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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Just say no

October 4, 2013

I hate shopping. I have never understood the joys of just looking for the sake of looking. The Sainted One and I only go to stores when we’re ready to buy, and in those cases, the process is a snap for the seller because we already know what we want and come prepared to spend. If there was a way to physically mark us as easy buyers — like back in the Depression when hobos would mark the homes of friendly people who would give them food — salespeople would kill themselves and each other to get to us first when we walk through the door. But shopping for clothing, shoes, accessories, tchotchkes, I’m just not into it as a sport.

Ignoring my better judgment, I recently weakened and accepted an invitation to a personal shopping event in Newcastle. For the uninitiated, a home owner throws a party with drinks and food, a clothing representative brings a wardrobe so you can view and try on the pieces, and then you can order items that are shipped to you later. It was a beautiful night in a beautiful home with an expansive view, both of my sisters were there (a situation that often leads to all manner of excess) and did I mention that there was alcohol? I went too far. I admit it.

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I got a BUI. Buying Under the Influence.   Read more

Old habits die hard

August 30, 2013

Recently I had my nails done for the first time ever, but because of a Midwestern grade school background that included lots of nuns, it was most likely a one-time event.

I’ve long been a devotee of what I call “Nun Nails”: short, clean and unadorned, like those of my Catholic grade school teachers. My schoolmates and I had innocent crushes on the young parish priests, but the nuns were regarded with an anxious mixture of fear, respect, fascination, fear and fear.


My holier-than-thou friends and I spent lots of time hanging around the church campus. Every Saturday we’d ride our bikes to the rectory where we would spend all morning folding the Sunday bulletins, and after school on Monday we would be there again, tasked with opening the Sunday collection envelopes and marking the weekly tithe in a massive leather-bound book that weighed almost as much as my Catholic guilt.

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Laughing all the way: The joy of flight

August 1, 2013

We’ll be heading back to the Midwest around Labor Day so that we can attend my 45th high school reunion. As a precaution, we’re reacquainting ourselves with correctly answering the raft of pre-flight questions they throw you when you check in.

We thought it was time for a review due to the fact that my sister Susie recently became a security threat. At work and doing at least a dozen other things at the same time, she decided to check in for her flight online. She breezed through the questions without much thought, and when the page came up asking if she’d packed any guns, explosives or sharp objects, she checked “Yes.” As if anyone who’s packing that kind of stuff would reveal it!


But let me warn you: Once you’ve checked “Yes” to a question like that, hitting the “Back” button will do you about as much good as lying about your weight and age when you program an elliptical machine at the Y. Luckily my sister is a frequent flier, but it still took special time and effort before she was allowed to board with her heavy, weapon-laden suitcase.

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Dance like no one’s watching except Jack

July 5, 2013

I love to dance, but I’m only proficient on my own. I was the eldest of three sisters and took the male lead when we taught ourselves how to Jitterbug or Waltz as kids, thus ruining it for The Sainted One and anyone else who has tried to move me about the floor without resistance. When I was in high school, stand-alones were the rage — the Twist, the Frug, the Jerk — and when a slow song came on, it was sufficient to drape your arms around your date’s neck and shuffle side-to-side. So my enthusiasm for dance is a solo thing. I find solace in The Electric Slide.

To feed my love of movement, I take Zumba at the Y twice a week. I take the daytime “Gold” version, tamer than the nighttime sessions but still a challenge: Sixty minutes of nonstop movement, steps, pivots, arm waving, dipping and twirling. One thing I’ve noticed after years of attending is that young children are mesmerized by our sessions. It’s difficult for parents to pull their charges down the hallway once they’ve heard the music and spotted us through the wide gym doors. Their little bodies begin to sway and their feet and arms move as they attempt to mimic our choreography.

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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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