Laughing all the way – Life of Pie

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.

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Giving a spit

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.

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Lemonade, Inc.

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.

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Weeds & Trails

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.

DetmerColumn 20130500I 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, 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, 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


Can you hear me now?

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.

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What makes a place

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.

File Dennis Yarnell and Beth Widseth, the owners of the Newcastle Shell, organized the station’s first golf tournament in 2012 to raise money for U.S. military veterans and the Fisher House Foundation.

Dennis Yarnell and Beth Widseth, the owners of the Newcastle Shell, organized the station’s first golf tournament in 2012 to raise money for U.S. military veterans and the Fisher House Foundation.

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.

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Laughing all the way

January 31, 2013

Les Miserables

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.

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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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