March 5, 2014
I don’t consider myself to be unlucky, but I also don’t think of myself as someone who wins a lot. In fact the only thing that I can remember winning was in grade school: an Easter bunny cake that the nuns raffled off to benefit poor people in China. I was thrilled when my name was chosen, but less thrilled when I realized what a month on display in the sunshine atop the radiator does to a bunny cake. The coconut fur was the consistency of steel wool, and you needed a circular saw to carve yourself a piece.
In time I became familiar with defeat, and always attempted to be gracious and magnanimous, so I feel especially comfortable in Seattle, the bridesmaid but never the bride, close but no cigar, loud but no Lombardi. The Sonics left, the Mariners disappoint and the Seahawks … well, the Seahawks …
February 6, 2014
When we moved to Olympus almost 24 years ago, our Good Neighbors to the South (the GNS) were already ensconced in their brand new home. Randomly Loud Son was a toddler, and Lovely Daughter was yet to be born. And sometime in the early 2000s, there was another addition: a puppy, a black Corgi mixed with Some Other Brand. His name was Lenny.
Lenny was the only dog in a string of three homes that included the GNS, ourselves and the GNN (Good Neighbors to the North.) He was generally a benign addition. I can’t remember ever chasing him from the yard, or replacing an upended plant or shoveling up his leavings.
January 2, 2014
During the holidays, I make pies. When my mother — an excellent baker — passed away, I inherited Christmas Eve and pies. I don’t how that happened, but my sisters are nearly as useless as I am when it comes to food and domesticity, so it may be that as the eldest I felt a misplaced sense of responsibility.
Knowing that we all sucked at it, 20 years ago we videotaped Mother in the kitchen making pies. I transcribed the session after the fact so that we would have 3×5 recipe cards for reference. In doing so, I literally wrote out exactly what Mom said as she did her demo, thinking it funny and assuming that we would remember what it meant. “After adding the water,” she said (and I carefully hand-printed on the cards) “Go like this.” The videotape has long been lost, and so whatever “this” is has been lost as well.
November 12, 2013
Long ago, our fraternal grandmother told us that our great-great-great-grandfather was the famous Cherokee Yellow Bird. Of course she also told us that my grandfather discovered radar but that his secrets were stolen, which explained why there were no statues of him in the town square.
That should have put me on my guard, but I craved a more exciting background than the one provided by our known German/English heritage, which was filled with brewery workers and pattern-makers and was as boring as sturdy shoes and white bread.
June 6, 2013
I am a sucker for a lemonade stand. If I spot one, I’ll buy a glass. Rarely do I drink it all. I’m generally not a fan of lemonade unless there’s alcohol involved, but I stop anyway because I know that in doing so I’m aiding a budding sales representative or a nascent entrepreneur, and I also know that someone in the house behind the stand was brave enough to suggest it and to allow a sticky mess in the kitchen, much like my mother did when we were young.
Had my mother been born in a different time, she might have been the CEO of a corporation. She was a natural, and she taught us much of what we know today about sales and marketing. She continued those lessons with my nephew Zack, now in his early 20s. He had his first lemonade stand at her house when he was 4 years old, and she put him through her patented Lemonade Stand Boot Camp.
She gave Zack the same instructions that we had been given in our youth: Be polite. Smile. Look people in the eye. Speak distinctly. Take care with sanitation.
May 1, 2013
It’s now legal if you only have an ounce of it, but if you ask Grace Stiller, there’s weed everywhere: noxious and invasive English ivy and Himalayan blackberries and Japanese knotweed, to name just a few that you might recognize. Grace and her group — The Newcastle Weed Warriors — have been taking a stand against these nuisances in the local woods for years. If you’ve visited the Newcastle Cemetery when they’ve had the gates open, you can thank them for clearing it of ivy and restoring the natural habitat.
I noticed a knotweed patch in our backyard greenbelt last year and contacted Grace for help. She pointed me in the right direction, and King County personnel came out and killed it. It’s hardy stuff, though, and she’s urged me to keep my eyes peeled for shoots. If you think you have a knotweed infestation but aren’t sure, go to www.newcastleweedwarriors.org, where you can view pictures of patches and see what her group is up to. It’s not the ugliest plant that you’ll ever see, but it’s one of the most insidious. Don’t let its heart-shaped leaves, sprays of white flowers and bobbing habit seduce you. This plant is not our friend.
I didn’t spot any stands of weeds on a recent hike that The Sainted One and I took, trying out the soon-to-be-completed May Creek Trail extension. We’d hiked the western part of the trail before (or “run” it, if you want to include the amble that we did at the back of the Newcastle 5K pack last year.) The new segments were charming, with bubbling streams, a footbridge and supporting rockwork. Going East to West, the first part is all downhill, but the uphill was made manageable by gentle switchbacks and well-placed viewpoints.
Through the Newcastle Trails organization, Peggy Price and the members and volunteers have carved out this trail and many others that we all enjoy. Or should enjoy. If you’ve not muddied up your tennis shoes lately, I suggest that you go to newcastletrails.org, print out a map and put some local miles on.
After Dennis Yarnell passed away, I wrote an article about what makes a place. Peggy and Grace and their members and volunteers make this place as well. When you pass a weed-free open space or walk to downtown Newcastle on a trail, think of Grace and Peggy and the people who work with them.
And please note that I once spent a morning with Peggy working on the northern terminus of the Olympus Trail, so you can think of me as well when you walk on that, but only for a nanosecond.
You can reach Pat Detmer — who hates a bad weed and loves a good trail — at firstname.lastname@example.org.
April 4, 2013
Most women who write humor columns provide stereotypical and mildly negative monikers for their husbands — like Beer Boy or Garage Man or He Who Eats and Burps — but when I started writing columns it was hard for me to come up with a nickname for my husband Fred because there’s so little to complain about. I finally settled on The Sainted One because that’s what he is: a patient, forgiving man who has learned to live with someone who is not always as patient and forgiving as he is.
The name stuck, so much so that once when I introduced Fred at a book-signing on Whidbey Island, a man shook his hand and said, “Fred? And here I always thought your first name was The.” Just a few weeks ago, a reader recognized me in the Palm Springs Airport and asked if that was The Sainted One at my side.
February 28, 2013
Newcastle has been our home for 22 years, and if you drew a 5-mile diameter circle with our house at the center, it would encompass all of the services and recreation that our lives require: medical center, dentist, groceries, the Y, car mechanic, restaurants. We brag to friends about how quickly we can be in downtown Seattle or at the airport, or how close we are to wilderness if we head in the other direction.
But something occurred recently that reminded me of what truly makes a place special. It’s the people: the folks who check you out at the store, the restaurant owners who greet you, the waitresses who seat you, the librarian proud to be in a new home, the faces you see again and again as you go about the business of living. When you’ve been in one place for a long time, these human beings become woven into the fabric of your life, and in early February, that fabric was torn.
January 31, 2013
It entered the house on Christmas Eve. There were 19 possible carriers. I’m betting on the baby. We ate, we drank, we hugged, we kissed, we exchanged gifts and germs, and then went out and infected everyone else we knew as well.
We were sick for a week and a half and then went back to work, congratulating ourselves on our general hardiness. Then, we relapsed. This time, it took us down like a pride of starving lions takes down a feeble wildebeest. Gone was a long-planned trip to Palm Springs, our appetites, our ability to breathe, our dignity and any misguided notion that we had control of anything in life. This is what I learned:
- You can lose weight on an I-Can’t-Taste-Anything, Food-Has-Lost-Its-Meaning Diet, but I wouldn’t advise it.
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: