Seven New Year’s resolutions I know I can keep

January 3, 2013

When it comes to holidays, I’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s Eve and Day. The celebratory parties are too frenetic and desperate, resolutions are made and forgotten, hope springs eternal and then collapses like a Ponzi scheme.

Besides, I don’t consider the dead of winter the optimum time to foster a new and better attitude. That kind of bright promise is for September — the start of the school year — when clean lined paper and sharpened pencils speak of fresh starts and new beginnings.

At my age it’s ridiculous to come up with resolutions that I know will fall by the wayside. It’s high time, I think, to provide myself with goals that I know I can reach. Why put unnecessary pressure on myself? With that in mind:

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Ruminations on the back 40

December 6, 2012

According to the King County parcel map, it’s 49,733 square feet, only an acre and small change. It belongs to the city of Newcastle and is described as “drainage and open area,” but it’s more than that. Its meaning to us dwarfs its relative size because it abuts our backyard and those of the Good Neighbors to the North and South, and it’s why we bought the house in the first place.

It’s property that’s not ours, and yet by osmosis and proximity, it is. Let’s call it our “fakerage.”

When we moved from the Midwest to Bellevue 40 years ago, we were surprised by the notion of greenbelts since there were none on the Illinois prairies. We’d lived at the edge of small farm towns a few blocks from cornfields and hedgerows, so communing with nature took only desire, 10 minutes and a decent pair of boots. Now — as we watch the Pugetopolis population climb eastward and up the hills — we understand and appreciate the notion of green space in ways that we never did before.

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Proof that I’m losing it

November 1, 2012

Although my face and body show the full effects of having lived for 62 years, I like to think that my brain is akin to that of a 20-year-old: resilient, fast, pliable, my neurons still covered with plenty of fatty insulation and firing on all cylinders.

Those who know me well are laughing out loud as they read this because they’ve been witness to my fuzzy nerve endings and resultant misfires for years, and my actions at a recent business meeting finally made me face the fact that I no longer have the gray matter of a youngster, although I do still have plenty of fatty insulation, unfortunately none of it attached to neurotransmitters inside my skull.

Case in point: The Sainted One and I traveled to Eastern Washington to talk to a business owner about helping them sell their company. The owner’s wife/partner was at the initial meeting, and as we got acquainted she said that she was very familiar with Whidbey Island where we’d had a second home because of the work she did picking up partridge there to bring to Eastern Washington for a company called “Feel Free to ….”

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Breaking from the pack

October 4, 2012

I’m originally from the Midwest, where people travel in packs. An example: When the Seattle family vacationed in Quincy, Ill., a few years ago, Aunt Joan and her extended family took us out for dinner at a pizza and beer joint on a hectic Friday night. When we arrived, she asked a harried waitress for a table for 23. Seriously.

When I questioned the wisdom of that, she said that she wanted to make sure that everyone felt included, even though this meant that we wouldn’t be seated for three hours and that some of my tablemates would actually be in Missouri and I would only be able to converse with them if I had binoculars and a bullhorn.

We’re planning another family trip to Quincy this fall, and with it will come the feeling that I’m part of a never-ending census-taking process, one that I consistently fail as I attempt to slip through the counting bonds and sprint from the pack to freedom. If I leave a room without announcing my intentions, all eyes will follow me even if that room is filled with a roiling mass of cousins and their children and their children’s children. Aunt Joan will call out to ask me where I’m going, and if gone for more than 15 minutes, the alarm will go out: Where’s Pat?

There may have originally been an excellent reason for this mentality. Out on the prairies in the 1800s it would have been critical to keep count, because if Jonathon went out in a howling snowstorm, it made sense to ask “Where are you going?” or “Why isn’t he back yet?” because there are probably some Jonathons who tragically lost their way while heading out to the barn to milk the family cow.

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Laughing all the way – I’m hacked

September 6, 2012

About a month ago, my email address was hacked and used for nefarious purposes. It wouldn’t be fair to publicly rake my email provider over the coals since it was later reported that three other providers had been compromised as well, but I will admit that when I opened my inbox and saw what was happening, I said, “Hey. Oh hell.”

Then came the alerts from helpful friends letting me know that it looked like I’d been hacked, because they had received emails from my address with no verbiage in the subject line and only a suspicious hyperlink in the body. I tried to stem the digital bleed by sending out an email to my entire address book telling people to ignore it. That act was only marginally successful, and I was buried with ominous MAILER DAEMON messages into the night, advising me that these people or addresses no longer existed.

