Getting Hit-on by my Retailers

suitorsI feel like I’m being hit on lately. I haven’t been paying particular attention to my physical appearance, nor am I sending out any amorous signals that I know of. It’s just that there’s a certain component in my daily life that REALLY wants to get to know me, and really wants me to get to know them. The feeling is not mutual. Apart from my husband, I am not interested in forming a meaningful and intimate relationship…with my large chain retailer.

I can’t remember the last time I made a purchase at a Big Box Store without feeling like I wanted to take a shower after walking out. Before I launch into my petty first world complaints I want to announce my disclaimer that I forgive all cashiers for what they are made to do. It’s not their fault that they are asked to make like a dog and do inappropriate things to the leg of every customer. It is disheartening that large retail corporation employees are asked to pry and prod their way into making “a great customer service experience”, at the expense of my patience and privacy.

In a perfect world, my loyalty to a store means I return. If I don’t return, I didn’t like my experience. Simple as that! Instead, at the hardware store I get to stand at the cashier and wade through questions, prompts and propositions – just to purchase a weed whacker. I’m just trying to edge my lawn, not marry you!

Here are my retail dating guidelines. If you are capable of adhering to #1-5, we might just be able to form a lifelong relationship. Otherwise, I’m not sure I see you in my future. If you want to date me…errr, have me as a repeat customer here’s what I want:

1. Unless you see me twice a week at your store, please resist the temptation to ask me if I’m going to do, or just did, anything special over the weekend. Trader Joe’s started this nice trend a decade or more ago. It works because their employees are familiar, neighborly and the question is delivered with genuine interest, not “Oh, I need to check off #8 from my customer service interaction list”. They get it, the rest of you huge retailers don’t. Just stop snuggling up to me.

2. You keep asking me for my phone number…to check whether I’m “in your system”. I don’t think I like “being in anyone’s system”. That sounds too visceral. Back off.

3. Stop asking me to “Just take this short survey about how your experience was today after navigating to a website, inputting a 10-digit code, identifying the location (amongst 50 states) that served you, filling in the boxes who your stellar clerk was…my name’s Percy!! Don’t forget, Percy! It’s circled right here on your two-foot long receipt!” Yeah, no. Thanks.

4. This isn’t American Idol. Don’t ask me to judge you. My lunch starts to come up in the back of my throat every time I hear “It would REALLY help me out if you could give us five stars when you take this brief survey!” Golly, I just bought a ream of printer paper. It was the most amazing experience EVER!! I’m giving you all FIVE STARS for creating a receptive environment for me to walk in and purchase PAPER!! Yes!!

5. Perhaps making note of any praise or discontent online is better, though, than having to look someone in the eye and tell them they really screwed the pooch on selling me a bag of pet sawdust bedding. “Yeah, I was going to say that I felt very inconvenienced having to go down three aisles instead of one to find the aspen wood chip terrarium liner…” (Has no one seen the movie “Office Space“? “You need more flare…TPS reports in triplicate…”)

6. Can you see where my eyes are going when I hear: “Would you like to sign up for our customer rewards program? It’ll just take a second and you’ll receive some wonderful email coupons…” Great, I get to do paperwork (that’ll assuredly take longer than a second) AND receive spam in my inbox! I love those rewards cards. I’ve got 67 in my wallet right now — may I please have a 68th?

I think I’ll take a break from all these clamoring suitors and go visit my small Issaquah retailers who don’t want to get to know me in such a meaningful way.


Brontosaurus, starfish and Pluto

Many months back the Connections ran a questionnaire asking readers to comment on the following prompt: “What does lifelong learning mean to you?” At first I thought, “Oh, I can bang out something clever in a jiffy.” Well, that jiffy turned into a day, then a week, then a missed deadline. I dropped a fishing line into my brain and caught nothing. I stirred that soup upstairs and no steam came out. I became immobilized in that dry desert called “Over Analysis Wasteland”. After the issue was published I finally put my finger on some of the reasons why “lifelong learning” was such a barren land for me.
Brontosaurus, starfish and Pluto
Part of being stumped with “lifelong learning” was because I was looking at the question with a desired and expected answer. I wanted to be able to say “I want to accumulate facts and knowledge in abundance over the years.” I wanted the answer to that question to be something solid, and fortress-like. However, deep down I knew I couldn’t say anything conclusive or unambiguous about “lifelong learning”. Our memories are wiggly things. Very few of us are able to hold onto facts solidly over a lifetime. Facts become mushy and malleable over the years – just go to a family reunion with your cousins, aunts and uncles, and try to come to a mutual conclusion of why Grandma Loretta always wore a specific bracelet. You’ll get ten different perspectives. “Her birthstone was on that bracelet.” Countered by, “No, she always wore it because it was a gift from Grandpa when he retired.” And in opposition, “I always thought that bracelet reminded her of their trip to Australia.” The voice of youth and reason will chime in, “She just thought it was pretty.” Lifelong learning is not determining WHY Grandma wore that coveted bracelet, but that there will always be a multitude of perspectives that ebb and flow into one another about the fact that she always wore the bracelet.

