Thursday, December 30, 2010

Grandma's Funeral

Funeral services commenced for "Grandma Great" Uella Merchant just as a winter storm dropped about a foot of snow on the Spokane area. Extended family members braved the weather to pay their final respects, but only a handful of others arrived. Blizzard warnings in some of the outlying  areas no doubt kept people at home.

But spirits were good at the service. Just about everyone agreed that grandma must have "ordered" the snow as part of her final goodbye. Several people recalled seeing her sledding all on her own well into her old age. In many ways, she was a kid at heart and certainly loved the snow.

It is sad to see her go, but she was 94 years old and lived a happy, full life.

Bailey, Brindy, Lanith, and Glenda at the casket.

Dakota and Mike at the graveside.

Linda at the graveside.

Ron stood to speak at the family dinner.

Standing: Stacy, Lyndal, and Rhonda.
Sitting: Chris, Mike, Paul, and Ron.

Glenda and her children; Mike, Rhonda, and Paul.

Ron with his children: Mike, Paul, and Rhonda.


The kids performed beautifully on the night of CYT's Encore Encore. As a father, I could not feel prouder.  


Rhonda and the kids performed a rendition of "Alleluia" for CYT's Encore Encore at the Bing Crosby Theater. They were especially excited that grandpa and uncle Mike were in the audience.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Mary Did You Know

The CYT Christmas Quartets performed today at the Valleyford Community Church. They sang "Mary Did You Know?" Dakota has a solo at about the 2:15 mark.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Uella Merchant

Uella Merchant

Uella Merchant passed away peacefully Friday morning, December 17, 2010. Uella was born on May 5, 1916 in Joseph, Utah. She was a loving wife, mother, and grandmother. She is survived by her son, Ronald Merchant, eleven grandchildren, forty-seven great grandchildren, and nine great-great grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her husband Jim Merchant and her daughter Berniece Chandler.

Uella was Rhonda's grandmother.

River and Snow

Yesterday evening, I had the chance to walk through Riverfront Park in the snow, pausing several times to capture these photographs of the Spokane River.

A lighted tree on the southern edge of Riverfront Park.


Dakota continues to sing with the CYT Christmas Quartets. They recently performed on the radio and at the Spokane Country Club, but they also perform for retirement centers throughout the Spokane area.

On the one hand, I'm thankful that Dakota is learning to increase his talent and self-confidence through public performances. On the other hand, I hope that he continues to practice his talent as a form of service to others. Within our ancestral tradition, singing is a cultural, spiritual, and ceremonial responsibility that is practiced for the good of the community. Singing promotes the spiritual well-being of the people without necessarily depending the entertainment value of the song. In some small way, maybe singing Christmas carols for the elderly approximates the spiritual work of Dakota's ancestors.

Learner's Permit

Can you guess who got his learner's permit yesterday?

The kid in the tuxedo is not the valet. Dakota had just returned from singing with the Christmas Quartets, and of course, he just had to practice driving with his new permit. You know how it is. In fact, we were all there once, just giddy with the excitement of driving for the first time. I don't feel old enough have a son behind the wheel.

But at least he is taking the legal approach to driving. I started driving when I was 18, but I didn't get a license until I was 20. I never did get a learner's permit. So this blog is my confession.... mea culpa. Good thing Dakota isn't following my example in this regard.

Home-Made Gifts

Rhonda's family practices a wonderful Christmas tradition of making home-made gifts. Everyone draws a name and then creates a home-made gift for that person. The gifting is inexpensive, but is usually quite meaningful. Those of us who participated shared a meal together and exchanged gifts.

Of course, baby Meadow was the star of the evening. Everyone took turns fighting over who got to hold her.

The Moon

No, I did not see the lunar eclipse. In fact, I was feeling just a little disappointed that I missed it. They say the lunar eclipse has not aligned with the winter solstice in over 400 years, but that night the clouds formed a solid wall of gray over the Spokane sky. Oh well, I suppose I can wait a few centuries more.

By the way, I took this photograph a few weeks ago. I kind of like the way my camera captured the lunar craters, especially near the southern pole.

Monday, December 13, 2010


My friend Percy came to Spokane to visit my family. He traveled with me to the Spokane Indian Reservation and met some of my relatives. He also accompanied my wife and children to the Bing and later to the Davenport. More importantly, we had the chance to experience several meaningful conversations where he enlightened me with his insights into education, spirituality, and human nature.