I get these kinds of emails from friends all the time, and I simply ignore them. I’ve come to believe that most folks are fairly Internet savvy and realize that if Aunt Maude in Peoria, who usually asks for the latest baby pictures and provides a list of the recently deceased in exchange, sends an email and it only shows a link that includes the words “babes+boobs” in it … well, then something is afoot and it’s probably not really an email from Aunt Maude in Peoria after all.

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The Frugal Olympics

August 2, 2012

It occurred to me the other day — as I methodically scraped peanut butter out of a jar that most people would’ve thrown away several sandwiches ago — that if there was a Frugal Olympics, I could win a gold medal. Except the medal wouldn’t be gold. It would be made from saved tin foil and ribbon from last Christmas.

My mother was my trainer in thrift: Scraps of material could become a braided rag rug. Clothing and socks could be mended. Soap could be used until it was so small that it was in danger of being inadvertently lost in a body cavity. She never tore into a wrapped gift with abandon, because if one was careful, the paper could be used again. And again. And speaking of paper, it has two surfaces, which means that Mother’s recipes have stories from the past on the backs of them: mid-century letters from her mother, church bulletins and school announcements.

As we explained Mother’s child-of-the-Depression prudence at her funeral, my sister Susie held up a rubber band ball that we’d found while clearing out her kitchen drawers. Why buy a rubber band new, Mother believed, when they could be saved and re-used? Susie accidently lost her grip on it, and the ball fell from the podium and bounced across the floor towards the attendees, spewing dust and spent, wimpy rubber strips all the way.

That reminded me of my mother’s mother (the Obi Wan Kenobi of Frugality) who always walked us through the neighborhood cemetery when we visited her. While there, we got the free thrill of viewing the fenced burial sites where hair-raising explanations for group extinction were carved in granite (and really, what child far from home doesn’t want to read about 21 innocent school kids perishing in a roaring classroom fire?) As payment for this thrill, we were forced to collect the rubber bands that careless newsboys had dropped while wrapping their papers.

True to my bloodline, I re-use foil if meats haven’t previously been involved with it, I scrape jars, I take the useless pump out of the lotion and shake out the unreachable balance, I print on the back of my Simon & Schuster Royalty Statements (it’s all parenthetical numbers anyhow), I nuke stale oyster crackers to crisp them, and as I brush my teeth, I mourn the fact that the old toothpaste tubes were stiffer and stronger, making it possible to more efficiently squeeze out the last precious dollop of paste.

Nature, or nurture? Genetic or learned? I’m not sure, but I know that when I win that medal in the Frugal Olympics, I’ll proudly fasten it on the workout suit that I’ve worn for the past five years using the straight pin that I kept from the corsage that The Sainted One gave me for my 47th birthday as I play “The Star-Spangled Banner” on our record player.

That’s right. You heard me: record player. I am soooo gonna win this!


You can reach Pat Detmer, who has also won a silver in Lazy Gardening, at 

Olympus: Home of the Gods and Other Folks

July 3, 2012

In 1987, the average American home sold for $125,000 and you could drive to it in your $6,895 Ford Escort filled with gas that cost 89 cents a gallon. Televangelist Jim Bakker, who established the Praise the Lord network (broadcast acronym: PTL, later dubbed “Pass the Loot”) was embroiled in a scandal. News about the Iran-Contra Affair filled the airways. The Dow dropped 508 points on a day that became known as “Black Monday.” It was enough to make you want to take Prozac, and luckily enough, Prozac had just been introduced to a willing Gosh-I-didn’t-even-know-I-needed-that public.

When my little sister Barb was in high school, the hill I live on was in unincorporated King County and was covered with alder, traced with jeep trails and littered with abandoned mattresses. She tells me that this is where local high school kids drank and made out. She knew about it, but never went there herself. Or so she says.

Not long after Barb didn’t go up into the hills, The Sainted One and I did. We were into orienteering at the time, and one Saturday we registered and drew our map at what is now Renton Academy, and then hiked on trails that took us up into the hills. We found one of the control point flags a hundred yards west of where we now live. We noted the fresh bulldozed trails and the tree trunks X’d with paint and wondered what was in the offing.

It was Olympus that was in the offing, and we end up moving here almost 22 years ago.