That ebb and flow that sullies the facts is illustrated in the brontosaurus, starfish and Pluto. Growing up I knew for a fact that the brontosaurus was that long-necked vegetable eating dinosaur; the starfish was that craggy and slimy creature stuck to rocks with lots of arms; and Pluto was the last in a string of nine planets in our solar system. If anyone has children in the Issaquah School District, you’ll be reminded frequently that what you learned growing up is NOT what is being taught today…and for good reasons. With a little investigation, it was determined that 130 years ago two paleontologists were engaged in…shall we say “unprofessional behavior” which included sabotage, smear campaigns and lies, in order to assert their authority on the paleontological ladder of hierarchy. End result? No brontosaurus. It was really an Apatosaurus whose head was missing because it got bashed by a devious scientist. So, what happened to the star fish? Did it too suffer the wrath of two feisty marine biologists duking it out for reign supreme over the watery kingdom? Not quite, but the distinction between the two resides in a long explanation about classification and etymology. When you go to Alki Beach with your elementary school student, it will become clear that you’re WRONG when you call it a “star fish”, and will be told in no uncertain terms by a pack of 9-year-olds that the “sea star” is not a FISH. That pack of know-it-all 9-year-olds will be quick to beat you over the head with the fact that Pluto is not a real planet – it’s just a dwarf planet, whose status got revoked in 2006 because it lacked the qualities for membership amongst the eight other planets. Now how am I going to sing the preschool planet song that ends in, “Don’t forget about little Pluto way out there in space, space, space…”?

With many of my objectives for fact-based “lifelong learning” now kicked to the curb like Pluto, I’ve begun to embrace new goals. Aside from the nebulous abstract topics like love, acceptance, tolerance, etc., I hope that in my lifetime I will learn to accept that there will be many answers to a question and many perspectives to consider, and that lifelong learning is a journey that shouldn’t take me into a desert. However, if I do get stuck in the desert, I’ll be sure to bring my “starfish”.

This isn't yo mama's education

This isn’t yo mama’s education

What Happens in Whistler, Stays…in ESR?

photo[2]  This year marks the third running of the Whistler Relay – a replacement for the now-defunct Haney to Harrison relay. ESR’s “Hot Tamales” 40+ ladies masters’ team took the relocation in stride in 2011 and has proudly demonstrated each year to its northern neighbors how to cover the 50-mile distance with speed and finesse. In the spirit of being in hockey territory the “Hot Tamales” set a goal to get a “hat trick” third win in 2013. They did not disappoint. This spicy octet comprised of Julie Taylor, Molly Hurd, Larissa Uchiyama, Tami Curtis, Sue Maybee, Janet Howe and Lacey Leigh, ran circles around the figure-eight course in PR time of 6:53, coming home laden with beer mug trophies and gift certificates. With much to cheer about, the ladies’ spirits were only temporarily dampened by one minor mishap – an episode that will surely be rectified in 2014.

Joining the “Hot Tamales” on the Whistler Relay’s second year were the stalwart “Bashers” who dominated the 2012 competition in the Masters’ Men 50+ category. Determined to follow up their inaugural effort with another win, they stacked the team with speedsters Steve Roach, Scott Adsit, Van Gamble, Kent Byers, Cliff Johnston, Bob Wismer, Don Uchiyama and Phil McBride They made easy work of their adversaries this year, and also drove home with their cars laden with divisional awards. They will certainly be eyeing a hat trick in 2014. What will not be certain next year is the “Bashers’” one-minute triumph over the “Hot Tamales,” who now have all peppers gunning for a reclamation of dominance within the Canada-bound ESR teams.

