Walla Walla life

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Dear Santa (and still waiting for delivery)

What I said in the newspaper this week:

Dear Santa,
It’s been a few, huh? I haven’t written since the kids were little and all I really wanted was time to take a bath and read a few pages of a book.
Well, yes, if you insist on reminding me, I did ask for a break in laundry and chauffeur duties, as well. Whatever.
Now I need to ask for something else. I blame Gretchen. She will definitely need coal in her stocking, Santa.
Thanks to her, it recently became apparent to Camo Man and me that we do not know how to take a vacation.
I know, it’s completely embarrassing. That’s why you’re hearing from me now. I need to add “Learn to travel” to that list I sent last month.
As you know, Santa, trips in our previous lives looked much the same. He took the wife and kids to the coast and the mountains, drove to see friends and family. The Hagars did likewise, minus the hunting trips, of course.
Yup, you do remember correctly, I flew hither and yon a few times for writing conferences — for work — and I had a couple of weekends with just friends.
But those vacations you see in glossy travel brochures and on the pages of lifestyle magazines? No, and the sad part is, we haven’t the slightest clue how to vacation like there’s no tomorrow.
This whole mess is Gretchen’s fault.
Gretchen works at the bank where I have my home loan. This summer I was at a wedding shower (it was the summer for weddings, Sir, meaning you gave a fair number of couples that particular wish on last year’s Christmas lists) and sat next to a banker.
We made small talk, you know how women and elves are. She said she was staying busy at work, what with the great interest rates and all.
Low interest? Lower than what I was paying? Which, I will just say, I was told “It will never get lower than this!”
Oh, but rates did drop, and by nearly two more points.
So I did the “refi” shuffle and ended up with a little chunk of change at the end of things. “Of course,” I noted in pious tone to Gretchen the Banker, “I’ll stick this right back into the principal.”
“Pfft,” Gretchen said, more or less. “I’d go on vacation with it.”
“Ha ha ha,” I replied. “I never go on vacation.”
And there it was, firmly planted — the worm.
Not that I realized that at first, Santa. It’s like when you brought me the doll with pink hair … who knew it would become my favorite doll and I would be devastated when my brother cut off those pink curls.
Now it’s like I have to go on vacation or die trying. We have friends who flit off all the time. Hawaii, Europe, Mexico, they’re more gone than home.
Camo Man and I, however, have a missing travel gene or something. We have no idea of where, how or when.
Choices, even in our econo-budget range, are overwhelming. What do we do when we get there? What if we miss out on something? How do we decipher vacation packages?
When I spoke of these woes to my friend Lara, she sat at my desk — hey, Santa, is it too late to add a new desk to my list? — and talked to me about going to exotic locales.
“Oh, I don’t want to have to get a passport,” I whined in ungrateful fashion.
“I can’t help you then,” Lara said.
“Right? I know, we’re hopeless.”
Recently Pilot Dude, who, as you know, Santa, flies lots and lots of people to their dream vacation spots, sent over some literature about Hawaii. Camo Man looked at what his buddy had picked for us to consider and looked at me.
“He thinks we can do this, Babe.”
We both laughed, loud and long, and ended with a sort of hiccup-sob.
Because the idea of boarding out our three teens and two dogs, packing for warm weather and disappearing into the beckoning skies seems like as big of a myth as you are, Santa.
Santa? Wait, that didn’t come out right. I didn’t mean it that way … um … anyway, I’ve been real good this year, Santa.

Learning Grammie stuff

So I am driving to work today, and there’s a niggling thought in my brain that I am forgetting something on my calendar.
Get up, shower, feed and kiss Camo Man? Check.
Go to work? On my way, so check.
Remember appointment after work? Got it in ink.
Then, just as I was feeling settled, it hit me — today is the Mighty Miss M’s school Christmas program.
Mighty Miss M is Camo Man’s youngest grandchild. Her parents have graciously accepted me a new Grammie AND Evil Stepmother. The latter of which is in jest. Pretty much. I think.
But I am recently arrived at both roles, and it’s a darn steep learning curve. Fortunately, Mighty Miss M, age 5,  doesn’t seem to remember I haven’t always been in the picture and her folks are good at creating a Grammie map for me.
Unless some unexpected news story springs up this morning, I plan to use my lunch time a few hours early to go clap and laugh and smile broadly. Mighty Miss M will be delighted to see me, I will win Evil Stepmother points and I get to see a children’s Christmas program again, a little lacking in my life for a few years now.
I bet I will emerge craving eggnog and whistling “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” while imagining pretty presents under the tree. It’s shaping up to be a darn shiny day.

