Highlands Three-hour Shopping Spree

The months following the opening of the Grand Ridge Plaza retail stores were filled with relief and exploration. After breathing, “Phew, there are finally some stores here!” I followed that with, “Is Ulta a front for a money laundering operation? That’s a lot of square footage for lip liner.” My first visit inside, though, was a magical experience. I discovered that “ta-da!” music accompanied me down every aisle and French faeries waved their “Voila” wands at every display. It was maquillage magnificence. My awe did not fade upon exiting Ulta, and only continued to swell in European proportions at Opal, Francesca’s and Marshall’s-Home Goods. After fully acquainting myself with Highlands haute couture, and marveling how I could spend many hours meandering in and out of these new shops, I got to thinking how my familShopping in the Highlandsy members would spend a day in Grand Ridge Plaza. Certainly not browsing blouses nor fixating on hair accessories.

It wasn’t until a month ago when sending my 14-year-old to get a haircut and run errands on his own did I suddenly realize that the stores I’m drawn to are at polar opposite to what my other family members would be drawn to. I know that sounds incredible dense. Of course a teenaged boy wouldn’t want to ogle bangles and peruse draperies, but when you’re holding the pocketbook you have a majority stake in saying where it’s spent. I decided to be open-minded and take a Curtis household poll on how we would spend three hours of retail shopping and entertainment in the Highlands. Here are the poll results.

Let’s go by seniority and begin with Glenn, my husband. His response included starting with a quick bite at Chinoise, selecting fresh Hawaiian poke rolls followed by a kick with the Red Dragon. Afterward Glenn would pop into the theater to see a movie. Next, having burned off the sushi as a result of a high-octane action flick, he would be peckish again. A Jimmy John’s sub would satisfy that craving, he said. Twenty more minutes left on the clock. A quick peek into @td curran for “electronics, gizmos and very important items for work”…or was it “important items, electronics, and gizmos for work”? I can’t remember. Now comes the part where I ask all the dermatologist-readers to avert their eyes. Glenn would polish off his three-hour spree in the Highlands at Seattle Sun Tan – source of skin cancer for some, but intense warmth and Zen-level relaxation for others. It’s his 10-minute Tahiti.

Descending in age we come to Jack next. Any visit to Marshall’s-Home Goods on his list? Nope. His lineup resembles that of his dad, though he would start with Zeeks pizza first, then proceed to a movie, Jimmy John’s, and he’d polish off his three hours at Ben & Jerry’s. Not to deviate from the family trend, Ryan would also go to see a movie, but he’d start off his three-hour-tour at MOD pizza and build in some quality time at Dick’s with its daring display of weekday- and weekend-warrior apparel and accessories. The final cherry on top for Ryan would be a quick zip up the hill to TCBY for a custom fro-yo superstructure.

Not surprisingly, if given our choice on how to spend three hours having a retail experience in the Highlands, the four of us would rarely merge or overlap. That’s an important revelation when it comes time to shopping for the holidays. Since three out of four Curtises would be miserable if I dragged them all into my favorite stores to shop for gifts, I need to economize the shopping list by parsing out the errands to the individual who is most drawn toward a certain store. Shoppers who are equipped with affinity and interest are more likely to score the perfect present than those who are dragging their heels. Who do I send to BevMo for party concoctions and decanters? (Probably not the minors, of course.) I’d elect Glenn for that libational duty. Who should I send to pick up cell phone bling for the cousins? Definitely not me, but I suspect some dazzling selections could be made by my two sons. This December, perhaps you’ll consider a divide-and-conquer holiday shopping experience for everyone’s pleasure and convenience.


The Holiday Shuffle

It’s come to that time of year when the Curtis household starts booking travel plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Now you’re thinking, “Isn’t it a bit late for that? You should have booked your airfare back in September if you wanted to fly for less than a fortune and a headache!” Yeah, yeah, but these holidays are sculpted with a heavy layer of planning, and then waiting to be told what to do by my older sister, the Master Strategist. The Plan actually involves six households, spread out across four states, with annual reciprocal visiting arrangements, no repetition of the previous year, and a large amount of whimsy. Holiday travel season is chess and Boggle, with an intermission dance called the Holiday Shuffle.