Several “Hot Tamale” interview attempts were made to discern what happened on the fateful Leg 2, but the tamales are not talking despite being peppered with questions. All the “Bashers” know is that they entered Leg 2 trailing by nearly four minutes, and popped out of the woods at the Olympic park exchange nearly five minutes ahead. No accusations of foul play have been formally presented, neither Steve Roach nor Sue Maybee show signs of a mid-race brawl, and the rumors of Sue’s abduction by an alien have been dispelled. No one is talking about that fateful turn of events for the zesty ladies, but the gauntlet will dropped in 2014 to reassert their lead in the standings.

photo[3]When asked if the “Hot Tamales” considered their loss to the “Bashers” a disgrace to their reputation; a tarnish upon their clean record, spokeswoman Larissa Uchiyama answered defiantly, “What loss?” If ignorance is bliss, then both teams showed utter obtuseness at the after-race parties in town. In place of concluding the event at a single rented venue for the traditional dance and social, participants were issued a bracelet allowing them to partake in a pub-crawl style celebration in Whistler Village. The “Hot Tamales” and “Bashers” schooled “Buffalo Bill’s” guests with their fly dance moves, and then moved on to “Garfinkel’s” to display further longevity of distance runner energy. Locals will be talking for decades about the incredible stamina of legendary dancers Van Gamble and Cliff Johnston, not to mention the feisty and fast ladies in their company.

Whistler had better be prepared for an epic showdown next year between these two south-of-the-border ESR teams. Get the fire extinguishers ready! The “Hot Tamales” might try to light the “Bashers” on fire!

Boys – on fire

Boys and fireMy relationship with fire could be characterized as skittishly awestruck. I grew up in a home with an electric stove, my parents didn’t smoke, my dad usually lit the fireplace, and my older sister trumped me when it came to lighting the holiday candles. The fire-starting opportunities presented to me were few and far between. Even while camping I preferred gathering wood and kindling over mastering the lighting of the camp stove. It seemed explosive and unpredictable to me. Was my tentative approach to fire due to my gender? Are boys naturally more compelled to look fire in the eye as equals? Since the Curtis house is 75% male I don’t have a balanced poll, but I’m inclined to rely on my observations and say that when it comes to fire, boys are like fishermen caught by a mermaid’s charm. I’m going to go out on a limb and make a general claim that the lure of flames is irresistible and wonderful in the eyes of men worldwide. My limb is flammable, though, and could be used as kindling to fuel a great debate.

I believe regardless of my gender I was to be raised with an attitude of extreme caution toward fire due to my mother’s horrific experiences, both in her childhood and again when I was a teenager.  My mother was the third youngest of thirteen children, and the Wisconsin farmhouse she grew up in burned down, tragically killing her littlest sister who was five years old at the time. Decades later when I was a teen, a Southern California wildfire threatened our home, forcing my mother to face the nightmare all over again. While my sister and I were secured at a school shelter, my mother spent a vigilant and frightening night drenching every inch of our property with the garden hose. The firefighters were spread thin throughout the Ojai Valley, and even though they demanded the evacuation of all residents, they were not able to offer services to every neighborhood that bordered the foothills. Thankfully, history did not repeat itself, and our home (and mother) remained out of reach of the destructive flames. Let’s just say, however, that the powerfully destructive force of fire was burned into me from a young age.

While raising the boys it’s become obvious that we look upon the elemental force of fire with…um…different perspectives. When I have a match in hand ready to light the BBQ – dinner on my mind — the boys come running, their sixth-sense firing on all cylinders. “Light it!” they demand, obviously under the spell of Pele, Vulcan, and Hephaestus. When I open a bag of marshmallows, I see dessert. They see fire. When I set the table with candles for a special occasion, I see ambiance. The boys ask, their eyes ablaze, “Can we light them?” When the gas stove refuses to light despite the puffs of air I provide, the boys whip out the matches, ready to ignite the clicking gas. Let’s just say that if my family were suddenly thrown back into pioneer days equipped with a couple of lighters, we’d be quite warm and would not be eating raw meat. If I were thrown back in time by myself, however, the scene might resemble Jack London’s “To Build a Fire”. Bleak, desperate, cold.    firelog

The motivation that yanks me out of any fire-starting inadequacies is when I stumble upon those mind-numbing disclaimers on commercial products that warn the general public of various fire hazards. Some warning labels I understand, such as hairspray. I remember the high school tête-à-tête I orchestrated between my aerosol can and the fragrant bathroom candle. I had to buy mom a new hand towel after I discarded the charred remains of the hanging floral one. This week I rolled out of my chair in disbelief when Highlands resident Karl Leigh shared a photo of the warning label he took of the back of a fire-log he purchased – as in, the kind that ignites quickly without lighter fluid or kindling. On the log package, in bold red letters, the following sage advice was offered: “CAUTION – RISK OF FIRE”. Yeah, I would sure hope so!

With chin up and long matches in hand, I locate a HIGHLY FLAMMABLE fire-log, and march it out to the backyard fire pit where I confidently and adeptly light it on fire. Take that, gender roles and skittish fears! I can light fires too!