It was just lovely

Thank you to those who have inquired. Thanksgiving turned out to be very relaxing and enjoyable, and I am as astonished as those who know my holiday history.

Our troupe of five arrived at Camo Mom’s house bearing side dishes and hungry tummies. Once we got in the door I hugged a few family members, then looked out a small sea … maybe a pond … of new faces. Squaring my shoulders, I adopted my reporter persona and did a quick tour of the great room, shaking hands, smiling just so and moving on, trying to memorize names in order to later win points.

My teen daughters emerged from the Honda already — don’t judge — playing their electronic games. In the house, they seamlessly blended with other kids playing their electronic games. I know they all spoke, but mostly they imitated some of the adults who were strengthening their own relationships with their tablet or iPhones.

In other words, they all looked related. They acted as such within minutes.

gathered together …

My lady in-laws cooked and orchestrated the placement of food in the new kitchen, while I hovered around the edges, unsure of what to do once I had stuck serving spoons in my own offerings. My men-in-law did as predicted, sitting side by side on the comfy sectional and discussing manly things.

Camo Man was in his element. He had his sisters and their husbands, one son and his family, nieces and nephews and their assorted offspring, plus his mom and dad.

I watched him closely. As of now, I have no childhood pictures of my husband, so I can only try to imagine him as a boy. But seeing him fully relax into his family brought me closer to knowing. My husband laughed and joked and ate and talked to kids and ate some more. His face creased a hundred times with a smile or chuckle, not a worry on the menu for the day.

Camo Man, however, did not forget about me. He knows I can get overwhelmed around folks I don’t know well, that my confident facade easily crumbles. We had set up a signal system before arriving and he did the eye-to-eye checking in … can you see why I love him so?

But I was fine. Dandy. Lovely. Calm. I had delicious food on my plate and great company. I had no real responsibilities and my kids were not embarrassing me or their dad, so I was totally chill. I was even happy, which has never been the case at my own Thanksgivings — my obsessive-compulsive disorder kicks in so fiercely that I start lining up place settings with a ruler and wiping every dot of food off the counter the second it lands.

It’s hard to be around that much bizarre.

Fortunately, no one had to get a helping of that dish of crazy this time. To my new family I say, you’re welcome and thank you. You may not realize what a gift you gave me — aside from Camo Man, of course — but a delicious-in-every-sense Thanksgiving is huge.




A paradigm shift, or “Do I know how to be company at Thanksgiving?”

I have been, by and large, the hostess of Thanksgiving dinner nearly every year of my adult life. Which is a cornucopia of Thanksgivings.
Certainly, I’ve had years off, like when I’ve supped at the table of my friend Penny, who is the most awesome cook. Or the years we’ve met up in Hood River and used Vagabond Lodge like the family retreat center, bouncing in and out of each other’s rooms and producing lovely meals out of coolers.
And my family did some really fun, alternative Thanksgivings in Alaska, where people seem more apt to be nontraditional.
The year our church journeyed to its summer camp location, dug out walks and doorways, and cooked like there was no tomorrow is a memory I will cherish forever.
Also? Learning to sleep under 50 pounds of blankets while frost clogs your nose in unheated cabins is an ART!
Mostly, however, I’ve been in charge of the planning, shopping, cleaning, cooking, washing up and — the most hated job of all — dissecting and storing the leftover turkey. Because I am the mom. And we had too many little kids to foist ourselves upon others.
But when I married Camo Man in June, I became an official part of a BIG family that includes two parents. Who are, by anyone’s standards, hale and hearty for the stage they’ve reached in life.
Yup. I now have Camo Mom.
And, partly because of tradition and partly because she has a beautiful new home — how many 79 year-old couples do you know who build a brand new house? Exactly — my family is headed to Camo Mom’s on Thursday .
I am so nervous.
For starters, I’m still new to this family. There are like four dozen of them and I get all shy and tongue-tied in these situations, tending to huddle in a hallway or corner. With my little “I’m just fine!” smile. That won’t look weird at all.
There will be talk of hunting, camping, hunting, bulldozering and hunting. And doctoring animals and raising pigs and plowing fields.  I’m not well-versed in any of those languages.
And have I mentioned the ladies in Camo Man’s sibling set are beautiful, confident and  accomplished women who are? Sigh.
Plus, now I eat low carb and am more than likely going to offend some incredible cook when I stick to veggies and meat.
What if my teen daughters do their ever-so-lovely sister squabbling, to top it all off like extra whipped cream on the pumpkin pie?
I’m doomed.
Until we get to clean up. Holy dishwasher, Katy bar the door! That’s when my OCD, never far from the surface, will jump up and BEAT DOWN anyone who tries to clean off the counters ahead of me. Or sweep up or Windex or scrub the sink … it’s highly likely I will completely embarrass myself.
I can see Camo Man trying to talk me down from the Pledged ledge, offering me some wine or anything else that will quiet the craziness.
Should I take video for you all?

