced. She shook her gray-streaked ponytail like the teenager she used to be. And she knew the lyrics to every single song, even “Tough Guys.”

We didn’t mind her exuberance a bit, as she was a tad on the short side.

“Oh, hey, I didn’t realize she was standing up,” said Derek.

However, one fan’s enthusiasm kept getting the better of her. She doggedly danced down the aisle to the front of the stage, only to be repeatedly danced back by a long-suffering, very patient member of the security team.

At one point she found Air Guitar Lady and they linked arms, attempting to lead her to worship at the altar of their rock gods.

A woman behind us leaned forward.

“That’s not going to end well,” she said.

Sure enough, moments later, Air Guitar Lady was back in her row, while Mosh Pit Hopeful was escorted to the nether regions.

You have to admire a band that inspires that kind of devotion decades after their last chart-topping hit.

REO Speedwagon still delivers a fantastic, high-energy show. “Ride the Storm Out” shook the room, and the crowd eagerly offered vocal assistance on “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and “Take it on the Run.”

Keep in mind these guys aren’t exactly teenagers. Kevin Cronin is 67, bassist Bruce Hall is 65, and founding member, keyboardist Neal Doughty is 72, yet they blazed through their entire set list, plus encores, without a break.

Who knows? Maybe rock ’n’ roll really does keep you young forever.

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Columns

Sizzling Sisters Sausage Sunday (Go Pig or Go Home)

If you don’t want to know how the sausage gets made, you should stop reading now. Seriously. Recently my sisters-in-law and I had our annual Sizzling Sisters Sausage Sunday.

Forty pounds of pork butt, 6 pounds of ground beef, 5 pounds of pork fat, 6 pounds of potatoes, 6 pounds of onion, assorted spices, a secret ingredient, a fair amount of wine (for us, not the sausage) and many inappropriate jokes later, we have sausage. Lots and lots of sausage.

Each year my sister-in-law Camille Jordalen and her Norwegian husband, Kjell, host our family Christmas Eve gathering, which I call “The Festival of Strange Norwegian Meat.”

While steamed Brussels sprouts, boiled potatoes and my favorite, mashed rutabaga, make an appearance, the real star of the annual feast is meat – specifically pork with a side of lamb.

I’ve never been able to embrace the salty tang of pinnekjøtt (cured lamb ribs) but I look forward to ribbe (pork ribs with a thick layer of fat), Swedish meatballs, Swedish potato sausage and two Scandinavian sausages – medisterpølse and medisterkaker.

I’m not exactly sure how the Swedes got involved in our Norwegian meal, but I suspect my mother-in-law and her Swedish heritage had something to do with it.

For several years we bought the potato sausage from Egger’s, but then my sister-in-law, Susie Hval, got a meat grinder. She wanted to try her hand at making homemade bratwurst, and once she conquered that, she was ready for a new challenge.

“Why don’t we make our own medisterpolse and potato sausage?” she asked.

And thus a tradition was born.

Camille makes the medisterkaker on her own because that sausage is formed into patties and fried. The other two are link sausages, which is where the teamwork, fun, and double entendres come in. We’ve given birth to 11 sons between the three of us. Trust me when I say there isn’t a sausage joke we haven’t made or heard. This is also probably why our spouses vacate the house when Sizzling Sisters Sausage Sunday commences.

I suspect watching their wives grind 40 pounds of pork butt and squeeze it into slippery sausage casing makes them a bit squeamish. By the way, those casings are made from pig intestines. Go pig or go home, that’s what we always say.

With our aprons on and hair pulled back in messy buns, we get down to business Pioneer Woman style.

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Pork and pork fat is sliced and diced and fed into the grinder. Onions and potatoes are added for the potato sausage.

“This always reminds me of the Play-Doh barber shop,” Susie said.

She’s right. The meat coming out of the grinder looks just like the hair coming out of the figures’ heads in the Play-Doh Fuzzy Pumper Barber Shop of our childhoods.

After two rounds of grinding, we’re ready to squeeze the meat into the casings. The casing is slid on to an attachment on the grinder. It’s a delicate operation because if the sister who is pushing the meat through pushes too fast, sausages can rupture.

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Once we have a long rope, we’re ready make links. This involves a process I call “swinging the sausage” which is Susie’s specialty. Much like jumping rope when we were kids, she swings the sausage till the ends are tight and ready to tie.

Tying the slippery ends is challenging, especially when your hands are coated with pig fat, but we manage to get it done. Actually, Susie manages to get it done. Camille tried tying, but struggled, and I’m a disaster at balloon-tying, so I don’t even attempt it.

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For the potato sausage, the casings are pricked with little holes, so they don’t explode upon cooking. This is my job.

While we work we catch up on life and family – that is when we aren’t talking to ourselves. We’ve discovered that each of us tends to keep a running commentary when we’re concentrating, much like we’re the hosts of our own cooking shows. This works great when working alone, but it does get a bit confusing when cooking with others.

Seven hours flew by and at the end of the day we had freezer bags full of sausage, ready to be browned and served on Christmas Eve.

We sampled the sausage and agreed that each year it tastes better. And that secret ingredient? It really isn’t much of a secret – it’s love with a hefty dash of laughter.