The End of Summer’s Three-Ring Circus


Sept 2013As a stay-at-home-mom summertime is when my parenting involvement get kicked up to Big Top proportions.  My world becomes a three-ring circus with activity levels ranging from elephantine slow to dizzyingly fast. Some parents carry off these two months with Ringmaster panache; effortlessly directing sports camps, playdates, vacations, pleasure reading, pool swims, out-of-town-visitors, hikes and outdoorsy mental stimulation. I don’t qualify as Ringmaster, but rather reside in the category of Human Cannonball.  On the third week of June I’m rocketed into the great unknown, since of course I didn’t plan any solid activities in advance. I start with lots of general aspirations about making the boys wash the windows, hike up Poo Poo, finish three novels, and log 100 miles on their bikes. I know that coming up with a plan for summer would be beneficial, but summer never goes quite as planned, so I no longer bother trying to schedule much. I know it’s better to just let summer happen. The cannon will go off, I’ll be jettisoned into the air, and lots of fun things will happen. I know summer will zoom past faster than we realize, and like the Human Cannonball, I will land at Labor Day looking back on a summer that lacked in big accomplishments but swelled in satisfying leisure.Summer

The giant net which catches the Human Cannonball is called “Back to School”.  Bouncing into that net fills me with conflicting emotions of joy and longing, relief and contempt. I imagine you can hop right into my shoes with the first three: joy, longing and relief, but the fourth? Why would the Human Cannonball feel contempt about Back to School? That’s just my knee-jerk reaction toward the marketing machine that dumps all the pencils, socks, binders, dresses, and calculators into the seasonal lawn furniture section…in July, of all months! When I see the school bus décor instead of chaise lounge cushion replacements I go from happy clown face to big sad frown. Where am I supposed to find an umbrella to go over my patio furniture? Oh, right, I was supposed to buy that back in February when there were plenty in stock, and it was foremost on my mind. What I really need in the middle of July and August is a 70-pack of Ticonderoga pencils instead. Right.

Enough dwelling upon advanced merchandising madness and let’s go back to those first three sentiments. My heart pitter pats with a little joy when I hear “Back to School” because my children can go back to benefitting from our great education system. Joy that they can re-immerse themselves in making great music with the school band, learn academic basics from someone besides myself, and experiment with new sports.

However, self-contradictorily, I yearn with longing for the luxury of going wherever the wind blows us during the summer. There’s no bus arriving at 7:00am, no homework that needs printing out, no grades that need to be checked, and no steady series of games, performances or practices to attend. During summer I am the Human Cannonball just sailing in a long arc. Come late September, once school is fully in swing, I’ll look back on the summer with longing for its unstructured randomness.

But Labor Day brings relief, because order and routine will be reestablished – two things I’m not so good at orchestrating on a daily basis. Relief because deep down inside I like to be alone for a good part of the day and all my writing jobs require that my head goes wandering off into distant creative thinking land. That’s hard when there are two boys in my world who frequently inquire “May I have some money to go to TCBY?” or “Do we have any replacement arrows? I shot all mine into the woods and I can’t find them,” or “What’s for lunch?” These are all valid and acceptable questions, which, 9 months out of the year would be positioned between 3:00pm-7:00pm, not 7:00am-7:00pm. By late August I find myself singing Soul II Soul’s “Back to life, back to reality” every day with zesty relish.

When Back to School ads start rhyming and chiming, this Human Cannonball knows her forward momentum will soon be brought to a halt at the Labor Day net, but that’s okay because she has her helmet on!


A Playpark of a Different Kind

This summer I wish my boys were still toddlers. Not in the sense that I miss the diapers, the trashed vehicle strewn with gummy-goldfish-juicebox flotsam, or the numerous energy spikes and dips navigated with naps and park visits. I miss the level of safety inherent to toddler activities. After years of practice and skill-building on bikes, this summer I face (almost) every mother’s nightmare: Duthie Hill bike park. It has the word “Park” in it, but don’t be fooled, it doesn’t resemble the kind of bucolic scene we moms are accustomed to. Absent are the traditional swings, slides and monkey bars. Taking their place is the next generation of swings and slides that attracts all ages who crave a dirt-crusted thrill and woodsy cardiovascular challenge. Duthie 1

My boys’ first encounter with Duthie was several years ago was when we (in my opinion) jumped the gun on introducing this park before they were ready (make that “I” was ready). “They’ll be fine,” my husband confidently asserted. “They’ll love it!”

“Easy for you to say, Mr. Unmotorized Evel Knievel.” To my husband’s credit, it was remotely possible that his two-wheeled daredevil DNA got passed down to at least one of his offspring. I’d heard plenty about the exhilarating jumps and banked turns from Glenn’s many experiences. I’d seen YouTube videos of “sick” trails such as “Ryan’s Eternal Flow” and “Braveheart”. If these routes were intense enough to receive 10,000 hits on YouTube, it couldn’t be a good thing for two kids under the age of ten.

