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


Aloha, quads

My husband and I are in training. No, not some radical fitness mania containing the letter X, nor is there an ex-drill sergeant involved in our new routine. We’re getting ready to hike an eleven-mile trail on the garden island Kauai. My marathoner friends snicker and scoff at such a measly distance. An eleven miler is what you bang out as a recovery run. It’s what happens before breakfast on Sunday. What’s all the fuss about hiking a roundtrip total of 22 miles in Hawaii, for crying out loud? Well, my crying quads are trying to convince me that there’s a deep chasm of difference between running eleven miles and hiking the same distance in undulant terrain.

In preparation for our tropical excursion in October, Glenn and I started small with Poo Poo Point. If you can see your hiking destination while shopping on Front Street, it shouldn’t be that hard, right? Two miles, ascending 1,700 feet. It’ll be a cake walk with a burger awaiting us at Sunset Alehouse.

With seven weeks until our Hawaiian Air flight, our initial training efforts began. We sweated and grunted our way to the paragliders’ launch pad, caught our breath while gazing at the breathtaking view, and then marched back down the trail. At the bottom we toasted our successful inaugural sojourn over a pint, proceeded to polish off more calories than we burned on the four-miler, and then tried to stand up. Let’s just say it wasn’t because of the beers that we looked like giraffes awkwardly hoisting ourselves up off the ground. As a qualified armchair exercise physiologist, I theorize that our soreness was due to a condition called YOOSLAH, a.k.a. You’re-Out-Of-Shape-Lactic-Acid-Hurts. (You’ll hear more about the various honorary doctorates I hold in physiology and other subjects later.)

Rising out of a pub booth and experiencing YOOSLAH paled in comparison to what happened the next morning when I tried to walk downstairs. I diagnosed my debilitating condition as SEMQURTWAM, a.k.a. Someone-Extracted-My-Quads-Unkindly-Replacing-Them-with-a-Meat-Grinder. My efforts to go to the kitchen for coffee resembled an AT-AT walker being taken down by Luke Skywalker. (Don’t deny your vivid memory of that tripwire victory on the planet Hoth!) This highly unpleasant state lasted at least three days, continuously deriding me for my Poo Poo underestimation. Evidently, running the Grand Ridge trails, Klahanie, and downtown Issaquah every other day count for squat when preparing to walk two miles downhill.

Recovery is a funny thing. Amateur physiologist Dr. Curtis here again to declare that five-to-six days of recovery is all that’s required after a traumatizing (and humiliating) hike. That thing called Muscle Memory works opposite the norm when introducing a new painful routine. Muscle Amnesia is actually what prevails within a week, causing you to dimwittedly decide to hike the Tiger Mountain Cable Line trail the next weekend as a follow-up training effort. The brain is a muscle, right? Well, mine actually experienced amnesia and forgot how painful the results were from a short hike just seven days ago.

At this point, my runner friends are saying, “Ahem, Dr. Curtis, you know that prolonged downhill hiking engages and challenges the kinesiology of the quadriceps, yielding divergent results from running, right?” I respond to them in my clinical voice, “Yes, I experienced an anatomic threshold breach when I tripped over a rock and couldn’t arrest my spectacular stumble.”

Tiger Mountain is the silent Issaquah giant that is neither a molehill nor an intimidating craggy peak. It hosts hundreds of visitors on sunny weekends, and can be accessed from various trailheads originating at the north, south, east, and west sides. Recreational hikers can spend hours at the Tradition Plateau base, enjoying foliage-lined, manicured trails.  Inspired hikers and runners can mount a steady challenge up the forgiving West Tiger 3 route. But those who have experienced muscle amnesia will ignorantly opt for the 2,042 ft. wall of scree. The Cable Line trail has a reputation for turning able-bodied hikers into lumpy beetles trying to make their way out of a box.

I usually speak quite fondly of the trails around Issaquah, but I can’t say I remember much about the Cable Line trail other than sweating to find an optimal foot plant. One poorly placed step and I would start a mini August avalanche that was expertly dodged by Glenn.

Apart from their serenity and majesty, one of the reasons I speak fondly of Issaquah’s trails is that I don’t usually experience SEMQURTWAM after an outing. Tiger Mountain dominates its Poo Poo cousin by over 700 feet, but our training route was also at a steeper incline. To illustrate the point, just remove the Meat-Grinder portion of Someone-Extracted-My-Quads-Unkindly-Replacing-Them-with-a-Meat-Grinder and insert Serrano-Chili-Sauce in its place. What comes out 24 hours later is something that sounds like SEM-QURT-OWWWWW followed by a whimper.

