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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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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