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Residents take holiday challenges in stride

By Wednesday morning, Rev. Andrea CastroLang considered canceling the Christmas Eve service at Westminster Congregational Church.

The soloist already had bowed out. TV news was full of footage of cars sliding off roadways, and up to 10 more inches of snow was forecast for that night. Would it be safe or responsible, she wondered, to hold the Service of Carols and Candles?

“We’re a downtown church, not a neighborhood church,” said CastroLang, known as “Pastor Andy” to her flock. “Our members come from South Spokane and North Spokane and Coeur d’Alene. What if one of them had an accident?”

But her 19-year-old son, Nick, couldn’t contemplate not having the candlelight service.

“Mom, you can’t cancel the Christmas Eve service,” he said. “You just can’t.”

An email went out to the congregation: Church would proceed as planned.

As 7 p.m. approached, CastroLang held her breath. First there were four worshipers in the 400-seat sanctuary. Then a few more trickled in, then a few more.

“People were bundled up, laughing and stomping off snow,” CastroLang said. By the end of the first hymn, the congregation numbered 65.

With half the choir absent and no soloist, there was no special music. But the essential element of the Christmas Eve service was present. CastroLang told the story of the Baby Jesus, born in a humble stable.

“We had more bulletins than people,” CastroLang said, “but every face shown in the candlelight.”

Her son was right, she said. “You can’t cancel Christmas.”

As record snowfall blanketed the Inland Northwest, local residents looked for ways to celebrate amid spotty attendance at family dinners, aborted travel plans and missed holiday traditions. For many, it was a quieter Christmas.

Dave and Susan Teague like to take their four kids and their families out for dinner on the evening of Dec. 23. It gives Susan a chance to relax before Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, when she’s busy in the kitchen presiding over meal preparation for large, extended family gatherings.

“We’ve done it for 16 years,” she said of eating out on Dec. 23.

But not this year. The Teagues canceled their reservations at the Italian Kitchen because they didn’t want to get stuck on the snowy streets downtown. They ordered takeout from a nearby Tomato Street instead.

Giving up the dinner out was hard for Susan Teague. She and her youngest son – 18-year-old Jordan – were feeling housebound and antsy. Their television had gone out a week earlier, compounding their cabin fever.

Winter is also a stressful time for Dave Teague, an accountant. He’s spent the last week pouring over mathematical computations, trying to calculate how much snow load the family’s roof can withstand. “Wind and snow are my husband’s nemesis,” Susan Teague said.

But the weather has also reminded their family how lucky they are, Teague said.

“When it snows like this, it’s like a plague,” she said. “Then you start thinking, we have a warm house and food to eat. I figure God controls the weather, so he must have a good reason for all of this.”

The snow is thigh-deep in Kathy Kline’s yard near Spokane Community College. The 51-year-old medical transcriptionist has lost count of the number of times she’s shoveled off her sidewalk and driveway. But Kline’s lost five pounds in the past week as a result of the unexpected exercise. And she feels lighter in spirit, too.

“Your choice of attitude is really important,” Kline said.

The good-feeling extended toward her neighbors, with whom she’d been feuding. Words exchanged over barking dogs and other disagreements had grown into a full-fledged spat.

Kline gave her neighbors a small rosemary bush as a peace-making gesture. They responded with a card and a tin of homemade cookies.

“It opens communications again,” Kline said.

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