The Trees

After watching White Christmas at the Bing, my family walked to the Davenport Hotel and observed the Christmas trees organized by the Spokane Symphony fundraiser. Different community organizations each sponsor a Christmas tree with a unique theme that includes cash and other prizes. Participants can vote for their favorite trees by purchasing ballots for $1 each. The ballots then function like a raffle. If your ticket is drawn, you win the tree and all the attached prizes.

I always enjoy the elegance of the Davenport.

The Bing

My family attended a special Christmas event at the Bing Crosby Theater in downtown Spokane. The theater honored its namesake and showed the 1954 film White Christmas, starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney.

I have to admit that I attended the show mostly to appease my wife. She likes these kind of things more than I do.

Generally speaking, I tend to get bored when I watch old movies, but I was pleasantly surprised. I found myself laughing at all the funny parts, and even though I'm not the swooning type, Bing Crosby's singing voice held me spellbound. It's easy to see why he was so immensely popular.

Rhonda was right to make me go.


The ice and sunlight combine to create a beautiful scene.

These two deer stopped less than ten feet from my car and seemed almost unconcerned with my presence. One of them paused to eat a few leaves of Oregon grape and then wandered over the hill.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Monday, December 06, 2010


Speaking of trees, our neighborhood park suffered a major loss. After the county stopped watering the grass, some of the trees turned brown and died. Ponderosa pine are natural to the area; I woundn't expect them to suffer, but they withered anyway. I can only imagine that their root system did not fully develop because of the park sprinkler system.

Just the other day, the county removed many of the trees. When I first saw the devastation, I literally gasped out loud. And when I took a moment to walk around the park, I felt like crying. I always loved this place. We've had birthdays, barbeques, and family reunions in that park. Now everything has changed for the worse.

Maybe there's a metaphor hidden in this situation. Sometimes comfort deprives us of the opportunity to strengthen our roots.

I'm sad to see the loss of trees in our neighborhood.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

O Christmas Tree

When we got the tree home from Greenbluff, it was so large that the tree stand could not support its own weight. As soon as we let go, the tree literally toppled over in the middle of our living room. In the end, we had to buy a totally new stand. Once we did, we were able to balance the tree, but again, it was so large that it took up at least a fourth of our living room.

Something about having an oversize tree made my kids happy. It's like a reflection of their giant love for Christmas.

Greenbluff Trees

After our wonderful experience gathering pumpkins at Greenbluff, we decided to return for a live Christmas tree. We found quite a variety at a little place called Hansen's. When we arrived, an attendant greeted us at the gate and said that every tree costs $50, regardless of size. With this in mind, the kids decided to select a tree that goes beyond our normal limit. Since cost is no issue, they reasoned that they might as well go big.

We trudged through two feet of snow and finally found the perfect tree. Actually, Whitney made the final selection. As expected, she picked one of the largest trees in the lot. It was also the farthest away, meaning that someone would have to drag that thing out of there. Of course by 'someone,' she meant Dakota and me.

In this photograph, Dakota is planning the best way to expose the trunk for cutting.

Dakota and I took turns cutting the tree. The base was so wide that we had to lie on our bellies in the snow and crawl halfway underneath the lower branches.

We took turns cutting the tree, and we also took turns resting. During one of my breaks, I happened to notice a visitor on a nearby tree top.

In the end, the tree must have weighed a hundred pounds or more. Dakota and I had to drag that thing over a hundred yards in more than two feet of snow. It was hard to get good footing, so we constantly slipped and fell. More than once the tree even rolled over the top of either Dakota and me.

Dakota and I struggled and heaved to drag that tree while the girls stood by watching. At one point, McKenna said, "Can you guys hurry up?"

Whitney chimed in, "Yeah, old man, don't be such a wimp!" With sweat dripping down my face and freezing to my eyebrows, I was in no mood to appreciate their bossiness, but later we all laughed about it.

After we dragged our tree out of the field, a couple of guys from the farm helped us load the tree onto my truck. We paid our $50 in a little red house by the road, and then they gave us free hot chocolate and apple cider, as well as a free Christmas ornament. What a fun day!

Winter in Kewa

These lodges create a haunting and beautiful picture against the cold winter snow. They stand near Shelly's house on the Colville Indian Reservation in the tiny town of Kewa.

A view from Shelly's house...

The sun is just barely visible in the sky, casting a faint reflection in the near-freezing waters of the Columbia River. This picture was taken from the Gifford Ferry.

The sun makes a brief and deceptive appearance above the silent winter landscape.

Once again, I am surprised by the changes I feel this winter. No shadow of gloom has come to settle in my brain. Instead, I feel a sense of wonder and mystery at these dark winter months.


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