If you haven’t been to Duthie yet, it’s a massive woodsy park with trails of varying difficulty sprouting off from a central clearing. While riders most commonly park off of Duthie Hill Road, you can even access it fat-tire-style from  Grand Ridge Drive by following the Grand Ridge Trail system northeast. Approximately four miles from the top of the Highlands is the back entrance to the ever-growing Eastside MTB nerve center. A birds-eye view would show a network Duthie 3of more than a dozen carved paths that have been architected by bikers to offer bumps, jumps, turns and thrills for all levels of riding expertise. You can prepare yourself for the thrills in store for you by going online first. The viral helmet-cam videos available on the internet depict ten-foot high bridges without railings, where riders deftly roll down shoulder-width paths with potential for a painful plummet on either side. The videos reach a climax with a high speed descent followed by a ramp that launches the rider into exquisite aerial acrobatics. It’s enough to make any Nervous Nelly look away from the computer monitor.

The Duthie YouTube videos that receive the fewest hits are the kind that reassure me that this park probably won’t double as an early graveyard for my boys. They show a gentle hill series that resembles riding over the backs of tortoises in a circle. Neophyte riders can learn about momentum, power, looking two bike-lengths ahead instead of at the front tire, shifting gears mid-hill or -turn, and practicing general control without bone crushing consequences.

Similar to skiing, the routes are labeled for their difficulty; synonymously spanning from “Bunny Hill” to “Black Diamond”. My boys’ maiden voyage a few years ago was far less terrifying than I was prepped for. Before they pushed off down their first trail I inquired, “Where is the landing pad for the rescue helicopter?” Instead, I should have been asking “Where’s the nearest pharmacy where I can buy calamine lotion?” They were quickly going to become acquainted with, I discovered, not precipitous falls nor epically bloody crashes, but stinging nettle and poison oak. The Bunny Hill run had its own hazards and risks, but of a less fatal kind. Duthie 2

Now that the boys have a couple dozen Duthie visits under their belts the risks have become more numerous. With rising confidence levels comes the temptation to sample courses that exceed Bunny Hill difficulty. As a mom I have to rally quite a bit of faith that the wipe-outs, balks and losses of momentum the boys experienced on the entry-level trails will contribute to them being more cautious as the speed and complexity of the routes increase. Will they exit “Ryan’s Eternal Flow” with all limbs intact? Will they overshoot the park exit and get lost? Is there a strong enough cellular signal in the woods to call 911? Oh, how I long for swings, slides and picnic tables. Perhaps you can join me in some hand-wringing, brow-fretting fun this summer.


READ in Issaquah Connections website

Raising the Curtain on the Highlands Cinema

regal 3The Curtis household is eagerly anticipating the day when we can say, “Lights, Camera, Action!” on the new Regal Cinema due to open mid-summer. Every day we see construction progress as we head down Park Drive. I find myself exceedingly forgiving and flexible of the lane and sidewalk closures surrounding the site. “Hey, I don’t mind that you are blocking two lanes of traffic. Take your sweet time backing in that forklift. I’m a patron of the ARTS, yo!” I’m not sure I’m as philanthropic around the gas station construction.

The day the neon marquis was mounted, Highlanders cheered on our community Facebook pages. “They’re getting serious now!” we exclaimed. Every time I pull up the Fandango movie search it displays “Regal Issaquah Highlands Stadium 12 IMAX & RPX” as the closest theater to me. I have access to all those high-tech letters only 1.1 miles away! I don’t quite know what RPX means but it’s got to be one louder than IMAX, right?

When our Highlands E-news circulated the “Now Hiring” invitation to the Regal Cinema job fair I nearly threw my boys in as candidates. So what if they’re only 11 and 13 years old! Their grandfather was supplying ice boxes with giant blocks of ice at that age…and I’m sure riding his horse as transportation…while simultaneously plowing a field and milking a cow. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but I was really excited for the employment opportunities available for my kids just a mile away…when they are legally permitted to work.

We got into quite the family discussion about the breadth of services offered at the new theater. Each family member is pining for something different from the behemoth multiplex. Jack wants to view his Action/Adventure movies on the sprawling IMAX floor-to-ceiling screens. Ryan wants the film venue to offer a full taco bar with all the toppings — cheese, tomato, lettuce, salsa. Olé! Glenn wants a taste of the luxury theaters that have popped up recently where patrons are served cocktails and restaurant food while they recline in plush lounge chairs. There is a rumor that the old Regal Cinema in Pickering will be remodeled into this type of opulent bijou theater…oh, I meant theatre. I am in it for the convenience factor; secretly relieved that I and my 400 other mom-friends don’t have to go far to see the midnight debut of the next Twilight series. I guess I just let the cat out of the bag that opening night of the famous teenager vampire/werewolf movies drew dominant throngs of 40-something-year-old women. The Pickering location will surely miss our competitively shrill ovations of Jacob and Edward. With twelve theaters and several party rooms at our disposal at the new location, all of the Curtises will be pleased with the motion picture mammoth rising across the street from Caffe Ladro.