Strength training off to hot start

I owe Leslie Snyder 50 cents.

It was Monday when I uttered the foul phrase, “I can’t.” Each offense is a quarter and I said it twice. Through gritted teeth.

But not when I sat cross-legged for the first time in nearly a decade. Then I grinned and practically announced it to the entire facility.

Let’s back up. I told you two weeks ago I was dragging my friend Ann along to the YMCA. The Y offered to let us do this for free so I could tell you all the wins and woes of strength training.

As I said before, Ann and I both have our reasons for wanting to muscle up.

Like my bone-on-bone knees. Basically, I have nothing but a thin layer of cartilage left in those puppies. It’s been that way for 20 years, ever since I stupidly did a stair-stepper workout every day for a year-plus. My knees never could forgive that and arthritis hasn’t helped.

I’ve treated the mess with regular cortisone shots, pain medication and so much whining.

Sometimes I limped, sometimes I could barely cross the street before the light changed. And the stinging and aching has robbed me of what adds up to months of sleep.

I read recently that exercise reduces inflammation, which is the major cause of my pain. That’s a little factoid I probably knew but chose to completely ignore. When I started losing a lot of weight last year, I attributed a lack of knee pain to a lightened load — I didn’t take into account that I was working out regularly for the first time in years.

I know, I know. I’m blaming the fact that I was busy falling in love.

Leslie, a personal trainer and who knows what else at the Y, drew the short straw of working with us middle-aged mamas. She officially started us off by assessing where Ann and I were in terms of strength and stability. And how much of our bodies could float in water. In other words, fat content.

Turns out we’re middle-roaders. I ranked “good” in biceps strength — probably from squeezing Camo Man’s waist in bear hugs — and average in the “sit and reach.” Although, to be fair to myself, when I did a Y series a few years ago, I could barely yank myself out of the “poor” category.

Then Leslie applied the calipers for the “pinch” test. Three skinfold measurements later, we had our answer: I wasn’t in the red alarm zone, but “slightly over your ideal body fat,” the computer’s report told me. Inside my head I mocked the wording with a smirking “ya think?”

The good news is, by losing less than eight pounds, I can move “moderate” to “optimal.”

Leslie assured me I can do this. In less than two months. Without a lot of fancy machinery or bulking up, which is apparently a big fear among women. Myself, I like seeing some muscle in the mirror.

Which just happened this week. I was lotioning up my arms and caught a glimpse of my shoulders that stopped me cold. What was this I was seeing? The smooth mound of muscle coming from the back of my shoulder to wrap down to my biceps … this belonged to my arm?

It didn’t happen overnight, but a whole lot faster than I had figured. And that “criss-cross-applesauce” cross-legged maneuver was downright miraculous.

I’m going to give a road map of where Ann and I are traveling on this road in future columns. I’ll talk about what exercises Leslie has us do, what machines we’re trying (most for the first time, since we both considered them off limits to us weaklings) and how we’re translating much of that for use at home and on the road.

You’ll want to hear about Port-a-Potty squats, for example.

Watch for tiny updates on the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin Facebook page, as well. Maybe a video if I get very brave. And if you do nothing else today, write yourself a note and put it on your mirror: “I can be stronger, I can be in less pain and I will be healthier because of it. Sheila said so.”