Holiday shuffle

If we lived two centuries ago, there would be a higher likelihood that the holidays would look like this: Pack the plucked pheasant into a gunny sack, make the kids carry two baskets of fresh-baked bread, have grandma carry the plum pie, and make a procession to the other side of town where Julie’s family and in-laws all reside under one roof. No aneurysm over plane ticket pricing, no car rental grief, just dodging puddles and trying to keep the kids clean while traversing from one thatched-roof home to another.  The feast will have have succeeded in gathering two sets of grandparents, two sets of parents, and their offspring, all without Expedia, plane de-icing, and long car rides. Six units under one roof in less than 20 minutes.

So, why is gathering for the holidays so much more strategic and mindboggling nowadays? Well, there was a very entertaining and informative thread that appeared on the Highlands Facebook page the other month that touched on this topic tangentially. The initial prompt was a question phrased about why there are so many nanny requests posted on Facebook. The question was posed in a very neutral tone of “hey, let’s discuss, because I’m seeing an increasing trend in people asking for babysitters”. Despite the way the question was phrased, everyone knew it was a hot-button topic and piled onto the thread, got popcorn and a 6-pack, and let the flurry of emotion begin. Eighty-five comments later the thread eventually wore down, but nestled in that thread were some gems of reality.

Let’s bridge these two topics together: the increase in childcare requests, and managing holiday travel. They’re very much related. Remember our pheasant-carrying family that dodged puddles and walked across the village to have a feast with Aunt Julie’s family? Well, they benefitted from proximity – something that most of us lack in the Highlands. Having three generations, and six family units within walking distance is about as rare as winning the lottery on a full moon. In the olden golden days we benefitted from having aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and in-laws all within a stone’s throw of each other (from a trebuchet…and perhaps that family strife did occur too, but that’s another Facebook topic). One of the thread contributors pointed out that since the fall of the agrarian society and the rise of industrialism, the multigenerational households have diminished, nuclear families have moved away to follow jobs, single-parent families are on the rise, and these small family groups are now spread out all across the world. It’s hard to call up grandma in Perth and have her come over and pick up Johnny from Grand Ridge. Making childcare arrangements occupies a significant amount of time throughout the Highlands because we all don’t have our extended family available at the drop of a hat. For many of us, making holiday arrangements takes the same amount diligence and forethought as childcare.

Thankfully, the Curtis household has three family units living within 20 miles of one another, but there’s still my father in California to make arrangements for, and my sister’s family in Texas who is dependent on her husband’s family plans in Wisconsin. That’s where the Boggle game begins with a loud shake of the pieces within and a random shuffling of the family contents each year. Dad to Houston for Thanksgiving, Curtis Jr. & Sr. households to Bludworths in Snoqualmie, Curtis Jr. and Cerveny Sr. family to Houston for Christmas, which means California Dobel has to go to Houston…wait, that won’t work, he’s already gone to Houston for Thanksgiving… And so goes the Holiday Shuffle!

November Connections

The Tell-tale Blossom

It’s a little known fact that the Issaquah Highlands is teeming with mischief and romance for this October edition I’d like to channel a little Edgar Allen Poe and sprinkle it with Harlequin Romance. This story is pulsing with heart-stopping idioms that will make you groan and roll your eyes. Percy had his heart set on a lady who lived in Ashford Park. Annabel had a heart of gold, but she was blind to the existence of this gentle Software Test Engineer whom his coworkers would describe as “a bit quirky but always having his heart in the right place.” Her daily descent off the 554 bus at 5:41pm was always followed by the lone walk up NE High Street…or at least she thought she was alone. Percy descended the Connector bus at 5:37pm each day pinning his hopes on Annabel’s timely arrival. Her steady-paced ascent up the sidewalk was met with a rising heartbeat as step after step she closed in on her duplex.

Percy knew Annabel’s route home by heart. For an entire week he had followed her from a distance, not wanting to bring attention to himself, yet hoping to catch her response to his gifts. Each morning on his way to the bus stop he placed a crimson geranium on Annabel’s front steps, embellished with a ribbon around the pot. Each evening her steps were empty, he observed, as he delayed his passage in front of her house after she shut the front door. He had hoped that maybe she would display her accumulated flowers in recognition of a secret admirer, in appreciation of the gesture, but each day the steps were empty and the porch had nothing but an Adirondack chair on display.

Percy knew Annabel loved geraniums. He discovered her adoration for this velvety plant by accident last week when he missed his Connector bus and ended up on the 554. Sitting across the aisle from him was a lovely young woman who couldn’t take her eyes off the potted plant in her lap. A plastic Fred Meyer bag swaddled her new charge and she gazed at it for the duration of the commute. Seven days later Percy stood on the sidewalk feeling a bit broken hearted that his secret daily deliveries went unacknowledged.

Saturday morning Percy rose early and purchased his eighth red geranium plant – hoping this would elicit a response. He carefully tied the pink satin bow so that it was snug around the plastic rim and gently placed it on the fourth step of her geraniumstairs. Then he retreated across the street to wait in his car. With half an eye on Annabel’s doorstep and the rest of his gaze on his hands he played out scenarios in his head of her reaction to the flowers. How she would swoon, or say, “Bless his heart!” – but Percy reminded himself of his anonymity. Disgusted with his daydreams he reached for his car keys but then stopped. Out of the corner of his eye he caught a movement in front of the duplex. Could it be Annabel? Serene eyes and delicate eyelashes glanced his way but this was not the object of his desire. A graceful four-legged creature swung away its head from Percy and leaned over the fourth step. In one nonchalant bite the deer nipped off the red blossom and began to chew. At that same moment Percy leaped out of his car and shouted at the thief, but he paused when his eyes met Annabel’s, who had flung open her front door to the sound of Percy’s yell. The deer leaped over the shrub and scampered across the neighbor’s lawn. The man and woman were left staring at each other with sheepish grins. “Are you the one with the special deliveries?” Percy made a half-hearted attempt to explain his position, but Annabel smiled and beckoned him up to the porch. She led Percy around the side of the duplex and through a gate where she paused and gestured at a planter box filled with seven bloomless geraniums, and his heart skipped a beat. “I was heartbroken seeing your gifts gobbled up by the deer while I was at work. Maybe they’ll grow back.” Percy responded, “You stole my heart the first time I saw you on the 554.” Annabel smiled in return and said, “You’re a man after my own heart.”

Oct Connections

Read on page 25 in Highlands Connections



The concept of childhood is a relatively recent one in the past 100 years or so. With a few exceptions since the industrialized era, we’ve created a cultural expectation that children under the age of 15 should indulge in long periods of leisure time without much responsibility, schedule, or hard work. We now raise our children to spend their summers exploring, experiencing and getting lost in thought, more than laboring in drudgery. In general, apart from some perfunctory chores like unloading the dishwasher, running some loads of laundry, making beds and caring for the family pet, kids don’t spend their summertime working to feed hungry mouths. In the Highlands, however, summertime is spent feeding hungry minds.
If I went door-to-door in my neighborhood and asked what kinds of activities parents lined up for their kids the past few months, there would be reports of pool memberships, vacations with the grandparents, and Science Camp. I would find an assortment of leisure activities paired with educational activities. In place of mucking stalls or picking crops on a farm, kids are learning HTML and marine biology. Twelve-year-olds are more likely to be found logging on to an online Spanish course instead of chopping logs for firewood. Highland parents seem to waste no time finding activities that bring fun and learning together in ways that will hopefully benefit their children’s development and future. We all know our darlings are capable of whiling away the summer toggling between Xbox and Netflix (pushing every parent’s buttons in the meantime), and wasting every brain cell lodged between their ears. Some would say our culture has had enough of long luxurious childhood summers and would prefer to return to an era of minimal idle time. Some would claim that we have overindulged several generations of children who grew up to be lazy and unprepared young adults. Will it be that within the next generation our youth will exchange repose for recitals, leisure for learning, and fun for photosynthesis workshops?
I’m not convinced either extreme is the way to raise kids. Complete and constant engagement in academic pursuits can be stressful and is suitable for a minority of agile minds. Let’s go with a farming analogy. In working with crops, farmers periodically set aside their fields for fallow time to regenerate the soil’s nutrients, so the next season they will bounce back with abundance. Let’s say our minds work the same way as these fields. If we push them too hard our “crops” become weaker and less abundant. If our children are given no time to relax, they may experience “crop” burn-out. Studies show that great creativity comes under circumstances where the mind is peaceful and not randominzed in multitasking. We all do our best thinking in the shower after all, right? It would be nice to spend the entire summer in a state of creative receptiveness — as if we were in a two-month-long shower — but that is easier said than done. Being engaged in creative thought is a discipline unto itself and requires diligent practice. The other extreme of allowing our kids to do absolutely nothing over the course of summer seems erroneous too. After all, when we leave a field fallow for too long, it gets overrun by weeds and stubborn to return to planting condition. This fall when our students return to school, our teachers will know which “fields” were had been worked too hard season after season, and which ones were choked with brambles from lack of attention.
One of the most disputed topics amongst Highlanders is childrearing and how to best prepare our children for a productive future where they can positively contribute to society. Very few parents want their children rising at 5am, working their fingers to the bone all day just so they can collapse in bed exhausted and awake the next morning to do it all over again. Yet most parents know that leaving kids to their own devices means they’ll be on some electronic device all day “doing nothing”. Whether engaged in computer camps or backpacking, geology or GeoCaching, Highlanders typically put a lot of time and thought into their own approach to childhood. This September, will your children look back at summer having tilled their fields with vigor, or let them run rampant and become overgrown?

