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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com.
March 2, 2012
The Sainted One is our official Family Cook, and when I say “Family Cook,” I don’t mean just for me. I also mean for Newcastle Niece and The Sainted One Jr., my stepkids and grandkids, and both my sisters and their families.
As Family Cook, he is so respected that his Christmas Eve Spicy Turkey Lasagna recipe has been presented to the hotel chef where my stepdaughter is being married so that it can be replicated for the wedding dinner.
As a bystander to this and in my defense, my mother never insisted that cooking was something that we needed to learn, either for attracting men or for our own pleasure.
While recently comparing notes with my sisters, we remember that my mother never seemed to enjoy her time in the kitchen. There was always a grim set to her lips while she cooked, and she bore an attitude of duty versus a sense of fun.
We still harbor visions of her tenderizing meat with the side of a plate, her left hand on her hip, her actions fast and furious, as if she was going for her Black Belt in Round Steak. You could hear her pounding it into submission from anywhere within a three-block area, and we generally watched her do it from a safe distance.
As sister Susie has since said, “Who needs Prozac when you have a piece of cheap meat and plate?”
So we are a perfect team at Chez Fred: I take the dinner reservations, seat people, make the salad, and provide dessert and comic relief.
February 3, 2012
Several years ago I exchanged a series of letters with Patrick McManus, a humorist who has been writing very funny stuff for a long, long time. In one of the letters, I asked him why it was that magazines and newspapers were generally leery of publishing humorous essays. His response was that humor frightened most editors because it’s so subjective. (A moment of appreciative silence for fearless Newcastle News Editor Kathleen Merrill.)
It makes me wonder: Where does a sense of humor come from, anyway? Is it genetic? I can’t say that my parents were laugh-out-loud funny, but the legacy that they left indicates a predilection to the comic. My father was often transferred and promoted, so we sometimes moved to a new city before we even had a chance to memorize our latest address and phone number. My sisters and I were forced to create a self-sustaining, insular social model so that when we moved to the next strange place, at least we had each other. Maybe that kind of familiarity breeds either contempt or a sense of humor to combat it.
The first time I realized that I was considered amusing was when I was in the seventh grade. Our assignment was to give a five-minute speech on any subject. I wrote about the space between my teeth (no longer existent) and how it made it easier to spit out watermelon seeds, and I included a poem about my two little sisters being irritating and loveable at the same time.
It was not that big a deal to me, just another homework assignment. When I presented it, the waves of laughter shocked me. More shocking was the fact that the nuns made me do it again and again in front of every class in the school. It was my first tour, and what I loved the most was getting out of seventh grade assignments to allow for it.
All of these musings regarding the origin of humor came to mind when my sister Susie Detmer was chosen for a Seattle version of “Dancing With the Stars.” It’s a benefit to combat homelessness put on by the Plymouth Housing Group. Each amateur dancer’s interview was posted on their website, and I’ll guarantee you that my sister’s answer to this question didn’t look like anyone else’s:
Why are you dancing for Plymouth Housing Group? I should say I am dancing because Plymouth Housing Group is a terrific cause. While that is the case, truth be told I would dance for Bernie Madoff’s defense fund if it meant I could learn to dance with a pro.
You can reach Pat Detmer — who really is Laughing All The Way — at firstname.lastname@example.org.
January 6, 2012
Twenty years ago, people thought that “El Niño” or “La Niña” were competing brands of bean dip or the companion ships to the Santa Maria, but in this weather-savvy world that we live in today, we know that El Niño (literal translation: “The Boy”) and La Niña (literal translation: “No Sunshine for Five Months”) are weather disruptions.
I am a creature of the sun, so I am mightily affected by the lack of it. I’m not a sun-tanner or worshiper, but I do naturally rise in the morning at the earliest hint of light, and I find the need to climb into bed as the sun fades, which means that in December I’m in bed around 3:55 p.m.
To help me through these dark times, I bought a 10,000 Lux S.A.D light. “S.A.D.” stands for “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” which means that if you don’t get enough brightness in your day, you may do things like snap at your better half even if his nickname is “The Sainted One.” I bought this box years ago, pre-digital age, and it’s the size of a suitcase. I saw a new one recently on a friend’s desk, and it was the size of a ham sandwich and looked like it was designed by Apple™.
Based on the size of my light alone, I should be ecstatic.
December 1, 2011
When I was 5 years old, I took tap-dancing lessons, and at 12 I sang Gregorian chants in the Catholic church choir. At 14, I taught myself how to play guitar, and at 17 I used that guitar with my singing group — The She Bops — when we were on stage in high school or on TV trying to win the Davenport, Iowa, version of Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour.
I once called in sick and went to the Seattle Center, location of a national barbershop quartet conference, just in the hopes that some spontaneous singing might break out. My mother and two sisters and I could produce some pretty decent four-part harmony ourselves, and my step-daughter (brave child) has asked the Detmer sisters and Newcastle niece to sing “Going to the Chapel” at her wedding in April.