Five weeks more of training for our tropical eleven-miler. At this point, I’m sending Glenn downstairs to prepare my Hawaiian coffee in the kitchen. If my legs can’t make it to Hawaii just yet, I can at least have a little of Hawaii brought to me…

Advance to Day 3 episode

Read on KOMO

Iron Espadrilles Disguised as Silver Slippers

While waiting to retrieve my son from his biweekly martial arts class I often pass the time chatting with other parents as we’re lined up in the narrow hallway. We shoot the breeze about kids, sweat, and life, but frequently the topic that comes up is the Novalife Fitness Pilates Fusion class that is offered adjacent to the martial arts studio.

Taught by Amy Carr, it has a reputation for being just as strenuous as what our micro-ninjas experience, but presents a fusion of Pilates exercises blended with yoga moves then juiced with free weights. After hearing multiple endorsements it sounded like an irresistible fitness smoothie! Sanctioned by health nuts and with encouragement from my family I was ready to lap it up.

With many schedule choices, I opted for the Tuesday morning session so I could accompany my husband’s mother and sister. My relatives had always talked up the class but I dismissed it for a long time feeling like I didn’t need additional exercise on top of my running routine. Besides, if I could sustain a 150bpm heartbeat for 40 minutes and then slide into a few stretches afterwards, my fitness routine was complete. No need for additional strengthening or flexibility. Runners will never be destined to elasticity anyway, right?

Upon announcing to my fellow parents-awaiting-their-ninjas-in-the-hallway that I signed up for Amy Carr’s Tuesday morning Fusion Fitness class I got a nod of assent that was delicately shrouded with superiority. “You just signed up for the ‘Silver Slippers’ class” they reported.

“What? You have to wear special footwear to class?” I naively responded.

“No…” choosing their words carefully, “it’s just a more gentle pace…lots of ladies over 60 years old in that class”, and almost as a consolation, “I hear they do a ‘Relaxation Session’ at the end too.”

Okay, slow pace, no Herculean efforts, and an opportunity to get my Zen on. Plus, I could spend quality time with adult family members. But the competitive beast in me retorted to the hallway faction, “I’ll just do this on my recovery days,” as if I needed to preserve my pride.

At the first class I was warmly greeted by a group I would describe as equal shakes of salt and pepper. No walking canes or hearing aides, but no muscular Jillian Michaels look-a-likes either. I dutifully filed to a position at the back of the class and proceeded to parrot the instructor’s moves as closely as possible. I had confidence in my court and I was ready to show that class how fit I was.

Amy Carr expertly guided us through maneuvers that linked Pilates and Yoga, but were also accentuated with free weights and resistance training. For every routine introduced, Amy would recommend different levels of challenge or alternate approaches for those with agility limitations. For the participants whose wrists lacked strength, Amy provided light, Velcro-attached hand weights to prevent their inadvertent release. My classmates who could not perform self-supporting mat work would be instructed in an equally beneficial but less strenuous exercise in a standing position. Everyone worked out, no one got to back out, and all were fully engaged.

Despite all of the opportunities placed before us to diminish the difficulty level, hardly anyone accepted a reduced effort version. Instead, I found myself staring at the row of ladies in front of me as they wielded the same eight-pound weights for the same number of repetitions which caused seismic vibrations in my muscles, but had little taxing effect on these distinguished damsels. At the conclusion of each rotation they would gently set their weights down and politely exclaim, “Whew!” That was it. No cursing, spitting nails or teeth-grinding that I was demonstrating wholeheartedly from the back of the class.

Just when I thought I’d had enough, we transitioned to abdominal work. Yes, I know this runner has turned a blind eye to her midriff for years, but how hard could a few sit-ups be? Well, lie on your back and hug the Liberty Bell. Next, try and pulse it in V-formation for a few hours. Then glance around and realize that no one except you has collapsed into a quivering blob on the yoga mat. What are these women strung with, carbon fiber muscles and titanium bones?!

It was with great relief that I laid myself prostrate on my mat for the relaxation session at the conclusion. I certainly couldn’t be out-repped, out-stretched or out-exerted here. Admittedly it took me a long time to chase away my random thoughts that persistently drifted in and out of our guided meditation and isolated muscle contractions. However, no mirror captured those lapses.

The next week my report to the hallway-parents involved zealous amendments to the Tuesday morning class title of “Silver Slippers”. “Iron Espadrilles” would more aptly describe the strength and endurance of those attendees. I have attended the morning session for over a year now, and while I no longer find myself licking the concrete for three days following a workout, I still remain in the back of the class in awe of my steely classmates, who also happen to be benevolent grandmothers, tender aunts, doting sisters and loving wives.