A not-so-serious taxonomy of pets

Rearrange the letters of the word pets and you get pest. Those who have provided a home for a domesticated animal can in one breath use a term of endearment for the adorable Whiskered Fluffernutter, but then one shredded couch later Fur Face becomes a Fury of Greek proportions. One hairball too many and “She” becomes “It”. The first urine stain on the new rug and man’s Best Friend needs relationship counseling. Steadfast adoration toward the animal you provide food and shelter to is rare. Our feline, canine, reptilian, aviary, and cutie-pie friends in cages can just as easily work their way into our hearts as get under our skin. Don’t get me wrong. I like animals. I just don’t like the drama that frequently presents itself in animal husbandry.Bun Bun

In my boys’ lifetime we have provided shelter and vittles for a cat, a five-day fish, a two-day turtle, two anole lizards, a panda hamster, a rabbit, a leopard gecko, and a ball python. Over the course of fifteen years we have purchased various volumes of “Care and Feeding of ___” (insert species of pet store animal). We have scoured garage sales for affordable habitats. We have made countless trips to PetCoSmartLand for food and habitat bling. We have gone to extremes in diagnosing and curing lapses in health. In an effort to be good custodians of our critters the definition of “pet” has, at times, been reclassified in the Curtis household.

After a particularly challenging episode of trying to contain Maxine-the-Houdini-Hamster in her cage I vowed that the real definition of “pet” should in the future only refer to animals that come when called. Would it be too much to ask that all my affection and goodwill be reciprocated by this cute little fur-face? If I have to create walls and lock cages just to keep the animal from running away, then it’s not a pet – it’s a wild beast. How can it be a pet if its main goal is to get away from me? Bitter? No, just frustrated after all my search and rescue missions for the escaped “pet”.Rex

I remember the time I was shut in our bathroom holding onto the tail of Jack’s ball python as it tried to slither its way into a gap where the cupboard meets the floor. Rex had decided to go exploring the bathroom floor while Jack cleaned his cage. I was supposed to look after Rex, but I side with Indiana Jones – not fond of snakes. One minute he’s innocently crawling behind the toilet and the next minute all I see is the back half of his body poking out from beneath the cupboard. All I could think of was Rex crawling somewhere around the rafters, lost, and possibly reappearing in my bed, closet, or somewhere shocking. I had to hold onto that snake for dear life but not tear the beast by pulling too hard. Rex the ball python flexed his muscles, but I was more determined to contain him than he was in escaping. Eventually he relented and I was able to pull him out of the hole. I erased reptiles from the list of “Pets”, and categorized them as “Adversaries I Spend Money On”.

I haven’t consulted either Darwin or Aristotle in my own personal animal classification methods, but I’m sure they would be sympathetic when I show them the $100 treatment bill, the $25 cockroaches prescribed as new food source (ick), and the $120 speeding ticket I received in transporting the sick leopard gecko home after treatment. That absurd day, “Basilisk’s” cute factor did nothing to improve his taxonomy ranking. He hovered near the general Life category, without specification of Family, Genus or Species. A few months later I was able to forget the maddening circumstances that led to his temporary reclassification, and I ranked our leopard gecko amongst his fellow Eublepharis maculariuses.

“From Adversary I Spend Money On” to “Family Member”, these animals hop around between “pets” and “pest” on a daily basis. As much as they occasionally get under my skin, I appreciate the learning and loving journey all of our beasts have brought to the Curtis household. Albeit unappreciative little buggers, I will always prefer those that are classified as Animal Kingdom versus Battery-powered Kingdom.