I also suspect that while nationally, movie attendance is dropping, our local movie-goer numbers will spike. It’s new, it’s close to our ever-growing community, and very few people can resist the enchanting fragrance called eau de movie theater popcorn. Even though ticket prices will never be affordable, and most of us have alternative access to movies at home or on our mobile devices, there is something to be said for seeing an opening week film under full sensory stimulation conditions, unequaled in availability and technology at most homes. That cinderblock giant on Park Drive will roar with out-of-this-world audio quality, make our eyeballs stretch in amazement, rumble our seats, and offer us intoxicating smells and tastes. Hopefully in a few years I can justify going to the movies more frequently if I know my children are gainfully employed there. Not that it works out as money in my pocket, but I’ll do some backflips of rationalization to ease my guilt. And I’ll see YOU at the movies!

What Every 6th Grade Middle School Parent Should Know

If your child is entering an Issaquah School District middle school, this might be a great primer before the year starts.
My 6th Grade Parent Handbook is still a work in progress. My child has not fully crossed over from all headaches FSLittle Kid Land to Mature Independent Scholar yet, but he’s getting closer. Beginning my first year as a 6th grade parent I attended all the welcome events and coffees, and read all the documents, but I was not prepared for what went down as a very rocky and dramatic middle school start. My son was fine. I was a wreck.  Logins, passwords, online grades, teacher websites, and pdf documents became an organizational nightmare. I have a bright kid who is super day-dreamy. Pretty typical for this age. But it’s a bad recipe when his mother is the same way. You will probably fluctuate between over-involvement and total neglect of your child’s education, and that’s okay. Here are some tips for surviving your very contradictory and very educational first year as a middle school parent.
school_books1. Your student is now responsible, self-sufficient, and motivated, and you should stop nosily interfering with his/her homework.
1B. Your student is now in a swirling vortex of 900+ kids who are all violently hitting hormones at 100mph while trying to remember the adverb of the Pythagorean theorem while cross-referencing molecular chord progressions at the bottom of an archeological dig in Egypt. Child’s play, right?
2. Any time you are navigating through teacher websites, their files, calendars, and expectations you’re considered over-involved because 6th graders are self-motivated and responsible, and they are supposed to have taken these notes, marked things in their own calendars and bookmarked their teachers’ websites.
2B. If you haven’t navigated through teacher websites, their files, calendars and expectations, your child will probably let massively important things fall through the cracks, causing dismay and grey hair upon the parental figures.
3. If your 6th grade science teacher issues 9th grade level textbooks written for Marie Curie, just nod and go with it. They know what they’re doing.
3B. If your child’s science book is too difficult for you to decipher, send an email to the teacher with your white flag. He or she will be happy to respond to your questions, and they actually enjoy sharing their knowledge (or they might reroute their aggressive course a little).
4. If your 6th grader’s PE teacher issues a test for your student to take on Student Access, and you didn’t know there was such thing as Student Access, you’re not alone. You shouldn’t be accessing your child’s Student Access (perhaps so you aren’t tempted to take the online test yourself and improve his or her grade). All your time should be spent freaking out about what’s displayed on Family Access. (Refer to 6B on the play-by-play drama and sweats of the Family Access grade book.)
4B. Learn to bookmark the eight websites you will need to quickly access this year…yes, EIGHT. It’s okay, your browser can take it, but your brain will not. Believe me, I tried to type in “” like a zillion times, and not one time did it take me to the school’s website. I’m not the fastest learner. It would be nice if the URL were that clear-cut, but it’s a dot-org, and it’s a subset of a zillion other district organizations. Just bookmark them in your browser and stop pulling out your hair.
5. Even if you are Albert Einstein you will NOT be able to remember all the separate logins and passwords for the online 6th grade Literature text, online (non-downloadable) Health text, Student Access, Family Access, lunch money account, and at least two others. Don’t stress. Write them down and tape them somewhere you’ll remember. Email them to yourself (and don’t delete). Remember texting on a 12-digit keypad? (A, B, C…C…no – lowercase! a, b, c…c!) Prehistoric texting wasn’t pretty, but it eventually got a lot smoother. Technology will improve such that next year I’ll be able to remove Warning #4, I’m sure.
6. If you find yourself wringing your hands and clawing at your face in frustration on a daily basis because you keep logging into Family Access to look at your child’s wildly dynamic grade book, you’re over-involved. Step back. Your middle schooler is organized, motivated and in control. Don’t worry about the play-by-play drama that unfurls every day on that calendar. Items in red (missing assignments) and failing grades are all in your child’s control.
6B. If you’re not wringing your hands and clawing at your face in frustration when you check Family Access, you’re not checking it enough. Log onto the site with your student by your side. However, never check it when you can’t get an explanation for all the items in red, or the poor grades. “Johnny, why am I seeing RED again?!” Also, schedule a regular weekly “Grade Check” session after the first week has been completed. The shrieks of powerlessness will eventually diminish in number.
7. The math textbook is not like the ones we grew up with. There’s no lesson and example problem that begins each chapter. There’s no answer page in the back. This is new math and it’ll take a little while to get used to. During class the kiddos are listening, watching, processing, taking notes, writing formulas, and creating their own samples. They create the textbook themselves. You know that “Learn By Doing” thing? This is a mathematical version played out interactively. It leaves us parents with our hands flailing in the air as we struggle to remember what y=mx+b means. We will find ourselves Googling a lot…(or Your child’s teacher is a wealth of practice sheets and notes. They love this stuff! You’ll love it too…eventually.
8. Every teacher is different and embraces technology at various rates…just like parents! One teacher will have the kids access a textbook online while another will use the paper copy. One will respond to emails within the hour and another will take a day or two, and still prefers to talk on the phone. You have to find every teacher’s rhythm if you’re going to find yours.picking_each_others_brains_400_clr_9340
9. If you are not totally bald and grey by the end of 6th grade, you’re on the road to a smoother 7th grade. It gets easier. Talk to your fellow parents. Attend PTSA meetings. Listen to teacher presentations. You’ll discover that crossing over from Little Kid Land to Mature Independent Scholar is easier when you have other parents by your side.