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Funny stories that have found no home

May 31, 2012

Because Dana The Cartoonist asked that I write May’s column the day after I turned in April’s column because he was taking a trip to Italy and would need it to create his cartoon, I am opting for speed over creativity and providing you with a list of funny stuff that I’ve saved over the years but has yet to find a home in print:

— My sister Barb was at a junior high school parent/teacher conference for her son. He tagged along, and as Barb was talking to the teacher, he paced back and forth outside the classroom window, throwing worried looks into the room. He had good reason to be worried. He’s bright, but could be disruptive in class, always with the intention of making everybody laugh. But the teacher recognized that he was special, and said that she loved having him as a student.

Barb nodded toward her fidgeting, nervous son. “The next time he comes to the window,” she said to the teacher, “look very concerned and worried as you talk to me.” The teacher played along, and when Zack stopped for a look, Barb knitted her brow, opened her mouth in mock horror, dropped her face into her hands and pretended to sob.

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In defense of The Electric Slide

May 3, 2012

By the time you read this, I will have married my daughter.

Please do not call the Vice Squad! What I should say instead is that I will have been the officiant at her wedding. This will be my first gig, although The Sainted One has been in high demand ever since he married Newcastle Niece last year.

We can be sure of several things: Someone will cry, the bride and/or groom will get tongue-tied while repeating their vows, one of the groomsmen will have too much to drink, small children will prance and spin on the dance floor, and my two sisters and I will do The Electric Slide.


Some people hate The Electric Slide. I have a girlfriend who so detested it that she declared a ban at her reception, but it broke out anyway. (Note to wedding planners: If you don’t want attendees doing The Electric Slide, it might be a good idea to ask your disc jockey to refrain from playing the song “The Electric Slide.”)

There was no line dancing in my Illinois youth, although there was plenty of high-stepping at big oompah-pah family weddings where if you weren’t careful, you might be suffocated by the soft beer bellies of great uncles as they held tight during a polka turn. You could also end up dancing with a broom, but I don’t remember the criteria for being so chosen. I always assumed that this was a German custom, but everything that I’ve read about brooms and dancing at weddings defines it as either African-American or Cajun in tradition, making me wonder once again at the true nature of my heritage, something I’ve pondered before while gazing at childhood pictures of me that appear to have been lifted from a National Geographic article about the lost tribes of the Amazon.

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Words escape me

April 5, 2012

I consider myself a wordsmith, and yet when speaking, appropriate words leave me as often as a brainless Twitter post leaves a Kardashian. In my gray matter — and I’ll admit to periodic synapse misfires up there — if an object name does not fit the thing that it refers to, then the word simply does not exist in my world.

This might explain why I’ve called flashlights “fire hammers” for the past 20 years, although I’m not sure why I decided that “fire hammer” made more sense.

It’s possible that this propensity is genetic, because my mother fumbled for words as well. She didn’t create new words like I do; she just used “doomaflidger” for anything that she couldn’t remember, from safety pins to car batteries.

She also called slippers “pusskins,” claiming that it was a word derived in part from our German heritage. As a result, we all use “pusskins” to this day, even though a trip to the Internet underbelly on a definition search has convinced me that it’s a good time to look for a substitute.

It also used to make me crazy when Mother would tell a story and find it necessary to verbally scroll through the name of every acquaintance she’d had since 1947 to get to the right person, i.e., “So then Carol said … I think it was Carol. No. Deborah. Anne. Barb? Sue? Christa?”

Listening to her in my 30s, I would feign drooling and rolling my eyes back in my head while promising myself that I would jump off the nearest cliff if I ever got that bad.

Well, guess what? I am now 61 and should probably avoid any hikes up DeLeo Wall.

These thoughts occur to me because when we had the family over for dinner the other day, something was spilled on the floor and I said that I had to go to the garage and retrieve the “swipinta.” What’s a “swipinta?”

Well, for some reason, the words “dust” and “pan” together have just never worked for me. Rarely is it dust that you’re sweeping up, and the thing never looked like a “pan” to me, so it became the “sweep-into,” and then shortened and morphed into “swipinta.”

And if that’s not bad enough, I often forget the name for the broom (it was, briefly, the “indoor rake”) so the broom periodically becomes the “swipinta with.”

When I started writing this column, I thought these slips were pretty funny. But re-reading it, I’m feeling a little uneasy and wonder if it’s time for me to make an appointment for a trip through a people silver tube radar thing.

You know what I mean … that patient tube scanner X-ray doohickey? The one that takes indoor pictures of your skull?

You know: The doomaflidger.

Reach Pat Detmer — whose husband The Sainted One claims to understand every verbal aberration that she’s ever come up with — at

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