Who is Doing the Graduating Here?

graduationHave you ever noticed how over-the-top we celebrate high school graduation? We roll out the red carpet for our 18-year olds in often-absurd proportions. We order announcements and elaborate portraits, we plan lavish parties; we dole out gifts, and get giddy over the graduates’ baccalaureate ceremonies, “casino nights” and other senior celebrations. I know you don’t like my Grumpy-Cattish tone, but hear me out. What I am getting to is the disproportionate lack of hoopla surrounding college graduation in comparison. If high school graduation is a roar, college graduation in comparison is a mere grunt. And the celebration of a Ph.D.? Let’s not even go there – a whisper, perhaps?

Consider this: High school attendance is mandated. You HAVE to get your bum out of bed and go to school otherwise a truant officer will haul your bum to the police station. It’s required. It’s free (more or less). It’s rife with opportunity. What’s the big deal over graduating? It’s against the LAW not to attend. Approximately 80% of students graduate high school. Of those who graduate, only 68% go on to college. Of those who go on to college only 58% receive their degree in the first six years. That means 30 out of 100 high school attendees earn a college degree within one decade. With those funneled down statistics I shake my head and grumble, “Hard-working and ambitious kids get a paper college diploma, but kids barely scratching their way through the institution get an Argosy cruise.”  I had to get to the bottom of where all this hullabaloo was coming from.

Well, after talking to numerous Highlands residents I pulled a “180” on my skepticism over these magnified celebrations. I’ve come to the conclusion that our unbridled merrymaking over secondary school graduates is not necessarily about the academic accomplishment anymore, so much as marking a transitional turning point. Historically, graduating high school was an academic accomplishment. If you were born before 1950 your chances of going to college were slim for various reasons including financial limitations, lack of legacy of college-bound family members, and the ability to get a decent job without a college degree. Times have changed a bit. The community of Issaquah is seeing a high percentage of its 18-year-olds with ambition to reach for that next academic achievement, but we celebrate our grads with gusto anyway.

One of the largest motivating factors for the bountiful events surrounding commencement is the community involvement. Some families have known each other since their children were in kindergarten and have been side-by-side through band concerts, field trips, sporting events, school dances, PTSA meetings, and all the other supportive roles that get our kids through primary and secondary school.  When we throw our kids a graduation party, we are throwing ourselves a party too. It is a community effort to provide our children the reinforcement during their formative years, be it helping to navigate the social ups and downs, facing the rigors of schoolwork, and learning the discipline of self-motivation. When the tassel is turned on the mortarboard hats, the parents and families can loudly declare, “We did it!”

In contrast, we parents have very little influence or presence during the college years. Our young adults may have moved out, gone off to college and never plan on moving back home again. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still party time when they receive their degree, but we parents won’t be caught saying, “We did it!” Other than writing tuition checks, our involvement in our kids’ academic pursuits is very minimal during the post-high school years. “Our community” of high school becomes “their community” at college.

When June rolls around and several of my neighbors are purchasing nice clothes and booking DJ’s for their teenagers’ Grad Night, you won’t catch me rolling my eyes. Whether or not my children give a hoot about the commencement commotion, I know when their time comes I will be cheering like a giddy teenager for them, for myself and for my community’s teens.

Being a Mom, seriously!

While growing up in my early teen years my mother used to frequently tell me, “Tami, you take things too seriously!” I’d offer my huffy response, “Well I AM serious!” Growing up was serious business – seriously. Nowadays I still hold onto a frank perspective on life, but I also really appreciate a daily dose of levity, especially when it comes to raising kids.

I like the funnies passed around Facebook that remind me to keep motherhood human — and myself humane in the process. What does it mean to keep motherhood human, you ask? Well, I can give you a long, serious answer, but I’d rather use one of those eCard quotes: “All those moms are on Pinterest making their own soap and reindeer-shaped treats, and I’m all like ‘I took a shower and kept the kids alive’.” So far, thank God, I’ve kept the kids alive, and I’ve also managed to avoid having to cook, bake or craft anything absurdly intricate to keep me in good standing amongst the Highlands Mother ‘hood. (Wait, maybe I’m not in good standing…)

To me, keeping motherhood human means not setting galactic-proportioned expectations for myself as a mother, nor for my children. It means keeping things in perspective. It means laughing at myself every day. That’s not actually easy when surrounded by Super Moms of the Highlands.Mothering

If I gave the Highlands parenting trends a cursory peek on Facebook I’d think that all our resident minors are vegan athletes who have gigs booked at Carnegie Hall following their televised neuroscience presentation on TED Talks. There are a lot of smart kids, talented kids, healthy kids and clever kids living in the Highlands. However, it is also common knowledge that what you see on Facebook is a polished and airbrushed version of reality. There’s no doubt that talent runs thick in the ‘hood, but this isn’t Stepford either, so I have to remind myself that not everything I see is perfection. The bumper sticker, “My Chihuahua is smarter than your Honor Student” helps me keep this whole job in perspective.