What Do Highlands Dads Really Want?


Last month Mr. Miller, Pacific Cascade’s band teacher, distributed neckties to his advanced band musicians to be worn at their performances. These were James-Bond-meets-Johnny-Carson, ornate blue herringbone, PTSA-funded compositions.  At first I groaned…and then I applauded. To don this permanently-knotted tie you put your head through a noose and zip it up. Yes, a subtle zipper is sewn into the noose, which will theoretically be tucked under the shirt collar. The result is a perfectly dimpled, centered tie that any 13-year-old could master with talk show host panache. “Thank you, Q. But does it also come with a GPS satellite device, heat sensor and liquid nitrogen?” No, but you will look tres chic when laying down your chord progressions.

I wish they had this kind of tie when I was young. Every Father’s Day my sister and I would buy my dad a new tie. He wore one every day for his job. It was practical, sure to be worn, but whimsical enough that it didn’t fall under the category of a utilitarian gift.

Nowadays, if my boys gave my husband a tie for Father’s Day it would be a received as a curious museum artifact. We would tilt our heads and mutter, “What’s he going to do with that?” as if were a relic like a yo-yo or game of jacks.

Shopping for dad can be tricky. Some families spend hours researching consumer guides and customer reviews to hone in on just the right leaf blower, hubcaps, grill lighter, beer-making kit, etc. Others coordinate calendars and schedules to plan a getaway in honor of the patriarch. Finally, some pick up the phone and pay their respects to pops by shooting the breeze. Not every approach to this holiday is the same, and not every dad wants an elaborate form of recognition. But you might be wondering, “What Do Dads in the Issaquah Highlands Really Want For Father’s Day?”Father's Day - June 16, 2013 (7)

To help answer that burning question I took a neighborhood poll, tapping a cross section of six community districts, and men who have been fathers longer than eight years. I wanted seasoned dads. “Give me a short or lengthy response; thought-provoking or shallow – it’s all good!” I said. It may come as a surprise to you that no one requested ties this year for Father’s Day.

The results of my informal poll were fascinating. We have some big thinkers living amongst us. I like the optimism and creativity with which they responded to my probing question. So, what do dads want for Father’s Day? Raj Thiagarajan is hoping that Tiger wins this year’s US Open. On a less lofty scale he’d appreciate it if the Highlands had a putting green, or perhaps even a driving range where he and his boys can try out irons, wedges, chippers, and drivers. I’m seeing a theme here, and it doesn’t involve something you can pick up at Fred Meyer.

I received echoed requests from different dads who just want to experience an uninterrupted televised sports game. From Grand Ridge Drive to West Highlands Park, there is a resounding call to be allowed to watch a completely undistracted match, tournament, competition or game. I can hear incredulous wives now muttering, “You mean all he wants for Father’s Day is to put his feet up and watch TV all day?!” That one is pretty inexpensive.