Do I have any advice about keeping up with the Mama Joneses in the Highlands? Just do your own thing. If you think for one minute that the tooth fairy has to deliver a fairy-dust sprinkled, hand-written in calligraphy note under your child’s pillow with $5 for their lost tooth, you’re losing perspective. If you refuse to build a leprechaun trap, you’re absolved of that inadequacy. If your child’s basketball game socks don’t match, chalk it up to a new fashion statement.  On those days when you’re feeling less-than-exemplary as a mother it’s okay to get catty and mumble that eCard to yourself: “Your excessive status updates proclaiming how much you love your kids, has me wondering what you’re hiding.” Okay, let’s stow that sulkiness away and get back to keeping this motherhood train forward, not derailed in Grumpy Land.

If we don’t embrace the humorous side of our job as mothers, then we’re doing what my mother always accused me of: “taking things too seriously”. It is a funny job. There’s an eCard that says “Insanity is hereditary. You get it from your children.” Some of us went to college, had careers, then took a right turn and now dedicate ourselves to Project Management of the Homework Turn-in Process with meetings called to discuss timeliness and accuracy of content submitted to higher-ups (aka, “teachers”). We also head up the Department of Good Choices and Navigational Strategies on Social Interactions with Peers (aka, “How to keep your stuff off the internet”). As an adjunct we offer professional-level coaching on a class called “Asserting Oneself to Authority Figures While Remaining a Receptive Subordinate” (aka, “How to beg forgiveness from your teachers for turning in late assignments”).

In order to function in this seriously funny job of motherhood I feel we must balance our agenda of raising Carnegie-bound, scientific breakthrough-making, NFL qualifying Earth-a-tarians, with a not-so-serious attitude. Otherwise, we might get bogged down in insisting upon hand making historically accurate 1800’s Valentine vignettes for every student in the 5th grade class, and losing our minds and perspective in the process.

A Little Trash Talk

I saw a YouTube video the other day that made me fall off my chair in laughter and self-conscious surprise. The video is about me, about my friends, about my neighborhood. It is a rapid-fire five-minute episode of one man’s explosively misdirected but well-intended attempt to save the dwindling rainforest, but his admirable intentions fall flat and do more harm than good. In his own comfortable suburban realm this 30-something-year-old main character tries to “Do Good”. He drives a Prius, recycles, spends time with family, gives to charity, and tries to be a good docent of planet Earth. He’s a bit of everyone. He’s trying. Except this gentleman flies off the handle and stops doing good in a reaction to the rainforest decimation. He decides to singlehandedly go and try to save the rainforest. It is disastrously comical. In the attempt to save millions of acres of wilderness he quits his job, abandons his wife and child, and nearly kills himself trying to be the hero. Not Good. There’s a point to the story and there’s a brand awareness that’s being proffered. I’ll get to that later. Let’s talk about our everyday attempts to Do Good.Trash Tutorials

I like how some fast food places are taking us by the hand and offering us an easy way to Do Good. Chipotle and Costco display well-marked bins that describe exactly what items go in which bin. Plastic cups here, tortilla chip bag there. Easy. I just did a “Do Good”. Of course there’s that nagging guilt trip sign labeling the Scorn Bin called “Landfill”, like “Hey Planet Killer, this is where you dump your Bambi-Death-Uranium-half-life fork you used for 60 seconds while polishing off your veggie burrito, you slime ball.” Sometimes I just feel like singing “I Do Good, I Do Good” in the face of the “Landfill” sign, and file away my compost and recycling with zest.

Other places like Starbucks could stand to offer a waste sorting tutorial though, sanctimonious or not. There is no “Paper cups go in compost”, “Sugar packets in recycling”, “Lids go in the Planet-killer-Bambi-death bin”. I still hover over the waste bins at Starbucks with my wooden stir stick going “Bambi killer” or “Earth goddess food”? A picture would be nice, too. Yeah, I’m that simple – especially when I haven’t had my coffee yet.K-Cups

Highlands resident Lacey Leigh is known to “Do Good”. She excels at it, as a matter of fact. Being one of over 13 million household drinkers of single-serve K-Cup® coffee, the Ashland Park Leighs have sorting the pod waste down to a science. It took some research to determine their sorting solution for those plastic cup/aluminum foil/paper filter combo pods, but the need was there, considering they went through at least 14 per week. Without being divided up, the coffee pods can only be thrown in the trash. In a simple six-step process (as seen in the illustration), this tuned-in family dissected a K-Cup® and discovered four separate entities that could be deposited into two bins. First comes the aluminum foil lid (recycling), then they spoon out the spent coffee grounds (compost), next they extract the paper filter (compost), and finally after rinsing the residue they chuck the plastic cup into recycling (we hope). Too much for so little? Well, if Costco is trying so should we, right? Or at least we should spend a minute here and there thinking about where our waste is going.

I’ve been guilty of throwing the pizza box into the recycling instead of compost, and I’ve been dinged brownie points for slipping a pasta box into recycling even though it has that clear plastic window still stuck to the face. I discovered at the CleanScapes store at Gilman Village that there actually are people standing at conveyor belts who will pick up my slack and peel off that stuck piece of cellophane for me down at the Materials Recovery Facility in Tacoma. With that little nugget of information I have enough guilt to buckle down and peel my own commercial products into their waste components. And while I’m at it, I can Do Good by purchasing items labeled “Rainforest Alliance Certified” encircling a picture of a frog, which was the point of the whole funny video. Support from suburbia where you can Do Good. Check it out for yourselves! http://youtu.be/3iIkOi3srLo

Armed During Armageddon


Emergency provisionsI grew up in Earthquake Country, aka, California. I rode the subterranean roller coasters 6.9 Loma Prieta in 1989 and the 6.7 Northridge in 1994. Those devastating earthquakes left most residents with hair-trigger hypersensitivity. I developed an internal seismograph that would agitate itself into action by the slightest tremor or rumble. A cart being rolled down a hallway or a truck dumping open its gate would send me into a hyper-ballistic state of panic. I’d be positioned under a table or in a doorway long before discovering that the “earthquake” was only the cat jumping down off a tall cupboard.

Moving to Washington State I thought I’d left Earthquake Country behind. A few stable years went by in Redmond and my seismograph became less sensitive. I let the rumbling trucks roll by without even so much as a flinch away from window glass. And the cat? Hardly noticed his precipitous drops…until the Nisqually 6.8 quake in 2001. Within the first seconds of the shaking sensation my dusty internal seismograph sprang into action. After that earthquake I decided it might be a good idea to have a couple weeks of emergency supplies available in case our power and gas went out.

Thirteen years later we’ve got the back-up fuel, power and medical supplies all figured out and prepared, but I’m still struggling with food stores. I used to store my emergency food in a cardboard box in the garage. It didn’t take long before I realized I’d been feeding a small population of mice and ground squirrels with my special selection of emergency vittles. That cardboard box got swapped with a heavy duty plastic container and placed in a cupboard. It wasn’t long before another species of rodent raided the reinforced container. If you think we have an infestation of Rodents of Unusual Size in the Highlands, you’re right.

I had decided to stock Wheat Thins in our big plastic storage container, because who wouldn’t want comfort hors d’oeuvres during a crisis? Those crackers lasted in the garage for approximately three weeks. I remember coming home famished and walking straight from the car to the cupboard where I tore open the box. Bears? No. It was the giant rodent named Tami.

I didn’t replace the prematurely eaten stores of emergency appetizers, and I got to thinking about what I really want to eat during a two-week stretch of pseudo-camping at home.  Protein is important, and so is food that doesn’t require a lot of fuel to cook properly. Dried beans would drain half a can of camping fuel in making them soft enough to eat. Canned beans would be gobbled in one meal and I’d need to purchase Costco proportions. But if I went the Costco route, would I really want the same baked beans every day? I’d have three dozen cans to eat, after all.  On the flip side, if I stocked up on foods that were really attractive, the box of supplies would be paid a visit by “Ravenous Rodent Tami” again, and could be depleted before a real emergency kicked in.