Tony Cowan had more targeted goals on his list; chief among them was a practice wall to help rebound soccer balls for kids’ practice. He hit a bull’s-eye with other dads by mentioning that there’s a lack of dart boards in Issaquah. Anyone else aiming to play that game? Finally, it is Tony’s ambition to have a Men’s Night at Sip. Why do women get a night of discounted drinks? He has a point.

Mat Alancheril doesn’t want a tie for Father’s Day, but he would like to tie in a workout with some quality family time. Would it be too much to ask for a family-oriented, full-featured health club with indoor tennis and swimming…plus a juice and snack bar? Coming right up, Mat! His other request sent me on a full-blown Google search. Condensed down, Mat would like a Txokos: an exclusive gathering of food enthusiasts who meet to cook, eat and share gastronomic reflections. Sounds yummy!

Please don’t cancel the urge to give the dad in your life a treasured tie on account of this column. And please ask your neighborhood dads what they really like about the Highlands, and what would be on their wish list for our community. No idea is too big or too small to daydream about, or to someday make a reality.

Highlands Mother ‘Hood

Mother’s Day isn’t just a time to reflect on the growth and maturity of my sons, (and perhaps indulge in some spa pampering), but also an opportunity to direct my attention outwardly to acknowledge those neighborhood moms who have helped me in my own journey as a mother. I won’t bore you with philosophies on childrearing, education or moral upbringing, nor will I wax nostalgic about the baby days of velvety hair and silky cheeks. My fumbling and bumbling at this motherhood deal continues – thirteen years and running – but my head’s still above water many thanks to the Highlands Mother ‘Hood.

A few years ago I was helping a friend deliver an art lesson to a 5th-grade class at Grand Ridge. While washing the paint off our hands she asks, “How early do you think we have to get here tonight?”

I smear violet off the brush. “To put the paints away? Tonight??” I answer, clearly not on the same planet.

“No, Tami,” she responds patiently with only a nuance of an eye-roll, “for the 5th grade play. You know, parking is tight and all the tripod toting parents get here at least 45 minutes in advance.”

“Oh, Jack’s not in the drama club” still hovering outside Mars, but getting warmer.Pirate Jack

“No, not the drama club that meets after school. You know,” she splutters with borderline desperation, “the entire 5th grade’s production of Treasure Island! They’ve been working on for half the year during choir and before school!”

“The ENTIRE 5th grade?! Jack’s in a play? Tonight?!” Entering the atmosphere of this planet is an unpleasant experience. “Why didn’t Jack tell me he’s in a play!?” I know the answer though, before the question leaves my mouth. He’s an 11-year-old boy who would rather pour a cup of lemon juice in his eyeballs than go onstage in front of an audience and sing, or even talk.

Thanks to the Highlands Mother ‘Hood, that bountiful network of friends who are on the ball, I am able to throw together a costume for Jack that resembles Captain Jack Sparrow, but is assembled with the speed of Edward Scissorshands…(thank you, Johnny Depp!)

I breathe gratitude for weeks after the play relieved by the heads-up about one of the many landmark events other parents are well aware of months in advance. My fellow moms read the classroom newsletters and pay close attention to the notices that say, “Please prepare your child with an eye patch and a peg leg for next month’s pirate play.” As the not-so-tuned-in-mom I skim the newsletters while wearing said eye patch, balanced on a peg leg, totally caught up in the presumption that my son would never be caught dead on stage, never mind that it is a compulsory 5th grade right of passage performance.

A month later the Highlands Mother ‘Hood helped me stay properly in orbit when a friend asked, “Are you going to sign up as a chaperone for Camp Colman?”

“Why does Mr. Coleman need chaperones? Doesn’t he run his activities in the gym?” It was firmly planted in my brain the Mr. Coleman, then the P.E. teacher at Grand Ridge, conducted various before-school activities for the kids, and that “Camp Colman” must certainly be this month’s fun theme.

(Cue big sigh. Send out the intergalactic retrieval hook.) “No, Tami. Not Mr. Coleman. CAMP COLMAN, the three-day, two-night 5th grade camp…oh, dear…you thought it involved P.E.?”

“I, uh, thought all those fundraisers were for new P.E. equipment or something. Oops. So, you think I’m capable of chaperoning a zillion 11-year-olds for over 60 hours? I seem to have a track record of parenting milestone near-misses.”

She responds with a reassuring smile, “You’ll do fine. The other moms will tell you what you’re supposed to do.”

Sure enough, I did fine. Thank you, Highlands Mother ‘Hood!