So, I’ve determined that attractive crisis foods would never survive my impulsiveness and periodic raiding. For instance, I never replaced the spaghetti sauce from my lasagna night looting two years ago. Instead I opted for the tear-pouch of dried spaghetti sauce. However, unattractive foods would make the crisis even more miserable. There isn’t much comfort in the freeze-dried twigs and leaves they call camping food, and when Armageddon hits it would be nice to take solace in some appetizing sustenance, not survival grub. Eating astronaut food while backpacking is called “adventure”, but roughing it during a catastrophe shouldn’t have to be unpleasant.

With over half of my consumable provisions on the unattractive side I’ve forgotten to check in on them. One friend of mine neglected her food stores for ten years and discovered quite a few…err…”expired” items. Can you eat pasta that’s a decade old? If I’m hungry enough I’ll eat anything I suppose, as long as it’s not growing mold. When the next big earthquake hits, (causing me to jump under the dinner table like a groundhog that spots a coyote), I hope Rodent Tami has not eaten all our appetizing stores.

Armed during Armageddon


holiday avalancheLet me whisk you off to metaphor land. It’s snowing outside and has been for days. It’s time to take a look at the snow accumulation on the roof, so I head outside and step under the eaves. I extend a broom handle above me and jam it into the thick foamy protrusion hanging over the lip of the roof. Within a second I am engulfed in a frozen avalanche; left gasping for air from surprise and cold shock. Now let’s take that little fictional episode and say that the snowfall represents Thanksgiving, and the Siberian-style landslide is the approach to Christmas. Despite the same routines and expectations every year, the family winter holidays always result in a surprise crushing blow that leaves me frazzled and shaking stuff out of my ears for weeks afterward.

Preparations for visitors and their inherent tumult of food, bedding and activities; Christmas card photos, composition, addressing and sending; musical engagements like the kids’ school concerts and my band’s Christmas shows; presents and food shopping; family outings to ice skating, drummers, “Straight No Chaser” show, and botanical garden lights; various company and social parties…even writing this list makes my blood pressure rise, and I haven’t even started my craft beading projects yet or going to church! I can hear the roar of the avalanche in the distance, but my feet are stuck in the snow.holiday avalanche 2

Avert your eyes or skip ahead a couple paragraphs if you think I’m a generous and kind-hearted neighbor. I’d like you to preserve that positive impression you might have of me, and what I’m about to reveal will pulverize that illusion. Starting in early November I batten down the hatches on my social receptiveness and accordance. Over the years I’ve honed survival strategies intended to maximize my enjoyment of holiday sparkle and fun, but minimize my effort output. My first line of defense is to stop giving to as many places as possible. (Can you feel the Grinch squeezing his way in?) The holidays make me feel drained of energy, finances and creativity, so number one that gets flicked off my list is my Puget Sound Blood Center appointments. I literally feel drained, (of course) when I leave my pint of blood in the clinic’s plastic bags, so sorry car accident victims, you’re out of luck with regard to my B positive contribution from November through January. I don’t have much “being positive” to spare for 60 straight days, and I have to allocate it to other causes.

The next thing to go is excursions from the house with only a single intended stop. If I can’t pack in at least four errands in one trip, then I’m not using my iPhone apps wisely. And with all the new stores now open in the Highlands my shopping list of mascara, clogs, cranberries, candles and a screwdriver can get banged out in the blink of an eye. Sorry Santa, a visit to your lap gets lumped in with printer ink and an oil change.

You can now tune back in to hear how Big Giver Tami approaches the holidays meaningfully. Resources of time, talent and treasure are tapped more frequently in the last two months of the calendar year. I have to get creative with my treasure with all the gift shopping we do. Spreading out the financial squeeze, yet fully embracing the materialistic side of the season, I started my purchases in late September this year. As for talent, I just follow my skillful bandmates from one “Celtic Christmas” gig to the next, spreading cheer and sharing our joy of music with audiences across Seattle. (Shameless self-promotion here: be sure to pop by Blakely Hall Sunday, December 8 at 5:00pm to witness firsthand my bandmates’ genius on Irish instruments.) Finally, with regards to sharing time during the holidays, while there’s not much of it to spare, I try and keep everything meaningful and family focused. Being the Big Giver that I am, if I had to choose between doing the dinner dishes or lying under the Christmas tree looking up at the lights alongside one of my boys, I’m good with tackling caked-on food residue a few hours later. Let the avalanche spill all over me and shock me with chaos – it’s worth it!